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Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrThe modern day Amsterdam is known by many as a hotspot for liberal activities, which can be enjoyed in plain sight. While this might be true to some extent, this is a limited view of an amazingly cultured city, which boasts a rich and dark history, and an undeniable charm.
Amsterdam is the capital city of the Netherlands, though the seat of governance is in The Hague. It has a population of over 2 million in the city and the surrounding greater area. Amsterdam is not only the commercial capital of the Netherlands, it is also one of the top financial centers in the whole of Europe, earning itself the status of an alpha city. Not just a pretty face, Amsterdam has also received recent recognition as being one of the best places to live, has ranked highly for quality of life, and has won awards for innovation.
Amsterdam has been nicknamed “Venice of the North”, due to its extensive network of canals; over 62 miles worth, which feature 1,200 bridges, connecting the city's 90 individual islands. The canals certainly make for pleasant wonders on a hazy summer's day!
HistoryIn 1170, and 1173, the river Amstel flooded. In response to this, the nearby residents built a bridge, and a dam over the river, giving rise to the later documented name for the village; Aemstelredamme, or Amsterdam.
Amsterdam was but a quiet fishing village for centuries, until the 14th-century trade with the Hanseatic League began to bring great wealth to the city. Unfortunate incidents, usually involving war, have seen a steady rise and fall of the city; from economic powerhouse, to ruins, and back again.
In the 16th century, the Dutch rebelled against the Spanish, which lead to the Eighty Years' War , and, ultimately, to Dutch independence. At this time, Amsterdam became a hub for religious tolerance, and a safe-house for religious and economic refugees. It became known as the center for European free press.
This prosperity continued, and in the 17th century, which was known as the Dutch Golden Age, Amsterdam became an important trade port, shipping to and from countries all over the world. At this time it was the wealthiest city in the world, until it later suffered wars with France and England during the 18th and 19th centuries.
Again the economy, and the spirit of Amsterdam, was revived, and the end of the 19th century was known as a second Golden Age for the city, before WWI affected the Netherlands, who, although not directly involved, experienced food and fuel shortages, which lead to riots. WWII didn't help the situation, and in 1940 Germany invaded the Netherlands, deporting some 60,000 Jews from Amsterdam alone, and desecrating the city.
Through the efforts of many, the city has now been nearly fully regenerated, many of the buildings are recognized monuments, and the city center is back to its charming self again. This is one city that is definitely worth visiting in its current state.
Sightseeing In AmsterdamAmsterdam is one of the most well-visited destinations in Europe, with over 4.5 million guests, and around 16 million day-trippers visiting its beautiful, cobbled streets every year. With so many people visiting, and nearly as many falling in love with the city, you might be beginning to wonder what all the fuss is about? Maybe there is more going on here than red lights and green smoke?
You would be right to think that.
Museums And Art GalleriesAmsterdam is famous for its museums and art galleries, earning it the right to be known as the cultural capital of the Netherlands. The largest, and most prolific of these, is the Rijksmuseum, which houses over one million artifacts, many of it Dutch classic art, including works by famous the artist, Rembrandt.
Nearby, in the same square, known as Museumplein, are several of Amsterdam's other cultural venues, one of them to be missed. The Van Gogh Museum houses some of the artist's greatest works, including his “Sunflowers” piece. The Stedelijk Museum is also worth a visit, and provides a totally different world of art than the other large museums that Amsterdam has to offer; Stedelijk houses Amsterdam's most important modern art.
If you take a wonder away from the main museum district, you may stumble across other museums and art galleries across the city, if you manage to resist the earthy smells of weed and food for long enough! You can visit Anne Frank House, to get a feel for what she might have experienced during the Holocaust. The Museum of Amsterdam provides a rich history of the city, with many meaningful artifacts from across the centuries, while the hash, marijuana, and hemp museum can give the more cultured stoner some background into what exactly they are smoking in the coffee shops.
RecreationNothing beats chilling out on a sunny day, and Amsterdam knows how to provide these spaces, with a large number of parks, sculpture parks, and a 1,000- hectare forest balancing its busy urban centers. The largest, and most famous park in Amsterdam, with over 10 million visitors a year, is Vondelpark, which even features a Picasso sculpture among other masterpieces. Tourist and local alike gather here, and music and performing arts are not uncommon, as they are not in other recreational spaces around this highly cultured city.
Amsterdam is also famous for its markets, with nearly every district holding some sort of large-scale sell-off, often displaying the multi-ethnicity of Amsterdam. The Albert Cuypmarkt in the Pijp district is one of the more famous, but there are plenty of flea markets, organic food markets, antiques stalls, and the famous Flower Market.
