If you ask people their first thoughts of Amsterdam, they will probably tell you it is full of brothels, stoners, bikes, and maybe a few good art galleries. Ask if they would consider a visit, you may be met with a response of “none of that interests me, so why would I want to go there?”.
Amsterdam is a wicked place!! We love it there and have been many times for every special occasion, including our own hen/stag weekend. We can categorically say, there are an incredible amount of things to see and do, more than you may initially realise!
Amsterdam is such a chilled out place to visit, well, apart from dodging bikes, cars, buses & trams! The people are warm, friendly and very helpful plus there is a great transport system to get you to wherever you wish to go and that means nowhere is out of reach. Hopefully after reading this, you will add this multi-cultural city to your destination list!
I’m guessing you wouldn’t normally associate a beach with Amsterdam, but 1¼ hours away from the centre by train is a town called Wassenaar and they have a couple of great beaches!
There is also an amusement park named Duinrell which is set in 55 acres of woodlands, plus it has a waterpark with around 11 slides (www.duinrell.com) – great day out for the kids!
If you are would like to do more than a daytrip, you could spend a night or two in a comfortable, self-catering chalet in the amusement park which has all the amenities you need, plus it has the novelty factor of being in amongst the trees. If you stay here, you may be lucky (as we were), to see a mother hedgehog with its babies schnuffling around in the undergrowth near to your picnic table. I have to say, it is quite magical sitting on the decking after dark with only a candle for light listening to the forest noise.
The quaint town of Wassenaar is just short walk from Duinrell and has a few shops, restaurants and a large supermarket – perfect for stocking up the cupboards and fridge for your stay. This is where we bought all our groceries and it gave us a sense of what it would feel like to live in Holland instead of just being a tourist –loved it!
Around 15 kilometres from Duinrell is Holland’s most famous seaside resort “Scheveningen” which has an abundance of attractions and beach pavilions, plus a marine world Sea Life Centre.
The bikes are very simple – no gears, just a brake. But there isn't a need for anything fancy - the country is flat, there are no hills to struggle with!!
So on our bikes, we took a wonderfully slow meander to North Sea beach which is around 5km away, if bikes aren’t your thing but you still want to go to this beach, you can catch a special beach bus (only available in July and August)!
We had a lovely time cycling to the beach, the sun was shining, the paths were straight, people smiled and waved – it was great! There is a car and cycle park near to the beach where you lock up your bikes.
North Sea beach has 8km of soft yellow, clean sand, perfect for strolling along on a sunny day! There are a few beach-side pavilions so we found one, grabbed a seat, ordered drinks with a delicious sandwich and enjoyed people watching.
If you thought Amsterdam was all about being hectic, take a trip to the beach and you can slow the pace right down!
One of the best times to visit Amsterdam is late April for two reasons, the first is to celebrate King’s Day (formerly Queen’s Day) around 27 April but you best book early! This is one of their busiest times and also a public holiday for the Dutch.
On King’s Day and in the run up to it, there is a sea of orange all around the City. People (and dogs!) are dressed head to toe in Orange, shops sell orange t-shirts and orange souvenirs as a show of pride for the Dutch Royal family known as the “House of Orange-Nassau”, it’s a jovial time to be in ‘Dam.
The second reason to visit in April is because it’s an excellent time to see the tulips!
Keukenhof is one of the world’s most famous flower gardens and opens its gates for eight weeks between mid-March and mid-May, showing off 7 million tulips planted every year.
Around 800,000 botanists, flower lovers and tourists worldwide come to see the visually spectacular gardens showing off a kaleidoscope of tulips, daffodils, hyacinths in the town of Lisse, about 30 minutes away from the Centre of Amsterdam.
There is refreshment stand on-site to buy drinks and ice-cream, alternatively you can bring your own picnic lunch to enjoy amidst the flowers!
