History of Amsterdam
The capital of the Netherlands, Amsterdam exudes a warmth and charm that is uniquely Dutch. In many ways, it is the ideal city, offering a combination of historic sites and modern amenities that’s difficult to replicate anywhere else.
The city is probably best known for its beautiful canals, tall narrow buildings, and numerous squares, coffee houses, trendy restaurants and museums. The city also boasts one of the most impressive collections of heritage buildings – more than 7,000 – of any European city and remains largely unchanged since the 1800s.
Amsterdam is also recognized for its tolerant attitudes. Prostitution is a legalized, regulated industry here, and if you choose to wander around the Old City Center, chances are you will run into the city’s Red Light District at some point.
Marijuana, while not strictly legal, is tolerated here, and has given rise to numerous coffeeshops. Not to be mistaken for cafes or coffee houses serving up caffeinated beverages, these coffeeshops serve up cannabis for those who wish to partake. All of these are regulated to some degree, so don’t expect to see people stumbling around in a stupor. Professional shops take their wares – and their consumption – seriously.
Tolerance, however, is arguably one of the most attractive features of this fascinating city. Amsterdam is a family-friendly destination, despite some of the “seedier sides,” which can be easily avoided, that are part of the unique and diverse culture.
Since Amsterdam is a major embarkation port for river cruises, chances are you may be spending some extra time in this lovely city pre-or-post cruise.
Getting To Amsterdam
Traveling to Amsterdam couldn’t be easier. Flights from around the world arrive at Schiphol Airport, located just 15 kilometers from the city.
National carrier KLM operates the majority of the flights here, though North American travelers may also utilize nonstop flights operated by United Airlines and US Airways. Connecting flights are available on many major European carriers as well.
Schiphol also has its own dedicated train station, with up to seven departures every hour running into the city center and the central rail station (Amsterdam Centraal Station), not more than 10 minutes walk from where most river cruisers dock and the Amsterdam Passenger Terminal.
Travelers making their way to Amsterdam from other parts of Europe may have other alternatives open to them. Rail service here is very good, most of which depart and arrive from Amsterdam Centraal Station. Connections can be made with Eurostar trains for passengers arriving from England and France, as well as Germany, Italy, Prague, Austria and Russia.
Ferry service also runs from the Dutch port of Ijmuiden from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, which is serviced by DFDS Seaways.
Your River Cruise Ship Docks …
While some river cruise vessels tie up at the large Amsterdam Passenger Terminal utilized by larger cruise ships, many will dock closer to the city center, at Westerdoksdijks (Western Docks), Oosterdoksdijks, (Eastern Docks), or along De Ruyterkade. In all cases, many of Amsterdam’s key attractions are just a stone’s throw away.
When in Amsterdam …
One of the great things about Amsterdam is just how pedestrian-friendly the city is. Most major attractions can be reached in under thirty minutes on foot.
The city is also a cycler’s paradise. Bicycles can be rented from numerous vendors, and make an excellent mode of transportation for those looking for a leisurely way to explore the city or the beautiful (and nearby) Dutch countryside.
- Within the city itself, there’s no shortage of attractions to suit every interest. Many people come from around the world to see the Achterhuis, the building where Anne Frank hid in a secret back room, fleeing Nazi persecution. Though she was eventually captured and perished at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, both her diary and the Achterhuis serve as a reminder of her struggle, and the dangers of discrimination. Time your visit. Lines can be extremely long to get into the Anne Frank House.
- Art aficionados should head to the Van Gogh Museum, which houses the largest collection of Vincent van Gogh’s paintings and artwork worldwide, and is a must for anyone interested in the famous artist and his works.
- Canal Cruises are also very popular here, for obvious reasons. These unique waterways criss-cross the city, and tours are available from a number of operators.
- Liquor connoisseurs may want to pay a visit to the Wynand Fockink Distillery. Founded in 1679, this distillery’s tours are extremely popular and should be booked well in advance of your visit. They boast a wide selection of liquors and encourage visitors to try something new in the dedicated tasting room.
- Shopping die-hards might want to check out the Albert Cuyp Street Market. The largest in Amsterdam, this incredible outdoor market is bound to offer something for everyone. Open Monday to Saturday, the market can be crowded. Be alert for potential pickpockets.
- Those looking for out-of-the-way shops may want to stroll over to De Negen Straatje (The Nine Streets). Covering nine narrow streets just south of Dam Square, this area boasts plenty of boutique shops, unique restaurants, galleries and other assorted businesses.
- The Netherlands in general is well known for its beautiful Tulips, and many of these can be had for purchase in Amsterdam. Note that if you intend to buy and bring Tulip bulbs back to the United States or Canada, they must be “approved,” and should be marked as such.
- You can even take free, guided tours of this beautiful city, courtesy of New Amsterdam Tours. These meet at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. across the street from Amsterdam Centraal Station, and are roughly three hours in duration. A two-hour Red Light District tour is also offered, departing at 6:45 p.m., though this comes with a €10 per-person charge.
River Cruisers Should Know!
- While not the city’s native language, English is widely spoken in Amsterdam – though knowing a few basic Dutch words and phrases always makes a good impression.
- The Euro is the official currency in the Netherlands. Other currencies can be exchanged at major banks and financial institutions.
- Smoking is banned in Amsterdam’s restaurants and bars. If you want to light up, be sure to do so in an appropriate outdoor area.
- While the crime rate in Amsterdam is generally low, it always pays to be aware of your surroundings in crowded squares, train stations, and congested attractions. Pickpockets commonly work these areas in many European cities, and you would be wise to invest in a money-belt or pouch that can be placed under your shirt to store cash, cards and identification.