AN AMSTERDAMMER FOR A WEEK
The best way to enjoy Amsterdam is to become an Amsterdammer. Late breakfasts, traipsing the city on foot or the bicycle, sipping beer and taking in the beautiful sunsets over an endless number of canals—it’s the small things that make this city a beautiful experience. Amsterdam has much to offer for people of all ages, although this city might be best enjoyed by urban flâneurs with little baggage.
Visa: The Netherlands requires Schengen visa for entry but not for US citizens. If you applied for a visa like we did, the visa application is straightforward and you can get the visa in less than a month. If you are a US citizen, you do not need the visa and you can visit for a maximum of three months in a six-month period.
Travel: Flights from US are frequent and you can fly into Schiphol International on many international carriers. The airport itself is fully equipped for everything you will need when you land including refreshments, money exchange and withdrawal, and wifi. If you are a light traveler, consider taking the train into Centraal Station, right in the city, and then take a cab or the metro rail to one of the city hotels where you would like to stay. For all travel within Amsterdam, I would suggest taking a day-pass or a week-pass on the metro rail or renting a bicycle. But what I liked best was walking, taking in the sights, sounds and smells of the city, and walking.
Where to stay:
One thing anyone who has lived in the US and traveled to Europe knows is that you get very little return for money in terms of carpet area. This holds true for hotels as well. Most hotels rated 3 or 4-stars have small bedrooms and bathrooms so be prepared for that. But what makes these city hotels worth it is the incredible view many of them have. A lot of them are situated right on the canals, or on the corner of winding city streets or they look over quaint rooftops. There are also many AirBnBs available at moderate prices. If you are more adventurous you could consider lesser known bed and breakfast joints or hostels as well.
What to see/do:
The City: nothing is more important to see in Amsterdam than the city itself. Sleep in, get a late breakfast in one of the many cafes that line every street of Amsterdam, then pick up your phone or an old-fashioned paper map and go! You won’t be disappointed. There are hundreds of cobbled streets besides canals, bridges lit with twinkly lights of all shapes and sizes, exposed brick buildings housing nunneries, and medieval churches. What makes these walks fun is that, you can walk around a church admiring its history, turn the corner, and BAM! Be in Amsterdam’s Red Light District with a scantily clad woman looking at you from her shop-front!!
Finally, when you are tired from looking around, pop into one of the many breweries for a bite to eat and something to sip. If you visit in the summer, there would be plenty of outdoor seating areas to sit and take the sights in. Simply park yourself by a canal, get something cool to drink, and people watch. The areas best to walk around are the Museum Quarter, Jordaan and Pijp. If you go during the right seasons, you must also pop by the Bloemenmarkt, the best place to buy tulips in Amsterdam and perhaps sun yourself at Vondelpark.
Windmills: You cannot go to Amsterdam and come back without seeing a windmill! Currently there are only about 9 of them standing. The easiest one to access, for me at least, was the De Gooyer. It is also a great location for those of you who appreciate a good beer. The famous Brouwerij ‘t IJ brewery is right next-door to it. (Careful though, this place is seriously crowded and musty-smelling. Meant only for those truly appreciative of a strong beer!) If you don’t feel like going into the full-on brewery atmosphere pop in to the nice little restaurant next door and ask to sit by the canal for some charcuterie and quiet time.)
Museums: Amsterdam has many museums, as any culturally proud city should have. But if you are visiting one and only one, you must visit the Rijksmuseum. The Rijks is one of the largest museums in the world and it reopened just a year back after a massive renovation. It houses some of the most famous works of the Dutch Masters including my favorites Rembrandt and Vermeer. If you do decide to go to the Rijks, plan to spend at least half a day to take in these masterpieces. For those of you who are maritime history aficionados there is Het Scheepvaartmuseum (The National Maritime Museum) situated a little outside of the city itself. Moored next to it is an original East Indiaman, a sailing ship from 18th century that plied the waters of Indian Ocean to India and farther east. You can go inside the belly of this beast and see what it was like to be an early modern sailor. There are plenty of other museums in the city including Van Gogh Museum and a branch of the Russian Hermitage Museum.
Keukenhof Gardens: A train and bus ride away from the city, the gardens are home to the famed tulip farms of The Netherlands. These are breathtakingly beautiful with acres and acres of blooming tulips, if you manage to catch them at the right time, that is. There is a lot more than tulips at Keukenhof in reality. The gardens, set away from the tulip farms, are picturesque—one can get lost in them for hours. There are also many manicured gardens and flower shows within the premises.
Houses: Anne Frank’s house on Prinsengracht is perhaps the most visited destination in Amsterdam. Anytime of the day, a long line of visitors wind their way around the block, waiting for their chance to get a glimpse of the Secret Annex, the last hiding place of the Frank family.
If you are an art fanatic like me, don’t miss the great artist Rembrandt’s home. On the way to his house, near one of the bigger canals, Zwanenburgwal, you can also haggle over slightly overpriced art items in the local flea market set up alongside the canal.
Churches: Amsterdam has many beautiful churches; one keeps catching glimpses of their spires between streets or behind a bridge while walking through the city. If you are pressed for time, then visit the Old Church, my favorite. There is a sense of history that you can gather from this place—with its frescoed walls whitewashed by Calvinists in the 16th century, stained glass windows that filter light in, and tombs on the church floor that you can try to read and imagine the lives of those people who lived and prayed there.
Amsterdam is best explored as if you live there. I say, when you go to Amsterdam, be an Amsterdammer. Goede reis!
Parting words to the traveler:
If you are traveling without children don’t forget to take the sights in at the Red Light district. Also keep in mind, even though Amsterdam has tried to crack down on the whole pot scene, it is still widely available—all you need to do is ask your café manager. If she doesn’t have it, she will direct you to another café that does!
PS. Food in Amsterdam from my experience is nothing to write home about. But the Dutch pancakes are to die for! Make sure to try them.
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