The Netherlands has been made world-famous through reports of its lax drug laws, liberal structure, and legal prostitution. These aspects may or may not be reasons for visiting this beautiful country, but allow me to tell you that they do not begin to compare with the glory and wonder of the landscape, combined with the impressive and fascinating historical sights and museums. The scenery alone is intoxicating, and the musical performances and shopping facilities are stupendous. But even with all of the incredible activities and interesting engagements, something must be said for experiencing a hashish brownie at one of the local bakeries. The scenic splendor of Amsterdam is in excess, and this exquisite city houses some of the finest museums anywhere. The Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum are both extraordinary, and the Anne Frank House is a haunting yet fascinating glimpse into the life of one of history's most tragic heroines. Amsterdam features one of the lowest crime rates in the world for a major metropolitan city. The locals are eager to help you, and no one seems afraid to be walking around at night. (Why should they be?) The government is stable, and the close-knit communities ensure safety on the streets virtually all of the time.
Queen's Day, celebrated on April 30, is a sprawling street festival that is typically the most rousing and fun-filled day of the year. The Holland Festival of the Arts is a cherished event, and it seems as if on any day in Amsterdam, you will be treated to a spectacular display of lights, sites, music, and entertainment.
Docking & Local Transportation
Cruise ships dock at the Amsterdam Cruise Port (020/509-1000). Downtown Amsterdam is walking distance from the port
Amsterdam has a wonderful public transportation system, consisting of buses, trams, and electric trains. Your best bet is to purchase a 24 Hour Ticket, valid for a full day of travel on any of Amsterdam's public transportation facilities. You can purchase the ticket (costing approximately $10) from any bus, tram, or train conductor. If you'd like to take a taxi around the city, one can be hailed from most street corners. If one can't be found, contact Taxi-Centrale (020/777-7777) for a pick-up. Lastly, you can rent a car while in Amsterdam. Contact Avis (020/683-6061) for more information
The Rijksmuseum is located at Stadhouderskade 42 (020/674-7047) and is home to the finest art collection in Amsterdam. The Frans Hals works are glorious, and Rembrandt's Nightwatch is one of many remarkable paintings housed here. The collection of artwork from the Orient is tremendous, and there are rooms dedicated to fantastic sculptures, beautiful furniture, and ancient crafts. The Vincent Van Gogh Museum can be found at Paulus Potterstart 7 (020/570-5200) and features 500 drawings and 200 of the artist's best paintings. This extraordinary museum also contains works of other 19th century artists, but the focus is on the splendor of Van Gogh's artistic accomplishments.
The Anne Frank House at Prinsengracht 263 (020/556-7100) is an inspiring site and the location where Anne Frank lived from 1942-1945. The tour of the building gives you a glimpse into the struggle and dedication that the Frank family exhibited in living in this tiny space for so long. Emerging from this tragic ordeal was the Diary of Anne Frank. Since 1947, this emotional, extraordinary literary achievement has been translated into over fifty languages.
The Amsterdam Historisch Museum is located on Kalverstraat 92 (020/523-1822) and traces the origin of this great city thorough a series of spectacular showcases and exhibits. Everything in the museum is in fabulous shape, and the highlight here is the display illustrating Amsterdam's role in world commerce in the 17th century, when it was the most affluent and powerful city of trade in the world. The galleries are marvelous, and the replications of old churches, as well as the splendid paintings, are fantastic.
Dam Square is the official heart of the city, located in the middle of town and regarded as the center and primary meeting place of the citizens of Amsterdam. It was constructed in the 12th century, and the weigh house used to be stationed here as well. In the old days, ships used to be able to pull right up to the weigh house, but all of this came to a bitter end in 1808, when tyrant King Louis Napoleon destroyed it because it blocked the view from his bedroom window. In 1956, the monument found in the square was constructed as a tribute to the Netherlands liberation that came at the end of World War II. Overall, it is an enchanting and charming location where you will truly get a sense of the culture and daily routine of those living in Amsterdam.
Concertgebouw (Concert Building) is the best concert hall in the Netherlands. The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, as well as many other international groups, play here quite often. The performances are outstanding, and the architecture of the building is glorious. Concertgebouw is located at Concertgebouwplein 2-6 (020/675-4411).
A testament to Amsterdam's liberal policies on the common vices is The Red Light District. Known as De Rosse Buurt locally, this region is immensely popular with tourists (and unfortunately with pickpockets as well -- so guard your belongings carefully and stay in the well-lit areas at all times). Prostitution is legal in Amsterdam. Strictly regulated by the government, the sex industry centers around these few square blocks. Although you might be tempted to snap a couple photos of the ladies of the night, young and old, as they patiently wait in their windowed storefronts for a tempted passerby, refrain from photographing them, or you might find yourself out of a camera! Instead, stroll the streets of De Rosse Buurt, and be sure to stop in one of the many bars, restaurants and great bookstores that can be found in the area as well.
Beaches and Parks
Zandvoort is the primary beach destination for anyone living in and around Amsterdam. When summer starts and the weather warms, people from all over flock to this wonderful resort. If you happen to be in Amsterdam when the weather is pleasant, visiting Zandvoort is an absolute must. Vondelpark is a recreation area conceptualized in 1865. It was designed to be a Walking and Riding Park, which would stretch out to be twenty-five acres. As its popularity grew, the park expanded to a splendid 120 acres. The fields and ponds found inside the park are dazzling, and the area in general is exploding with life. When the weather is ideal, musicians, lovers, friends, and passersby fill the grassy knolls and sit underneath the trees daydreaming. The Rose Garden is magnificent, and roller-skating and tennis facilities have been set up as well. Jazz bands, acrobats, and many other artists perform daily, some of them enormously talented. An open-air theater exists here as well, and from June through August, performances are held throughout the weekend. A sculpture donated by Picasso in 1965 can be seen in the park's center. The entertainment building that was constructed in the 19th century has been revamped to serve as the Netherlands Film Museum. Vondelpark is located at Vondelpark 3 (020/589-1400).
Amsterdammers love to eat, and there are many restaurants here that will delight your taste buds and make your day. D'Vijiff Vlieghen (Spuistraat 294-302, 020/530-4060) is an elegant, traditional dining establishment with outstanding entrees and sparkling ambiance. Artifacts and old mementos ranging from Rembrandt etchings to music boxes to old liquor kegs) are placed throughout the five-house complex. It is a fabulous dining experience highlighted by such dishes as the grilled halibut and pig cutlets in a flaky pastry. Excelsior is located at Nieuwe Doelenstraat 2-8 (020/531-1705) and overlooks the Amstel River. It features excellent soups and desserts. The lobster bisque is sure to make you say "HOT (Amster)DAM!"
The Amsterdam Antiques Gallery is located at Nieuwe Spiegelgracht 34 (020/625-3371) and contains a wide assortment of antique and vintage furniture, items for the home, and jewelry. Maison de Bonneterie en Pander can be found at Rokin 140-142 (020/626-2162) and features knick knacks, household pieces, and clothing.
Melkweg, found at Lijnbaansgracht 231a (020/551-8181), is a hot nightclub in Amsterdam where the locals go to dance their troubles away. A spacious floor and great drinks make this a popular spot. Kadinsky is an enjoyable bar that is located at Rosmarijnsteeg 9 (020/624-7023). The cocktails are strong and the lively crowd will make you feel right at home.