The canals are just the beginning – wind around them to discover a city that respects both the past and the future.
1. Visit Anne Frank's home
This grim bit of history is a poignant reminder of innocence and the power of words. The house Anne Frank lived is now a museum. It’s is perfectly preserved, complete with the bookcase that leads into the windowless secret annexe where her family hid. Even her diary lies in a glass case. A new wing of the house gives visitors the history of Jewish persecution in the Second World War and the rise of anti-semitism and Nazism. The house draws in a million visitors every year, and there are long queues to get in. Get there early to make the most of your time.
2. The Condomerie
Safe sex is sadly such a taboo subject that it takes something like a condom museum to get people talking about it. The Condomerie is located on one Amsterdam's oldest streets and it's one of the most forward thinking shop-museums you could find yourself in. By creating condoms shaped like animals and even the Big Ben, it teaches visitors to reduce the taboos around sex. If anything it creates great Instagram opportunities. And of course some conversation-starting souvenirs.
3. A canal tour
The best way to see the city for the first time is by taking a canal tour. Amsterdam has 165 canals within the city. There were more till a few decades ago, but once boats made way for cars, many of the canals were turned into roads. Yet, visitors today get an exceptional view of the city on these canals. The boats take you past architecturally spectacular quarters, giving a glimpse into corners you will want to further explore. The most beautiful canal is Prinsengracht, which is lined with trees. Hop on and off to visit museums and hip galleries and take breaks at the many many cafés that dot the banks. Plan a stay at any of the hotels in Canal Ring that fit your budget. They offer all the latest facilities and you can even do online booking into these hotels.
4. The museum and gallery tour
Museumstraat 1, Jordaan, Museumplein 10
European cities overflow with museums and galleries and Amsterdam is no exception. The city has an equal mix of contemporary works and Renaissance pieces. The most famous of the lot is the Rijks museum where Rembrandt's classic 'Night Watch' resides. Most of his other work is at the Rembrandt Museum itself, where the interiors have been redone to reflect his original home. For more work from modern masters, check out the Stedelijk Museum where Matisse, Mondrian, and Klein have walls dedicated to them. The city is also home to cutting-edge contemporary and independent art. For this, head to Jordaan district and visit galleries such as Radar, Galerie Fons Welters, KochxBos, a truly ingenious space where you'll feel like you've wandered into a rather kitschy living room.
5. Take a turn at the markets
Pijp, Jordaan, Oost, Waterlooplein
Flea and vintage markets are abundant in Amsterdam, almost as a reminder of how cosmopolitan and multiethnic the city is. Each region had its own market, like the Waterlooplein flea market, which attracts the largest number of tourists. For a more sedate experience head to the Nooder markt in Jordaan—on Saturdays it hosts organic fare while on Mondays an antiques fair takes over. Dappermarkt in Oost and Lindenmarkt in Jordaan are great bets for food, although the biggest draw is the Albert Cuypmarkt for its amazing store selling Surinamese food. And what is Amsterdam without flowers? The world famous Bloemenmarkt is packed with tulip bulbs that international tourists can carry back safely.
6. Van Gogh Museum
Paulus Potterstraat 7
A visit to Amsterdam is incomplete without paying your respects at the Van Gogh Museum. Arguably, one of the most popular artists in the world, Van Gogh was also one of the most penniless and frustrated men in his time. And yet he was a prolific artist. The museum holds most of his work, including sketches and paintings that captured light in unimaginable ways. Apart from his many paintings including those from the famous sunflower series, the museum also holds a number of his personal effects.
7. The red light district
Amsterdam's notorious red light district is more than just home to the world's oldest profession. There are the famous windows of course, red-lit and tantalising, from where dancers tempt visitors. But the buildings themselves are beautiful—heritage structures of town houses whose histories go back centuries. Two of the oldest and most remarkable are the Oude Kirk, the Old Church (built: 1306) and the Ons' Lieve Heer op Solder, a hidden church built at a time when Catholicism was forbidden. The latter is now a museum. Just around the corner from here is Amsterdam's Chinatown and a maze of the city's best restaurants and cafés.
8. Dutch street food
It might not be to everyone's taste, but when in Amsterdam do as Amsterdam does and tuck into fresh, raw herring. Stalls around the city sell this in abundance through May and July when the catch is at its freshest, best, and sweetest and won't need to be pickled. For those with less adventurous palates, there's plenty of French fries and pancakes, which double up as pizzas with a variety of toppings. But the truly popular food here, and mind you, it's odder than the raw herring, is Indonesian and Surinamese food. The two former Dutch colonies have contributed to the rich street food culture in the city.
9. Begijnhof Gardens
Walking through the Begijnhof Gardens is like stumbling through time. It dates back to the 14th century, and isn’t easily accessible from the main roads, giving it a secret garden sort of feel. Surrounded by a chapel and some beautifully wooden houses, it looks perfectly preserved in time. The English church is the oldest structure and has some wonderful stained glass paintings, which depicting pilgrims in prayer before leaving for the New World. The chapel that stands across is the one where Beguines and Catholics worshipped in secret.
10. Beer o' clock
Stadhouderskade and Funenkade 7
Dutch beer culture is the stuff of dreams. If you don't believe us, perhaps the tours, museums and novelty features at the many breweries and microbreweries you will keep tumbling into might convince you. There are two experiences that are particularly remarkable: Heineken museum and gallery—what used to be the old brewery is now an interactive museum where you can catch up on all their award winning ads, wander through the house and stables and even create your mini ad/music video. At the Brouwerij 't IJ, which happens to be Amsterdam's leading organic microbrewery, your admission ticket allows you free tastings, which take place in a beer hall, tastily done up with beer hops. Surf the list of international flights to Amsterdam when you plan to head to this place. Smooth travel is the key to a good vacation.
Remember, in Amsterdam, a coffeeshop (one word) refers to establishments licensed to sell cannabis (legal in Amsterdam). A coffee house is where you’ll be served coffee. And a café is where you’ll be served alcohol.
Best time to visit:
Travel between April and September to get long days and warm temperatures, and if you can weather the cold, then travel between October and March will prove to be cheaper.