Full of canals and bridges, Amsterdam is surely a beautiful city… even in the rain! Being a smaller city, I felt it was easy to navigate. Most people travel by bike there, but I found that being on foot was just as good. Amsterdam seems to be a hotspot for cultural arts and scenic views. So it was fun to explore the culture and experience #typicaldutchstuff.
Oh, and everyone there speaks English. Which is more than I can say for France.
Our flat was close to Rembrandtplein, a city square named after the famous painter Rembrandt. This location is pretty central to all of Amsterdam since the city isn’t that huge. We were able to purchase a canal cruise which was definitely the prime way to see the city! It was a hop on hop off cruise that took passengers to all the tourist spots. Most of the locations below were on the cruise route, but some we went to on bike. More about bikes later…
Markets, Parks and Squares
There are many outdoor markets in Amsterdam. Some are year round, some focus on specific goods, and some are seasonal. Bloemenmarkt was beautiful to walk through. It sells tulips and tulip bulbs! It also sells plenty of souvenirs and decorations to take home. Walking through all the flowers felt like quintessential Holland.
Another market, that we visited on bike, was Waterlooplein market. This place is more of a thrift store type flea market. They had clothes, shoes, jewelry, accessories, and plenty of souvenirs too.
But perhaps the biggest street market is the Albert Cuyp market. Hundreds of stalls line both sides of a narrow street, and vendors sell all sorts of goods from clothes to phone accessories, to books and home goods. The most exciting thing about the Cuyp market though was…
Wait for it…
You don’t know what stroopwafels are?! They are Dutch doughy cookies with a syrupy caramel inside. They are delicious store bought. But they are even better fresh. And the Cuyp market has a stroopwafel stand where they make them right in front of you. Drooling yet? Needless to say, we waited patiently until the stand opened and got some for ourselves.
We ate at a cafe close by then explored the market. Close to Cuyp was a huge park with a lake that pedestrians could walk around. Sarphatipark was a beautiful, peaceful area amidst large apartment buildings and busy streets. So many locals take their dogs there to play! It was fun to see that area.
Back at Rembrandtplein, we experienced bitterballen, which was absolutely delicious and totally Dutch. I can’t even explain what it is. Check it out for yourself! Yum. Between stroopwafels, bitterballen, and crepes, I think I need to start Dutch snacking here in the US.
Areas and Districts
No trip to Amsterdam is complete without checking out the Red Light District. We biked over to that area and walked around, just to see what it was like! It was pretty harmless at eleven in the morning, but I can imagine what it’s like at night…
There is a great shopping district known as Nine Streets that is full of nice cafes and cute boutiques. The nine streets that intersect each have an eclectic array of art galleries, small shops, and eateries. This was a really popular place, and pretty crazy since we decided to bike to it.
Biking in Amsterdam is how people commute. So, while it’s highly recommended to rent a bike in Amsterdam to experience the city, just know that it’s super crowded when the sun is out. And if you are unfamiliar with Dutch streets and roads, it’s a challenge to get around. I dodged cars, pedestrians, and plenty of other bikers just trying to navigate around the city! Quick and easy to get places, but really annoying if you aren’t a pro biker or if you’re a naive tourist… I learned the hard way.
In between two museums is another square called Museumplein. This nice open area had an ice rink for skating, and is home to the I Amsterdam sign. This is the most popular tourist spot for photos, so you bet I snapped a pic. I loved how unifying this statement is, and I loved the use of public art in spaces that are accessible to tourists and locals alike!
Perhaps the most moving and emotional museum in this city is the Anne Frank House. In the spring and summertime, it is recommended to purchase admission online months in advance to reserve a tour and get into the museum. Since we didn’t do that, I went to Amsterdam knowing that there was no way we could see the Anne Frank House. I came to terms with this.
However, I decided we should hop off at this spot on the cruise tour. We walked up to the museum pretty early in the morning… and there was no one there! No one in the queue line, no one at the admission booth. So I thought, let’s try to get in. Maybe we can get a ticket for a few days from now at the earliest? But, to my surprise, we purchased admission and walked right in! Guess it pays to visit this city in the winter… low tourism.
The museum is housed in the actual storefront and annex that Anne and her family hid in. It’s a narrow, unassuming home sandwiched between similar looking buildings. Guests walk through the actual rooms that these unfortunate people hid in, while TV screens and photographs tell the story of those who survived… and those who did not.
Each room has a quote from Anne’s journal written on a wall, where she shared a memory or an event that happened in that specific room. The hallways are small, the stairs are steep, and it was jarring to walk through the exact areas detailed in her journal. Guests even got to walk through the door to the annex, hidden by a bookcase. The annex was dark, with thick blackout curtains on the windows and creaky floors. We got to see everything. Except, sadly, the attic where most of the writing took place and was written.
Once you exit the home itself, there are rooms of the museum dedicated to video interviews, books and other historical resources, and even interactive exhibits. If you’re able to get in, this museum is absolutely worth it, despite the inevitable tears you’ll cry from hearing the stories of these people.
The next most famous museum is the Rijksmuseum. This museum was built in the early 1800s and houses art and history from 1200 to 2000. The museum is huge, and has bike lanes going right through the center of it, so bikers and pedestrians don’t have to go all the way around the museum to get to other places. With its hundreds of rooms, exploring the Rijksmuseum is both great and overwhelming. The architecture is beautiful and it’s amazing to see so many famous works of art, from Rembrandt to Vermeer, and more. Probably its most famous painting is The Night Watch by Rembrandt. The most interesting fact about this painting is that it was originally not intended to look like a depiction of nighttime. But, because of the varnish used and the natural aging of the painting, it looks like the scene takes place outside in the night. This is where the name The Night Watch came from, which actually isn’t the real, original title of the painting.
Across the Museumplein from the Rijksmuseum is the Van Gogh Museum, which was definitely a highlight of the trip. Dedicated to van Gogh’s life’s work, this museum captures both his artistry and the haunted life he led. It’s a beautiful museum, taking up three floors, each representing a different historic era of his life, from his early days as an artist, to his final, sad days. Most of his famous paintings are housed here, while some belong to other museums around the world. It was fascinating to really get to dive into the person he was, and how much he deteriorated at the end of his life. He was the archetypal “tortured artist,” and his works really shows it. While sad, it was also beautiful to see his life represented in the art he left behind.
The other two museums we visited were less popular, but also worth mentioning. The FOAM Museum is a museum dedicated to photography in Amsterdam. It is also a publication that released photographic art. And finally, the Sex Museum is the weirdest, most unique museum I’ve ever seen. Definitely NSFW! But still entertaining to see how sexuality has been represented through art and through time.
For my fiction piece, I was inspired by the cute and unique houseboats that line Amsterdam’s canals. People live in these, and I wanted to write what life would be like for one artist living on the canals of the city. “Observing Art” is the name of the piece.
Enjoy the photos! Thanks for taking this journey with me, readers.