My adventure in Amsterdam continues! Hopefully, you've read the first part of this travel series. For those who haven't yet, let me sum it up by saying 1) you should definitely read it and 2) you're missing out.
In the first part of the series, I shared information about some of our favorite meals, our amazing lodging, and some travel tips worth reading before visiting the famous Dutch city of Amsterdam.
As I previously explained, we were greeted in Amsterdam by bad weather...five days of constant, pesky rain. It was oh-so-cold, and we were constantly wet. We were limited by the weather in every way, but especially when it came to travel photography
Despite the weather, we had a great time in Amsterdam. Here's my take on what you should consider adding to your travel itinerary when visiting Amsterdam.
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Amsterdam's Famous Canals
Overall, I have to say that the most enjoyable thing to do in Amsterdam was walking the beautiful streets along the famous canals. We spent hours wandering through the cobblestone streets, up and down the canals, and through the various districts.
The canals were built as part of residential developments in the 17th Century, the Golden Age of Amsterdam. Urban planning made it possible to grow while also maintaining the city's water needs and defense.
Designed in concentric circles, the famous canals of Amsterdam are connected by a series of bridges which now make it possible for pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers to move about in this city of islands. The canals also make for excellent photography subjects.
Amsterdam's Many Museums
Amsterdam has long been one of the major art capitals of the world. So, it's safe to say that it didn't take much convincing for us to venture indoors to enjoy the world-class museums Amsterdam has to offer.
Because we knew we were visiting other Dutch cities, we decided to purchase the Museumkaart, a savings pass featuring over 400 Dutch museums throughout the country. The €59.90 fee (adults) was more than worth it for us, as we were able to visit a total of 4 museums in Amsterdam and 2 others in neighboring cities.
Another option for those only visiting Amsterdam is the Iamsterdam City Card. The savings pass offers free admission to several popular museums, a canal cruise, and free public transportation!
The Rijks Museum
The Rijksmuseum is considered by most as THE museum to visit in Amsterdam. It’s located next to iAmsterdam, a famous piece of public perfect for selfies.
The museum and the iconic art piece attracts nearly 1 million tourists per year. So, be prepared to line up, even during the off-season.
The Rijksmuseum is HUGE and filled to the brim with important works. Although I’m not a huge fan of early Dutch painting, I can see the value it brings to later styles of painting.
However, I am a fan of Rembrandt though, and seeing some of his works up close was incredible. The lively brush strokes of Rembrandt's works jump off the canvas. His use of light and contrast captures my attention every time.
By far my favorite thing in the Rijksmuseum were the 17th Century dollhouses. Once owned by affluent Dutch families, the dollhouses on display in the Rijksmuseum give you an idea of what true wealth could provide in the height of Amsterdam's Golden Age. The attention to detail and craftsmanship was amazing. Imagine playing with those things!
The Van Gogh Museum
Across the square from the Rijksmuseum sits the Van Gogh Museum. This modern museum offers a nice juxtaposition to the Rijksmuseum, with airy spaces and brightly-lit corridors.
But the paintings were, of course, the star of the show. Well-organized and thought-provoking, the museum tour begins with Van Gogh's earliest works and moves forward in time through an extensive collection of his paintings.
The curation gives you a greater appreciation for Van Gogh’s style as you watch it develop over the years. I really enjoyed the immersive aspect of the museum's curatorial style, but I’m also a huge fan of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings. Getting to see the originals of many of my favorite works was a true highlight of our Amsterdam adventure.
The Hermitage Museum
Another great Amsterdam museum was the Hermitage Museum. Located on the banks of the Amstel River, the Hermitage is a sister institution of the larger Russian museum in Saint Petersburg.
Artistically displayed and carefully curated, the collection of Russian art on display at the Hermitage is simply beautiful. Seeing these works helped me realize exactly why I don’t care for in early Dutch painting: the lack of color.
The dreamy pastel blues, pinks and greens found in most of the Russian masterpieces is exactly what I hope to see when I think of European painting. Soft-lines, beautifully dressed figures, and dancing lights make these paintings worth your time and money.
Once again, the space added to the experience. The classic Dutch building that houses the Hermitage museum lends grandeur and style to the historic artifacts inside.
The Anne Frank Museum
Far and away the most incredible part of my entire visit to Amsterdam was the Anne Frank Museum. The experience is transformative and should not be missed.
Transfixed by the story of young Anne Frank and her family, you wander through the home looking for signs of life. Being in the empty corridors and rooms once occupied by Ms Frank is haunting.
You could almost feel the fear and hatred these walls contained so many years ago. The stark, unfurnished spaces put your imagination in charge. Silence and awe fill the rooms where furniture once stood.
In addition to the home, the museum downstairs is well designed and thoughtful. It truly adds value to the experience, something that can't always be said.
Shopping in Amsterdam
Some readers may already know that I love shopping for vintage and artisan goods while traveling. But, I’ll admit, I didn’t do much shopping in Amsterdam.
