We spent 4 days and 3 nights in Amsterdam, as part of my birthday trip. Fortunately, visiting in the winter, meant it wasn’t as crowded as it would have been earlier in the year. Unfortunately, we were out of season to visit the big tulip garden (still on my bucket list), and we also seem to have taken the British weather with us. It wasn’t until the end of our trip that we were treated to clear blue skies and sunshine.
Luckily, there is SO much to do and see in Amsterdam, as it has a variety of both outdoor and indoor activities to suit all weathers. Here are some of the sights of Amsterdam that we enjoyed, and would definitely recommend, along with some tips for visiting each place, and snippets of history.
Read our blog Birthday in Amsterdam – to find out how we spent the 24 hours of my birthday in Amsterdam, and to see pictures of the other sights and activities worth checking out in the city (including our attempt to help me face my fear of heights, and the coolest bar we’ve been in).
The central train station of Amsterdam was designed by the same architect who designed the Rijksmuseum (see below). As well as trains, you can catch ferries from the back of the station, including the free ferry to the North of the city to the Amsterdam Tower (see previous blog here).
It was simple enough to catch a train from Schipol Airport to Amsterdam Centraal, and it took us no more than 30 minutes. When looking for somewhere to stay, it might be an idea to place yourself in the vicinity of Amsterdam Centraal or Dam Square, to put yourself in walking distance of the main train station, trams, and everywhere else in the centre of Amsterdam!
Amsterdam’s canal ring is a UNESCO world heritage site. Initially developed in the 17th century, the canal ring is a network of interconnected canals and bridges.
So, it makes sense to get yourself on one of the MANY canal tours that operate in the city. There are a variety of canal tours, including ones where you are served lunch, dinner, pizzas, burgers, champagne etc. A lot of these canal tour tickets can be bought online, giving you the chance to shop around for good deals (if you can be bothered to).
The hotel we stayed at, is situated in Dam Square, and gave us the perfect base to explore Amsterdam from. To be honest, if you stayed anywhere within the centre of Amsterdam, you wouldn’t be too far away from places to visit, as most of them are located within walking (or cycling) distance. We didn’t use any public transport, as we were able to walk everywhere.
I have a thing for pretty lampposts. Here’s one with the Royal Palace in the left photo, and with the New Church (De Nieuvew Kerk) on the right.
Around Dam Square are a variety of shops, restaurants, cafes and attractions. You could easily spend an entire day exploring the area and visiting the attractions (more about some of these if you keep reading). Keep an eye out for the pricing in the souvenir shops, as you don’t want to end up walking into one of the more expensive ones (we like to compare the price of magnets to give us a rough idea).
One of the retail destinations on Dam Square is De Bijenkorf, seen here. This is a chain of high end department stores, with its flagship store on Dam Square. It could be likened it to House of Fraser or Selfridges in the UK. I could definitely have had more time to spend in there! If you’re planning to visit in winter, you may as well hold off until all the Christmas decorations are up – these were being put up during the 2nd week of November, during our last days there.
Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky
The National Memorial statue stands in front of the Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky (seen in the left photo), which is where we stayed. The statue was erected in memory of Dutch soldiers who died in World War 2.
The Grand Hotel is situated very close to the Red Light District, Ripley’s Believe it or Not (the building on the left in the 2nd photo), and Madame Tussaud’s (the building on the right in the 2nd photo), as well as all the buildings of Dam Square as mentioned before. We found it quite convenient to make a pit stop back to the hotel a couple of times to change coats or socks (from being soaked in the rain!), and to change outfits between day and night time (does anyone else do this on holiday?).
The hotel also has this beautiful cafe/restaurant called Winter Garden, where we had breakfast every morning. The decor was just lovely, especially with the glass ceiling.
The ‘Tailor Bar’ in the hotel (featured in our previous blog here) was an interesting place to have drinks with a sartorial theme, and find out more about the history of the famous tailor, who the hotel is named after.
The Royal Palace
The Royal Palace of Amsterdam is on Dam Square. It was originally built as a town hall, but then used as one of the residences of the Dutch Monarchy. It is still used for state visits and royal events.
Kalverstraat is a busy shopping street just off Dam Square. In fact, it is the most expensive shopping street in the Netherlands (in terms of rent prices).
Kalverstraat means ‘calf street’ and is named after the cattle market that was held there from the 15th to 17th century.
The Amsterdam Museum (3rd photo) is hidden away on Kalverstraat. It is located in the old city orphanage and is a museum about the history of Amsterdam. Maybe a pit stop to break up all the shopping?
The Kalverstraat runs from Dam Square to Muntplein, a square which is in fact a bridge, and the widest bridge in Amsterdam.
