Amsterdam is a city synonymous with connotations of debauchery. The name itself conjures images of mystery and the unknown; Amsterdam is a place where anything goes. The only city in Europe to legalise cannabis and prostitution, Amsterdam draws tourists from across the globe wanting to experience the hedonistic mix of drugs and promiscuity. However there is much more to the city than its reputation suggests. Amsterdam is steeped in history and is evident at every turn; the architecture, transport and the winding city streets are all reminiscent of an earlier time.
The run up to Christmas is a great time to visit the city, as it is taken over by festive markets, traditional decorations and seasonal attractions. Amsterdam can get very cold in winter so dress accordingly; the canals can freeze over and there is even a chance of snow, adding picturesque views to the festive atmosphere. There are Christmas markets on almost every street and can sell anything from traditional Dutch souvenirs of clogs and tulips, to contemporary gifts such as designer jewellery and modern art.
There is a wealth of hotels and hostels on offer, all with a variety of amenities. It’s a good idea to work out exactly what you want from the trip, and that way you can pick accommodation suited to your needs. Hostels are reasonably priced and of a good standard, and are usually located fairly centrally with good transport links. Trams are a common mode of transport here, with routes linking all areas of the city. Cycling is also very popular; many residents use bikes to avoid the congested roads, and it’s a familiar sight to see hundreds of bicycles chained to any available railing.
Amsterdam has numerous cultural and historical venues for visitors to experience. Take the tram to the city’s cultural quarter, where the majority of art galleries and museums are situated. This is the home of the Van Gogh Museum, an impressive building housing the works of the famous painter over three floors and is well worth visiting. For a more sobering experience, visit the Anne Frank Haus. This is the house where Anne and her family hid from the Nazis during the Second World War, and the ground floor has been extended and turned into a museum documenting their experience. The original house is on the upper floors, and the rooms contain photographs and extracts from Anne’s diary. It is a surreal feeling standing in the rooms and imagining what the family went through; the last room of the museum explains the fate of each family member, and this stays with you long after you have left. For a light-hearted attraction, check out the Heineken Experience. This is the factory where the beer is produced, and visitors are able to see how the process transforms grain into alcohol. While the whole thing can be perceived as thinly disguised advertising, it is an entertaining way to spend a couple of hours and the entrance fee includes two free drinks.
Amsterdam is famous for its coffee shops and strip bars. Whilst the coffee shops do sell coffee, they are more notable as venues where cannabis can be bought and smoked. They are usually café style places that can be found across the city; it is rare that a coffee shop will have an alcohol license. The notorious Red Light Districts are worth a visit, if only for the unusual and unique experience. Shops sell anything and everything, and expect the unexpected in the winding streets. The area won’t be to all tastes due to the prominent ‘advertising’ in the brothel windows, but it’s a destination to tick off the proverbial bucket list.
Amsterdam is a city of surprises, and shouldn’t be dismissed by its reputation. It contains culture, history and entertainment within a beautiful setting, all of which can be appreciated by a scenic boat ride on the 17th century canals. And for those who enjoy a different type of indulgence… Amsterdam boasts some of the best patisseries around.
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