Every city in Europe is special and unique, offering glimpses into the past of that town’s history. Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands has such special characteristics that truly make it one of a kind. The name “Amsterdam” actually derives from several floods in 1170 and 1173 on the Amstel river. After the floods, the residents built a bridge dam over the river, therefore, creating the name which we know today.
What truly makes Amsterdam so special is that there are over 100 kilometers of canals, 90 islands and 1,500 bridges throughout the entire city which was designed in the 17th century. The city of Amsterdam took into consideration of an ever growing population and therefore, strategically planned and dug the three main canals, Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht in the shape of a half circle, as well as a strategic fourth military canal. Over time, the population steadily increased and expanded into the neighboring areas.
So, while this all sounded incredibly enticing, I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to visit a friend, Michelle from Confessed Travelholic who is currently doing her dream internship in the Netherlands. So, Hans and I, already had a vacation booked for Aachen, Germany and surrounding towns, we decided to tack on a couple of extra days to drive up to see Michelle and of course, the Netherlands.
Amsterdam Train Station
Before you get your sightseeing on, check out the Amsterdam Centraal Station! It is one of the most stunning train stations in Europe, on the outside! Amsterdam Centraal is even a National Heritage site and first opened in 1889. It was designed by Pierre Cuypers who also designed the Rijksmuseum further in town. It is the largest and the second busiest train station in the Netherlands.
Enjoy a view of Amsterdam from the Openbare Bibliotheek
From the train station, head left to the Openbare Bibliotheek (Public Library) (aka Centrale Bibliotheek). The library has moved several times and most recently, in 2007 to it’s current location just east of the train station. It looks incredibly modern on the outside and doesn’t look anything like the glorious architecture styles of the 17th century. Our goal was to take the elevator up to the top floor, also known as “The Discovery of Heaven Room” because it offers a great view over Amsterdam looking from the outside in. It is free to go to the top and have a look around or even stop and enjoy a coffee here.
Don’t get run over by the bikers!
Just a quick note of forewarning: the citizens of Amsterdam are crazy bike lovers and they even have their own special bike roads which follow the main roads. Not only that, but the bikers bike wherever they want, so WATCH OUT! And they are damn serious about their bikes! I saw a mom riding with two kids on her bike, one in the front hugging the handle bars and another on the back and other times, people riding around with what looked like a wheel barrow on the front of the bike.
Amsterdam’s Old Church & the Red Light District
A great place to start your stroll around the canals is at the Oude Kerk which is Amsterdam’s oldest church, dating back to 1213 located almost in the center of the city and Amsterdam’s main Red Light District. Unfortunately, by the time we got round to the church, it was closed, however, it was a lovely area in which to stroll around. There are 35 windows from which prostitutes sell their services. We happened to go on Sunday, which I guess is a day of rest and cleansing as no women were standing in their windows. You will also stumble up a small golden statue in the ground of a boob grab and apparently I missed a larger statue of “Belle” which honors all the prostitutes around the world which was placed here in 2007. I was too busy admiring the buildings!
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Take a gander at the Royal Palace of Amsterdam
Not far from the Old Church is the Koninklijk Paleis (Royal Palace of Amsterdam) which is still occasionally used by the Dutch royal family for official functions. It was built as the Stadhuis (city hall) in 1648 during the Dutch Golden Age. It dominates the Dam Square where you can also find a Madame Tussands as well as a World War II memorial just opposite honoring those who perished under the Third Reich.
Take a Tour of the Anne Frank House
Just a few canals over you can find the Anne Frank Huis (house), who is probably the best-known victim of WWII from Holland. Most of us have at some point read the Diary of Anne Frank which tells the story of the life of Anne Frank, a Jewish girl who lived in hiding before being deported to a concentration camp from the Nazis in the German occupied Netherlands during WWII. While I have not yet gotten the chance to go inside the house, it now looks totally modern as the originally house was on a list of house to be demolished after the war. But her surviving father, Otto Frank and others campaigned a foundation known as the Anne Frank House, therefore, preserving her life and memories.
Buy some Tulips from the Floating Flower Market
The Bloemenmarkt was founded in 1892 on the Singel Canal and is the world’s only floating market near this clock tower passage! This is a relic for when the flowers used to be brought in by floating barges. Here you can find 15 florists and garden shops. While I was hoping they would sell fresh tulips, there were none to be found. I assume this is because tulips aren’t currently in season, therefore, they offer you carved wooden tulips from a variety of colors to last you a lifetime. The exciting thing for true gardeners is that you can buy tulip bulbs of any shade of tulip you want. Too bad I don’t garden, nor do I have one! On the plus side, the buildings which line the flower market are typical 17th century Dutch houses that I became obsessed with! I just loved the architecture!