It's not for lack of planning either. I spent hours building a Google map of vintage shops I wanted to visit while researching our trip (see below). Unfortunately, there just wasn’t time for me to do the kind of shopping I normally do.
For those that don't know me well, you could say I'm a treasure hunter. When I travel, I'm always on the lookout for something special, and usually, this means unique accessories. I enjoy finding my treasures while traveling. It's a rule now: I go somewhere, I get something special.
My go-to treasure is typically vintage jewelry, but that wasn't the case in Amsterdam. As I said, I didn't have the time to much vintage shopping.
Our last morning in the city I decided to go shopping. I made the short trek from our apartment into the city, turned the corner and BAM! Staring right at me through a shop window was exactly what I was looking for: a fantastic leather shop full of bright, colorful bags, purses and wallets.
Sticks and Stones is my kind of store, that's for sure. The one-of-a-kind leather bag and wallet I purchased have gotten compliments since. Best of all, they're still going strong two years later after MUCH use.
Romance In Amsterdam
Amsterdam has a reputation for being the kind of city you either love or hate. While many visitors go looking for parties and fun, some go looking to find romance. We sought the latter.
Let me tell you, walking hand-in-hand along the canals was definitely charming. And our elegant meals were also romantic, as many were in cozy, candle-lit cafes and restaurants. The most romantic part of our trip had to be our dinner at De Gouden Reael.
Because of the weather, we spent long, cold days looking for warmth. Not wanting to venture too far from our amazing apartment, we generally spent time in the most accessible areas of the city. When out and about, we took shelter from the rain in cozy pubs with delicious snacks and beers.
Getting Around in Amsterdam
The transportation system in Amsterdam was quite good despite the fact that the city is essentially a series of islands. No car rental was necessary as there are abundant alternative transportation options in Amsterdam.
One popular transportation option in Amsterdam is the bicycle. Everywhere you look there were rows and rows of bikes. There are so many cyclists that pedestrians have to be careful. If you don’t pay attention, you may get run over by a speeding cyclist!
The bus system in Amsterdam is another popular means of transport. One hour tickets can be purchased from the driver, or you can use your iAmsterdam City Pass for unlimited public transportation for 24, 48, or 72 hours.
In addition to the bus system, Amsterdam has a network of trams, trains, metros, and ferries. The convenience and ease of use of the transportation network makes navigating Amsterdam a breeze.
All our encounters with the Dutch in Amsterdam were helpful. We found the people to be quite friendly and eager to help give directions, suggestions, and recommendations.
One of the things I remember thinking while in Amsterdam was how similar everyone looked. The population seems to be very demographically and economically similar. Everyone appeared very industrious, hard working and smartly dressed.
Another thing that struck me was the lack of vagrants. Living in Los Angeles, I've grown accustomed to seeing a large number of homeless people. I honestly don’t recall seeing any vagrants, even any shabbily dressed folks for that matter. One can only hope that was a testament to the Dutch social welfare system and not just simply where we were located in the city.
Amsterdam's other side
So, as I mentioned in the previous post, my mission in Amsterdam was to answer one question: Does Amsterdam have more to offer travelers than prostitution, legal drugs, and all-night dance parties?
I couldn't very well write a post about Amsterdam without mentioning my thoughts on cafes and the Red Light District. Yes, we walked past both but didn't partake (pun intended) in either.
Now don't get me wrong, I'm not bothered by the cafes. But I can definitely see why some people might be. You can expect to occasionally get a whiff of marijuana while walking through the city streets, something I'm sure travelers with children might not appreciate.
While the cafes may attract a certain kind of visitor, it seems like they may also alienate others. But the Red Light District was appalling for many reasons.
My Social Worker heart bled for the women in the windows. It was devastating to see the tourist ogling them and snapping photos. It reminded me of visiting a zoo. Only there were human beings caged behind the glass instead of animals. It was vile and disgusting to see, at least in my opinion.
My Final Thoughts on Amsterdam
Would I go back to Amsterdam? Absolutely. That is If the weather’s better. I know traveling during the off season is preferable (less tourists, cheaper, etc), but the price we paid was high. Our enjoyment was dampened (again, pun intended) by the weather.
We spent the entire time tromping around in rain boots with umbrellas, dashing under awnings to avoid sudden showers, and avoiding the outdoors altogether. At times we were so soaked and chilled that we found it hard to leave the warm, cozy quarters of our modern digs in Prinseiland.
We also both suffered from terrible jet lag during our time in Amsterdam, and I'm convinced that the weather played a role. And long naps in the rainy afternoons made for long sleepless nights. It was a vicious cycle we couldn't break in our short trip.
But, there were many things I really enjoyed about Amsterdam. I've talked already about the food, museums, and city streets. I also really loved the busy, urban feel of the city. It's definitely the type of urban environment I like.
I'm sure the city is amazing during other seasons, and I can't wait to visit again. Maybe I'll go for the great tulip bloom!
Have you ever been to Amsterdam? What were your thoughts on the city, the food, the culture or the shopping? I’d love to hear from you, so comment below
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