The Best of Amsterdam in Two Days
Just How Much Can You Cram In?
Amsterdam, is often called the “Venice of the North” (an honour it shares with Saint Petersburg, Bruges, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Hamburg and believe it or not, Manchester) because of its more than one hundred kilometres of canals, about 90 islands and 1,500 bridges. The three main canals, Herengracht, Prinsengracht, and Keizersgracht, dug in the 17th century during the Dutch Golden Age, form concentric belts around the city, known as the grachtengordel. Alongside the main canals are 1550 monumental buildings. The 17th-century canal ring area, including the Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht, Herengracht and Jordaan, are on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Many visitors arrive in Amsterdam at the Central Station, and then walk south over the streets Damrak and Rokin. In mediaeval times, these streets were actually the final end of the Amstel River. They used to cut Amsterdam in half: east of the Damrak-Rokin-axis was the Old Side (Oudezijde) of Amsterdam, the oldest part of the city dating from the 13th century. West of the Damrak-Rokin-axis was the New Side (Nieuwezijde), which was constructed later, but still dates from the late Middle Ages. Now Damrak and Rokin are the glue that hold both sides of the city together, and while walking there, you probably won’t even notice that this once was a river. The division between the Old Side and the New Side never faded away however, and both have a lot to offer for visitors. The Old Side is home to the Nieuwmarkt, a large square that recently turned into a Chinese neighbourhood (though it doesn’t match up with Chinatowns in other cities). The Zeedijk particularly offers some great Asian restaurants and snack joints. Nearby is the Red Light District located at the Oudezijds Burgwal, the oldest profession of the world in the oldest part of the city.
The New Side’s most iconic square is Dam Square, considered the ultimate centre of the city. It’s a spacious area dominated by the Royal Palace (Koninklijk Paleis) and the New Church (Nieuwe Kerk). Around it are the city’s prime shopping areas with the Kalverstraat, Nieuwendijk and the Flower Market, and the bars at the Spui. As well as the more official cultural venues, the old centre of Amsterdam offers the usual tourist traps. On Damrak you can find for example the Amsterdam Vodka Museum and the Sex Museum, and in the Red Light District you can find the Hash and Marihuana Museum. Of the very many cultural attractions, the following can be done in a couple of days:
An absolutely essential part of any trip to Amsterdam. The following come highly recommended:
Those Dam Boat Guys http://www.thosedamboatguys.com/
Amsterdam Jewel Cruises http://www.amsterdamjewelcruises.com/
Amsterdam Canal Cruises http://www.amsterdamcanalcruises.nl/
Rederij Paping http://www.rederijpaping.nl/
Viator also do a wide range of canal tours http://www.viator.com/Amsterdam-tours/Cruises-Sailing-and-Water-Tours/d525-g3 which include a canal cruise with dinner cooked on board, a pizza cruise and a red light district cruise!
Walking Tours in Amsterdam
A great way of seeing the city. Best choices for either personalised or group tours are:
That Dam Guide http://thatdamguide.com/
Amsterdam in World War II Walking Tour http://www.historywalks.eu/
Toms Travel Tours http://tomstraveltours.com/
Anne Frank House (Anne Frankhuis), Prinsengracht 267, ☎ +31 20 556 71 00. The house where Anne Frank wrote her diary while hiding with her family from the Nazis. Don’t let the long line (or maybe a very short line if you’re lucky) discourage you; it moves quickly and the experience inside the hiding places on the top floors is moving. The museum lacks any exhibits to explain the historical context at the time of Anne’s diary, however. Go in the early evening around 5PM to avoid any lines, or alternatively skip the lines entirely by reserving tickets from the official website. The Anne Frank House is open later during the summer. The Museumkaart is valid, I Amsterdam Card is not valid. €9.50.
