When people think Europe,
they first think of Vienna, Paris, or London, but as the capital of the Netherlands, Amsterdam has gained more traction recently as a greater number of lucky travelers (myself included) have finally uncovered its unparalleled charms!
I cannot say what compelled me to pick this city for my little escape, but I know that I truly want to return and have yet another stride down its many canals, and enjoy a bike ride through the ocean of local people meandering the busy (but not too busy) streets.
It’s a living, breathing city, and as such, it has all the antique charm of a European treasure trove, with its rich history boldly written on its walls and windmills, but it also hasn’t feared innovation. This is obvious when you talk to the locals, see some of their finest museums or hang around for some of their famous festivals – National Tulip Day, here I come! And don’t forget your copy of DK Travels Amsterdam Guide!
Take a free guided stroll
I was eager to see the city with a local and as a local so, of course, I wanted to check out if a local guide was available to take me to some of the most beautiful spots, ones that you’d be very unlikely to discover on your own, or with a typical touristy tour. If you’re a first-timer to this sort of sight-seeing, then brace yourself for a long walk that will last up to three hours, and with so many things to see, you’re bound to feel sore the next day!
Amazed by their architecture, I visited some of the spots twice – Begijnhof Courtyard, the three bridges of Borneo and Sporenburg, and the authentic Jordaan were all on my list, although I wish I could have gone back to other locations as well.
Float across the city
Venice is not the only nor, in my opinion, the best city for canal cruising, because Amsterdam has so much history and culture to offer that you shouldn’t miss out on this wonderful opportunity. Since I was a winter guest, I took a local tip to take a day tour, since the evening ones would make it impossible to see anything clearly through the foggy windows. If you go during summer, then this option is much better since you’ll be in the open, it will be warm, and with little chance of rain.
When you get there, you’ll finally understand why this is the personification of Amsterdam, and why it’s on too many postcards to count. If you’re traveling with your loved one, you can opt for a romantic tour with candlelight and wine, while there are standard tours for the hipster on the go. Another pro tip: if you’re in Amsterdam in the colder months or the transitional seasons, rain will almost inevitably be a part of your experience. I packed my Go Travel waterproof pocket poncho, and I have to admit I got to use it every day, so stay alert for weather changes no matter if you take a stroll, cruise the canals, or ride across the city on a rented bike!
Fall in love with the Rijksmuseum
In the South of the city, you’ll find a breathtaking building known as the Dutch national museum or the Rijksmuseum, which holds some of the world’s most precious works of art – the self-portrait of Van Gogh, and Rembrandt’s The Night Watch among many others. If you’re there off-season, you might be lucky enough to not be greeted by a snaky line of people waiting to get inside. Still, just in case, I got my ticket online to avoid the crowds, and it proved to be a great way to save time.
What mesmerized me even more than the artwork itself was the silent, almost tangible awe that filled every single gallery and the people who visited the museum. It’s a perfect place for quiet contemplation, because no matter the crowd, you’ll find yourself immersed in the history and timeless beauty of human genius among its walls.
Tease your taste buds
With perfectly fluffy, yet crunchy waffles! Once you have a taste of this delicacy made the Dutch way, you’ll never be able to go back. They have a unique recipe where two thin waffle slices are “glued” together with a caramel-like concoction in the middle – yes, it’s even juicier than it sounds, but the standard waffle is as delicious, especially when topped with cherries and dark chocolate, my personal favorite.
And for those adventurous at heart, try their famous “space cakes”, but beware of their delayed effects! We know them as “pot brownies”, and people in Amsterdam have made an art form out of baking these treats, and it’s an experience worth having. I visited the Utopia Coffeeshop near Dam Square since I wasn’t sure I’d go for it or stick to a cup of joe – the former prevailed, and I’ll admit, it was fun!
Dare explore the Red Light District
There’s no way in hell you could ever go to this versatile city and miss one of the best-known districts that gave it a part of its modern fame – the Red Light District. I felt naughty just walking down the street, but I guess it’s hard to escape that feeling coming from a place where that level of liberalism still doesn’t exist. And yup, most if not everything you’ve heard is true – the sex shops and brothels to begin with.
However, there are other valuable spots, such as eclectic restaurants and laid-back pubs perfect for a tired tourist, so you can take a moment of rest even in this vivid part of the city. Interestingly enough, this district is also home to the oldest building in Amsterdam, Oude Kerk, another architectural marvel worthy of a visit.
Anything but conventional, Amsterdam still preserves its historical value and integrity, all the while leading the way in innovation of the spirit and culture alike. It’s a living, breathing entity, this city, and I’m certain that every time I visit, I’ll find yet another new spot at which to marvel, and a new adventure waiting around the corner.
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Zara Lewis is a regular contributor at Highstylife Magazine, a traveler and a mother of two. Originally from Chicago, she found her place in the sun in Perth, Australia. Zara brings a passion to followsummer about spreading the word about fantastic places to visit and creating a better world for the generations to come. You can follow Zara on Facebook and Twitter.