In Part I of this series, I shared the truth about the “dark side” of Amsterdam. You know, the side of the city you always hear about: the marijuana and the coffeeshops, the prostitutes and the Red Light District. But the truth is, that although those might be the aspects of the city you hear about the most, the city is so much more than a good-time party city. Amsterdam is really all about canals, museums, cafés, bikes, stroopwafels, parks, and architecture. It’s a family-friendly destination that absolutely deserves a spot on your itinerary. In this post, I’m going to tell you the truth about Amsterdam, beyond what you may have heard.
I adore museums, and Amsterdam is home to some of the best ones anywhere in the world. From the Anne Frank House, which shows where two Jewish families hid from the Nazies during World War II, to the Amsterdam Museum, which tells the story of the city’s growth from its origins as a fishing village through today, to the Dutch Resistance Museum, which recounts how Dutch citizens resisted against, or collaborated with, the Nazis who occupied the Netherlands during WWII, there is a history museum for everyone. And no matter your taste in art, you’ll find a museum to occupy your time. For modern art, including post-1945 conceptual art as well as works by Picasso, Chagall, and Cézanne, head to the Stedelijk Museum. My personal favorite is the Van Gogh Museum, which displays 200 paintings that were owned by Theo, Vincent’s younger brother. The most famous art museum in the city is the Rijksmuesum, which houses the best display of the Dutch Masters (Rembrandt, Vermeer, Hals, and Steen) anywhere in the world. No matter what your interests, you’ll be sure to find an excellent and informative museum in Amsterdam.
The city of Amsterdam was built up upon millions of pilings, creating a city of over 100 tree-lined canals that are perfect for snapping pictures at every turn. Although there’s so much to do in Amsterdam (see above), one of my favorite activities is simply to wander the picturesque neighborhoods and watch boats float by. For a great scenic walk, head to the Jordaan neighborhood, to the west of Dam Square. There you’ll find cozy cafés, fashionable boutiques, independent bookstores, funky artist studios, and of course, beautiful canals lined with houseboats. It’s an peaceful slice of Dutch life.
If you’re interested in architecture, Amsterdam is the place for you! Amsterdam is well known for its gables, the false facades on the tops of buildings. There are a wide variety of gables, which can also be decorated with garlands, scrolls, or human or animal heads. A “point” gable is the most simplistic, and simply follows the triangular shape of the roof. A “neck” gable rises up vertically from a pair of sloped “shoulders”. The “spout” gable has a rectangular stone at the peak. A “cornice” gable looks like a triangle without the peak. As you can imagine, a “bell” gable is shaped like a bell, and a “step” gable is triangle shaped and has steps up the sides. In the picture above, the gable styles are (from left to right): point, neck, spout, point, cornice, bell, neck, bell. For more architectural finds, check out this page of the I Amsterdam website.
If you love spending time outside, then Amsterdam has several parks where you can escape the bustle of the busy city and soak in the scenery. The largest and best known park in the city is Vondelpark. On a sunny day, you can find Amsterdamers as well as tourists strolling or biking through the park, or simply sitting in the grass soaking up the sun. Vondelpark has several restaurants and cafés, as well as a rose garden and an open air theater. There’s even a skate rental shop, if you prefer to explore the park on skates! While Vondelpark is beautiful and centrally located (it’s just west of the Museum Plein, where the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, and Stedelijk Museum are), it can get very crowded during sunny days. For less well-known parks, head to Amstelpark (huge garden with Dutch tulips, south of the city but accessible via bus) or Rembrandtpark (a green oasis with several ponds and even a petting zoo, in the western part of the city, accessible via bus and tram).
As you can see, Amsterdam deserves a much better reputation that what it frequently receives. There is more to this lively city than just coffeeshops and the Red Light District. Even this post barely scratches the surface. In addition to museums, canals, architecture, and parks, there are cosy cafés, delicious food, glorious churches, abundant people-watching, and a vibrant culture to be enjoyed. I hope I convinced you to add Amsterdam to your traveling bucket list!