Thursday, July 19, 2012

Amsterdam – Venice of the North!

Located in the western part of the country of Netherlands, Amsterdam is renowned the world over for its historic canals, the Van Gogh museum, the (in)famous red light district as well as hundreds of cannabis coffee shops dotting the city which together draw as many as 3.66 million visitors to it, each year. Besides having a long history spanning well over six hundred years, Amsterdam has a vibrant existence in the present, not only from a cultural perspective but also from a business one, with seven of the Top 500 companies as listed on the Forbes Global 2000, being based in the city. Overall, if you are looking to have a truly exhilarating time, whether all by yourself or in the company of your friends and family, you can be assured you won’t be disappointed!

I amsterdam!
Getting to Amsterdam

By Air
Amsterdam is served by the Schiphol airport, one of the busiest airports in the world. Flights connect Amsterdam to nearly all the major cities of the world, so getting to Amsterdam by air should not be a problem for anyone.  

Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport
By Train
If you are traveling from destinations from within Europe, you may very well consider the option of traveling by train. In this regard, you might want to keep the city’s main train station, Amsterdam Centraal in mind, as that station functions as an international one, with connections to all major European destinations including faraway Poland or even Russia.

Amsterdam Centraal Train Station 
By Bus
Companies such as Eurolines connect Amsterdam to virtually all the major European cities so getting to Amsterdam from there, by bus, should not be a problem either. Most coaches run from the Amsterdam Amstel railway station, to destinations across Europe.

A Eurolines bus to Sarajevo at Amsterdam Amstel railway station
Driving into Amsterdam
Amsterdam is very well connected by road, with all major European destinations, especially neighboring Germany and Belgium. Driving into the city from any other European destination would ideally not be a problem at all, though you would perhaps be advised to forego your private vehicle once inside the city and use its plethora of public transport options. Further, with bicycles being the preferred mode of travel within Amsterdam, you would in fact be best advised to use them to the maxim.

Plush highways make driving into Amsterdam an absolute breeze
Transport within Amsterdam
Once inside Amsterdam, there is a whole host of public transport options to choose from, which virtually negate the need for private transport vehicles, especially cars which the city administration seems to particularly disdain. Taking a car to the city center is something that would be particularly taxing for you, with parking being a major issue, besides the heavy fee that you will have to pay for the same.

It is in the light of these factors that other transport options such as trams and buses come across as much more feasible options for transport within Amsterdam. That said bicycles are perhaps the best way of traveling around the city. In fact, bicycle culture as witnessed around the world, is best exemplified in Amsterdam which had as many as 465,000 bicycles back in 2006.

Where else but in Amsterdam would you see so many bicycles together in one place?
Besides bicycles, the four metro lines of the city, with a fifth under construction, should amply serve your purpose, while traversing through the city. 

Amsterdam Metro
Ferries are also an equally feasible option, for traveling to nearby places in and around Amsterdam, along the city’s waterways.

A "Flying Ferry" in Amsterdam
Things to do
While in some other cities, you might face the problem of deciding what to do while you are there, since the options at hand would be relatively few, you will face the same situation in Amsterdam as well, but for completely different reasons – Amsterdam offers simply too many options in terms of things to do, that it becomes a difficult choice as to what activities to pursue and what to forego!!

That said there are a few things that Amsterdam is particularly known for; one of these certainly is museums. In fact, Amsterdam is well known as the museum capital of the world, with numerous museums dotting the landscape of the city. Some museums in particular, which you would certainly not want to miss, are mentioned below.

Van Gogh Museum
Located in the Museumplein part of the city, Van Gogh Museum houses the world’s largest collection of paintings and drawings made by Vincent Van Gogh. Apart from the obvious draw of the museum, viz. Van Gogh’s creations, you are quite likely to be enamored by the attractive design of the museum building itself, which was conceived by renowned Dutch designer, Gerrit Rietveld.

Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam
Rijksmuseum Amsterdam
Also located in Museumplein, the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam is the Netherlands’ national museum, housing a whole host of arts and crafts from around the world. Amongst its formidable collection, paintings from the Dutch Golden Age sure occupy center stage. Dutch artists whose works you will find displayed in the museum include Rembrandt, Jan Steen, Frans Hals as well as Johannes Vermeer. Further, the museum also contains the Rijksmuseum Research Library, which is in fact the Netherlands’ largest art history research library, for the common public.

Rijksmuseum Amsterdam
Anne Frank House
Anne Frank House is a building first built in 1635 and subsequently restored as a museum in 1960, which housed Anne Frank, a Jewish wartime diarist, who escaped Nazi persecution by hiding in the rear of the building. The museum is worth a visit, not only because it served as a hiding place for Anne Frank, but also because, today it symbolizes and is representative of apathy towards any kind of discrimination or persecution, especially along racial or religious lines.    

Anne Frank House in Amsterdam
Besides the above mentioned museums, there are many others which should also form a part of your itinerary, depending on the time and opportunity that you have. Take for instance, the Nemo museum, right next to the Amsterdam central station. Besides being the country’s largest science center, which makes it an attractive destination by itself, it is the shape of the building, in the form of a sinking ship, which in turn draws tourists to it, by the droves. 

Nemo Museum in Amsterdam
Similarly, the Joods Historisch Museum or Jewish Historical Museum is certainly worth a visit, to gain a firsthand perspective on Judaism in the Netherlands, which had been prevalent since the sixteenth century till the Second World War, wherein Nazi persecution led to a virtual annihilation of the majority of the Jewish population of the country. Today, the museum has over 11,000 varied objects in its collection, each of which is representative of Jewish culture and tradition.

