Amsterdam – a mini guide

Is there anywhere more “must-see” for Interrailers than Amsterdam? Nah, don’t think so – after all you’re young, fun and out for an adventure, something “The Dam” offers in bucket loads. From history to culture to food to partying like never before, this must see metropolis is must see for a reason.

The capital of the Netherlands, this most iconic of cities is hard to categorise. Sure, it has its famed red light district, its brown cafes and its buzzing bar and club scene but there is much, much more too. After all, on just one weekend you can immerse yourself in the arts at world leading museums, step into history at the Anne Frank Museum, have a picnic lunch by the calming canal waters (chips and mayo for dinner), take a selfie at a traditional narrow, gabled houses and dance til you drop at an all night club.  What’s not to love?  Here’s our mini guide to give you the full lowdown.

The essentials – top five

  • Anne Frank House – Yes, there may be queues and no, you won’t be able to dander around this amazing living memory in quiet isolation but it was Anne Frank’s hideout (both the house and a museum dedicated to the Jewish wartime diarist) – it’s worth it. In case you don’t know, Anne and seven others hid in a secret annexe at this office building in occupied Amsterdam (Prinsengracht 263) for over two years during WWII. Anne wrote her world famous diary here before the group were discovered and deported to Nazi concentration camps, where Anne sadly passed away. Even if you haven’t read the diary itself, this is an unmissable opportunity to explore behind the bookcase to the secret rooms where the eight lived in a labryinth of stairways, halls and little, furnished rooms. From 9am to 3.30pm the museum is only open to visitors with an online ticket for a specific timeslot (tickets are available on the website exactly two months in advance). From 3:30pm until closing time you can buy a ticket at the museum entrance.
  • Museumplein – The place for all those culture vultures, Museumplein is home to the  Rijksmuseum (a vast collection of art and artefacts that showcase over 800 years of Dutch and global history, including paintings by the likes of Rembrandt and Van Gogh), the Van Gogh Museum (home to the the largest collection of works by Vincent van Gogh including over 200 paintings, 500 drawings and 700 letters) and the Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art (the largest Dutch museum dedicated to modern and contemporary art and design). The open square in between the buildings also buzzes with activity during the day with open-air exhibitions, markets and a large paddling pool in summer and an outdoor ice rink in winter. Of course, if all that is a little too artsy for you then there is always the wonderfully risque sex museum on Damrak Street, which has a unique and interesting collection – although be warned, some sections are certainly not for the faint hearted.
  • Canal trip – Jmmp on a canal boat (there are lots of tours on offer, most lasting around an hour) and cruise Amsterdam at its most relaxed, on the water. Since 1999, the city’s canal ring has officially been protected and in 2010 (at the tender age of 397 years young) it was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List – and yes, it really is glorious. For that added magic, take a trip at night and enjoy the twinkling lights on the bridges.
  • Heineken Museum – Back in 1864, 22-year-old Gerard Adriaan Heineken bought a brewery in Amsterdam known as De Hooiberg (the haystack) and well…the rest is pretty much history. Today Heineken owns over 165 breweries in more than 70 countries, and produces 250 international, regional, local and specialty beers and ciders. The original brewery in Amsterdam closed in 1988 but has been preserved as a museum – namely the Heineken Experience, an interactive tour which includes some history, some science, a beer “simulation” (the fun bit) and a beer tasting.
  • Take a walk – The Dam is a city well worth exploring and, if you have some spare funds and want to make the most of your time, then take a walking tour (again, lots on offer to cater for different interests so do your research or ask at your hostel). Alternatively, head out on your own and go exploring beyond the touristy areas – there are many lovely neighbourhoods offering food, drink, music and shopping, or why not visit one of the many markets or have a picnic on the park (there are over 30 parks to choose from).

The Budget or Broke Recommendation (i.e. free)

Take a walk through the infamous red light district. I mean, it is Amsterdam after all, you have to at least check it out. And yes there will be ladies in red-lit windows, there will be their “punters” (especially as the night goes on) and there will be sex shows and other naughty attractions on offer – but there will also be lots of other tourists giggling and chatting and taking it all in as if it is just another tourist attraction…which nowadays it kinda is.

Local cuisine

Chips and mayo. OK, ok there are lots of gorgeous restaurants and foods on offer and if you want to go all local then go ahead, try the broodje haring (raw herring served in a sandwich with pickles and onions) from one of the many herring carts. But somehow, in this city, you just can’t beat chips and mayo in a paper cone.

Gift ideas

Look for local – you’ll find lots of independent retailers around the cobbled De Negen Straatjes, the Haarlemmerdijk, the Utrechtsestraat or the lovely Czaar Peterstraat. Enjoy a browse and pick up a lovely unique or vintage piece, from clothes to cosmetics to art.

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