A windmill in old Amsterdam: A guide to the Dutch capital
Amsterdam – even the utterance of the word conjures up provocative images of red lights and illicit substances. However, after living in the Dutch capital for almost a year now this largely stereotypical depiction of the city remains elusive. What prevails is a city brimming with history, culture and an experience to satisfy the palate of every visitor.
The only authentic way to see the city is by bike, it’s a cost-effective and thoroughly enjoyable way to explore this infamous city of canals. Avoid the brash and touristy ‘Mac Bike’ and instead visit any one of the independent bike shops peppered across the city. Not only are these bikes cheaper, you’re less likely be the subject of frantic bell ringing by the overly competent locals.
When visiting new cities, museums can often be a generic experience which don’t inform you about and engage you with the local area. However, a visit to the Anne Frank House and Van Gogh Museum are a must. Both attractions eschew the traditional museum experience. They offer a relaxed, informative, and at times moving insight into Dutch history and culture. For those who do enjoy the conventional museum, the Rijks and the recently opened modern art museum, Stedelijk, are situated close by in the aptly named Museum Plein (Museum Square).
Whilst ample shopping is available for every budget, Amsterdam is certainly not the holy grail of shopping destinations. Dutch society remains astonishingly, yet admirably, outside the parameters of such entrenched capitalism seen elsewhere. Large commercial events such as Easter, Halloween and Sinterklaas (Dutch Christmas), whilst are celebrated largely shun the involvement of commerce. However, mainstream shopping is at hand down the Kalverstraaat, whilst the picturesque Jordaan offers a more upmarket and personal shopping experience.
At weekends this desirable residential quarter of Amsterdam (Jordann) also plays host to an indulgent, if expensive, food market. Waterlooplein also has a daily flea market.Whilst in Amsterdam one must spend at least one afternoon simply doing nothing. Head to one of the parks (Vondel, Ooster or Wester), to simply observe the serene and composed attitude this city takes towards life. Take a walk around the three principal canals of Amsterdam to observe the striking architecture – much of which is build on the reclaimed land. A glimpse upwards will reveal many of the towering structures of Amsterdam are significantly angled due to the sinking foundations. One of the primary concerns of Dutch parliament at present is how to retain and protect this soggy topography upon which much of western Holland, known as the Randstad, is built.
It is at night when the city really comes to life. Dutch partying starts late and end early – early the next day that is. Before heading to a popular establishment, such as Melkweg or Paradiso, check out a classic café. The only windmill left in central Amsterdam has been converted into a popular micro-brewery. The I’j, named after the large river it is situated on, is not only a bargain but is a rich and redolent insight into Dutch life. You can even tour the brewery for a small fee.
Visiting a coffee shop or walking the red light district is of course part of the city’s rich and colourful history. Just remember, red and green are not the only colours to experience in this stunning, historic and magical capital.