3. The Venice of Holland
A visit to Amsterdam isn’t complete without taking a cruise on one of its 165 canals which cover around 100km (60 miles) of the centre, and there are many types of trips to choose from that run all times of the day or evening. There are a plethora of operators offering all sorts of excursions, you can either walk up to the canal and book one to your liking or find a company online. I will mention two different types of cruises below.
We had done the traditional day-time cruises but wanted to try something different, so opted for the 1.5-hour evening pizza cruise along the atmospheric canals. Alongside the commentary, you choose from six pizzas, are given a small pot of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and (included in the cost) is unlimited beer and/or wine or soft drinks – perfect!
For special occasions, you can do a 2.5 hour 4-course dinner cruise with a choice of fish, meat or vegetarian dishes cooked on board. We did this for my birthday one year and it really did make us feel quite pampered!
Amsterdam at night is so pretty as all the bridges are lit up by fairy lights. Personally, I feel that the best way to see its true beauty is to take an evening cruise as this will give you a whole different perspective of the quaint bridges and narrow, quirky buildings.
4. Horse & carriage ride anyone?
If you are fed up with walking and fancy a spot of indulgence, you should take a horse-drawn carriage ride around the streets. Go to Dam Square and you will can pick your horse! To hear the clip-clop of the hooves as they trot over the cobbled streets is something quite special and shows you the city from a more tranquil perspective. If you ride through Jordaan, you can expect to enjoy beautiful houses, canals and cafés with outdoor seating – all at a relaxed canter.
5. Join the locals for a stroll through Vondelpark
Vondelpark is a 47-hectare public park near the popular area of Museumplein. Although it is right in the middle of the city, when you are there, it’s easy to forget where you are. It is a great place to relax - it isn’t too busy and people stroll around enjoying their day. Maybe consider hiring a bike to cycle around the park and become a local for the day. Be sure to look out for an original Picasso concrete sculpture at the southern end. You should also check out the lovely café in the middle of the park which has indoor and outdoor seating should you feel the need for refreshments. If it’s people watching you are after, sit and relax by the pretty pond where the ducks hang out – if it’s a nice day, this is a great place to laze around soaking up the Amsterdam way of life.
6. Plethora of museums... there is one for just about everything!
Take your pick out of the 75 museums to visit, here are just a few:
- Van Gogh Museum where you can see the world-famous “sunflowers” painting.
- Rijksmuseum shows off some of Rembrandt’s work and is about arts & history.
- Museum Het Rembrandthuis (Rembrandt House), this was his home/studio and gives a great insight into how he and people of the time lived.
- Our Lord in the Attick Museum – a complete church hidden under the roof of one of the canal-warehouses.
- Amsterdam Museum for you to learn about this City’s rich history.
- The Heineken Experience is an Interactive tour guiding you through the beer giant's history.
- The Cheese Museum – relive the history of cheese making and sample some free at the end.
- Sex Museum on Damrak celebrates how sex has been perceived through the ages.
- Hash, Marihuana & Hemp Museum, fascinating facts about the world’s oldest agricultural crop and how it can be made into textiles, oil for lamps or even paper.
- Anne Frank’s House – an absolute must and yes, this is the actual place where she wrote her famous diary and hid out with her family from the Nazi’s in World War 2. Bear in mind this is the No.1 tourist attraction so it gets very busy so either book online or arrive early, otherwise the queue is massive! I know people who queued for nearly three hours to get in!!
7. Fancy a drink?
There is a bustling night life in Amsterdam and there are around 1,515 bars and cafes to choose from. If you are here celebrating, you can easily find pubs serving until the early hours of the morning.
We were a group of twelve visiting for New Year and we spent a lot of time in Stones Café right in the heart of the red light district. With so many in our group, this bar was large enough for us to sit together, but they also played really good music and kept on serving until around 3am!
… now for the stereotypes of Amsterdam!
Hopefully you will now realise there is more to Amsterdam than what you may have initially thought, so let me touch on the taboo sights for which this city is famed, even they may not be quite as bad as you think!
Yes there are various establishments where you can buy cannabis or eat a space-cake, but don’t think there is row after row of dark, smokey coffee shops full of zombie-like people smoking gigantic bongs and laughing crazily in the corner.
