Amsterdam was a great surprise to me. I had always thought of Venice as the city of canals; it had never entered my mind that I should find similar conditions in a Dutch town—James Weldon Johnson
Amsterdam is primarily known for legalized drugs and a lively red light district. It’s cannabis cafes and legal prostitution are front and center in the world’s conscientiousness. Much to its detriment, Amsterdam’s willingness to cater to vices obscures many wonderful aspects of this great city.
Earlier this year, my wife and I spent several days in Amsterdam. I was originally reluctant to visit this city. My impression was that Amsterdam would be crime riddled and dilapidated. I was wrong. Our visit shattered my preconceived notions and deeply impressed me. We both found Amsterdam to be a vibrant city steeped in culture, historical significance and natural beauty.
Amsterdam’s Dutch influence is engrained in its DNA. You can easily see it in the city’s skyline, which beautifully blends modern and vintage architectural designs. Its unique neighborhoods and districts form a picturesque European cityscape that leaves no doubt of its heritage.
Amsterdam’s historical significance is well represented by the high concentration of museums, memorials and monuments throughout the city—including the must see Anne Frank House. A Crow’s View highly recommends visiting this site. Anne’s story is extremely powerful and relevant today. Reservations are required.
There is no shortage of activity in Amsterdam—day or night. Cars, busses and trains constantly run throughout the city, while pedestrians pepper the sidewalks walking up and down the streets. Bicyclers crisscross busy intersections and weave in and out through the crowds as they quickly peddle off to parts unknown.
Bicycling is a popular mode of travel in Amsterdam. There are so many bikes on its streets that they nearly equal the number of pedestrians. In fact, commuting with a bicycle is so fashionable that even celebrities enjoy riding. Famed musician Ezra Koenig once quipped, “I always have fun bike riding in Amsterdam.”
It’s also common—if not iconic—to see bicycles parked along Amsterdam’s streets and bridges.
Of all the things we discovered while in Amsterdam, what surprised us the most was its beautiful canals and waterways. People think of Venice, Italy as the “City of Canals.” That may be true, but Amsterdam can share that title too.
Amsterdam’s canals carve through the city in a Byzantine pattern connecting to neighborhoods and districts alike. Beautiful stone bridges are conspicuously placed throughout the intricate maze of channels spanning the water to conjoin two sides. Here the canals are as important to travel and commerce as roads are anywhere else.
A canal tour is highly advised. There are various types of tours offered. Some guided tours focus on historical sites, while others will explore places of recreational and romantic importance. Each tour will take you through scenic districts and rustic sites along the way to various points of interest. Be prepared and have your camera charged and ready to go.
A morning or midday canal tour is suggested over one at sunset or evening. Although night tours are nice, you will only see the city’s lights and skyline reflecting off the water. It does make for some fabulous photographic opportunities; however, you will miss some iconic sites around Amsterdam and lose some valuable insight into navigating the city due to the darkness.
A Crow’s View recommends buying the I amsterdam City Card. It is fairly expensive, but it will pay for itself over time. The card covers admission to many area museums (except the Anne Frank House), offers merchant discounts, and pays for local bus and tram fares. The City Card is also accepted at one or two companies that provide canal tours.
Amsterdam is a must see destination. There is an energy that pulses through the city that makes it an exhilarating place to visit. Whether you go to Amsterdam for the active night life, or to explore its culture and rich history, be prepared to be surprised by its often overlooked beauty.