A walk around the streets is recreation enough in Amsterdam, and it will never fail to surprise you in its beauty, spirit, and innovation and creativity. The structure of the city is such that it spans South from the elaborate Dam Station- a site to behold in itself. A network of canals links the inner city together, and cobbled streets wind between tall houses, and grand squares, such as Dam Square, and Rembrandtplein. Why not check out Madame Tussard's waxworks too at Madame Tussauds Amsterdam? All the while you are greeted, and tempted by the smells, sights and sounds; waffles, bars, and coffee shops.
The CanalsIf you think Amsterdam is a shady place full of drugs and sex, then you are thinking of the Red Light District, which, for the record, still has a nice canal running down the middle of it. Most of the city is defined by a canal system that runs for a total of 62 miles, with 1,200 bridges. It is lovely. It really is a nice place to take a walk, and the thin cobbled streets, and charming sites and smells only add to the atmosphere. It is also possible to take a boat trip around the place, to see Amsterdam from a totally different perspective. The canal system is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Red Light DistrictEveryone has a different opinion, or level of tolerance towards the De Wallen, the Red Light District in Amsterdam. On the one hand, no one should have to sell their body for money, and so the issue is by no means solved, while on the other hand, Amsterdam does manage to add some fairness to an otherwise ruthless industry; minimum payments, legal protection, obligatory HIV checks, and obligatory condoms, are but a few of the perks.
Whatever you think of the Red Light District, in terms of its open display of prostitution, it really has to be seen once, if only to help you to understand the reality. Some people, of course, will spend a little more time here than others, and dare I say some people visit Amsterdam for its famous red lights? The Red Light District also offers bars, hotels, sex shops, strip clubs, and coffee shops- including three Bulldog coffee shops (the original, though not necessarily the best), each with their own style.
The Cannabis CultureAmsterdam has a culture of cannabis use, which while not strictly legal, is highly decriminalized. It is not punishable to smoke inside licensed establishments, who are also free to possess a certain amount, and sell a certain amount to customers, who can then leave the establishment with a bag of the banned plant.
The slackening of laws has allowed for a liberal approach to cannabis, and for the tourist, that means pot- everywhere. You can smell it walking down the street, though it is rare to see someone smoke in public; which is a crime in Amsterdam.
Walk into a coffee shop, and the scene is quite different. The customer must ask to see the menu, which will reveal various cannabis strains with descriptions of various effects, and a price list. You can then purchase a soft drink (alcohol and weed cannot be sold on the same premises), or hot drink, and smoke away, listen to some music, have a chat, and so on. Well-known coffee shops include, Bulldog, Grasshopper, Amnesia, Barney's, but smaller businesses often offer better prices, and a more relaxing atmosphere.
You can also smoke in most bars and some pubs and clubs, though if in doubt, always ask. Check out the shisha bar, “Lost in Amsterdam” too, which has really comfy chairs, shisha, window seats, and lets you fill up your pipe with bud purchased from a different place.
You may not have come to Amsterdam for the cannabis, or you may well have done, but either way there is an undeniably interesting culture, and a more respectable and mature attitude towards cannabis there. For the true connoisseur, see the cannabis college grow rooms, and library, sample their vaporizers and learn about medicinal uses, and purchase a dual-ticket that also allows access to the cannabis museum.
NightlifeMany people visit Amsterdam for its diverse and cutting-edge nightlife. The city has something for everyone, whether you are looking for a chilled night at a jazz bar, or a full on stomp in a club. Everyone is well catered for in the liberal haven of Amsterdam, and local Bruine Kroegs (Brown Cafes), sit in with modern super clubs, concert halls, restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and dance venues, in an effortless fusion of nightlife culture.
The two main nightlife areas in Amsterdam are Rembrandtplein, and Leidseplein, which both feature famous clubs. Popular venues include, Paradiso, Sugar Factory, Escape, Panama, and Studio80, though it all depends on what you are looking for. Ask at your hostel or hotel for advice. It can also be well worth a walk around; you never know what you might discover when you get off the tourist beat.
Food And DrinkThe diversity of Amsterdam is reflected in its wide variety of restaurants. There are many Asian restaurants, falafel bars (everywhere!), Surinamese food, and Eetcafe's, which serve pub food at night. You will also find the usual mix of tourist bars and restaurants, some of them great, some of them not so great. Waffles and ice cream bars are abundant, so if you have a sweet tooth, or the munchies, watch out! Try some real Dutch cheese, and take a look at the supermarket range of dry, cured meats and sausages.
