This article was also published on Island Travel magazine.
Four hundred-year-old canals. Buildings from the 16th and 17th century. Coffee shops. Art museums. The Anne Frank house. Tulip markets. The Night Watch. The Sex museum. Van Gogh. Vermeer. Rembrandt. Amsterdam has something for everyone, from art to marijuana lovers, from history buffs to sex enthusiasts, whether you’re a straight guy, a feminist or someone in between. Maybe because for a city that entertains around 12 million visitors each year, variety is something that Amsterdam can’t live without. But with so much choices comes stress. So where should you go or what should you do as a first time tourist in Amsterdam?
WANDER THROUGH WATER
Since Amsterdam is connected by a network of 17th-century canals locally called the grachtengordel (grachten = canals; gordel = belt), one of the most effective ways to discover this international city is to take a boat tour. Different companies offering these are available just next to the Amsterdam central train station. The tour will take you around the city, stopping at the most important places of artistic or historical significance. A storyteller is on board to show you the important spots and tell you their stories. The most famous of these grachten are the Prinsengracht, the Keizersgracht and the Herengracht. Anne Frank, the famous young diarist who described the harshness of World War II, lived on Prinsengracht 263-267. Check www.annefrank.org for updated information on opening hours and ticket prices. TIP: Buy tickets online to avoid the long queues.
A stone’s throw away from Anne Frank’s house are heroes of art. Rembrandt van Rijn, one of the greatest painters in Dutch history, lived on Jodenbreestraat 4. His house, where he also used to work, is worth visiting as it has been wonderfully preserved. You will easily get a feel of how it is to live during his time. Aside from guided tours, there are also etching and paint preparation demonstrations in his former studio! Visit www.rembrandthuis.nl for actual schedules of guided tours and demonstrations. Rembrandt’s monumental piece de resistance, the Night Watch, can be found at the recently restored Rijksmuseum on Museumstraat. It is housed there along with other classical pieces from Dutch masters such as Johannes Vermeer, Jan Steen, Frans Hals and Vincent Van Gogh. The largest collection of his works are however located three minutes away from the Rijksmuseum, on Paulus Potterstraat, the Van Gogh Museum. For schedules and fees of both museums, check www.rijksmuseum.nl and www.vangoghmuseum.nl.
TRY SOMETHING DIFFERENT
My first time in Amsterdam was quite amusing. I arrived in the Netherlands on a Sunday, the day before the training course I signed up for. You would think that because of my Catholic upbringing, I would look for the nearest church. I thought so too, but another student who came from Vietnam had a better idea. “Let’s go explore Amsterdam!”, she suggested with her bright eyes smiling along with her lips. So go explore Amsterdam we did. Our first stop was, of the many art museums in Amsterdam, the Sex Museum! Located just on the street across the Amsterdam central train station, it was the nearest museum we could find. One would say we did take the word “explore” so very seriously. There we were, two Asian girls giggling at the various-sized and shaped phalluses to be seen, turning our heads at the unique sex-related objects exhibited, sometimes cringing, sometimes almost bursting in laughter and many times just shocked at what we were looking at. The religious must be wincing that this was our choice of service on a Sunday. It was quite interesting though and genuinely educational. When we stepped out of the museum, nothing about sexuality could no longer shock us. If you’re in for something different and you’re at least 16 years of age, I say, try the Sex Museum.
Gezellig (ghe-ze-lligh) is a very important Dutch word. It is probably the most important Dutch word that you, a first time tourist in Amsterdam should learn. Especially if you can pronounce it correctly. It can mean cozy, fun or feeling warm and fuzzy inside. It is gezellig to be with family and friends. Watching a street dance can be gezellig. Drinking beer with your newfound mates is gezellig. Taking a good cup of cappuccino on a beautiful sunny day is gezellig. The moral of the story: Amsterdam is a city of various sights and sounds and top of the line tolerance, so just go out there, be yourself and learn to be gezellig! Practice your Dutch G now and off you go! And don’t forget to look out for that bicycle!#