At last I landed at the Schiphol airport on a cool evening. The airport is 22 kilometres south-west of the capital city Amsterdam. Having landed, I took a train towards Amsterdam’s central station, a grandiose building operating since 1889. My journey in Dutch land begins…
Welcome to the land of bicycles. Why? I shall come to that later. Nowadays Amsterdam is much talked about for its tourism attractions, trading prowess, port and prostitution. But this name first appeared on the map of Europe in 1345.
The legend says, a man who was gravely ill summoned a priest for the last rites. He was given the bread consecrated in the Eucharist. But he was so sick that he kept vomiting. The priest advised the lady of the house to throw the pukes on the fire. The lady followed the advice.
Next morning they found the host hale & hearty. This miracle spread throughout Europe. A chapel was built there and pilgrims started visiting the place. Now you won’t find any chapel there, instead the Amsterdam Dungeon. This incident supposedly took place on 12th March and this date is still celebrated here.
The capital city Amsterdam is also the most populous city of Netherlands, located in the province of North Holland. The city originated around a dam in the Amstel River. In native language it was known as ‘Amstelredamme’, thus the name of the city Amsterdam emerged.
A small fishing village of 12th century became world’s one of the most important ports during the Dutch golden era of 17th century. Now this place is on the UNESCO world heritage sites because of its 17th century canals. It is worth mentioning that the oldest stock exchange of the world is in Amsterdam.
So why is Amsterdam the land of bicycles? Geographically almost the whole of Netherlands is a flat country. The highest elevation is 1,058 ft and half of the country’s elevation is below sea surface. This makes the land ideal for cycling. The first thing that will catch your eyes is people around here are using bicycles as their primary mode of transportation.
There are numerous agencies that provide bicycles on rent. With almost 20,000 miles of dedicated bicycle track Netherlands can easily be named the land of bicycles. I had myself hired bicycles to roam around Amsterdam and other cities in Netherlands.
Top places to visit
Amsterdam is famous for its 165 canals of 17th century. So a canal boat tour is a must for you to enjoy the beauty of this city along with mesmerising views of the 17th century architectures that stand on the fringes of the canals. Take a one-hour cruise to witness the UNESCO protected canal rings. While on a cruise, further augment your experience by sipping some fine wine.
The second best thing to do is hopping around the city on a bicycle.
If you wish to step back in time then a must visit destination is Jordaan – the most enthralling neighbourhood of Amsterdam. Strolling around the narrow meandering streets with quaint buildings around will surely live you enthralled. Actually it is an area for the working class. You will find antique shops, art galleries, open bars & restaurants and lovely courtyard gardens to explore.
To make it even more memorable… forget the street map for a while and get lost in the maze of narrow streets in Amsterdam known as 9 streets… this place is located eastward of Prinsengracht canal.
Your trip would be incomplete unless you visit some of the museums in Amsterdam. Visit Rijksmuseum to witness the chiaroscuro master pieces by 17th century painting maestro Rembrandt Van Rijn. Another maestro of the same time is Johannes Vermeer. See his paintings that are renowned for use of lights and masterly treatment.
This museum also displays the paintings of 19th century maestro Vincent Van Gogh famous for his style of separate streaks of paint and usage of vivid colours. You can witness more of his work at the Van Gogh Museum. Also pay visits to Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art, Museumplein, FOAM Photography Museum and Tropen Museum.
Remember Anne Frank? The girl and her family hid for two years from the Nazi’s atrocities and wrote a diary that became a documentation of Nazis crime against the Jews. Visit that house which is now converted into a thought provoking museum. But the rear portion of the house has been preserved in its original form to give you an idea about how it was during their hiding period. I would rather suggest that you should visit this place in the early hours because later the waiting times are often lengthy.
From central station the Oostelijke Eilanden (i.e. the Eastern Island) neighbourhood is only 2.3 kilometres away. Visit the place to see the windmill. This is not only a windmill; it is also an award winning microbrewery with a large open air drinking terrace. Take a 30-minute guided tour and taste the freshly brewed beer.
And… you must feast your eyes with the symbol of Dutch culture… I am talking about tulips. Take a trip to Bloemenmarkt, worlds only floating floral market to see and buy tulips. In any case if your trip to Amsterdam is during spring time (mid-March to mid-May), take a short trip to Keukenhof Gardens (Bollenstreek), the famous tulip field to experience the lovely miles long colour stripes between Harleem and Leiden. It will take just around half an hour to reach from Amsterdam Central. Over 7 million flowers bloom here with over 800 varieties of tulips… the experience is unforgettable.
There are over 30 parks in the city that indicates parks are integral part of Amsterdam’s culture. On a sunny day you will find parks are full with local picnickers. The largest park is Vondel Park covering 47 acres of area. There is an open air theatre here, three bars and several restaurants with other attractions. Among other important parks – Wester Park, Sarphati Park and Rembrandt Park too attract tourists.
If you are a film buff then a must go destination is Eye Film Institute located behind the Central Station. This landmark white building is operational since spring of 2012. In the premises of the institute you will find a permanent exhibition place that always showcases contemporary films and retrospectives. Visit the film library here which has a vast collection.
