Amsterdam in my opinion is one of the most interesting (and fun) cities in Europe. Far too crowded, with tourists, but I can deal with that for a few days to get my fill of it's eclectic culture. It's the start and end point for a number of river and ocean cruises, so it's perfect for both pre and post cruise extensions.
Amsterdam has an interesting history, dating back to the 12th century. Originally a fishing village, the settlement was built around a dam on the river Amstel - thus the name "Amsterdam". Fast forward to today, Amsterdam is a vibrant city of approximately 750,000 residents, with plenty of culture, food, drink and sites for a wide variety of interests.
Top reasons to visit or return to Amsterdam:
Amsterdam's most popular museums are the Rijksmuseum (National Museum), the Van Gogh Museum, Anne Frank's House and Stedelijk, a rich collection of modern and contemporary art. But you are not limited to just these. Amsterdam is home to over 50 museums of all sizes and interests, ranging from technical and houseboats to purses and bags and yes even sex. Although one can get 'Skip the line' entry, be aware that the Van Gogh museum, the largest collection of art by Vincent Van Gogh in the world, almost always has a queue. The Rijksmuseum also showcases Van Gogh (as well as Rembrandt and other expeditions), so this may be a better option. Give yourself a full day to explore museums if this is your interest - the Rijksmuseum alone can take up to 3-4 hours to see all the exhibits. I usually max out at 1-2 museums, but if I say so myself, the Rijksmuseum was something to behold. I'd go back again.
Rijksmuseum (National Museum),
CANALS (and BRIDGES)
Canals, canals, canals! Amsterdam is well known for their canals. In fact, Amsterdam has 165 waterways and over 1700 bridges to explore (according to Amsterdamfaq.com) and the canal belt is a designated UNESCO world heritage site. One of the best ways to experience the canals is on a canal cruise. You'll see the various neighborhoods and life on the canals as well as the wonderful architecture the city has to offer. Canal tours are often part of day pass purchases or can be purchased separately. Canal tours last about an hour and can be found in numerous spots around the city.
FLOWERS AND GARDENS
Holland is well known for its flowers, and one of the world's largest flower gardens, Keukenhof Gardens, is located just 45 minutes outside of Amsterdam. Millions of bulbs are planted annually, including 800 different varieties of tulips. The gardens attract thousands of visitors between mid March and the end of May when the flowers are in full bloom (and this is the only time the gardens are open to the public). The best time to see the tulips is generally mid April, though this all depends on the weather. I visited the beginning of May, and you can see by my picture below the tulips were just spectacular. The experience was far beyond what I ever imagined. Blown away by the sheer beauty is an understatement.
The floating flower market - flower stalls on houseboats - is located on Singel Canal (where you can also find one of the world's narrowest homes, Singel 166). Open year round, you will find tulips and a variety of other flowers and bulbs ready for export. The fragrance of the flowers alone is enough to attract thousands of visitors. As a side note, there is a fantastic Indonesian restaurant serving traditional Rijstaffel called Sampurna nearby. Excellent food.
Floating flower market
Heineken is one of the three largest beer producers in the world, and owns over 250 different brands. Their original brewery was built in 1864 in the De Pijp neighborhood and was an active brewery until 1988. It later re-opened as a museum and is now a popular tourist attraction where visitors can take part in the "Heineken Experience".
Heineken is a popular beer export, however the small craft breweries around the city bring in the locals. Aside from being a great place to meet friends and enjoy beer and local food, a number of the breweries offer tours and beer tastings - perfect for visitors who want to experience the local beer culture.
Many of Amsterdam's attractions are located in the old city center and the canal belt, but a number of other neighborhoods should not be missed. Of course, one of the most famous is the historic Red Light District (actually, there are 3 red light districts) where not much is left to the imagination. They are most lively between 11pm and 2am when the crowds are out and about. The Museum Quarter is home to the three major museums - Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum and Stedelijk. Many people don't meander beyond the museums, not realizing the neighborhood is also home to the beautiful Vondelpark (the largest city park in Amsterdam) as well as high end shopping streets. To the west of the canal belt is Jordaan, where you can find Anne Frank's house. Formerly a working class neighborhood with many immigrants and refugees, it is now known as an artistic district and a sought after neighborhood to live in. South of the canal belt is De Pijp. Originally a working class neighborhood, it is now a multicultural community (home to over 150 nationalities) and has become a paradise for foodies. With so many nationalities represented, top, trendy ethnic restaurants provide a diverse set of menus.
Being home to so many nationalities, Amsterdam of course has many ethnic offerings. But don't forget Dutch food. The Dutch too have a variety of great food options including fish (up for trying herring?), baked treats and cheese (Holland is the #1 exporter of cheese). Indonesia was at one point a Dutch colony and many Indonesian staples including Bami Goreng and rijsttafel are now considered to be typical Dutch too. The latter is fabulous - one of my favorites.
Amsterdam's coffee shops should not be confused with cafe's. Coffee shops are actually places where one can purchase and smoke marijuana. There are over 200 such shops, so if you are looking for an actual cup of coffee, find a café or pub. The Dutch love their coffee, so you'll find good options all over the city.
Amsterdam is quite known for it's incredible nightlife. Whether you are looking for nightclubs, bars, dancing venues, shows or music, the city has something for every taste year round.
According to Amsterdam FAQs, "It's impossible to know for sure, but city authorities say there are well over 881,000 bikes in Amsterdam. Yes, more bikes than residents. And between 12,000 and 15,000 bikes are fished out of the canals every year. So yes, bikes are big part of the culture. Amsterdam is a very walkable city, and bikes are a great way to get around, especially since Amsterdam is so flat and has a lot of cycling paths. But be careful, whether you are walking or cycling. The Dutch are always in a hurry and don't like it when people stop or get in the way. Even if you have the right of way. Boy, do I know about that one - I was on the sidewalk and almost got run over!
I'm an expert travel planner and river cruises are my specialty. Amsterdam is the starting/ending point for a number of river cruises, including the Rhine River and Tulip Time cruises. I'd love to help find that perfect cruise for you - email or call (602.540.7338) to get started.
Laurie Marschall - Owner and Founder