If you find yourself pressed for time in this amazing city I hope this brief guide will give you some idea as to what you can see and do to take in the old, new, touristy and not-so-touristy.
If you’re travelling to the centre by tram then be sure, first of all, to go as far as the central railway station which is a spectacular piece of architecture and well worth a few photos in itself.
From there it is a short walk towards Dam Square along Damrak where you may want to take in a light breakfast at one of the many bars and brasseries around the square. After breakfast make your way back towards the station down to the waterfront for your first activity, which falls firmly into the ‘classic’ category.
A TOUR OF THE CANALS
To be fair, no self-respecting tourist visiting Amsterdam for the first time would miss out on a chance to explore the miles of canals that this city is renowned for. The commentary on board will also give an idea of the history and point out some of the famous landmarks.
Your canal tour will take about 1 – 1 1/2 hours so you’ll be disembarking back at the waterfront by about 11.30. Then it’s a short walk down Damrak, again to Dam Square where you will see the imposing Koninklijk, the former residence of the Dutch royal family.
Take a short five-minute walk then to Amsterdam’s Red Light District, again one of the ‘classic’ must-see areas of the city, and not as seedy as it sounds. The Dutch are far more liberal in their outlook than many other European countries. The Red Light district is an attraction in itself as the scantily clad ladies pose in the windows at all times of the day and night. The walk will take you past several ‘coffee shops’ where the smell of marijuana smothers you like a mist. Again, the Dutch are far more tolerant and these ‘coffee shops’ can be found all over the city.
From here it is a short walk past the Old Church, to a charming and fascinating building that sheds light on Amsterdam’s religious history and ticks off the ‘quaint’ category on our list.
This amazingly preserved 17th-century merchant’s house overlooking the canal is an object lesson in how to ‘do’ a museum. The audio tour takes you through a brief history of why the church was built in the attic ( in the 17th-century when Holland gained independence from Catholic Spain and became largely Protestant, it was forbidden for Catholics to practise their religion. But, in true tolerant Dutch style, the authorities overlooked Catholicism as long as the churches weren’t visible or clearly churches. hence the need to build them in the attics of houses.)
The audio tour takes you through the house of a merchant into a spectacular attic church which spans the entire roof space. The tour takes about 1- 1 1/2 hours and at only 10 euros is excellent value for money.
As you walk back towards Dam Square maybe take in a little lunch. The Dutch love their pancakes and you can choose all manner of toppings. I opted for banana, bacon and chilli on my last visit, which wasn’t as bad as it sounds and was really pretty tasty.
Next stop on the list is a short 10-15 minute walk away and is a ‘quirky’ addition to the list. Along Prinsengracht, you will find the charming houseboat museum.
This enchanting museum will give you a marvellous insight into how people actually lived, and still live, on houseboats and what use is made of every available space. The visit is short, only about 30 minutes or so ( houseboats are not that big). Then it is on to the next stop which is another ‘must-see’ in Amsterdam.
The visit to this most famous of sights in Amsterdam, for me, took place at about 4.30pm because believe me YOU HAVE TO BOOK IN ADVANCE. Don’t turn up on the day expecting to walk in. You are allowed in a strict appointment only basis and with good reason. This museum is quite exceptional. Everyone will be aware of Anne Frank’s tragic story and the house where it all took place is so beautifully preserved, it is spellbinding. It is certainly hard to comprehend that where you walk, the walls you touch and the windows you look through are the same ones that the Frank family saw for all those years as they hid from the Nazi invaders.
This tour is exceptionally well done and you should expect to take at least two hours as you walk around the whole house and stop to take in the exhibition at the end of the tour.
By now, probably feeling a little exhausted after racking up goodness knows how many steps you will be ready for a sit-down and something to eat. Dam Square is an obvious choice being packed with decent restaurants and pavement cafes. But if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle and throngs of tourists then it may be worthwhile digging deep and taking one more walk to Rembrandtsplein, maybe 10 minutes from the centre. This is an altogether different experience, not as crammed as the centre and with a more bohemian and authentic feel. Again there are many cafes and restaurants where you can sit and watch the world go by and by that time, after a day packed with activity, you will be ready to sit, put your feet up and enjoy a slap-up meal.
If you have any suggestions for future visits or any comments then please leave them below.