Amsterdam is a city everyone should experience at least once.
It is known for so many things – a land of stag and hen do’s, romantic city of canals and tulips, stoners’ paradise or an ideal break for young families with its’ zoo and green spaces – but if you look beyond that you see that all of these elements co-exist in a fun, bright Dutch package.
I was taken away by how beautiful Amsterdam was, especially the canals which I preferred so much more than Venice with their pretty house boats and bike laden, criss-crossing bridges. I also noticed lovely juxtapositions between the manicness of the streets full of cyclists and cars and vans which never wanted to stop for anyone, mixed with the cool, laidback air of the city which I better understood once I had learnt more about Amsterdam’s history.
Now that I live in Bristol, I can see a lot of similarities between the two cities, especially around the resistance to mainstream thinking, the real community spirit and the distinctive smells around many areas in both cities!
Whether you are avoiding Amsterdam because of elements of its reputation, or you have it down as a must visit city, here are my recommendations for lovely things to do in this many-sided city.
Huis Marseille, Museum for Photography
Visiting this museum is one of the highlights of all of my travels. It was a very large, bright and airy museum in a converted 17th century canal house. The exhibitions themselves were really beautiful and made my friends and I want to up our photography game! There was a lovely big kitchen downstairs in the building with a huge table covered in photography books where we sat for a long time reading, sheltering from the rain, and practicing our photography on each other. Once the rain cleared, we ate our lunch in the beautiful garden which even has a hidden space with more photography inside it.
Red Light District
Not a place for the faint-hearted or conservative, but I found the Red Light District to be one of my favourite parts of the city. It is actually a very beautiful area with some of the nicest canals I saw and a lot of the most interesting, stereotypically Amsterdam architecture. Aside from that, it is a pretty fascinating place in itself and definitely unlike anywhere else I have ever visited, just remember not to take any photos!!
Anne Frank House
There is not much you can say about this topic that hasn’t been said before much more eloquently than I ever could, but I can say that the museum was very well done and made quite the impression on us. I can’t explain how affecting it was to know exactly where you were standing, but things that really stood out for me were seeing a glimpse of the sky through the attic and thinking that that was all of the sky they saw for so long, noticing the height markings of the girls on a wall and the sound of footsteps coming up the stairs.
I would of course recommend that you read the Diary of Anne Frank or at least brush up on her story before you visit, as I did overhear some slightly ignorant people in the museum who didn’t seem to understand where they actually were.
We spent an evening in this characterful and fun bar which is the oldest gay bar in all of Amsterdam. The drinks were of course extortionately expensive, like a lot of places in Amsterdam, but there was a lovely, enjoyable spirit in the bar where people seemed to all know each other yet be welcoming to tourists also. At one point, the patrons broke out into a Dutch folk song which we attempted to join in with as we felt self-conscious about our silence, but we honestly had no idea what was going on. As well as that, there was more singing and joking with the bar men and the walls and ceiling were so chock full of paraphernalia that you would never run out of things to look at.
If you like a bit of market browsing, Amsterdam has plenty options for you. There is so much variation from antiques, clothing, tulip markets and food markets, stamp collections, records, books. My favourite find, however, was that there were stalls upon stalls of people selling old postcards. Some had writing in them, some were blank, there were postcards of Amsterdam, postcards from all around the world, some were in Dutch and many were in lots of other languages. I found quite a few postcards of a similar style with similar handwriting in them which I imagined were all between the same people. I bought one that has lots of writing on the back in what I presume is Dutch. I haven’t ever gotten around to properly trying to translate it, but it is definitely a very unique souvenir.
I hope you have enjoyed these recommendations for Amsterdam and do let me know what your favourite things to do in this city are, because I am sure I will visit again one day.