When I initially thought of Amsterdam the immediate associations that come to mind were the red-light district and pot selling coffee shops. Yet Amsterdam and The Netherlands as a whole has so much more to offer.
Yes for many years the ladies of the night and coffee shops did attract tourist of all sorts to Amsterdam helping to boost the local economy, but current major Femke Halsema wants to highlight other attractions in the arts and culture sector with the aim of attracting a higher LSM tourist. Ask any local what their favorite past time is and they will tell you it’s watching drunk tourists fall into the canals.
Our first visit to Amsterdam.
We were traveling Europe in a motorhome and were parked very close to the main attractions of the Amsterdam central. Yes… we did the red-light district and bought some pot. I found the whole experience very exhilarating. The sweet smell of marijuana often wafting past your nose with an array of marijuana product on sale just about everywhere. From green alcohol to lollipops to different pipes and humbly bubblies it’s a pot head paradise.
During the day the inconspicuous red-light district is camouflaged by window shutters. If you did not know it was there you would blissfully unaware walk past. But come nightfall, the shutters are opened and drop-dead gorgeous ladies entertain hordes of voyeuristic tourists. Nightlife in the De Wallen area is quiet festive. You can’t go to Amsterdam and not go to this area.
What to do .
Canal Boat Cruise – in spring/summer cruising along the canals is just beautiful. The trees are a lush green and flowers are everywhere. One can take a guided tour (relatively cheap), hire your own motor boat or just paddle along in a canoe for two. If you doing the Hop on Hop off bus tour there is an optional extra to include a canal cruise.
Rijks Museum & Van Gogh Museum – The Rijks Museum displays over 400 master artworks by painters such as Jan Steen, Frans Hals, Vermeer and Rembrandt. The Van Gogh Museum displays hundreds of paintings, letters, and drawings by Van Gogh himself.
Heineken – the beer of The Netherlands. Your entrance ticket includes a tour of the premises, where the process of beer making is explained followed by a tasting.
Zaanse Schans Windmill Village – we just LOVED this experience. We saw active windmills, sampled local Dutch cheeses, and saw how clogs were made. An authentic experience not to be missed.
Anne Frank House – see the house where she was hidden during the Jewish Holocaust.
Ice Bar – down complimentary shots in a -10°C bar made from ice. Warm jackets are provided. It’s an iconic bar in Amsterdam and a great photo opportunity with your mates, but I can think of better ways to spend €26.
Our second visit to Amsterdam.
This was a more “authentic” trip where we got to experience true Dutch hospitality, cuisine and see more of the suburbs. We went to visit a good friend who stays in Hilversum. She flew from South Africa to visit her daughter and decided to immigrate after seeing just how amazing life was there. A charming town where people greet and smile at one another. King’s Day was the highlight. A national public holiday to celebrate the king’s birthday. Never have I seen so much orange and a general sense of festivities no matter where you went. Dressed in orange ourselves we hit the streets bar hopping towards the central square for the main activities. King’s Day in The Netherlands is like St Patrick’s day in Ireland…just in orange.
Transport in The Netherlands is expensive. Although the trains are bang on time and easily accessible, the cost of the tickets was a bit pricey. Unlike other European cities where you could buy a 7 day pass this is not an option in The Netherlands. So in for a penny in for a pound we headed to Utrecht for the day. WOW, what a beautiful town! Canals meander through cobble stone streets as people leisurely sip a coffee while basking in the sun or a snack on the edge of the canals.
The second highlight of this trip was visiting Keukenhof (read the full article) to see the tulips in full bloom. We headed back to Schiphol airport where we caught a bus to Keukenhof. You can buy your tickets online to avoid the ques. It is rather busy in summer but the gardens are so large you don’t feel like you’re overwhelmed by tourists.
The Netherlands, its people and its cuisine blew us away. Its clean, safe and stuff just works! If you’re considering immigration to another country or retire somewhere in the EU, The Netherlands would be in my top three countries of choice.
The only thing I could possibly complain about would be the weather. Mostly chilly and wet with a very short summer with mostly mild days and cold evenings. But otherwise, I’m there and proud to be of Dutch decent.