Sunday, July 29, 2007

Top 10 things to see in Amsterdam

I’ve had quite a few friends and family visits now and I’m starting to realize that I have a few favourite places to take these tourists when they are here in Amsterdam. I thought I’d share these, in my blog, for anyone thinking of visiting soon. I’m not going to pretend to know any important dates, designers, architects or historical facts, but I can tell you what I know without ripping-off a rough guide. If you are in Amsterdam and you want these details you’ll just need to buy a proper guidebook.

So here is Sarah de Mul’s Top 10 places to see in Amsterdam (shown in an exciting top 10 count down type way):

10. Bicycles at Centraal Station
If you are arriving in the Netherlands for the first time, and you haven’t yet realized how much the Dutch rely on this cheap, environmentally-sound mode of transport, you’ll be shocked, amazed and astonished to see the multi-storey bike park located next door to Amsterdam’s central station. For many people, the Centraal Station is the starting point to their weekend in the city, so it’s a quick and easy little side-trip to go and marvel at this really very Dutch sight. Central station would itself be interesting if it wasn’t in a constant state of repair. I first came to Amsterdam nearly 5 years ago, and I’ve never been to the station at a time when at least one quarter of the station hasn’t been covered in scaffolding and plastic sheeting.

9. Tuschinski Theater
This is the cinema where all the big premieres open in Amsterdam (I’m very excited to write that I saw Rowan Atkinson outside there when Mr Bean the movie opened last year). Anyway, the cinema is amazing, it’s a frighteningly extreme example of 1920s art-deco Amsterdam with twin, evil-looking, towers on the outside, and opulent red carpets and brightly painted ceilings inside. The best way to see the theater is of course to see a film, but if there isn’t anything on that you want to see, don’t be afraid to poke your head inside the foyer to see the ceiling which magically changes colour every 20 seconds.

8. The van Gogh museum I like this museum because it is not a gigantic maze of artists you’ve never heard of or art you’ve never seen before and will never see again. This is a small, single artist gallery, nicely designed, and packed with famous paintings I just wish I could take home with me. The van Gogh museum is in the middle of the Museumplein, a vast, flat grassy area, surrounded by museums (such as the Rijksmuseum), the classical music hall, and one of the only Albert Heijns open on Sundays!

7. Rembrandtplein
I guess this is the equivalent of Leicester Square in London, although the cinemas are not on the square but on a street that runs of the square (Reguliersbreestraat). The most interesting parts of Rembrandtplein are the 3D version of Rembrant’s “Nightwatch” which was created by a couple of Russian artists and placed here about 2 years ago, the large light screen (think Piccadilly Circus) and a couple of nice restaurants/bars: De Kroon (funked-up gentleman’s club) and Café Schiller, an art-deco bar next to the Hotel of the same name.

6. Flower Market The flower market is quiet small, but you will never see so many bulbs in your life again. It floats along the bank of the Singel (canal), and consists of about 20 flower stalls in a row. The prices are reasonable as compared to the UK, but obviously rather more expensive than the rest of Holland as this is catering for the tourist trade. I have bought an Amaryllis from here and it was beautiful. The market runs parallel with Amsterdam gayest street, Reguliers Dwarsstraat, which has one of my favourite restaurants on it: Rosie’s Cantina (a Mexican restaurant).

5. Dam Square
Dam square isn’t really that exciting, but it’s the closest thing to Trafalgar Square in Amsterdam. To me it feels like the heart of Amsterdam, as it lies relatively centrally between Centraal station, the red light district, Joordan and Spui. The main attractions on the square are the Koninklijk Paleis (Royal Palace) where Queen Beatrix receives foreign dignitaries, the war memorial, and a tiny plaque dedicated to Saint Nicholaas (SintaKlaas) on the North side next between the Nieuwe Kerk (new church) and Nieuwendijk. Dam square plays host to concerts on New Years and other special days, but it more often than not is smothered with rather rubbish street performers (see "Invading Holland", Invader Stu’s blog, for more info on these guys).

4. The Red Light District Day or night, Amsterdam’s red light district is fascinating. The first time you see the ladies in the window’s you can’t quite believe it and everyone I’ve shown around this area of town has been totally intrigued, despite themselves. The most interesting parts of the Red Light District to me are: the areas around the Oude Kerk, which is the weirdest contradiction I’ve ever seen (prostitutes flaunting their wares right opposite a huge church), and the narrowest lanes which are wide enough to fit only one person, but still have windows on both sides.

3. Anne Frank’s House

This museum shook me up; I felt really melancholy for a whole week afterwards, and still feel differently about the city where I now live. I read Anne’s diary at school and this house brings all that to life in a very simple, respectful way. Inside the house you learn about the Frank’s lives before the war, the business they ran and the friends they had. Then you are taken behind the bookcase into the secret Annexe and you see the tiny rooms and space they occupied for two years during WWII, before they were found.

The area where I live in Amsterdam is the neighbourhood where Anne lived before she went into hiding. Her school is in the street parallel to mine, and she bought the books in which she wrote her diaries from the book shop on the corner, which I can see from my living room window. After the tour of the Annexe it took me days to stop picturing my street as it would have been during the war, with Nazi soldiers and tanks roaming where the cyclists, trams and cars roam freely today.

2. The Begijnhof
This is an amazing, secret, world hidden right in the shopping centre of Amsterdam. Behind Spui there are beautiful old house around a very well kept “village green” that are lived in by single women. The square was once a sanctuary for Catholic nuns, and it still has a very calm atmosphere, cut off from the hustle and bustle of city life. There are two churches within the square, one is a catholic chapel, the other an English Church. The square also protects Amsterdam oldest surviving wooden house. Tours are not allowed into the Begijnhof, and it feels like a privilege to be allowed to enter there at all, so if you do go, please treat the area and its occupants with respect and minimize the photos and noise you make.

1. Canal Boat Tour.
To round it all off, or better, as a starting point for a trip to Amsterdam you must take a Amsterdam canal boat tour. One of the best boat tours leaves from the Rokin (take Tram 4 to Spui or Tram 12 to Muntplein) and is called Rondvaart. This tour takes you all around Amsterdam, the Keizergracht, Prisengracht and Herengracht, you see the 7 bridges, the blue bridge, the Ijselmeer, and lots more. It lasts about one hour and I've taken this tour about 5 times now.

It’s best not to take a tour when it’s raining as the boat windows steam up, but if you don’t have any option and you’re in Amsterdam when it’s raining, bring lots of tissues with you to wipe the windows!

After the tour follow the small street behind the Rondvaart hut passed the Diamond shops and on the right there’s a really cute little pancake house, which you need to reach buy a near vertical staircase. There’s enough seating room for about 12 people inside and each pancake is made individually by a very interesting (very Dutch) old couple. The restaurant is called “Upstairs”.

For anyone looking for a good (and cheap) weekend guide book, this is one of the best available right now:


dodo said...

thanks for those! hopefully i won't need a list of "top ten things to do with 3 year old in the rain"

Alexander the not so Great said...

Did you rate the Van Gogh Museum over the Rijksmuseum on museumplein? I guess it's a personal choice thing, but I much prefer the works before and during the Dutch Golden Age, I guess we agree to disagree. Is Amsterdam your favourite place in Holland?

Anonymous said...

That's useful, but how come you don't have any coffeeshops or stuff like that ranked though?

Although it may not be suitable for all audiences, it's still an undeniable aspect of Amsterdam.

Also about museums, there's more than just the van Gogh, a while ago I came accross a nice overview of museums, maybe it's useful for some people that are interested.