It’s not unusual for students to think of Amsterdam only as being the capital of sex, drugs and wild times; however there are many other aspects of Amsterdam which you can explore when you’re visiting.
Whether it be cycling through the beautiful streets of Amsterdam, visiting a world famous museum or learning about Dutch culture and history, Amsterdam has so much more to offer than what can be found in coffeeshops or at the Red Light District. Here are a few things you can do whilst visiting the “Venice of the North.”
1. CYCLE THE STREETS OF AMSTERDAM
By far one of the best ways to experience Amsterdam like the Dutch is to cycle through the centre. Yes, it will be crazy, and yes, you will probably experience moments of sheer terror whilst attempting not to collide with another cyclist or get run over, but it’s one of the fastest and most adrenaline filled methods of transport in this beautiful city. With over 800,000 bikes in Amsterdam and cycling accounting for almost 50% of traffic movement occurring within the city centre, this experience is something you probably won’t be able to find anywhere else, so take the opportunity when you can!
All across the city there are places where you can rent a bike for any period of time. Cycle only in the bike lanes on the right side of the road, stop for red lights and make sure you always pay attention to what is happening around you (look out for trams, cars, buses, pedestrians and other cyclists when crossing roads). Don’t be afraid to be confident – if there are people walking on the cycle path, ring your bell to get their attention. Finally, don’t follow the behaviour of locals who you see cycling through pedestrian areas or running red lights because: a) what they’re doing is illegal and b) they’ve been cycling around this city since they were children and are pretty good at not getting run over (unlike you).
2. VISIT A WORLD FAMOUS ART MUSEUM
The Rijksmuseum (€17.50, free with Museumkaart*) and the Van Gogh Museum (€17, free with Museumkaart) are two world famous art museums found on Museumplein in Amsterdam. With over 2.4 million visitors in 2014, the Rijksmuseum is the most visited museum in the Netherlands and houses a huge collection of art from between the years 1200 to 2000. Some of the most iconic pieces held by the Rijksmuseum are from the Dutch Golden Age, including “The Night Watch” by Rembrandt and “The Milkmaid” by Vermeer. The Van Gogh Museum, located only a few minutes walk away from the Rijksmuseum, is the second most visited museum in the country and is dedicated to works done by Vincent Van Gogh. In order to skip the entrance lines upon arriving at the museums, it is a good idea to book your tickets online for both of these museums.
*If you’re planning on visiting more than a handful of museums in the Netherlands, consider buying aMuseumkaart for your stay. Although the €60 for the card may seem quite expensive, it will pay itself off after visiting around five museums. The card not only gets you into most of the big museums for free, but it will also allow you to skip ahead in lines at some museums, and when you have a limited time in a destination, time is valuable. Musuemkaarts can be purchased at most major museums.
3. LEARN ABOUT DUTCH LIFE UNDER NAZI OCCUPATION
During the Second World War, the Netherlands was occupied by the Nazis for almost five years. This had a huge impact on everyday life across the country. The Anne Frank House (€9, free with Museumkaart) is visited by over one million people each year and is a must-visit location during your stay in Amsterdam. Like other popular museums in the city, it’s a good idea to pre-book tickets online for the Anne Frank House to ensure you get a place and help you skip the massive entrance lines.
Whilst Anne Frank’s name and story is known around the world, she was not the only Jew who hid from the Nazis in Amsterdam during the war. The Dutch Resistance played a large role in helping Dutch Jews escape from deportation by helping them hide from the Nazis or forging identity papers. To learn more about the resistance movement in the Netherlands and how they helped the Dutch Jews and the Allies, visit the Dutch Resistance Museum (€10, free with Museumkaart).
4. RENT A CANAL BIKE AND CRUISE THE CANALS
Canal bikes (more commonly known as paddle boats) are a personal and fun way to explore the canals of Amsterdam at your own pace. Normally holding four people, renting a canal bike is a cheaper alternative to an ordinary canal cruise, and yet still lets you experience Amsterdam’s unique canals and bridges from at the water’s level. Grab a few friends and have fun while you paddle your way around Amsterdam. With three rental points across the city, it’s easy to pick-up and drop-off your canal bike at different locations.
5. LEARN ABOUT THE INDUSTRY THAT MAKES AMSTERDAM SO POPULAR
During your stay in Amsterdam, it’s likely that you’ll end up wandering around the Red Light District, and whilst very touristy, it is definitely something you should experience while you’re here. The best time to walk around is any time after 10 o’clock in the evening, when hoards of people parade through the neon lit streets looking at the women displaying themselves in the windows (remember that it is not allowed to take pictures of window prostitutes, for their safety and yours).
What many tourists may not realise is that you can learn all about Amsterdam’s unique sex industry at the Prostitute Information Centre (PIC) located in the Red Light District. Set up by an ex-prostitute, the PIC’s main objective is to clear up any misunderstandings about the industry by providing visitors with true and accurate information about prostitution. Through slideshows, walking tours and even a replica of a working woman’s room, the PIC hopes to help Dutch and foreign visitors to understand and respect Amsterdam’s sex-workers.
6. GET A VIEW FROM ABOVE AT THE PUBLIC LIBRARY
One of the best places to get a view over the city is from the Amsterdam Bibliotheek. Situated only a few minutes walk from Amsterdam Central Station, the public library is not only architecturally interesting inside, but has a lovely cafe on the 7th floor with a great view over the rooftops of Amsterdam. Grab a fresh smoothie and rest your feet whilst looking out over the city.
7. GO BEHIND THE SCENES OF A BOTTLE OF BEER
Beer drinking is an important part of Dutch culture and Dutch beers such as Heineken and Grolschare drunk worldwide. Amsterdam is the home of both corporate and independent breweries as well as tasting taverns and hundreds of pubs serving Dutch beers. Heineken, the most popular Dutch beer and third largest brewer in the world, has a huge building in the Dutch capital where visitors can go on an interactive tour to learn about the process behind brewing Heineken beers. Although the Heineken Experience is a little expensive and is not a part of the Museumkaart, if you enjoy learning about and drinking beer, it’s definitely worth the time and money.
Smaller independent breweries such as Brouwerij ‘t IJ are also open for the public and offer you a chance to see inside a working brewery. The Brouwerij ‘t IJ is located inside an old bath-house next to the largest wooden windmill in the Netherlands. Tours of this unique brewery happen in English at 15:30 every Friday, Saturday and Sunday and the pub attached to the brewery is open every day from 14:00-20:00 for you to taste the beers brewed in the same building.
8. GET LOST IN THE HEART OF THE CITY
The picturesque streets of Amsterdam are the perfect place to wander with no end destination. Let yourself get lost. Take in your gorgeous surroundings, wonder what life would be like living in a houseboat, marvel at the tilted facades of the Dutch houses, or discover adorable boutiques and second-hand book stores. The great thing about this activity is that it is completely free!
Photo credit: Amsterdam Today