Amsterdam, the Dutch capital is known for its fascinating history and even more intriguing present day culture. Naturally, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit one of the top tourist destinations in Europe. Even though there is so much to see and do in the city, one of the best parts was simply walking alongside the many beautiful canals that run through Amsterdam. In addition to the natural beauty of the canals, Amsterdam is filled with unique architecture, and I was easily entertained by the charm of what residents see as mere housing.
Another aspect that seems simple to residents but interesting to visitors (or, to me at least) is the bike culture. With such small streets that are always filled with people, many opt for bike riding as their main transportation instead. And when I say “many” I really mean 90% of the population. Every road you could turn down had tons of bike racks, but it never seemed like enough as the bikes piled up wherever there was space. One of the most interesting parts of this bike culture is the high level of theft – our tour guide told us that on a lively Friday or Saturday night, people will leave their bikes on any random street, and often, in their inebriated state will forget where they leave them and take whatever bike is next to them when they’re ready to turn in for the night. Of course their original bike will be long gone as well by the next morning, so I saw it as more of trading service.
Although there are more than enough museums to fill your trip, my favorite by far was the Anne Frank museum. Both moving and informational, I was able to walk through the very rooms that the Frank family resided in. In many rooms they were able to preserve original parts of the house, like wall paper, or even the pencil lines on the wall to mark the heights of the children over the years. Despite the sadness that can overwhelm you by visiting a part of history like this, it is truly a once in a life time experience, and something you shouldn’t miss.
On a lighter note, two of Amsterdam’s most notorious attractions lived up to all their expectations – the Red Light District, and the city’s many “coffee” shops. The Red Light District, located through a network of back alleys and roads, are filled with Amsterdam’s working girls. Even though most of the people walking through were only there to say they had walked through the infamous District, we learned there was a surprisingly high amount of business that comes along with the legalization of prostitution. Next, the coffee shops. One of Amsterdam’s oldest traditions surprised us all by the laid-back nature of their business (or should I be surprised everybody was so relaxed?). Despite popular belief that Amsterdam will be shutting it’s coffee shop doors to tourists, we were told that it was very unlikely that the legislation would be passed as it brings in a large amount of the city’s tourism. I think this pretty much goes without saying, but both of these activities are more suited for adults, so if you’re traveling with small children I’d highly recommend skipping this part.
After spending time in the center of the lively city, I was able to go to the outskirts and visit a traditional Dutch town, Zaanse Schans. This town was the definition of charm, with the windmills, small shops, farms, and once again with the adorable housing, I almost considered joining the Dutch-life. However, my experiences in Zannse Schans was the next best thing. They had a cheese making demonstration, and then you could visit the shop with endless amounts of cheese and chocolate for you to sample. Next they shared all their secrets of the traditional wooden clog with a clog-making demonstration.
Overall, the combination of the dynamic city and the charm of the small town proved to be the ultimate experience in Amsterdam, hopefully you too can have a trip that’s just as enjoyable!