What started as a small fishing village around the year 1200, has become one of the most visited cities in Europe. Amsterdam’s museums, culture and architecture are just few of the reasons I wanted to come here. Well, that and the curiosity about those wooden clogs.
Based on my experience so far, arriving in Amsterdam from the airport is the easiest and most convenient process. Once you get past all the necessary checks at the airport, you are walking into the train station. It’s so simple. You buy a ticket, get on the train and after a short ride, you are in the centre of the city.
Outside the station on the Amsterdam side, there are trams, buses and a tourism kiosk. Basically everything you need when you arrive in a new city. If only it was this easy in all the places.
The architecture in Amsterdam is something that I didn’t fully appreciate until I got there. I’ve seen images of the buildings, the canals and everyone riding bikes pretty much everywhere. All of it made Amsterdam look a bit like a slightly Scandinavian version of Venice, without the gondoliers.
Once we arrived in Amsterdam, however, I noticed the little quirks that are so typical of the architecture here. At a closer inspection, you’ll notice that some buildings are narrower, some are uneven and most of them have these hooks on the top, just under the roof.
The famous canal houses of Amsterdam are probably its most recognizable feature. Many of them date back to the 17th century when the city was experiencing its Golden Age. Trade was good and money was flooding the hands of merchants who lived here. As it was becoming expensive to live here, the land was divided into narrow parcels to accommodate the population influx. Famously, these houses are narrow and have very steeps stairs.
The houses were used as businesses as well and many merchants used them as storage for goods. You can see the doors at canal level that once provided an easy access from boats to the house. During the boom, the city revamped the canal structure to accommodate the flow and distribution of goods through Amsterdam.
Many of the houses in Amsterdam are surrounded by little alleys, hidden gardens and plenty of stories from the past. Unfortunately, we didn’t give ourselves enough time to explore Amsterdam in more detail. That includes these canal homes and their surroundings. There are tours that you can take to learn more about them, their history and the role they played in the city’s development. I definitely am going to do that the next time I’m there.
Gables and hooks
The ever-present hooks and gables actually play an important function. Although the architecture of the houses is quite appealing, it’s not always very practical. Gables camouflage the sharp and unappealing edges of rooftops, while the hooks have a more practical use.
The narrow and steep stairs don’t lend their way to moving things in and out of the house any easier. Enter the hooks. This system is also the reason some of the houses lean a bit forward. I found this video that shows how it’s done. We didn’t see anything like that while we were there. Bummer.
I love visiting museums and as far as Amsterdam’s museums go, there is plenty to choose for everyone. As we didn’t have a lot of time there, we decided to hit a variety of them.
The Rijksmuseum is probably the most iconic of Amsterdam’s museums. It is a large place and you need more than just one day to see it. Opened in 1885, it houses an impressive collection of the Dutch Masters like Rembrandt and Vermeer. In addition, you can see works by Flemish and Italian artists, Asiatic art as well as some more modern pieces.
Also worth checking out is the sweet looking Rijksmuseum Research Library as well as the area outside of the museum. Here you can find the famous Amsterdam sign.
Van Gogh Museum
I am a huge Van Gogh fan and I first learned about Vincent in my high school art class. I found his story to be very tragic. His life was just filled with so much sadness and emotional turmoil. I have always felt drawn to his work and have been fortunate to actually see a few of his original pieces.
When I was in Paris, I saw some of Van Gogh’s work in museums there. So, when we arrived in Amsterdam, I knew that we had to make a stop here as well. As one of Amsterdam’s museums focusing on Dutch artists, the Van Gogh museum has an impressive collection of his work, letters and other items. The floors are dedicated to different periods of his life. You can tour them chronologically, which is probably the best way to do it.
Unfortunately, you’re not allowed to take pictures while inside. But if you are a fan of the post-impressionist movement and Van Gogh, this is the place for you.
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Van Gogh was proud of Dutch portraiture and hoped to be able to continue the tradition of Rembrandt and Frans Hals, but he also wanted to learn from French examples. Self-portraits were a good way of practicing. Self-portrait, Vincent van Gogh (1887) #VincentvanGogh #VanGoghSelfies #VanGoghMuseum
The Heineken Experience
It’s not a secret that I like beer. Whenever we visit a place that is known for its beer and offers tours (I really mean tastings), we can’t pass it up. Amsterdam was no different. We knew we had to check out the Heineken Experience.
Based in what was once Heineken’s brewery until 1988, you embark on an interactive experience of how the beer is made. Throughout the tour, you learn about the company’s history, how the beer is made and of course, sample it. Some parts of the tour are quite fun and you end up in a tasting room that has a feel of a European club or a soccer commercial. Either way, it’s a fun way to spend some time learning about the beer making process. The tasting helps too.
There are so many different types of museums in Amsterdam. You can really explore the city and find new gems around every corner. As a city that welcomes a lot of tourists, there are lots of options to check out when you’re here.
Bringing it all together
We enjoyed Amsterdam a lot more than we anticipated. For some reason, it wasn’t a place that I was dying to see, so there was no hurry to go. As Amsterdam is one of the options for direct flights from Canada, we decided to make a stop here. The idea was to fly in, check it out and move on to the next destination.
I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed Amsterdam. As a place that is probably more knows for accessible weed and the Red Light district, Amsterdam’s museums, architecture and culture get largely overlooked. There are many wonderful restaurants, bars and shops that make this a very delightful place. I personally loved walking around and checking out the neighbourhoods.
Amsterdam doesn’t feels very crowded and is easy to get around. Be on the lookout for the bike riders thought as they dominate the city. They are not too pleased if you stumble upon the bike path as you’re wandering around.
I would love to go back to Amsterdam for another visit. Have you been?
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