Relax in front of the Rijkmuseum
Further south, you will eventually come to what looks like a giant palace, but is actually just the Rijksmuseum which was designed by the same person who built the main train station. The museum was originally founded in the Hague in 1800 but moved to Amsterdam in 1808 but didn’t open at its current location until 1885. While I am not a museum-goer, this museum offers plenty to look at. While walking around this area, someone was blowing huge bubbles and the crowds of tourists were instantly happier and more bubbly. *ba-dump*
However, it is pretty to take pictures of, especially with the Amsterdam motto sign “IAMSTERDAM” located directly in front of it. This was placed here in 2007 as a slogan for the city and it quickly became a touristy attraction to climb all over to snap memorable pictures.
M is for….Miss Travelholic!
Take your picture with a Miffy Bunny
Currently, there are multiple Miffy Bunnies on display next to the water fountain in front of the Rijksmuseum to celebrate 60 years of the beloved cartoon. I guess one hasn’t truly been to the Netherlands until they have had their picture taken with Miffy.
Admire some art at the Van Gogh Museum
This area is also known as the Museum Square and you can also find the Van Gogh Museum. While I didn’t visit it this time, I did go in my first time to Amsterdam. My first time visiting, I was hoping to catch a glimpse of Van Gogh’s most popular painting, the Starry Night, but unfortunately, as is usual, the painting resides in New York. However, some of his other paintings which can be seen are his Self-Portrait (1888), Sunflowers (1889) and his Almond Blossoms (1890).
Stuff your face with Indonesian food!
While doing some research into typical Dutch cuisine, I discovered much to my surprise that Indonesian food is a large part of the identity of the Netherlands. This is due to the Dutch East India Trading company and the arrival of former Dutch colonials and people from the colonies migrating to the Netherlands. I told Michelle this and her boyfriend researched until he found one of the best rated Surinamese restaurants in town called Warung Spang Makandra. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but it was delicious!!!
Fill up on cheese samples from the Amsterdam Cheese Company
Afterwards, we meandered around and we decided to check out an Amsterdam Cheese Company. Originally, I just wanted pictures of all the cheese but then I discovered much to my surprise that there were endless amounts of cheese sampling. So we sampled every….single…cheese and then bought some to take home with us. This was perfect as we had planned to do Brotzeit on our lunches throughout out vacation to save money.
Stroll around the canals
So here, I will add a few things I did from my 2008 trip, so excuse the quality of the pictures!
Enjoy a beer at a Windmill!
One of the most awesome breweries I have ever been to was right here in Amsterdam, purely because they had a windmill! The Brouwerij ‘t ij (IJ Brewery) is located in a former bath house next to the De Gooyer windmill. It was opened in 1985 as a response to the dissatisfaction of beer consumers of beer produced by larger breweries. They produce 8 beers, 3 seasonal beers as well as a few limited edition beers. At the time, I didn’t know this, but they offer brewery tours as well!
Devour some delicious Pofferjes
While in Amsterdam, it is an absolute must to find and try Pofferjes which is another typical Dutch food that must be had! They are tiny, fluffy pancakes which are served with powdered sugar and butter. Sometimes, they even come with syrup, whipped cream or strawberries. I was able to try these when stepping back in time in a small café called t’Smalle. Upon walking through the doors, you would think that the café was 200 years old but in actuality, it was opened in 1978, although much of the original interior has been well preserved. Make sure to climb up the tiny staircase to the loft above the bar.
Puff, Puff, Passssss
Also, not to be missed while in Amsterdam is sitting down at a Coffee Shop. (If you want a coffee, go to a café!) Coffee shops have been a part of the identity of Amsterdam since the 1970s when the Dutch government made a clear distinction between soft and hard drugs. The use of marijuana has since sat in a grey area, yet there are plenty of rules & regulations one must be aware of before going all stoner-happy in Amsterdam.
While in Amsterdam the first time, I was 22 and felt the need to experience smoking a joint in the capital of legalized marijuana. So a friend and I shared a joint before snacking on some special brownies. Although, in my opinion it ruined the taste of the brownie! This time though, I didn’t feel the need to have direct contact with MJ because one can easily enjoy the contact high as there are over 200 coffee shops throughout town a-bubblin’. Not only are people smoking bongs right in open windows, but people walk around smoking joints or puff-puff-passsssing pipes. And yes, I got photo bombed by a leg lifting Can-Can woman walking like a crazy person.
Sit in a Dutch clog big enough for two!
Amsterdam is one of the most amazing cities I have ever been to with amazing architecture, culture and history. I could have strolled the canals for days and not gotten bored! I was sad to have only spent a day there on this trip, but I know we will go back again one day! Until then, I will enjoy all the touristy photos I took that I almost never ever do! Maybe the contact high brought out my crazy for the afternoon!
More adventures from the Netherlands:
and a drive into….
as well as….
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