The capital city of Netherlands probably has one of the most chilled out vibes across all cities of Europe. If you're travelling to Amsterdam, rest assured, it's going to be one of your most wonderful experiences. The city has everything, from a bustling night life, to picnic parks, to some spectacular museums. You're going to find yourself spoilt for choice!
Amsterdam took it's time to come into the European tourism scene, always living under the shadow of other major cities such as Milan, Paris and London. However, once the true potential of the city was unlocked, it became one of the most popular holiday destinations for tourists coming into the continent and European citizens as a whole. The city had mostly gained popularity in the early years for its red light district, for its nightlife and a relaxed attitude towards soft drugs. Now, after the renovations of the famous Museumplein, which houses the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh museum and the Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art, the city has regained its enchanting artistic heritage, and has truly become a world-class destination for museums.
Ditch everything and rent a bike, have a picnic in the Vondelpark, go shopping in the streets of Jordaan, cruise in Amsterdam's picturesque canals, eat popular street foods such as the herring at the herring carts, visit the historical house of Anne Frank, or go beer tasting at de Gooyer's Brouwerij 'Tij (and the tons of microbreweries on offer throughout the city). The list of things you can do in this city is truly endless. Amsterdam is an absolute must visit on your European itinerary!
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Awesome history and museums. Great for nightlife and those looking to try out soft drugs. Beautiful, relaxing parks and distinctive culture.
Very expensive - stay, food and drinks - all. Can be awkward if visiting with parents.
A great city for history buffs, museum and art lovers. Also fantastic for its famous nightlife - a lot of students from nearby Germany come here only to party. Also wonderful if you want to experience a distinctive but cosmopolitan culture.
Some of the most popular photos of Amsterdam are those of its famous canals, which form a wide network throughout the city. Dug in the 17th century, they cover an amazing length of over 100kms, with more than 1500 bridges built over them, giving Amsterdam the title of "Venice of the North" - although the residents proudly claim that the canals here are way cleaner and less smelly than Venice. While the comparison is hard to make, the canals along with the greenery around them give the city a relaxed and almost village-like vibe.
The most famous canals are the three canals in the centre of the city - Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht and Herengracht, and these are surrounded by a number of pubs, restaurants and cafes. Go a little away from the central area towards the south, and the canals get wider with wide swathes of greenery on both sides, and you can sit on one of the benches along the canal.
You can also rent a boat and take a canal cruise - while this is extremely touristy, it will quickly give you a nice feel of the city from the canals, and is a lot of fun.
Amsterdam houses some of the best museums and art galleries in Europe, if not the world. This is not at all surprising, considering the Dutch were one of the most successful people during most of the 17th century. The Museumplien - or Museum quarter - is a large area in the center of Amsterdam with a beautiful central park, surrounded by museums or theatre halls on all sides.
The Rijksmuseum displays a staggering collection of art and artefacts from this age - more than 1million objects! Some of the most famous of these are paintings by artists such as Rembrandt, who had an indelible impact on the art world. There is also a museum completely dedicated to Van Gogh - the famous, troubled artist who once cut off his ear in his anger.
Apart from these, there are also many more small and themed museums across the city - for eg the museum of sex and prostitution (something which can probably only exist in Amsterdam!)
If you are an art or history buff, or if you like modern art/architecture, you will love Amsterdam.
Amsterdam is renowned for its "Red Light District" - the small area in the centre of the city which has a number of windows or glass doors, behind which prostitutes stand and sell their services. There are also a number of sex theatres, peep shows, a sex museum, and quite a few other exotic stores!
Prostitution is actually legalized in the whole of Netherlands, and hence this part of the city is not at all sleazy or scary. You would see a large number of tourists walking around, most of whom are just taking a walk around the area, and the area is completely safe.
