10 Spots to Enjoy in Holland’s Bustling Center
A maze of charming canals and narrow cobbled lanes has earned Amsterdam its moniker as the “Venice of the North”, but there’s a lot more to the city than picturesque pathways. Distinctly Dutch facades stand tall and regal, some housing marvelous historical gems and stories, others contributing to the aura of living history and urban atmosphere. It is a lively, busy, and multipurpose city, and that can overwhelm both first-time visitors and returning travelers. The good news is that Amsterdam has a lot of captivating sites and experiences for every taste, and you can begin your journey with any of these 10 great spots.
The Rijksmuseum is the quintessential Dutch art history experience. Recently reopened after an extensive renovation, the new building shows off a collection of 8,000 artistic and historical objects, including plenty of Rembrandt and Vermeer. Many travelers are most impressed by the late Rembrandt exhibit, but there are all sorts of noteworthy pieces inside and out of the beautiful building; if you visit in spring, a walk through the gardens is a great way to top off your day. One piece of advice: book your ticket online well before your trip, and try to be at the museum first thing in the morning to avoid the crowds. After all, the Rijksmuseum is one of the most visited galleries in Europe
Van Gough Museum
A short jaunt across Museumplein will bring you to the Van Gogh museum, home to the world’s largest selection of works by the world’s most famous expressionist. Vincent Van Gogh’s life and career is laid out in his childhood sketches, snippets of inspirational prints and illustrations, and of course, the greatest masterpieces he ever painted. Among the colourful melange of paintings you’ll find Sunflowers, Almond Blossom, The Bedroom, and arguably his most famous self-portrait, Self-Portrait with Straw Hat. Whether or not you’re a Van Gogh aficionado, this museum is a must if you’re visiting Amsterdam.
Nine Streets (De Negen Straatjes)
Looking to shop? Look no further than the Nine Streets, a quirky shopping district crossed with historic cobbled roads and filled with a selection of lovely restaurants. You’ll find everything from vintage shops to independent designers here, plus some excellent retro furniture shops, if you’re looking for the perfect antique treasure. This small neighbourhood sits between the Leidsegracht and Raadhuisstraat canals, and is one of the most scenic in the city.
Lining the south end of the Singel canal, the Bloemenmarkt is brimming with bulbs, seeds, cut flowers and potted plants. On these floating barges you can buy authentic Dutch tulip bulbs to plant yourself, or just browse the blooms and souvenirs. While the flower stands may not appeal to every tourist, the surrounding gourmet shops and cafes are sure to please your whole party; be sure to sample some Gouda at the cheese shop, and enjoy a coffee with a view of the canal.
One of Amsterdam’s biggest and most popular green spaces, Vondelpark is a beautiful spot to spend a sunny afternoon or summer evening. An open-air theatre puts on free shows and concerts throughout June, July, and August, and kilometers of winding bike paths to enjoy the fields. You can picnic by the pond, or pop into the famous Blue Tearoom for a refreshment. Few urban spots can offer so much variety, with as much lively celebration (especially on holidays like Queen’s Day) as serenity.
The largest and busiest market in the city is also a charming multicultural center, with some great shops and a selection of independent cafes attracting hip locals and visitors alike. Market time is busy, with all sorts of sights, smells, and tastes to sample, many with a distinctly exotic flavor. Spend some time walking around the streets, or grab a seat on a bench and enjoy the happy, buzzing local scene with a stroopwafel or herring sandwich.
Not too far from the Albert Cuypmarkt you’ll find the historic Heineken brewery, now modernized and featuring an interactive guided tour culminating at a big, lively tasting bar. You will, of course, get to enjoy some of the famous brew on your visit, but expect excellent demonstrations, too, plus a lesson in beer history and brewing. Between the movies, games, displays and tastings, you can easily spend a few hours here. Not surprisingly, the Heineken Experience is a popular attraction – expect long lines, unless you book your tickets in advance.
Anne Frank House
A visit to the Anne Frank House is sobering and solemn, and while the lines are always long, you won’t regret waiting for the moving experience. The building where the famous young writer hid from the Nazi authorities is now a museum, but so expertly preserved that you will experience the small rooms as the Frank family must have for the two years and one month they were confined to the space. You’ll be guided through the “achterhuis” (or secret back-house), a section guarded by a moveable bookcase, where the family lived in hiding. The informative tour will leave a touching and emotional impression that you won’t soon forget.
Amsterdam History Museum
This museum is a lot smaller than its monumental neighbors to the south, but teeming with a lot of fun and well-conceived exhibits on the evolution of Amsterdam. All the info on walls and in cases is described in Dutch and in English, but the audio guide is well worthwhile, and the interactive videos bring the information to life. Lots of variety, great explanation, and a manageable size make the Amsterdam History museum one of the city’s best attractions for the entire family.
Amsterdam is an extremely popular European destination, but the city center is not exceptionally large, and that means it can be difficult – and expensive – to find a place to stay. It’s best to book a room well in advance, and don’t discount guesthouses on the edges of the hip and happening city center: the tram system is fairly reliable, and when the weather cooperates, it’s a really fun and safe city to walk through. Remember that most buildings are centuries-old and built more vertically than horizontally, which means you should prepare for some steep and narrow staircases!