‘The City of Sin’, or as many of us know it, Amsterdam, has streets lined with canals, bustling cyclists, red lit windows and that distinct smell of cannabis that we all know, or pretend not to. But is this really what the city is about?
People from around the world will flock to Amsterdam to experience the number of pleasures on offer. However, sometimes I think we might miss exactly what this captivating city actually has to offer. Forget the so-called ‘sinful activities’ and look towards the arts, the history and the incredible food.
Over my short stay here in Amsterdam I visited a number of tourist sites, stayed in a chic hotel, ate A LOT of food and walked… EVERYWHERE.
So I’ve got your attention and you’ve decided to visit Amsterdam. But where to stay? What to see? What to do? Let’s start at the very beginning.
Where To Stay?
Thinking central? Thinking trendy? Thinking downright amazing? Look no further than the Max Brown Hotel.
If you’ve got a somewhat flexible budget and want to go beyond staying at the usual plain and simple hotels, Max Brown is where you need to be. They have two hotels in Amsterdam, one in the Canal District the other at Museum Square. For somewhere closer to the centre, I chose the Canal District.
Situated about a 10-minute walk from Amsterdam Central Station, right on the corner of Herengracht you won’t miss it with its simple, although effectively decorated exterior. The interior only gets better with its wall lined with vintage hardcover books. Think trendy with an eclectic edge, the hotel continues to ‘wow’ you as you walk up to the bar/reception where you’ll be greeted by the smiling, friendly staff; more than happy to help with any request. Climb the steep, small staircases up to your room where you’ll experience the mega wow factor. This time think Scandinavian style. Wooden feature walls, personal touches, total blacked-out bathrooms and super comfy couches. All the rooms are slightly different but still give off that cool edge.
What to do?
Located southwest of the city centre, is a beautifully presented park that offers a cool, calm and quiet oasis. A short walk from the museum quarter it’s a great place to sit, relax and recharge. The 47 hectares of park is home to a number of sculptures, stunning natural scenery and an open-air theatre (plays during June, July and August).
Van Gogh Museum
Situated in the Museum Quarter, alongside the Rijksmuseum and Stedelijk Museum. It’s about a half an hour walk from the city centre, or you can catch a tram. Book tickets online or through your hotel reception as lines can be ridiculously long and cold! I know through personal experience.
The museum is a truly great depiction of the great artist that was Van Gogh. Not only does it follow his pieces that we’ve all grown up with, but also includes information on his personal life, how he became the great Van Gogh and how art affected his life and how life affected his art.
Anne Frank House
First and foremost. Book tickets online. Otherwise expect a good hour or so in the freezing cold.
A few streets away from the centre, located in the area of Westerkerk, is a moment of history frozen in time. As you walk through the building you’ll feel this horrible guilt sitting atop your shoulders. The reality sinks in, that not only is Anne’s story incredibly heartbreaking, but it also feels personal seeing it for yourself. The author, John Green’s words will be words to remember.
‘The book was turned to the page with Anne Frank’s name, but what got me about it was the fact that right beneath her name there were four Aron Franks. FOUR. Four Aron Franks without museums, without historical markers, without anyone to mourn them. I silently resolved to remember and pray for the four Aron Franks as long as I was around.’
Clearly a must-do when you first arrive in Amsterdam. A one-hour cruise will only set you back €10 – 20 and will give you a good overview of the city’s history and will help you get your bearings. Not to mention how cool it is to see them manoeuvre these boats through the narrow canals.
Head back towards the Amsterdam Central Station to find all the boat stations.
The one and only floating flower market in the world, located just out of the main circle of the city. Floating on house boats it is open all year round and boasts an array of tulips, other flowers, souvenirs and bulbs ready for export. So why not take a little bit of Amsterdam home with you!
The Nine Streets
Or otherwise known as De Negen Stratges is located in the heart of the Canal District and boasts a great shopping and dining atmosphere to fit almost any tourists or locals needs. Think designer boutiques, art galleries, jewellers, cafes, restaurants and bars all of the finest quality.
Home to the Royal Palace, National Monument and the first original dam that connected the settlements on either side of the river Amstel. Now it is full of locals and tourists alike and a huge theme area with rides and games.
The huge red and white sign that we’ve all associated with Amsterdam. By far the most clever tourist site ever designed. The sign can be spotted in the museum quarter, right out the front of the Rijksmuseum. However, it has been known that the group of letters do mysteriously move from place to place. Check out www.iamsterdam.com to plan your trip and see where the sign can be!
Red Light District
Located just behind Dam Square and down from Central Station this is where we find the exceptionally well-known area of the Red Lights. Think brothels, sex shops, shows and museums. It hardly leaves anything to the imagination. It can be a bit unnerving walking around in a small group so keep a lookout on the ‘I amsterdam’ website for tour groups or even check with your reception desk.
Pannenkoekenhuis Upstairs (Upstairs Pancake House)
Hidden away on the street of Grimburgwal; only a short walk from Dam Square. This place is an Instagrammer’s dream. They open from noon and only have 4 tables, so it’s first in first served. Climb the steep staircase and step into what I can only describe as a grandmas’ haven. Imagine tens of teapots hanging from the roof, a cuckoo clock, old Danish tablecloths, bits and bobs from who knows where. This place is quirky. This place is cool. They serve a massive range of different pancakes, both sweet and savoury. And the drink of choice? Order the tea… Trust me it’ll be worth it!
Who knew the well-known clothing store had a café? Well we do now! Not only does it have a super trendy interior it also offers really delicious food! After a busy day of walking it is the perfect place to stop to fill up the tummy and to refuel. Not to mention the perfect spot to hide from the cold for a while.
Amsterdam isn’t a huge city and doesn’t need a whole lot of planning when it comes to making your way around. If you’re staying in the centre or somewhere close to it. All you’ll need is your two feet, some snacks to keep you going and a good map.
However if you’re staying somewhere closer to the airport or just that bit further out of the centre the trams will be at your disposal! Very simple system but download the app Citymapper to ensure you’ll get to your destination safely!
What makes Amsterdam the wonderful city it is, is the mixture of history, people, pleasures, food and the overall relaxed and happy atmosphere it has going for it. It is full of happy, colourful little spots perfect for the Instagrammers’ needs and the best way to soak it all up is simply by wandering by foot or bike around the streets exploring all the little nooks and crannies throughout the city. ∎
(Photography: Alicia Poole for Bubbobar)