Amsterdam is a remarkably attractive city with lots to offer for all ages.
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Everything about Amsterdam and, indeed, Holland, comes down to water. An intricate system of dykes keeps the North Sea from flooding much of the country, so much so that British humourist Allen Cohen once described the Netherlands as “dehydrated water”. Meanwhile, Amsterdam takes its name from the dam on the Amstel River that was built in 1275. Its location now lies under De Bijenkorf Department Store on Dam Square.
The concentric rings of canals that surround the city give Amsterdam a quaint, almost rustic atmosphere. Any city travel requires crossing at least one narrow bridge and this has given rise to the city’s very strong bicycle culture. It also means that at any time there’s water and trees nearby and you are in the shade of a canal-side grand mansion.
In the 17th Century Amsterdam boomed as a commercial centre and ships of the Dutch East India Company sailed the seas of the world. At that time of prosperity, Amsterdam built its three main encircling canals (from outside in): Prinsengracht, Keizergracht and Herengracht and merchants built mansions along the canals. The Amsterdam we see today was created.
The name of this river is derived from Aeme-stelle – old Dutch for “water-area”
In July 2010 the entire 17th Century canal ring area inside the Singelgracht was granted UNESCO World Heritage status. It stated: “The historic urban ensemble of the canal district of Amsterdam was . . . the largest and most homogeneous of its time. It was a model of large-scale town planning, and served as a reference throughout the world until the 19th century.”
While the buildings may be historic, Amsterdam is perhaps Europe’s most youthful city. From shopping along the pedestrian-only Kalverstraad or in canal-side markets, the bars and cafes behind Dam square orat open-air summer concerts, young people flock to Amsterdam from all over Europe and around the world.
There are enough Amsterdam events, sights and attractions to fill a month, or a year but here are some highlights to fill a shorter stay. To explore further – and to see what events are on when you’ll be there – visit the official Amsterdam website.
The Van Gogh Museum
This museum houses the largest collection of the works of Van Gogh, the troubled yet fascinating Dutch post-modernist. See more than 200 paintings and 550 drawing by the artist – including “Sunflowers”.
Vincent Van Gogh is considered one of the greatest Dutch painters of all time
Some of the tiniest houses in the world are in Amsterdam. One of the narrowest houses is at Singel 7: the front of the house is just one metre wide – the width of a (slim) front door. If you’re after a small residence head to Oude Hoogstraat 22 that’s only a diminutive 2.02m wide by 6m deep.
Amsterdam is a stunning city and is ideal for travel photography
Canal cruises provide the opportunity to see Amsterdam from the water. It is the best perspective of this stunning city. There are many companies offering tours so choose a boat with outside areas to take the best photographs. The boat captains who manoeuvre their long craft through narrow canals and under low bridges are impressive.
The 200 canal cruise vessels include dinner, music and pub cruises as well as the most popular one-hour tours. There are also water taxis, luxurious five-star saloon boats, antique vessels, electric-powered open sloops and canal “buses” that you can get on and off where you like.
Canal cruises takes you to many of Amsterdam's highlights within an hour
The Anne Frank House
Amsterdam’s most visited place is Prinsengracht 263. It was here Anne Frank, a teenage girl, hid from the Germans during World War II and wrote her famous diary before her family and friends hiding there were betrayed and discovered on 4th August 1944. Anne was sent to Auschwitz concentration camp and was then moved and died at the Bergen-Belsen camp at the age of 15 in 1945. Visit and pay your respects early in the day before the crowds arrive.
Visiting Anne Frank's 'house' is a moving experience
Holland’s national museum has an extraordinary collection of paintings from the Dutch golden age. This includes 40 works of Rembrandt and five from Vermeer. The best known is surely Rembrandt’s moody “Night Watch” – all the characters (except the drummer) paid to be included. The museum is undergoing a major reconstruction so all the masterpieces are together in a “Highlights” exhibition. There’s also a mini Rijksmuseum at Schiphol Airport – open daily and admission is free.
The Rijksmuseum is one of Amsterdam's grandest and most popular museums
Excellent shopping awaits at every turn. While the floating flower markets (Bloemenmarkt) sell things it may not be easy to take home they are great to photograph. Elsewhere you’ll find markets for collectibles (Postzegelmarkt), antiques (Antiekmarkt De Looier), art (Art Plein Spui) and books (Boekenmarkt). There are a lot of brand name shops along the Nieuwedijk-Kalverstraat pedestrian plaza, as well as local specialty stores. Conveniently, the world’s major luxury fashion brands are all found along Pieter Cornelisz Hooftstraat, universally known locally as “P.C. Hooftstraat”. Here you’ll find Bulgari, Cartier, Gucci, Boss, Louis Vuitton and many others.
Amsterdam is a shopper's dream city
Explore the nightlife
On a warm summer night Amsterdam simply sparkles. It’s easy to spend hours observing and photographing the city and its illuminated bridges reflected in the waters of the canals. For a more active night, explore the lanes around Oudekerk (the Old Church) where you’ll find bars and clubs and restaurants in a distinctive Amsterdam setting. Squares such as Leidseplein and Rembrandtplein offer casinos, cinemas and clubs as well as lots ofoutdoor restaurants.
Amsterdam is gorgeous at night
Stunning hotels and restaurants
The recently-refurbished Sofitel Legend The Grand Amsterdam is one of the best places to stay in the heart of the city. Since 1578 it has been the HQ of the Dutch Admiralty, the City Hall, and it was also where Queen Beatrix married in 1966. Its Michelin star restaurant Bridges is excellent and is located on the oldest canal in Amsterdam.
Another option for dinner is the Pompstation restaurant which is housed in a 100-year-old pump house at Zeeburgerdijk 52. This stylish restaurant combines great food and drinks with fascinating industrial décor.
Enjoy live music at Pompstation – on weekly
If you have a chance to attend a performance of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in the building of the same name you’ll be hearing one ofthe world’s most famous ensembles in a hall with excellent acoustics.
Travel cheaply around the city
Like many old European cities, Amsterdam isn’t car-friendly. Most attractions lie in the city centre, within a half hour walk. To travel further or faster, you can hire a bicycle. However, be careful not to get your bicycle wheel caught in a tram track and always lock your bike when you leave it.
Cycling is one of the best ways to get around Amsterdam
The trams network is easy to use, has a frequent service and is convenient. A one, two or three-day Amsterdam City Card provides unlimited travel on all public transport, a free canal cruise and free entrance to most museums and attractions.
(Featured image: Photo.ua/Shutterstock)
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