The Munttoren or Munt Tower was originally one of the main city gates from the medieval times. At one time, the guard house used to mint coins, and is where the name Munt comes from.
Van Gogh Museum
The Van Gogh Museum is dedicated to the life and works of Vincent Van Gogh. Even if you’re not usually a fan of art or art museums, you should consider visiting this one, because you can learn about the fascinating life and (fascinatingly) death of Van Gogh.
Buy your ticket online to save you queuing up for tickets (because you also have to queue up for the cloakroom). It’s worth mentioning that you aren’t allowed to take in large bags or backpacks, and these will have to be checked into the cloakroom.
If you get to the museum and realise, it’s raining and you don’t fancy wandering around outside anymore, or, you happen to have all the time in the Netherlands to spend, we would definitely advise buying the audio guide to really get the most out of your visit and learn more about the art and the artist.
If however, you don’t want to spend all day in the museum, just don’t miss out Van Gogh’s self portraits, his famous Sunflower and reading about his journey into mental illness and ultimately his death. It’s simply fascinating. Unfortunately, his famous Starry Night, isn’t on exhibit here. We would also recommend going to see a piece called the Potato Eaters, and read about how he planned and researched into creating this dark masterpiece.
The Cube Museum Square is a cube mirror box between the two museums. Originally the cube was an eyesore that housed technical installations for the nearby Qpark underground parking. An artist later won a competition to come up with an idea for its transformation, turning it into a reflective cube – where you can take fun photos of yourselves with the museums in the background.
The Rijksmuseum is a Dutch museum that houses art dedicated to the history of Amsterdam and includes works by Rembrandt. Through the archway in the centre is a tunnel for pedestrians and cyclists to pass through the museum.
At the back of the museum is one of the three I Amsterdam signs you can take a picture with. The second is at Schipol Airport, and the third is a travelling sign which was at the Amsterdam Tower, when we visited (see previous blog).
This is probably the busiest of the three signs …and as you can see from the photo here, is why we didn’t bother taking a photo with this one.
It’s worth walking through the tunnel which goes through the museum. The arches remind me of the quadrangle of Glasgow University.
Ripley’s Believe it or Not
A tourist attraction that you may have come across in some of the other big cities in the world – but this was our first time visiting one of the Ripley’s. With 5 floors packed with fascinating information, this was a great way to spend a rainy evening. Here are just some of the interesting historical tidbits we came across.
Photo on the right shows Jonny in front of a piece of the Berlin Wall.
Us with the world’s tallest man at 8′ 11 tall.
This tunnel was very cool and weird. The bridge was absolutely stationary but the projection on the tunnel span. Walking through it was the strangest experience, because it felt like you were spinning even though you were physically still. It made you very dizzy by the time you got to the end.
Red Light District
Everyone knows about the famous Red Light District of Amsterdam, and therefore you’ll expect to find a very busy area full of curious tourists (both at day and night time) as well as the paying customers. You are not allowed to take photographs in the Red Light District, and in fact, if any of the working girls spot you taking photos, expect to hear some abuse from them.
These photos were actually taken at the Ripley’s Believe it or Not.
One place where you can take photos is at the Museum of Prostitution in the Red Light District. This is a museum where you can learn more about the history of prostitution in Amsterdam and experience a day in the life of a working girl. You can also place yourself behind one of the windows to see what it’s like to have your own red light window. Prostitution is well regulated in Amsterdam and you can learn more about the laws, rules and regulations that try to keep the working girls safe and the jobs well-regulated.
Body Worlds: The Happiness Project
This anatomical exhibition is an absolute dream for anatomy fans and enthusiasts. Gunther Von Hagen created the Body Worlds exhibition, showcasing anatomical specimens and creating anatomical displays from the bodies of willing donors. The exhibition started off touring the world, but has its permanent exhibit in Amsterdam.
The exhibition is named the Happiness Project and demonstrates the meaning of happiness and its effects on the body, through the anatomical specimens, interactive screens and information boards.
Finally, we come to Amsterdam’s special coffee-shops – where you can buy and try marijuana/hash/pot/cannabis – based joints and brownies.
Walking through Amsterdam, you will certainly catch a whiff of marijuana more than once. Cannabis is actually illegal in the Netherlands but the Dutch’s laid back rulings on the use of cannabis, is what makes the coffee shops so frequented by tourists.
The Netherlands tried to introduce a ‘weed pass’, whereby only Dutch residents could buy cannabis. However, this didn’t quite take off, and although the laws are still confusing (but still very lax), Amsterdam is exempt from this law, meaning tourists can be like the locals and visit the coffee shops to their heart’s content.
And that’s our Amsterdam trip!
We’ll wrap this up with the absolutely pretty store front of the book store Scheltema’s Christmas decorations.
Love, DJK x