Amsterdam is one of the few cities that made me think I want to live in them. It has a mix of old and new, narrow streets and lovely bridges, but also wide boulevards and lots of bicycle lanes. I grew up next to the Danube so maybe that’s why it feels so familiar watching the river flowing, breathing the humid watery air. I’ve been in this city 3 times already and I can’t get enough of it! I haven’t seen it all but I am trying to discover more of the Dutch culture everytime I go back.
The Dutch capital is so much more than having fun and getting wasted under a table, so I have the feeling a lot is missed this way. It’s like a precious gem hidden in tons of smoke and alcohol. It is called “little Venice” or “Venice of the north”, and the name is earned through its canals and houseboats. Bohemian as they seem, the houseboats were an answer to the shortage of houses after the WW2 and it meant no luxury living in them. Nowadays the price of a houseboat is exorbitant and the conditions have improved as well.
Take a canal cruise
A canal cruise is a perfect way of seeing the important landmarks: Anne Frank’s house, Red-Light District, the old Heineken factory and the famous neighbourhoods Jordaan and de Pijp. Also, you’ll get to go through the iconic canals of Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht, and Herengracht. What other better way of hiding from the rain and sightseeing at the same time?
The trip takes 1h and it costs about 18 euros.
2. Take a walk through the Jewish Quarter
The Netherlands is known for being one of the most open-minded countries in the world. Did you know that euthanasia is legal there? Their tolerant attitude attracted many immigrants here in the course of history.
As a result of the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisition, many Jews packed their lives and hopes and moved to the Dutch capital during the 16th and 17th century. This proved to be beneficial for both sides: the Jewish were incredibly skilled at trading and the city needed them. They were supportive of the House of Orange and, in exchange, they were protected by the stadholder. So the Dutch received them with their arms wide open and allowed them to govern themselves. There was a Mahamad committee who had the right to decide what was happening in the Jewish community. One of the most important thinkers of our time, Baruch Spinoza was excommunicated by this committee for being a true fighter with the absurd religious ideas. (more on this subject – Spinoza: A life)
Nowadays the narrow streets are blooming with small boutiques, lovely bakeries, butcher shops and old-style brown cafés. The Quarter lies between the Prinsengracht canal and the Lijnbaansgracht canal, being split in two by the Rozengracht street. The architecture of the houses is worth noticing: there are 17th-century houses, with a fairy tale appearance: colourful, step and neck gables, typical shutters. Pay a visit to the Portuguese Synagogue as well, because it contains one of the oldest Jewish libraries in the world.
3. Drink a beer at Cafe Chris
I wouldn’t have discovered this sweet little cafe if it weren’t for my partner who is always eager to find hidden places and connect with locals. So after a long walk in the Jordaan neighbourhood, relax at Cafe Chris, Amsterdam’s oldest “brown café”. It was established in 1624 as a beer house. A brown café is a traditional Dutch pub and you’ll find them filled with locals, nice beer and ossenworst. The interior is cosy and it will warm you up after a typical rainy day.
Address: Bloemstraat 42
3. Royal Palace of Amsterdam
Although the palace looks imposing, it was built at first to serve as a city hall during the Dutch Golden Age in the 17th century. It became a palace under Louis Napoléon Bonaparte’s ruling, a younger brother of Napoleon I, the emperor of the French. The building is still in use now by the Dutch royal family, playing a major role during state visits. It is known for its rich decorations: sculptures and paintings made by Rembrandt and his students, attesting to the power and influence of the Dutch.
4. Vondelpark and Museum’s Quarter
Museumplein is home to the famous Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum, which contains the largest artwork collection of the artist. The Rijksmuseum tells the story of the Dutch culture, displaying approximately one million items. One of the most important is “The Night watch” by Rembrandt. The quarter was laid out in 1883 to host the World Exhibition. It’s worth paying a visit if you are keen on art and you can stand to see so many people gathering around a painting. Try to go early in the morning to avoid long queues and overcrowding. It’s definitely a must to visit the square only if it’s just to see the astonishing buildings and be a tourist by taking photos with the “I am Amsterdam” sign.
Don’t leave yet! Follow me to Vondelpark, the largest park in Amsterdam. You can go by foot or book a guided bike tour and enjoy nature. A secret of this park is the Vondelbunker hidden under a bridge. It was originally planned as a bomb shelter when the bridge was constructed in the 1940s in the north side of the park. During the Cold War (1946-1991) around 40 bomb shelters were built in Amsterdam. The Vondelbunker was meant to fit 2600 people, but due to financial difficulties, the project was abandoned. In 2011, this subterranean space was converted into a non-profit cultural centre, where concerts, exhibits, cinema nights.
5. Amsterdam at night
I think Amsterdam is the most charming at night. And no, not because of the coffee shops or the Red Light District. The canals, the street lights that mirror themselves in the water… it’s the perfect romantic walk, it’s live urban poetry reserved only for the most romantic and sensitive of us. You could even surprise your half with a candlelight cruise!
6. See a jazz concert
Amsterdam has also a vibrant jazz scene so there are plenty of quirky bars where you can see a live act in the evening until late in the night. Places like Cafe Alto, romantic and discreet, Bourbon Street, with their man-sized figurines of the Blues Brothers on the roof, or Bimhuis, one of the first venues to put Amsterdam firmly on the map of Europe’s jazz world. Choose any venue and you will have a wonderful experience for sure!
Amsterdam will be always in the top of the cities I would like to live in. I hope to come back soon and eat Poffertjes! Did I forget to mention Dutch Pancakes?!
Check other cities that I visited in the Netherlands.