Here are few more great things to do in Amsterdam…
Take a guide and walk on the streets of the city to know its rich history, tradition and culture. Do not miss out on visiting The Royal Theatre Carre. You can learn a lot about the Dutch resistance to Nazi occupation during World War-II by visiting the Resistance Museum.
Here are some more places of tourist interest …
Leidseplein is a popular square in the city and the center of nightlife, the oldest Zoo of the nation Artis Royal Zoo, Science Centre NEMO, Rembrandt House Museum, the unique museum of Bags and Purses, The Royal Palace of Amsterdam, The old Church in the red light district, the 13th century Dam Square, Madame Tussaud’s, the oldest inner court Begijnhof, Chinatown, the floating animal sanctuary De Poezenboot (Cat boat), the fluorescent art museum Electric Ladyland etc.
To get the best panoramic view of Amsterdam, visit Wester Church. Other attractions includes Cheese Museum, Amsterdam Dungeon, Basilica of Saint Nicholas, Allard Pierson Museum to watch ancient archaeology, The Cat Cabinet, Gassan Diamonds, Maritime Museum, Amsterdam Museum and Singel The narrowest house. And to explore Russian culture and history visit Hermitage Amsterdam.
There are shopping areas in Amsterdam offering a range of attractive items including exquisite dolls to antiques and even vintage clothes. Following are few of them.
Albert Cuypmarket in De Pijp. It’s open from Monday to Saturday. It’s around 4 and half kilometre from Central Station and variety of public transports are available to reach there.
The weekly market in Jordaan is Lindengracht. It remains open only on Saturdays. It’ located at a distance of 3 kilometres from Central Station. Waterlooplein is also worth visiting located 3 kilometres from Central Station. It’sopen from Monday to Saturday. For ultimate authentic shopping experience De Negen Straatjes (i.e. The Nine Streets market) is the place to go. It’s located only 2 kilometres from Central Station. This market is open 24X7.
Wining & Dining
De Hallen located 5 kilometres from Central station is a newly built centre for arts, crafts, fashion and most importantly food. Famous for its street food, De Hallen also has cinema, independent stores and boutique hotel.
The oldest brand of spirit in the world is Lucas Bols spirit. You must visit Lucas Bols to enjoy the cocktails and the traditional liquor of Netherlands… Jenever. Get to the different sections like the Hall of taste, Bols Flair Booth, the Mirror Bar, the Bols Shop and the Bols Bar tending Academy. This place is also an award winner for great exhibitions and experience.
Heineken sounds familiar? Yes, one of the world’s most popular beers is from Netherlands. Witness the brewing process and the history here at the Dutch capital. Just take some local transport for 5kilometres to reach the brewery from Central station. But to take a tour you must be minimum 18 years old or accompanied by adults.
The city offers all sorts of cuisines, from continental to oriental or African or specific Indian and Latin American dishes all are served here. But if you wish to taste Dutch speciality and you do not have an idea what they are then my suggestion is try Uitsmijter (pronounce- outs-may-ter).
You can find this almost at every café. Served on slices of bread with 2 or 3 fried eggs with sunny side up and ham and melted cheese inside is a dish not only tasty but also serves to keep your hunger away for long. The word Uitsmijter means ‘bouncer’. Like bouncers throwing someone out of a bar who would never return for the night, this dish also serves the same purpose for appetite. It is very popular among locals.
Another must go place is Brown Café of Amsterdam. Called Bruine Kroeg in Dutch, the brown café is renowned for its trademark wood and smoke stained walls. Last but not the least is a tongue tickling day trip towards Alkmaar cheese market. It is a 30-minute day trip from Dutch capital by train to this sweet little settlement. Witness this century old traditional cheese market especially during summer because it takes place during April to September only on Friday mornings.
Getting to & around
Amsterdam’s international airport Schiphol is very well connected with rest of the world. Being one of the busiest airports, it has direct flight connections with most of the countries of Africa, Asia, America, Latin America and Europe. From London’s Heathrow airport the air distance to Schiphol airport is 371.4 kilometres. Nonstop flight takes around one hour to one & half hours to reach Amsterdam from London.
Inside the city public transport network is very strong. You can avail Bus, Tram, Metro Rail and Trains to move from one place to another.
As I had already mentioned, often hiring bicycle can solve your commuting problems. Cruises and private taxis are also available. I would recommend that you purchase the ‘I Amsterdam City Card’ for hassle free travelling in and around Amsterdam. The card also entitles you to free entry to many attractions which otherwise would require admission fees.
Best time to visit
Amsterdam has a very temperate climate influenced by Atlantic Ocean and North Sea. So Climate never gets extreme. You can enjoy a cool summer and moderate winters here. There is no particular monsoon season in Amsterdam, however there can be showers anytime, so carry a raincoat. April to September is relatively dry, that is why travellers prefer to visit Amsterdam during this period. Otherwise you can visit any time in the year.
But since many attractions are open and activities take place during April to September, I would recommend visiting Amsterdam during this period. Months of July and August see maximum rush, however April to mid-May is the tulip season. Mid-April is the time when Tulips are in full bloom.
I was talking about bicycles… let me share a fact. It is estimated that there are 880,000 bicycles in Amsterdam against a population of 800,000. More cycles per person in a city!!!