Amsterdam is known to offer tourists a certain something that can’t be found (legally) elsewhere. It has gained it’s reputation around that, and only that. But, Amsterdam is so much more! It’s full of culture, museums, interesting food, and bicycles by the thousands. My reasons for loving Amsterdam had nothing to do with its tourist-drawing reputation and everything to do with the other things it has to offer.
The Top 10 of Amsterdam
1. The Anne Frank House: Anne Frank is one of Amsterdam’s most well-known former residents. The Anne Frank House at Prinsengracht 263 in Amsterdam is where she lived in hiding with her family for more than two years during World War II. Now converted into a museum, it contains a sobering exhibition about the persecution of the Jews during the war. It’s certainly not off the beaten path in terms of tourist destinations, so make sure to go at an off-peak time like right when it opens at 8:30 in the morning. Otherwise, bring a book — you’ll be waiting in line for a while.
2. The Van Gogh Museum: Containing the largest collection of Vincent Van Gogh’s work anywhere in the world, this museum is a must-see. It contains about 200 paintings and 500 drawings by Van Gogh, but also some of his contemporaries, such as Gauguin, Monet, Toulouse-Lautrec and Bernard. Not to mention, the museum itself is a work of art.
3. Off the Beaten Path Museums: While the Van Gogh Museum upholds its world renowned reputation well, Amsterdam is home to many many other interesting museums. Showcasing Amsterdam’s eclectic vibe include museums focusing on everything from contemporary art (Stedelijk) and photography (Foam) to ancient torture (Torture Museum), sex through the ages (Sex Museum), houseboats (Houseboat Museum), tulips (Amsterdam Tulip Museum) soft drugs (Hash, Marijuana & Hemp Museum) and even a museums devoted solely to small bags and purses: Tassenmuseum on the Herengracht.
4. Museumplein: Head over to Museumplein, a beautiful park for an obligatory photo with the IamAmsterdam sign. You can climb up on or just take one in front but it’s an adorable photo-op. the park is bordered on the top by the Rijksmuseum, on the bottom the Concertgebouw, and on the right the Van Gogh Museum and the Stedelijk Museum. Locals and tourists alike enjoy this rectangular space for sun, sports, and some relaxation.
5. Canal Cruising in Style: We’ve all seen the cheesy boat tours that pack what appears to be thousands of camera-wielding tourists onto the canals with some man holding a microphone either screaming, or worse – singing, at them about what to see along the banks. Amsterdam does offer these cruises, for those unabashed touristy tourists, but for the rest of us, there are some pretty cool alternatives. My vote is for a candlelight dinner cruise or the pancake cruise.
6. Wander the Red Light District: Don’t be worried about going out and about in the De Wallen (Red Light) district. All walks of life can be found there and it’s pretty harmless. You’ll see mothers with children, grandmothers, tourists, all alongside prostitutes behind glass and all coexisting pleasantly. It may seem odd to us outsiders, but it’s all normal to the Amsterdammers.
7. Stop and Smell the Tulips: Keukenhof, the world-famous flower park in Lisse (35 to 40 minutes by bus from Amsterdam Airport Schiphol) offers rows upon rows of vibrantly-hued tulips in this outdoor garden. People come from around the world to admire these seasonal blooms that can actually be seen from space each year. Not able to make it for tulip season? No problem! Amsterdam offers year-round blooms at the Bloemenmarkt (Flower Market). This complex maze of stalls floats atop a canal for an utterly unique experience.
8. Bike it Out: 50% of local Amsterdammers use their bikes daily, which means rush hour exists on the roads and bike lanes alike. Join the locals, and discover the city on its favorite means of transport. You can rent from the Dutch omafietsen (also known as “Dutch bikes”). Also, the Amsterdam op de fiets map (“Amsterdam by Bicycle”), available at the VVV tourist information center is an indispensable resource for first-time cyclists in Amsterdam.
9. Check out some bars, off the beaten path: Hanneke’s Boom is a relaxed gastrobar/beer garden/live music + dance venue with stunning views of NEMO (the interactive children’s museum) and Amsterdam’s skyline. Another great bar, Café Soundgarden, is another unpretentious pub with a spectacular view and an alternative vibe. You’ll find a pool table and pinball machines, in addition to a full bar.
10. Visit the Heineken Experience: Tour the official Heineken Brewery to learn how the beer is made and it’s history around the world. Top it off with a free beer in their own bar at the end of the tour. I’m not a fan of Heineken, but since it’s so fresh, it actually tastes a little different in the brewery. Worth a trip!