Last year, we found an awesome hotel and flight deal to visit Amsterdam in mid-April. I was super excited about it because even though it was definitely one of those places on my travel wish list, I wasn’t very optimistic that we would be able to visit while we were in living in Europe. Luckily, our travel buddies (the same ones we went with to Vienna) had always wanted to go to the Netherlands in April to see the tulips, one of those things that the Dutch are famous for.
I absolutely loved Amsterdam! It’s definitely one of those places that I can see myself living in. The only major con was the weather which, even in mid-April when it was already pretty warm in Rome, was cold and slightly gray. Other than that, everything was extremely organized, we were able to walk everywhere in the city without the use of public transportation, and we had our pick of museums and historical places to visit. Here are some of the things we did:
Anne Frank Huis
Because we weren’t able to reserve tickets online in advance for the Anne Frank House (you should reserve tickets at least two months in advance if not more for the summer months), one of the first things we did was go check it out. We read that in the afternoons the lines were slightly shorter. When we arrived, we only had to wait about 30-45 minutes to get inside, so we figured we’d do it right then rather than come back at another point.
Ever since I read Anne Frank’s diary when I was younger, I wanted to go to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. It was a very well presented and sobering museum, with a background on the Frank family before, during, and after the war. We got to walk around the Secret Annex where Anne, her family, and another family all lived in secret. Though it was small, especially for two families, and they had to be silent throughout the day, it was still almost luxurious compared to the hiding places of other Jewish families (as Anne herself said in her diary). We also got to see some of the pages of the original diary.
Van Gogh Museum
Amsterdam has quite a number of art museums to choose from, and if you’re there for a short amount of time, I’d say to pick one. Jaime and I aren’t crazy art buffs, but we decided to go to the Van Gogh museum at the suggestion of our friends. While it is definitely great for Van Gogh fans, it obviously doesn’t house all of his most famous pieces (Starry Night, for example, is in New York City). Also, if you want a more complete experience, with more than just one artist, it’s probably worth it to go to the Rijksmuseum instead. Either way, the price for either of those museums is pretty steep (€17.50 for the Rijksmuseum and €17 for the Van Gogh Museum).
The Heineken Experience
Okay, so this is one of the more “touristy” things in Amsterdam, but I like Heineken, so I’m not really embarrassed. Heineken no longer brew their beer in this brewery due to the sheer demand for it, so it’s really just used as a visitor center. You get a look into the history of the company, a look at how beer is made, and a whole lot of interactive Heineken advertisement. It reminded me a lot of the Coca-Cola Factory in Atlanta. You also get to drink some Heineken, included in the ticket price, in this really cool room with party lights and music.
Dam Square & The Red Light District
Obviously, I couldn’t do an Amsterdam post without the obligatory mention of legal prostitution. The Red Light District isn’t nearly as scandalous as people (maybe just Americans?) think it is. There’s a lot of scantily-clad women, and a lot of sex shows and shops, if you’re into that sort of thing, but other than that, it’s pretty much just another tourist attraction. We did go to this specialty condom shop nearby, called Condomerie, which was very fun.
Dam Square is pretty much the center of the historical center of Amsterdam, the most important square in the city. It is also where the Royal Palace and the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) are located. While we were there, a small fair was taking place in the square, so our chance of a picture of the Royal Palace was a little diminished, but we tried to make the best of it.
Amsterdam’s flower market is the only floating flower market in the world, but other than that claim to fame, I wasn’t really all that impressed. There was only one stand selling actual flowers, while all the rest were trying to sell tulip bulbs in every color, shape, and size. It just felt kinda…gimmicky. Maybe it was because it was still kind of cold and they don’t sell flowers until warmer weather begins?
Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder
If you want to take a peek inside one of the canal houses, I really enjoyed Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder, or Our Lord in the Attic. It is a 17th century canal house that kept a secret Catholic Church in the top three floors during the Reformation, when Catholics were forbidden from practicing in Amsterdam. As explained in the tour, although the church was “secret”, in reality officials turned a blind eye as long as it couldn’t be seen from the outside. I thought it was amazing how the church had an altar, pews, a confessional, a place for the priest to live, etc.
Begijnhof is one of the oldest inner courts of Amsterdam. It was originally a Beguinage, a French term that defined a semi-monastic group of women who served God without retiring from the world. While the women attended mass everyday and considered themselves servants of God, they were free to leave at any point they wished. Begijnhof also housed a secret church after the Chapel was closed for 30 years after the Protestant takeover. It is also home to the oldest wooden house in the city, No. 34.
Canals, canals, and more canals!
Finally, we also enjoyed Amsterdam the most by walking its canals and snapping as many pictures as we could. Jaime wasn’t nearly as impressed by Amsterdam’s canals as he was by Venice’s (to be fair, the water in Venice was a much nicer shade of blue), but I loved them. For one thing, it is much easier to navigate Amsterdam than it is Venice, where the street numbers have no rhyme or reason to anyone except the postman. But really, I think the two places shouldn’t be compared just because the vibes are so utterly different.