There is a coffee shop to suit all walks of life; from the small, quiet or candle lit place that plays chilled out music for you to enjoy a joint, then there are large and bright places playing funky drum n bass. Most coffee shops have a “weed menu” or counter where you can buy a pre-rolled joint or bag of whichever flavour weed takes you fancy.
The Dutch are a nation of coffee lovers and its residents are the second largest consumers in the world. Some coffee-shops even roast their own beans which makes it a great place to buy a decent cup of coffee. They also serve some of the best hot chocolates around!
If you want to have a wander around this area to find out what this is all about, the best time is at night when the place comes alive and everything is lit up and yes, the windows are red!
Ladies of all persuasion, scantily dressed in red-fringed window parlours, ready to please you for a price ... but before you judge, bear in mind that the sex industry is a legal business and as taxpayers, the government ensures that all prostitutes are able to access medical care and standards are monitored, the workers even have their own union and plenty of police protection.
The area is actually the safest in Amsterdam as clusters of policemen, and private bodyguards employed by the girls are always on duty. Amsterdam itself is in the top 25 safest cities in the world to visit!
The wall of confessions and list of items people have left behind will undoubtedly make you smile. Overall, this is a thought-provoking and educational place to visit that could change your mind about how you view the trade.
For the adventurous and open-minded, why not check out one of the many sex-shops which cater for every whim! Maybe a live-sex show is something you are fascinated with but haven’t felt comfortable visiting one before but now you are on holiday …. go with the flow, if you don’t like it you can always walk out! But one word of advice, if you are seductively offered to take a bite of a banana, don’t make it a large one, a nibble will suffice otherwise you could ruin someone’s act!
I hope this blog has given you plenty of food for thought and you now feel you can go to Amsterdam and soak up plenty of culture, without having to see something you aren’t comfortable with!
We don’t know anyone who has visited who hasn’t been totally wooed by its charm. You won’t find many cities such as this with so much diversity and for that reason alone I definitely feel you should visit. I hope you now believe there is more to this picturesque, cultural haven than just the pre-conceived ideas most people have!
- The official currency is the Euro.
- Their International Schiphol airport is in the top 10 best in the world.
- Dutch is the official language but English is widely spoken.
- The unofficial dish of Amsterdam is chips and mayo and can be bought everywhere! Yummmmm.
- There are 165 canals in Amsterdam adding up to more than 100km (60 miles) with around 2,500 houseboats.
- There are 1,281 bridges in all of Amsterdam, 80 of which are within the centre. Magere Brug (also known as the Skinny Bridge) is the most famous bridge in the city and one of the “hot spots” for viewing New Year fireworks.
- With over 60% of trips made on a bike in the inner city, it is estimated there around 881,000 bicycles.
- As the entire city is built on water, the average house sits on between 5 and 10 support poles which amounts to around 11 million support poles.
- Gouda & Edam cheese are both made in Holland.
Main attractions & what attracted us:
What attracted us:
What first attracted us to Amsterdam was (in all honesty!), the coffee shops!! However, after we had been once, we discovered what a fantastic place it was so our list of things we wanted to do and places we wanted to see, kept on growing! This resulted in us returning another eight more times! Yes, eight times!
Some more tourist attractions:
- Do you like cheese? Take a trip to Alkmaar Cheese Market – the largest of its kind in the world or visit one of the many Cheese shops.
- Visit a windmill, the most easy to visit is de Gooyer in the Oostelijke Eilanden (Eastern Islands) neighbourhood and it also has a micro-brewery and outside drinking terrace.
- Go to a clog factory and watch the famous wooden shoes being hand made.
- The Eye is one of Amsterdam’s most dominant landmarks behind Central Station (you will need to catch the free ’Buiksloterwg’ ferry which takes about three minutes) .
- The Royal Palace on Dam Square – one of three still used by the Dutch royal family.
- Go inside a real Buddhist temple - Fo Guang Shan located in Chinatown.
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