Amsterdam is one of Europe’s most beautiful capital cities. While many European capitals focus on their grand cathedrals, imposing castles, and other historic buildings, Amsterdam’s main attraction is the city itself. Laid out with a series of quaint canals circulating out like the spokes of a wheel, the city has a charming and low key vibe.
A Brief History
The city’s name, “Amsterdam,” is derived from its origins as a dam on the river. By the 17th century, Amsterdam had transformed into a bustling port city, fueled by the Dutch Golden Age—a period of economic prosperity driven by trade, commerce, and cultural achievements. The city became a hub for global commerce, with the Dutch East India Company and West India Company headquartered in Amsterdam, contributing to its status as one of the wealthiest cities in the world.
The 17th century also witnessed a flourishing of arts and sciences in Amsterdam. Renowned painters like Rembrandt and Vermeer made significant contributions during this period, and Amsterdam became a center for intellectual exchange and cultural innovation. The city’s iconic concentric canals and well-preserved historic buildings, such as the Anne Frank House and the Westerkerk, attest to this rich period of history.
In subsequent centuries, Amsterdam continued to evolve as an influential European city. It played a significant role in the industrial revolution and witnessed various social and cultural movements. The 20th century brought challenges, including World War II and post-war reconstruction, but Amsterdam rebounded as a beacon of tolerance, creativity, and liberalism. Today, Amsterdam is celebrated for its vibrant cultural scene, progressive values, and picturesque canals, making it a unique and captivating destination that reflects its centuries-old history of resilience, innovation, and cultural diversity.
Van Gogh Museum
A visit to the Van Gogh Museum is a must, not only because of its close relationship to Amsterdam and wider culture, but because it really is a unique museum experience. The galleries are arranged in order to reflect the progression of Van Gogh’s artistic work with information about his life at the moment of a particular work.
There are over 100 km of canals separating Amsterdam city center into smaller islands, granting the city the name ‘Venice of the North’. These canals serve as a great opportunity to experience the city in a different light. There are several different staging points offering daytime cruises all year around, with tickets starting at 15 euro and other cruises offering a more luxurious dinner experience for upwards of 150 euro.
Although no longer a brewery, the two hundred year old complex now houses a museum and attraction which highlights the history and making of the world’s most famous beer. Highlights include a bottle ride, where you follow the path of a bottled beer through the assembly line, and your very own personalized bottle of Heineken beer.
As Amsterdam’s National Museum for Art and History, here you will find all the major highlights from the Dutch Golden Age with paintings from famous Dutchmen, including Rembrandt. Make sure to catch ‘The Night Watch’, Rembrandt’s most famous painting and the Gallery of Honour with paintings of Frans Hals, Jan Steen, Vermeer and Rembrandt.
Cuisine in the Netherlands…
The Netherlands is not known for its food, but there are some basic tasty dishes at any local cafes. With over 500 cafés in the city center there’s ample opportunity to enjoy some genuine Dutch cuisine.
Don’t miss the “brown cafes”…
Make sure not to miss a chance to experience an authentic Dutch pub, known as ‘Brown Cafe’s’. Brown cafes receive their name from the dark wood interiors and smoke stained walls. These pubs can be described as an extended living room combined with a bar and cafe. Many of the cafes host local bands, showcasing a variety of music from folk to rock.
A Guidester favorite…
One of the city’s top grand cafés, Café Luxembourg has a stately interior and a view of a bustling square, both of which are maximized for people-watching. Famous for its brunch, its classic café menu includes a terrific Caesar salad, lobster bisque, and excellent Holtkamp krokets.
It’s recommended to stay inside or within walking distance of ‘Amsterdam-Centrum‘ the inner-most borough and historical city centre of Amsterdam. You could also stay uptown on the periphery along Vondelpark for a more neighborhood vibe.
Amsterdam in a Minute
Van Gogh Virtual Tour
Amsterdam Canal Cruise
Amsterdam in a Minute
Heineken Experience Museum
Jack’s Favorite Moment
Biking around Amsterdam
Amsterdam is perfectly set up for getting on a bike – with over 300 miles of dedicated cycle lanes. The city is routinely rated as the world’s 2nd most bike-friendly city, just behind Copenhagen.
The best way to get an authentic experience is to find yourself a bike and leisurely check out the city’s main highlights. European capital cities typically boast grand cathedrals, historic castles, and other beautifully historic buildings to visit, and although Amsterdam does have some of these typically European features, the main attraction is the city itself.
Before you jump on that bike there’s a couple things you should be aware of to make sure it’s a pleasant experience.
Traffic in Amsterdam uses the right side of the road, including bikes. Many streets in the historic center and along the canals don’t have bike lanes at all so you can just ride with traffic here, or stay to the right to let motorists pass. Local bikers are a little aggressive and tend to ignore red lights, often riding on sidewalks, and sometimes chat on phones while weaving through crowds. We always promote a local way of living, but in this case DO NOT do what the locals do :).
Netherlands capital is characterized by small windy streets spilling into wide squares, tiny streets lined with local shops, and canals surrounding a city center connected by hundreds of bridges. The architecture and street layout is something rather peculiar, with a series of canals circulating out around the city center like the spokes on a wheel. Dam Square is the city’s main square which has historically served as the fish market.
For over four hundred years this space would be occupied by buyers and traders selling all manner of goods. Today, the square serves as the city’s central open space, with millions of visitors and locals passing through every year. This is a great place to bike past, hang out, and do a bit of people watching.
Next you will want to bike over to the Van Gogh Museum. This museum is the world’s largest holder of Van Gogh works, with over 200 paintings, 500 drawings, and 700 letters. A visit to the museum is a must, not only because of its close relationship between the city and wider world culture, but also because it’s a unique experience.
Unlike most contemporary art museums, the Van Gogh museum displays its artwork in a purposeful way, highlighting moments in the artist’s life as you go from one area to another. The galleries are arranged in order to reflect the progression of Van Gogh’s life and artistic work. It’s fascinating to see the progression, or digression in many cases, of Van Gogh’s work, as he battled a horrible mental disease that ultimately claimed his life.
If you are looking for some green space or want to take a break head to the expansive Vondelpark, Amsterdam’s largest and most visited park. Popular with visitors and locals alike, the park offers great bike paths, green spaces for sporting or lounging on sunny days, an open air concert venue, and three outdoor cafes. This is a great place to hang out and get away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
When you’re feeling thirsty after a day of biking I would recommend heading over to the famous Heineken Brewery. Although no longer a working brewery, the two hundred year old complex now houses a museum and attraction that highlights the history and creation of the world’s most popular beer. Tour highlights include a bottle ride, where you follow the path of a bottled beer through the assembly line, and your very own personalized bottle of Heineken beer.
Stop off for a bite to experience an authentic Dutch pub, known as ‘Brown Cafes’. Amsterdam has over 500 cafés in the city center so there is ample opportunity to enjoy some genuine Dutch cuisine. The name ‘Brown Cafe’ refers to the cafe’s dark wood interiors and walls stained by decades of cigarette smoke. These pubs can be described as an extended living room combined with a bar and cafe.
No virtual vacation to Amsterdam would be complete without at least a mention of the Anne Frank House. Located in the historic center, this is the house where Anne Frank went into hiding during the second World War, and in which she wrote her famous diary. The secret room which held Anne is preserved in its original state, and available for tours all year long.
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