Joods Historisch Museum
Apart from museums, Amsterdam has a lot of other draws for tourists as well. Religious monuments and buildings certainly are foremost among them. For instance, one of the most significant churches in the country – the Oude Kerk or the old church is located in Amsterdam, in the De Wallen part of the city, which also happens to house its infamous red light district. The roof of the Oude Kerk is said to be the largest medieval wooden vault, across the whole of Europe. Today, the Oude Kerk is also a venue for various religious and cultural activities of national and international significance, including the World Press Photo awards.

Oude Kerk in Amsterdam
Considering the Netherlands’ relatively large Islamic population, estimated at about 5 percent of the total population of the country, mosques dot the landscape with as many as 400 of them, across Netherlands. Among them, the El Tawheed Mosque in Amsterdam is one of the most significant.

El Tawheed Mosque in Amsterdam
From a Jewish perspective, the expansive Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam is one of the most significant Jewish buildings in the country. Built more than 300 years ago, in 1675, the building maintains its opulent façade from the exterior, even today.

Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam
Other structures and buildings you wouldn’t want to miss seeing, while in Amsterdam: 

The Royal Palace, built in 1648; 

The Royal Palace in Amsterdam
The Concertgebouw which is in fact home to the Concertgebouworkest, a world renowned symphony orchestra; 

Concertgebouw in Amsterdam
The Magere Brug, which is Amsterdam’s best known draw bridge; 

Magere Brug in Amsterdam
The Rembrandt Tower; 

The iconic Rembrandt Tower in Amsterdam
The Millennium Tower; 

The Millenium Tower in Amsterdam - this is the North West side view of the building
The Olympisch Stadion which was the main stadium of the 1928 Summer Olympics, as well as, 

The Olympisch Stadion, as it looked back in 1928
The Homomonument which is a memorial located right in the centre of the city, dedicated towards all homosexuals who have been subject to persecution, simply because of their differential sexual orientation and preference.

The Homomonument
De Wallen – Amsterdam’s largest and most well-known Red Light District
No mention of Amsterdam as a tourist destination can be truly complete without mentioning the infamous red light districts of the city. Among them, De Wallen holds center stage as not only the largest but also the most frequently visited of all red light districts in the city. Located in the centre of the oldest part of Amsterdam, De Wallen is located just south of the Oude Kerk church and comprises of hundreds of small cabins that prostitutes rent out to offer their sexual services. Typically, the prostitutes solicit customers from behind glass doors or windows, which are in turn lit up with red light, quite literally reminiscent of a red light district!

De Wallen, the Red Light District of Amsterdam
Eating out in Amsterdam
When it comes to foodie options in the city, you sure will be spoilt for choice, as there are just too many pickings, including more than a thousand restaurants! Further, you would be surprised in case you are expecting only Dutch cuisine, as food from around the world is very easily available in Amsterdam. From Spanish to Italian to French to Indonesian to Indian and even to Japanese, no cuisine should be hard for you to find. Additionally, even as a vegetarian, you really should not have a problem in the city, as there are numerous restaurants that serve only vegetarian fare, besides the fact that all the other restaurants also happen to have ample vegetarian dishes on offer.

Inside 'Memories of India' Indian restaurant in Amsterdam,
often considered one of the finest Indian restaurants in Europe
Most places commonly serve alcohol, so finding the same should not be a problem for you, irrespective of where you go. One interesting aspect with regard to eating out in Amsterdam is that you pay the same, whether you eat on the terrace or outside or anywhere else within the confines of the restaurant.


Amsterdam has a vibrant nightlife which again will leave you spoilt for choice. Areas like the Rembrandtplein as well as the Leidseplein are rampant with discotheques of varying shapes and sizes, playing a varied assortment of dance music. 

Have the time of your life in areas of Amsterdam such as Leidseplein,
showcased above
In case you are looking for something specific to the lesbian and gay community, then you might want to head towards the Reguliersdwarsstraat which is a street loaded with activities pertaining to the above mentioned community.

A Musical Event at Reguliersdwarsstraat
Amsterdam offers a wide array of shopping options, from those akin to street bazaars as well as departmental stores, housing some of the world’s finest brands. The main shopping areas that you would definitely not want to miss, while in the city, include Leidsestraat and Kalverstraat.

 You will also find major departmental stores near the Munt Tower as well as at the Dam. For knickknack and curio shopping, you would be advised to look around the Jordaan while for more chic shopping of hi-profile items or brands, you would perhaps be better off looking at the PC Hooftstraat.

High Street Shopping comes alive on PC Hoofstraat 
Considering the large number of events that take place in the city, you might want to consider the option of timing your trip in such a manner as to attend any of these diverse events. For instance, a trip in June would assure you an opportunity to attend the Holland Festival, which entails a full four weeks of diverse cultural activities. 

Signage for the Holland Festival in Amsterdam
Similarly, Amsterdam’s Gay Pride parade takes place early August, each year. Queen’s Day which takes place on the 30th of April each year is a day you would definitely not want to miss, while in Amsterdam. In fact, if you already happen to be in the city at this time, it is impossible you will miss it as the whole city gets into a mood of complete revelry.

Gay Pride Parade in Amsterdam
Amsterdam has a lot to offer to people from all walks of life. Irrespective of where you come from, just leave your inhibitions behind and go ahead and make the most of your time in the Venice of the North; life could never have seemed any better!

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