Amsterdam: The Dutch City of Dreams
People hear the word ‘Amsterdam’ and envision a variety of things. Some think of valuable art collections housed in the Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum. Some people imagine rows and rows of colorful tulips while others may have a sudden craving for fine Dutch chocolate or a nicely aged Gouda cheese. A lot of folks have fond recollections of visiting local coffee shops and the legal red light district. Amsterdam is representative of all those things and more.
A Brief History
First settled as a fishing village in the 13th century, the town colloquially known as Venice of the North was one of the major trading centers of the known world by the mid-1600s, when the world’s first stock exchange was founded. During the 19th and 20th centuries, the original medieval center of the city expanded outwards into the neighborhoods of today. Most things tourists are interested in happening in and around the heart of Old Amsterdam.
Getting Around Town
The bicycle is the preferred method of transportation in and around Amsterdam. Automobiles are impractical in the inner sections of the city. Be advised that the locals are very skilled bicyclists; if you think you can keep up, by all means, avail yourself of one of many bicycle rental facilities around town. For persons who want a bit less physical exertion getting from here to there, public transportation is an excellent option. The Gemeentevervoerbedrijf GVM tram is the main non-bike method of transport in the city, with lines running from 5 o’clock in the morning until midnight. After midnight, a Thai-influenced tuk-tuk can be a thrilling way to get where you need to go.
Museums, Museums, Museums
There are four major museums in Amsterdam: The Anne Frank House, the Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum and the Nieuw Dakota. Visitors to Amsterdam can view works by Rembrandt van Rijn, Johannes Vermeer, Jan Steen and others at Rijksmuseum. The Van Gogh Museum is home to more original works by the famed painter than anywhere else on Earth.
There are festivals in Amsterdam year ‘round, from Amsterdam International Fashion Week in January to a festival of light in December. The Amsterdam Dance Event in October attracts techno and house music performers and fans from around the globe. If you enjoy five-star dining, visit during National Restaurant Week. In late spring and early summer, Amsterdam is all about celebrating its favorite flower, the tulip.
The Hague may be The Netherlands’ government seat, but most visitors consider Amsterdam to be more fun. As one of the most culturally and racially diverse cities in Europe, the people and legal authorities of Amsterdam are known for their tolerance for most things. Still, no visitor should think they can get away with anything while visiting this town with its nearly one million residents. FYI, cannabis is not exactly legal in the Netherlands—it is tolerated under the Dutch Opium Act. If you wish to indulge, find a sanctioned coffeeshop that has an official green and white sticker on the window. There are dozens in town, and inside them, you may enjoy hashish and marijuana. Prostitution is legal in Amsterdam.
Amsterdam is a town with plenty of culture and lots of local flavors. Anyone who wishes to spend time in an old European city that grew up very well should visit Amsterdam at least once in their lifetime.