Amsterdam is the 20th century Vice City. There are two words that everyone links with Amsterdam: drugs and sex. However, the capital of the Netherlands is much more than just that. It is one of the greenest capitals in Europe (and by green I mean there’re a lot of public parks, don’t get me wrong!), two of the world’s best museums are located there and it’s the European capital of Jazz and urban cycling. Plus, virtually every Dutch person, especially the ones living in Amsterdam, is completely fluent in English, so you won’t find it hard at all to communicate with locals.
Amsterdam has an unforgettable urban landscape
Amsterdam is built over a series of concentric channels of the river Amstel, centered at Amsterdam Centraal, the city’s main train and bus station and from where you’re likely to see the city for the first and the following times. Like most of the Netherlands, Amsterdam sits below the sea level, so floods have been a constant threat to the city. Nonetheless, Dutch people have succeeded in winning the battle against the sea and now the city they started to build around a dam on the river Amstel (hence its name) provides some of the finest architecture of the last 400 years. You can find from typical Dutch houses walking along Singel and Prinsengracht to modern and imposing buildings in Prins Hendrikkade, like the Bimhuis, a concert hall built on the river Amstel. If you’re in for some live Jazz, make sure you visit its bar, where young Jazz players improvise over standards for hours as the sun sets over the river.
Museumplein, one of the world's most important art areas
Museumplein is the cultural heart of the city. The Rijksmuseum (the National Museum), the Van Gogh Museum, the Stedelijk Museum (a Modern Art museum) and the Concertgebouw (the Concert Hall) all sit on Museumplein. The enormous Rijksmuseum will delight lovers of Vermeer’s, Rembrandt’s and Brueghel’s artworks, but bear in mind that you’ll need at least two days to see all of its rooms. Its highlights include “The Night Watch”, Rembrandt’s masterpiece and “The Girl with an Earring”, one of the most celebrated works by Vermeer. The Van Gogh Museum, a personal worldwide favorite, is smaller and absolutely wonderful. Although some of Van Gogh’s most reputed artworks are displayed in various museums around the world, this museum has the biggest collection of them all, especially of the artist’s early and late work. Make sure you buy your tickets in advance in order to avoid the long queues that form at its entrance in no time. If you’re fond of Classical music, you can’t leave Amsterdam without attending any of the performances at the Concertgebouw: the acoustics of the main hall are absolutely pristine and its program usually includes performances by some of the world’s best soloists and conductors.
Cycle around Europe's urban cycling capital
One of Amsterdam’s main attractions are its parks: the city is filled with them and locals use them almost daily. Vondelpark is doubtlessly the city’s best known park, and it is full of joggers, cyclists, tourists who take a break from the buzz by lying on its grass and a variety of performers who show their musical and dancing skills all around. Although Vondelpark is a very nice park and you have to see it before leaving Amsterdam, make sure you visit at least two or three more of the city’s parks, like Amstelpark, Westerpark or the endless Park De Oeverlanden. Also, these parks hold a lot of free concerts and activities night and day, particularly when it’s sunny; you can find all the information you need in the link below. Each of these green areas is reachable from the city center by subway, tramway, bus or bike, the latter being my personal recommendation, since these huge parks, like the whole city in general, are best seen from a bike seat.
Sail across Amsterdam’s multiple channels
One of the best activities to do while in Amsterdam is to get a boat and see the city from a different perspective. The preferred option tends to be taking a tour with any of the companies that offer this service, but this is not what I’d recommend. If I were you, I’d talk to locals and you’ll soon find out most of them own some kind of boat, ranging from small launches to bigger boats, and they’ll be delighted to rent it to you. If you’re traveling with friends or with your family, renting a boat will be more reasonably-priced than getting a ticket each for the tour. Besides, you’ll be free as a bird (or rather as a fish) to choose what route to follow, which parts of the city to visit, which bridges to cross. If you’re lucky enough to spend a sunny day in Amsterdam, this is definitely one of the activities you should consider doing: there are very few things as relaxing as sipping a beer while sailing across the city.
It's easy to fall in love with Amsterdam!
Amsterdam has something for everyone, from museums, Jazz bars and concert halls for art lovers to huge and stunning parks for sportive travelers. Although staying in the city center can be a bit overpriced if you’re not staying in a hostel, the atmosphere of the city is totally worth it. Once you’ve spent some days walking along the city’s canals, getting lost in its narrow streets, crossing its many bridges and admiring each of its different architectural chef-d’oeuvres, going back home won’t be an easy thing to do. As a local told me the first time I went to Amsterdam, “this is a city that you just can’t keep from visiting”.
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