Rijksmuseum Jan Luijkenstraat 1, ☎ +31 20 674 70 47. 9AM-5PM. The largest and most prestigious museum of art and history in the Netherlands: works by Vermeer, Rembrandt, and other Dutch masters. It was founded in The Hague in 1800 and moved to Amsterdam in 1808, where it was first located in the Royal Palace and later in the Trippenhuis. The current main building was designed by Pierre Cuypers and first opened its doors in 1885. On 13 April 2013, after a ten-year renovation which cost € 375 million, the main building was reopened by Queen Beatrix. In 2013 and 2014, it was the most visited museum in the Netherlands with record numbers of 2.2 million and 2.45 million visitors. The museum has on display 8,000 objects of art and history, from their total collection of 1 million objects from the years 1200–2000. Admission €17.50 for adults, under 18 free, no discounts for students. In the garden is a small temporary exhibition on the renovation plans.
Van Gogh Museum Paulus Potterstraat 7, ☎ +31 20 570 52 00. 10AM-6PM. The museum is extremely popular so expect to wait in line to get in. In the museum are many, but not all, of Van Gogh’s works. The museum contains some famous paintings like Sunflowers and Potato Eaters, but lacks other such as Starry Night. Also, there are selected works of Monet exhibited there. It is the second most visited museum in the Netherlands, after the Rijksmuseum. Consider the audio tour at only € 5,00, in the language of your choice. This will give you a much better understanding of Van Gogh’s life and his paintings. Entry is €17 for adults, neither student nor group rates. Open late on Fridays. €17.
Royal Palace Dam Square 22 ☎ +31 20 620 4060. Tu-Su 12:00-17:00. The Royal Palace is one of the three official palaces of the Netherlands. It was built in 1651 as the city hall of Amsterdam, in a period known as the Dutch Golden Age. Because of the swampy soil, it was built on no less than 13,569 wooden poles. In 1795, the French Empire of Napoleon Bonaparte invaded the Netherlands, and his brother Louis Napoleon became the first King of Holland in 1806. He acquired the city hall in that year and turned it into a royal palace. It was restored to the original owners when Prince William VI returned to the Netherlands in 1812, but when he was crowded as King William I, he decided that Amsterdam should be the official capital and acquired the city hall once again as a royal palace. It has been completely renovated in 2009 and is now open again. It is mainly used for diplomatic receptions and to welcome visiting heads of state, not as a royal residence. €10.
Rembrandt House Jodenbreestraat 4 ☎ +31 20 520 0400, 10:00-18:00 daily. This is where Rembrandt van Rijn and his wife, Saskia, lived between 1639 and 1658. The house is a reconstruction of the painter’s life at that time and provides an absolutely fascinating insight. You will be able to see 260 of his 290 etchings, find out about how they were created, see where he worked and explore the nooks and crannies of this fabulous building. €12.50
Concertgebouw Concertgebouwplein 6 ☎ 0900 671 83 45 (Dutch phones only). Famous for its orchestra and its acoustics (among the top ten in the world), this is the world’s most frequently visited concert hall. Classical music is the main fare, but they also bring other kinds of music on stage. They have a free “lunch concert” Wednesdays from 12:30PM to 1PM. In the same building is the “Kleine Zaal” or “Small Hall” for more intimate performances, often top-notch also. The building is near the major three museums on the Museum Square.
The Heineken Experience is a historic former brewery and a corporate visitor centre for the internationally distributed Dutch pilsner, Heineken beer. The industrial facility was built as the first Heineken brewery in 1867, serving as the company’s primary brewing facility until 1988 when a more modern, much larger facility was constructed elsewhere in Holland. In 1991, the brewery opened to the public as a brewery tour and visitor centre, known as the “Heineken Treat and Information Centre” (Dutch: Heineken ontvangst- en informatiecentrum). The attraction grew to become one of Amsterdam’s most popular tourist attractions and in 2001 changed its name to the Heineken Experience and now comprises four levels of historical artifacts, product exploration and sampling, and interactive exhibits which employ the latest high-tech multi-media technologies.
Red Light District. De Wallen is the largest and best known red-light district in Amsterdam and consists of a network of alleys containing approximately three hundred one-room cabins rented by prostitutes who offer their sexual services from behind a window or glass door, typically illuminated with red lights. These “kamers” are the most visible and typical kind of red light district sex work in Amsterdam and are a large tourist attraction. Being one of the oldest areas of the city, De Wallen has architecture and layout that is typical of 14th century Amsterdam, although many of the buildings were built more recently.