Travel, and international travel in particular, is perhaps more popular and widely available today than it has ever been. A combination of factors, such as the ability to find the best deals online and the rise in popularity of budget airlines, means that we have travel opportunities available to us today that would have been unthinkable just a generation or two ago.
With that in mind, it is not surprising that so many of us now have a ‘bucket list’ of must-see places. One option that may not spring immediately to mind when considering such places, but is high on the list of travelers in the know, is the Dutch capital of Amsterdam.
Why so popular?
Amsterdam is famously tolerant. It has a thriving gay scene, a relatively relaxed attitude to drugs, and a generally laid-back outlook on life in general, which is both surprising and refreshing for many travelers. Even the red-light district with its sex shops and brothels has become something of a tourist attraction in itself. In these increasingly politically correct and health-conscious times, it can be something of a genuine culture shock to find oneself in such a laid-back place. For example, the city is one of the few places left in Europe that has such a tolerant attitude towards smoking, with smoker-friendly hotels in Amsterdam a common feature.
Old and new
Having said all that, a huge part of Amsterdam’s unique appeal comes from the way it provides a charming and sometimes quite striking blend of the old and new. There are very few places that can match it for such a remarkable mixture, and this is reflected in the answers you will invariably receive when you ask the locals about the best places to visit, and things to do while you are there.
Make sure you check out the following:
The Rijksmuseum. No trip to Amsterdam would be complete without a visit to this world-famous art gallery. Almost a mile of walkways house around 7500 masterpieces from the likes of Rembrandt and Vermeer. The Golden Age works, where Rembrandt’s Night Watch takes center stage, are particularly spectacular. Not surprisingly, it gets busy, so try to book tickets online in advance and bag yourself fast-track entry to beat the crowds. If money is tight, you can stroll around the sculpture garden for free.
De Pijp. A short and pleasant one-mile walk to the south of the city center, this neighborhood has been referred to as Amsterdam’s Latin Quarter, and as soon as you see the striking architecture and mish-mash of different cultures, it is easy to see why. The district is home to the world-famous Albert Cuyp Market, as well as some of Amsterdam’s best ethnic cuisine. Best of all, it is free to visit!
Anne Frank’s House. The home of the fifteen-year-old girl who hid from the Nazis with her family and kept a diary of how they lived has been turned into a museum in her honor. She was eventually found and taken to a concentration camp, and while her story is a harrowing one, a visit to her house is a powerful and even inspiring experience. The house attracts a huge number of visitors, so it is a good idea to try and plan your visit towards either the beginning or the end of the day in order to avoid the worst of the queues.
The Heineken Experience. Truly embodying the sense of both the old and the new, a trip to the old Heineken Brewery will satisfy both those with a thirst for history and those with a thirst for beer. This is no ordinary factory tour. In fact, it is surely one of the few places in the world where visitors can enjoy a virtual reality ride in a hundred-year-old building. You even get some insight into how the famous beverage is made, and yes, there are many opportunities for tastings.
Travel and accommodation
Getting to Amsterdam is easy, with numerous flights entering Schiphol airport, which is only around ten miles from the city center. The city itself has numerous hotels, with everything from budget backpacking options all the way through to five-star luxury. The weather is temperate, though changes according to the season, and while day-to-day spending costs are on the expensive side, with this being a capital city (the currency is the Euro) there are also budget options to be found.
So there you have it – a historic, lively, friendly, unique and genuinely surprising city. There are countless reasons why you should go, so the question now is surely just a case of when?