Avoid the burger in the wall at all cost- slot machine type vendors that deliver poor quality fast food; the novelty will soon wear off when you realize that you are eating garbage. Amsterdam, being a large Western city, features all of the typical brand chains that you would expect; so the less adventurous can stick to what they know.
ShoppingShopping in Amsterdam is an experience of style and individuality. Fashion shops take on a small boutique type feel, along with bigger chains, and all of the shopping that you would expect from a large Western city. Stoners can enjoy Head shops, which sell merchandise related to cannabis, clubbing, and the underground scene in general, while the many market places make for a lovely place to take a recreational shopping trip.
The most famous shopping street in Amsterdam is the Kalverstraat, running parallel to the Damrak, the main avenue running from the train station to the Dam Square. Dam Square is also home to the Beijenkorf, the flagship store of the high-end retail chain of the same name.
AccommodationAmsterdam is a very popular destination, visited by millions every year. It is therefore very easy to find accommodation of every kind in the city, and in the surrounding areas. One of the most renowned hostels in Amsterdam is the Flying Pig, of which there are three, including one on a beach nearby to the city. Flying Pig is a good option for young backpackers, though many other hostels are available.
If you are looking for a little bit more luxury, then you may find one of Amsterdam's many hotels more accommodating, of which there are over 400, from 1-2 stars, right up to some of the most expensive you will find in Europe.
Hostel prices start at € €15 ($17) per night, but can get as high as € €90 ($104) for a summer weekend. That's right, for a hostel! Most include breakfast, though it will be basic. The 1-2 star hotels cost around a similar price, whereas 5 star hotels can range from € €150 ($173) -€ €400 ($460) a night. Advanced booking is definitely recommended, especially in the summer months. Holiday apartments, and even house boats can make a great alternative for groups.
FestivalsBeing a highly cultured city full of music, arts, and a whole lot more, Amsterdam is not shy of festivals, and there are many dates for your travel calendar, if you want to make your trip to Amsterdam that little bit more special. A few examples of the festivals include:
- King's Day: National holiday on April 26th. Markets, bands, stalls, performing arts, stages, international DJs, and millions of people dressed in orange.
- A Taste Of Amsterdam: culinary festival held in May, hosted by Amsterdam's most acclaimed chefs.
- Tulip Festival: thousands come to see the blooming of the famous tulips of Amsterdam in May.
- Holland Festival: World famous festival held in June, with open-air concerts, theatre, opera, and dance.
- Vondelpark Open Air Festival: masses of entertainment in Amsterdam's greatest park. Free festival held in summer.
- Gay Pride: Held in August, Gay Pride is one of Amsterdam's biggest festivals, with street partis, parades, workshops, and more.
TransportAmsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands, and features the largest airport in the country, with excellent international links across the world.; Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. Flights from within Europe are abundant, and other destinations in the world should not have difficulty arriving at Schiphol. The city also has an excellent train station, which can provide transport links both within the country, and to pretty much most major cities in Western Europe. Central station is also directly linked to Schiphol by train.
Much of the city is highly pedestrianized, and the Dutch tend to ride bicycles for short trips. It is possible to hire a car to get around, though a bike might more more fun if you plan on staying within the city center for a lot of the time. An extensive tram system, as well as decent bus links, and a metro, make Amsterdam a highly navigable city.
SafetyLike any large city that is unknown to you, it is recommended that you keep your wits about you, and stick to well-lit and reasonably busy areas at night. Amsterdam is considered one of the safest cities in the world, and ranks 13 out of 215 included in the survey. The Red Light District has the seediest atmosphere, especially at night, and it is not uncommon for drug pushers to be around. There is also a heavier police presence in this area, and serious crime is rare.
- Do not take pictures of prostitutes. You will get in serious trouble with someone who is likely much bigger than you.
- Avoid walking through parks alone at night.
- Pickpockets and baggage thieves are not rare, especially around the stations, and in popular tourist hotspots.
- Watch out for bike lanes; the pink paths. They are not footpaths. You will hear the ring of a bell many times a day, and it usually means you are in the way of a local on a bike.
- Watch out for trams!
Stay within your own limits, especially if using cannabis for the first time. It doesn't mix well with booze. Drink orange juice if you feel tired. Eat well. Rest well. If you don't know your limits yet, then test them very gently. Be responsible while visiting Amsterdam, and don't give tourists a bad name!
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Author: M.Warburton. Last updated: Jun 19, 2015