The Dutch are renowned for their liberal and open mindset about most things - and one result of this is the legalization of soft drugs. The Netherlands was one of the first countries to allow legal recreational use of marijuana, and other soft drugs, including mushrooms (or "Dutch Truffles"). Amsterdam is full of "coffeeshops" which don't actually sell coffee, but sell marijuana products - from raw weed/hash (of varying strains) to pre-made joints and "space cakes". There are also quite a few "smart shops" in Amsterdam - which sell other soft drugs like magic mushrooms. Walk in to any of them, and the attendants would happily help you figure out what to try, and how!
Amsterdam is often called the "bike capital of the world" - and it won't take you more than 5 mins of walking around to understand that the reputation is well-deserved. Given the relatively moderate climate all year round, and the flatness of the terrain, almost everyone cycles for almost everything - including going to the office, or grocery shopping. You would see much more bikes than cars in the entire city, and a large number of bikes which people use. As a tourist, one of the must-dos here is to rent a cycle during the stay - this is actually the easiest and most fun way to travel in Amsterdam!
There are various popular local foods in Amsterdam, some savoury, some sweet, some cheesy and some meaty. One dish that's highly recommended though is the raw herring. This is a sweet raw fish, served with onions and pickles. Desert lovers will find heaven in Amsterdam, with mouth-watering stroopwafels (basically syrup waffles) and poffertjes. Cheese is another local favourite with varieties of it being used across different dishes. And drop is a form of Dutch liquorice, one of the most popular snacks for in the country.
The largest religion of Amsterdam is Christianity. A substantial population following Islam exists too.
The Dutch are fairly informal in their demeanour. Direct and blunt behaviour, coupled with basic social manners is common and considered acceptable in the culture. The Dutch are a modest people who do not believe in splurging on the non essential. Ostentatious behaviour might cause you to come across as a snob or a show off, so it's best avoided. Hand shakes are the acceptable method of greeting someone new, but always identify yourself with your name to a new person. There are no restrictions to clothing and you can wear whatever you feel comfortable in. Tipping is not considered too important and can be avoided altogether. Small tips can be left for cabbies, porters or room service and the usual 5 - 10% at restaurants, or even small change will do.
The language spoken in Amsterdam is Dutch, the language of the country. However, English is widely spoken in the city and is more than enough for you to get through your trip rather easily.
Founded in the 13th century, Amsterdam developed as a fishing village around the Amstel river. It saw rapid economic development in the 14th and 15th centuries which saw the coming of it's Golden Age, a period in which the city became the centre of the world's market. The town hall or the Royal Palace is one example of the expansion Amsterdam underwent in this period, and many historical buildings from this time still stand tall in the city today. The golden age came to an end after conflicts with the English and the French, but the city somehow managed to hold it's financial dominance in the continent. Many of the houses seen today in the city centre, date back to the period between the 17th and 18th centuries. The period after saw a great recession and decline in the city's position, and occupation by the French. The mid 19th century then saw the redevelopment of Amsterdam. The industrial revolution played a huge part in this. Many of the neighbourhoods of the working class were built during this period, which saw the subsequent development of the city into what we see today.
Nightlife in Amsterdam is bustling. You can find a happening party scene near you almost every night of the week. Amsterdam often plays host to some of the biggest DJs of the world and is also very well known for its underground scene. If that's not your groove, options for band performances are plentiful. Leidseplein has a variety of bars and clubs for you to choose from, such as the extremely popular Jimmy Woo. Melkweg and Paradiso are absolute favourites among the locals and tourists alike. Parties in Amsterdam go on deep into the night, ensuring you have the time of your life!
Amsterdam has great diversity when it comes to markets. For luxury, designer shopping - including clothes, bags, shoes and watches - you can check out the area near Museumplein, which has a lot of high-end stores (for both men and women). For slightly cheaper chic stuff, you can go to the lovely area of Jordaan which has a number of small, boutique stores among numerous cafes. If you don't have a lot of time to venture outside the tourist area of Central Amsterdam, you can just walk around and take a look at the stores there, and visit the famous Bloemenmarkt - the flower market.
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