WELL, IT’S definitely spring again! So, where better for a weekend break than Amsterdam – a city famed for its artists, friendly people and, of course, those tulips? Here are some of the highlights of this wonderful city, starting with some culture ….
Amsterdam’s answer to the Louvre, the Rijksmuseum, is without a doubt one of the best museums in the world. Even with many rooms closed for a lengthy renovation (scheduled for completion in 2008), the Rijksmuseum still offers a stunning feast for art lovers, housing the largest collection of art and history in the Netherlands. Its globally celebrated collection is based around the paintings of the 17th century Dutch Republic, the Golden Age, including 20 works by Rembrandt, four by Vermeer and numerous other paintings by artists such as Frans Hals and Jan Steen. Displayed at the very heart of the museum is Rembrandt’s Night Watch. There is also a wonderful collection of Delft Pottery, an eclectic bunch of miniature dolls’ houses and even a photographic exhibition.
Be prepared to brave the crowds to view the treasures of the Van Gogh Museum, which holds many of the artist’s most famous works – 500 drawings, 200 paintings and over 700 letters make up the collection. It’s worthwhile though, as a visit to this museum brings the genius and vision of this tortured artist to life. The recently restored house of the world famous painter Rembrandt van Rijn, who lived and worked in Amsterdam, is also worth a quick look. Collected here is a wide range of the master’s work. There is also an interesting section on Rembrandt fakes – some of the fakes are actually hung next to the originals to offer easy comparison.
Another popular restored house is that of Anne Frank. For many people, Anne Frank’s story has come to epitomise a tragic part of history. Anne was only a child when she first took up writing her journal, but the book has grown to signify not only the depths to which man is capable of sinking, but also the sheer joy of life. The book details the turbulent conditions of a Jewish family living in hiding during the time Holland was occupied by the Nazis.
More than 80,000 people a year cram into Amsterdam’s most famous canal house and, the attic in which she wrote that diary is the focus of this moving, often upsetting place. With precious little space for visitors, you should expect long queues and lengthy delays, particularly in the middle of the day, but it is one of those places that will undoubtedly move you and is perhaps essential for us all to visit and ponder upon.
If you are travelling with children, be sure to make time for the Artis Zoo. With around 8,000 animals, a planetarium, a wonderful aquarium and acres of gardens, Artis has something for the whole family. Or, why not relax in the Vondelpark – the largest park in the city, and always alive with skaters, joggers, all sorts of street performers and a theatre? There are several bars in the park, each with their own outside terrace. All in all, it is a very pleasant place to spend a lazy sunny afternoon.
If you are on a grown-up outing, why not check out some of the less orthodox museums in town? The Sex Museum is a quirky intriguing museum, which covers the history of sex from a surprisingly serious Dutch point of view. Meanwhile, far from being a glorification of all things stoned, the Hash and Hemp Museum takes an intelligent view of the role hash has played in history, its use as a material and the ritual of smoking. Finally, the Heineken Brewery is a great place to spend a couple of educational hours – did you know that Heineken is Europe’s leading brewer and supplier to a staggering 170 countries? Entrance is a mere five euros (which goes to charity) and includes some beer.
If shopping is more your thing, you’ll love the Waterlooplein. Located in the centre of the former Jewish neighbourhood, it is Amsterdam’s largest flea-market. In the old days the merchants on this square used to sell everything from bric-a-brac to genuine antiques, genuine junk, goods of dubious origin and second-hand clothes. Since the reinstatement of the flea market at its original location, the merchandise has become more geared towards visiting tourists with lots of second-hand apparel and smoking paraphernalia, but for cheap clothes it’s still hard to beat. It’s also worth a wander among Albert Cuyp day market, with its stalls lining both sides of Albert Cuyp Street. Focussed mainly around clothes and haberdashery, it still retains its old charm.
Venice of the North
No trip to Amsterdam is complete without a stroll along a canal bank – one of the major attractions of the ‘Venice of the North’. Charming by daytime, but by night they become even more enchanting when the canal houses and bridges are beautifully illuminated. The four main city centre canals are Prinsengracht, Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Singel, and of course there are numerous smaller canals, of which the Brouwersgracht, the Bloemgracht and the Leliegracht are especially pleasant.
You can also view the canals by boat, or take the Canal Bus, which stops at the major museums and attractions. For the more adventurous, there are pedal boats for hire or you can order a watertaxi to get you from A to B in a pleasant, albeit more expensive way.
When the sun goes down, Amsterdam caters for all tastes. There is the famous Red Light district, but for a more upmarket night out try the Reguliersdwarsstraat – the hippest street in Amsterdam. Here there is a mixture of upmarket gay bars, restaurants serving expensive French cuisine and assorted nightclubs catering to a slightly older crowd of media buffs, businessmen and local celebrities. For a more mainstream night out, try the Rembrandtplein. This is the major entertainment area for rowdy Amsterdammers and out-of-towners. The bars are chock-a-block with people singing along to Dutch folk songs at the top of their voices.
And finally, back to those tulips. Amsterdam is rightly famous for its beautiful blooms – it really is worthwhile taking the time to explore the famous floating flower market, the Bloemenmarkt, found at the Singel between the Koningsplein and the Munt.
PDM verdict: One of the best reasons to visit Amsterdam is for the gezelligheid – the friendliness and informality. So whether you want a holiday full of flowers, history and culture, or you just want to have fun, you’re sure to enjoy a great gezelligheid time in Amsterdam!