Out of the three cities we visited on our spring trip to Europe: Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam, one surprised us the most with its charm, culture and beauty. We found that sometimes you spend years dreaming about a certain city and then that city simply doesn’t live up to your expectation — well, Amsterdam was different. At first it seemed like most European cities, but the longer we spent there the more captivated we were.
Amsterdam is known for its picturesque canals, historic architecture and laid-back atmosphere, but the soul of this city is in its people. We found the locals incredibly friendly and quite easy to communicate with since they are eager to switch back and forth between French, Dutch, and English. Europeans eat dinner fairly late, so us earlier birds had the run of the restaurants. This afforded us time to meet and talk with the waiters or restaurant owners discussing our cultures.
This diverse and progressive city has the perfect work-life balance. Dutch incomes are amongst the highest in the world with a 29-hour working week allowing families to enjoy the idyllic parks and creative museums. Often compared to NYC’s Central Park and located in the heart of Amsterdam, Vondelpark offers a quick escape.
With tiny one-lane streets in the old city there seems to be more bicycles than residents in Amsterdam. The laws, off-limits to motorized traffic, make this city an undoubtedly bike-friendly environment. Cycling is deeply intertwined with daily life and nearly everyone cycles.
You have to watch out for more bikes then cars when crossing streets or paths, but for the most part pedestrians, cars, bikes, and trams all coexist on the narrow streets seamlessly.
Amsterdam has more canals and bridges than any other city in the world and is commonly referred to as the “Venice of the North.” The canals were built as the railroads or freeways of their time.
The Dutch were forward thinkers, zoning the city so residences were far away from the factories and the canals feature locks and gates to allow flushing of the system with clean water so as to avoid the summer stink that affects Venice.
As we wandered the street and canals, we were struck by the denseness of the city. We noticed the buildings were not only right on top of each other but leaning forward on purpose.
The Dutch row houses have narrow stairways and the leaning helps to avoid hitting the building while hoisting furniture in and out of the windows. The tilt also limits the amount of rain hitting the windows. On an interesting side note, all the structures in the city are built on 50ft wood poles driven into the soggy soil.
Beyond the quirkiness of the canal houses, the grandeur and opulence of the city tells a story. Amsterdam was once the trading hub of Europe and had unimaginable wealth and power. Which gave rise to the beauty and splendor of the city we know today.
Measured by its size, Amsterdam has the highest density of museums in the world. If you are short on time, like our trip, here are the city’s three most-visited museums. The Rijksmuseum, located beside the ubiquitous “I Amsterdam” sign, contains more than 800 years of Dutch history and culture including paintings by Vermeer and Rembrandt. The Van Gogh Museum is Amsterdam’s top tourist attraction with the largest Van Gogh collection in the world.
We made sure to visit the Anne Frank House and viewed a sobering testament to the horror of Nazism. It only took us two waits in the queue to make it in! The museum is known for having an enormous line that stretches several blocks and many hours in length. Keep in mind, if you are not in the door at closing time then expect to return the following day. We also stumbled upon the charming Museum of the Canals. Found inside a stately canal house, the museum sheds light on the importance of Amsterdam’s history.
As you roam through Amsterdam you’re sure to discover a great cuisine in every neighborhood, but is particularly good for Indonesian cuisine due to the country’s tie with its former colony.
Poffertjes are a traditional Dutch favorite and paired with a great cup of coffee. Did you know Amsterdam residents are the second largest consumers of coffee in the world?
If you have a hearty appetite, stop by Koffiehuis De Hoek for an apple bacon and raisin pancake in the posh Jordaan neighborhood.
To top off your evening, Wurst & Schnitzelhaus has authentic German cuisine in the heart of the city.
TIP:: The best way to explore Amsterdam is by foot or bicycling. However, if you purchase an I Am Amsterdam card, you’ll gain free access to the city’s public transportation, as well as free entrance to over 40 museums and other attractions.
Have you been to Amsterdam? Tell us about your travel experiences! We love to connect with others, so feel free to leave us a comment!