Amsterdam: a great city break whatever your tastes
Mood enhancing, life affirming, uplifting Amsterdam – and that’s without a visit to the coffee shop
Amsterdam is great to visit any time of the year but out of the main summer season it’s pure delight! Off the main thoroughfares there is no finer thing to do than to stroll along the canal side marvelling at the reflection of the trees in the shimmering water, then crossing one of numerous bridges to marvel anew from the other side! Ok, maybe we had been to a coffee shop.
The reopening of the Rijksmuseum has been the highlight of the year and the preceding hype is well justified with the magnificent atrium, outside water features and excellent visitor facilities a fitting backdrop for the vast collection of world famous works and exhibits. Book on-line and go early to avoid crowds whatever the time of year. Of course there are many other well-known museums such as Ann Frank and the Van Gogh which warrant a visit but Amsterdam also excels in the number of smaller, some might say, quirkier, museums which are definitely worth a visit; apart from the more obvious tulip, cheese, sex and cannabis offerings why not have a look at the relatively new Het Grachtenhuis, a grand period canal-side house with interesting hands-on displays showing the history of the canals themselves as well as the architects responsible for their design and development?
For a real ‘budget’ day start at Hema, just off Dam Square. Between 9am and 10am you can sit and enjoy a croissant, an omelette on a baguette and a good cup of coffee for 1 Euro (in fact this is a good place to say that wherever you get coffee it’s good). Hema has several branches and is a good place to find lots of things that you didn’t know you were looking for at a good price. Things as diverse as underwear and party bags, stationery and cupcake decorations. They also do various food deals in the cafeteria all day long so a useful place to drop in anytime you need a break!
From the budget to the premium, next go to De Bijenkorf (the Beehive) on Dam Square. This 140 year old department store offers floor after floor of tempting displays – remember to pick up a free city map here showing all the main sights including markets and shopping areas. On the top floor there’s a smart, stylish food court with an extensive range of freshly made quality food with everything from stir fries to sushi and stone baked pizzas to yummy pastries via salads, smoothies and drinks! Something for everyone at very reasonable prices and served in a typically Dutch organised way.
Exit the store through the doors leading into Dam Square and daily at 11.15 and 1.15 look near the monument for a person with an umbrella saying ‘free tours’. Join one of several (according to language) walking tours around the city. They last about 3 hours, with a drinks/comfort break half way and even if you’ve visited before GO – you’ll find out lots of fascinating things not in the average guidebook and have fun. We ambled around the Red Light district and learnt much of the historical, economic and social workings of the area and then in the Jordaan were shown the gentrification from old industrial to cool and arty. After the tour you’ll want to tip your enthusiastic, knowledgeable guide even though there’s no obligation to do so. Ours answered loads of questions was funny, offering amusing insights into the Dutch psyche and also advised on other tours, including the fun-sounding, Red Light district at night and coffees hop tours!
After the tour you could either have a stroll through the flower market along the Singel canal or visit the Central Park of Amsterdam, Vondelpark, in the south, wandering the many paths, lakes and green spaces as well as people-watching from a bench or the tea shop. Other free things to do are a diamond tour at Costers behind the Rijks or maybe a short canal trip from behind Central station over to North Amsterdam? Walk along the north bank and look back at the view of the harbour. You’ll find a cinema complex in the large concert hall over there and usually an in-house art exhibition too.
Fancy a free concert? At the Muziektheatre (Opera House) from September to May at 12.30 on Tuesdays you can see either the Philharmonic or Ballet orchestra or the choir of the Netherlands opera. We saw the latter and they were superb – don’t miss it -doors open at 12.15.
To get around this very accessible city buy a one, two or three day bus/tram combo card available from the airport or travel centre such as the one outside central station. You swipe as you get on and as some tram commentaries will tell you, “remember to check out” when you dismount. Or hire a bike – they say half the city’s inhabitants have one so join them and nip around the city. Walking’s great as long as you remember to look out for these nippy bike riders – and the trams on many thoroughfares. Walking is a great way to spot the wonderful variety of specialist shops Amsterdam seems to have. Every district has interesting little establishments crammed with lots and lots of unusual and attractive wares and unusual, quirky ones specialising in, for example, belts and buckles, painted cows (yes really) condoms or clogs.
Where to stay? There are lots of bargains in four star business hotels a tram ride out from the city or right in the heart of the action there are characterful guest houses in tall steep-staired thin houses that have graced the canal side for many a year.
Wherever you stay be sure to take time to try the Dutch favourite, Genever, a small, filled to the brim glass of juniper infused gin necked with a small beer on the side – nice! Food is available from all corners of the globe as are music venues and clubs. The Melkweg (Dairy) is still there from the 60s, still as good if not better and offering a wide range of small and large events in its iconic setting.
So Amsterdam, ideal for a short break but with so much to do it could be that you’ll need a few of them to take in all that the city has to offer.
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