Amsterdam’s canals are one of the most fascinating things about this amazing city.
(Photo By: Ryan Somma)
11 Fun Things to Do In Amsterdam
We’ve spent an awful lot of time in Rome, and it’s been worth every blog post! Let’s head up north – just a tad – and visit the Dutch in Amsterdam. You’ll be surprised once we get there. You won’t be met with a tulip-scaped land full of windmills and blond-braided maidens in clogs. Nope. Amsterdam is a world-class cultural mecca, filled with an extensive art scene, outdoor activities year round, and some great places to eat, drink, and be merry at the end of the day!
Amsterdam’s Art Scene
Amsterdam’s art scene goes way beyond Vincent Van Gogh, although visiting his museum should definitely be on the top of your to-do list. Amsterdam’s streets are “littered” with street art, modern art, and cultural art. Whether you are wandering the streets lining Amsterdam’s famous canals viewing the graffiti and stencil art by famous locals, or viewing the classics at the Rijksmuseum, which includes Rembrandt’s The Night Watch and pieces dating back to the 15th century, a trip to Amsterdam simply must begin by throwing yourself into art overload. Aside from these artistic gems, include on your itinerary a visit to the Jordaan District to view contemporary art in its many galleries, and wander the Stedelijk Museum to see works by such modern masters as Cezanne, Matisse, and Warhol.
While you’re wandering Amsterdam to view the local street art, make sure you check out the canals through which you are navigating. Amsterdam is home to 165 canals and a ton of bridges to help you around them. Amsterdam’s canals protect the city from the North Sea, and they are more than just a modern art lover’s nirvana. The canal routes are also home to many of Amsterdam’s local cafes and shops, and many of the waterways have earned fame for just being – well – a canal! The Prinsengracht canal is noted for its beautiful shade trees that protect some of the eclectic houseboats moored along its docks, and the Brouwersgracht canal runs along a historical and hotly sought after residential area.
Don’t Walk – Skate!
You can walk around the canal routes, but the Dutch prefer to skate. In the winter, if it’s cold enough, the Dutch ice skate on the canals – well, the daredevils do at least. In the summer, you’ll find a ton of locals skating about; it’s a great way to get around, see the city, and exercise. Amsterdam has plenty of parks to skate through, or, if you’re really serious about your skating, you can join a bunch of locals and skate through nearly 12.5 miles (that’s 20km in Amsterdam) of the city’s streets. You have to be a night owl, however, because the “Friday Night Skate” doesn’t start until 9 p.m. and your final destination is a local pub. The Dutch skate the Friday Night Skate all year round, however, so a nip of something strong might just be what you need to take the chill off in the winter.
… Or You Can Bike!
If you’d prefer to bike rather than skate, Amsterdam offers plenty of cycling around the city too. In fact, it’s a common mode of transportation in The Netherlands and a part of Dutch history. Women cycled in support of the early 1900s Women’s Suffrage movement, and apparently the bicycle is a symbol of Anarchy in Amsterdam. The 1960s Dutch counterculture movement dubbed “Provo” purchased 50 bikes, painted them white, and left them throughout Amsterdam for free public use in protest of Amsterdam’s transportation problems. Today, the city’s level landscape proves perfect for biking, although you’ll have to rent one as the police confiscated all of Provo’s wheels, and there are plenty of bike lanes in which to ride safely. You can also book a guided bicycle tour of Amsterdam.
Visit a Petting Zoo
Although the first four activities might be fun for children, particularly skating and biking (the younger ones might not find Amsterdam’s art scene or wandering the canals as exciting as you do), Amsterdam and its surrounding areas are home to a surprising number of petting zoos where the kids can get up close and personal with some furry friends. Whether your little ones want to come face-to-face with sheep, goats, donkeys, or even peacocks – which I wouldn’t recommend trying to pet – there are plenty of petting zoos loaded with animals and activities sure to keep your young ones happy while you’re vacationing amongst the Dutch.
Shop, Shop, Shop ‘Til You Drop
What’s a vacation without shopping? Remember my How to Pack Your Suitcase Effectively post? You have to leave plenty of room in your luggage to drag home useless souvenirs, and Amsterdam has shopping for young and old. Whether you visit tiny boutiques along your canal romp, or shops your children will adore, such as the De Beestenwinkel stuffed animal shop and Tinkerbell Toys, there’s plenty of places to drop your currency-exchanged dough in Amsterdam and return with a suitcase full of goodies. And while you’re running up that shopping tab, be sure to check out the numerous flea markets that represent the ethnic diversity of Amsterdam, particularly the Pijp district’s Albert Cuypmarkt and the Lindenmarkt while you’re viewing Jordaan’s art scene.
Partake in Local Fare
Aside from clogs, tulips, and windmills, the Dutch are known for something else – herring. And, like Japanese sushi, they eat it raw. Hey, when in Rome, do as the Romans… right? But we’re in Amsterdam now so when in Amsterdam, eat raw herring! You can’t visit a foreign land without diving into some local culture, and this is less threatening than perhaps eating a worm out of the bottom of a tequila bottle while visiting Mexico – not that you’d care if you drank the entire bottle first. Anyway, the Dutch are famous for their herring, and the fresh caught healthy tidbit is available to snack on at stands throughout the city all year round, although the best time to indulge in the Dutch version of sushi is May through July.
Eat More Than Raw Herring
If you snacked on herring and loved it, great; if you snacked on herring and are desperately looking for other food to remove the taste from your mouth, not so great… but, you’re in luck! As you’ve discovered while shopping and “arting,” Amsterdam is home to a diverse group of people, and its food fare proves it, giving tourists plenty of authentic and ethnic places that indulge the senses and belly. Indonesia was under Dutch rule until World War II, and Amsterdam is chalked full of immigrants cooking up wonderful Indonesian cuisine. There are also numerous family friendly restaurants, and you must sample the variety of food available while visiting the bazaars. If you want to sample famous Dutch cheeses, check out the Reypenaer cheese tasting room, or get it to go and picnic at Vondelpark amongst the locals and a few sculptures, including one by an artist named… oh… Picasso!
Okay, not for the kids, but when in Amsterdam, drink like the Dutch drink! In fact, their cafes and bars are open from first thing in the morning until the wee hours of the next morning. If you’re a beer-drinker, you’re in luck. Amsterdam is home to the Brouwerij ‘t IJ brewery, whose concoctions have won a few awards in their time. It’s definitely worth booking a tasting if you enjoy good ale. Those looking for some cocktails have innumerable choices, particularly in the Jordaan district. And since you’re going there anyway to view art and shop, you may as well enjoy a few drinks while you’re at it!
Dance… or Just Listen to the Music
What’s drinking without dancing… and perhaps you need to knock back a few before you’ll hit that dance floor. Amsterdam is home to a wonderfully eclectic music scene, including classical, jazz, pop, and rock. If you aren’t going to dance no matter how many shots you’ve taken, head on over to the eastern Docklands and visit the Muziekgebous aan’t IJ theatre. This architectural masterpiece features classical, jazz, and contemporary concerts from some of The Netherlands premier talent. If you prefer some pop or rock n’ roll that you can get up and dance to, you have several music clubs to choose from, including the Melkweg and Paradiso.
Clogs, Tulips, and Windmills
But you wanted to see clogs, tulips, and windmills? Okay, no problem, you can, although not as many as perhaps the Americanized representation of the Dutch suggests. To get the history of the clog, and other Dutch crafts, visit the Zaanse Schans Museum just outside Amsterdam’s city limits. If you want to see – and purchase – some tulips, you may do so at the Bloemenmarkt. Check with our consulate first, however, before buying, because there are limits as to when you can bring the bulbs back into the U.S. There are eight windmills throughout Amsterdam, and the De Gooyer is the most visited. If you’re headed to the Brouwerij ‘t IJ to sample the brewskies, you’re in luck! It’s located at the base of De Gooyer.
Now, I’ve given you 11 fun things to do while you’re in Amsterdam, but I must move away from our fun theme for a brief moment. I would be remiss if I did not include one additional activity that you should never overlook while visiting this amazing city. Anne Frank and her family hid from the Nazis in Amsterdam for two years from July 1942 to August 1944, and the historical residence where she wrote her famous diary is why millions of people visit Amsterdam annually. Have more fun than you can imagine while you are visiting Amsterdam, but while you’re there, take a moment to visit Prinsengracht 263 and reflect upon this remarkable young woman’s impact on 20th century history.