Amsterdam: Beyond the Bikes, Bud and Boobs
When you say Amsterdam, many people think the same three things: bikes, bud and boobs. These clichés define the city and for thousands of tourists, they’re the only reason to visit. Sure, it’s well known for its bicycles, marijuana and, of course, the red light district, but the Dutch capital is so much more than the big three. From inspiring art to a rich history, from a thriving food scene to unique architecture, Amsterdam lives on beyond the clichés.
And even amongst the hubbub of tried and tested museums, galleries and restaurants there remain a few surprises.
Art in Amsterdam ranges from historic favourites to modern masterpieces.
For a hit of the classics, check out the Van Gogh museum. As the world’s largest collection of Van Gogh’s work, this slice of Amsterdam offers art lovers something they cannot find in any other city. See old favourites such as ‘Sunflowers’ and ‘Almond Blossom’ alongside a diverse collection of the artist’s drawings and letters.
A short walk away lies the Rijksmuseum. With over 8,000 pieces of art and history on display, this spot is sure to keep you busy as you explore interesting finds dating back to 1200.
Jump forward in time with a visit to the Stedelijk. Here you’ll find impressionist pieces, sculptures, pop art and contemporary works from the 20th – 21st century.
But art lives on beyond the gallery walls. Cycle over to Vondelpark for fresh air, green spaces and an outdoor sculpture by Picasso himself. Titled ‘Figure découpée l’Oiseau’ the piece is said to be a bird, although, as always with Picasso, that’s up for debate.
Venturing away from old favourites, Amsterdam’s up and coming art scene rivals the best. With quirky galleries, unconventional exhibitions and shocking installations, the city has plenty of modern pieces to entertain. Try the Upstream Gallery for an eclectic collection of art from the Netherlands and abroad or 5&33 Gallery for video, animation and live performances.
If you prefer your art in moving form, be sure to visit the EYE Film Institute for a varied collection of film screenings, photos and posters. Dating back to 1895, there are both Dutch and foreign titles to explore and enjoy.
Wandering through the cobblestoned streets of Amsterdam is a walk back in time itself. With pointed ceilings, wooden shutters and those narrow facades, just walking the streets of the city can feel like a history lesson.
But for a more structured experience, consider one of the many historical sites or museums that litter the Dutch capital.
For perhaps the most famous slice of Amsterdam’s history try the Anne Frank Huis. Step back into World War 2 times to see what life was like for the famous diarist. From the secret annexe to the actual diary, this is history outside of the display cases.
In the same vein, discover the history of Judaism in the Netherlands with a visit to Joods Historisch Museum. Located in the Jewish Quarter, the museum is housed within former synagogues and transports visitors back in time with an array of photos, paintings and artefacts.
For a more quirky experience, there’s plenty to see beyond the old favourites. Try the Zaanse Schans museum which explores the history of the clog or check out Torensluis, an ancient prison under a bridge. There’s even an 18th-century pharmacists, Jacob Hooy & Co, complete with original décor and an imposing set of snake scales. And it wouldn’t be the Netherlands without a cheese museum or two. Visit the conveniently named Cheese Museum for a delicious look into the process and history of the country’s favourite snack.
Soothe those munchies with Amsterdam’s very own thriving food scene.
Try Dutch-style frites smothered with classic condiments like mayonnaise and ketchup or a modern twist on toppings with onions, satay and curry sauce.
For the quintessentially Dutch experience try raw herring. Often topped with onion and pickle, you can try the signature to-go from one of the many street stalls found in the city. For food without the fishy aftertaste, try Kroketten, deep fried croquette style bites, and Bitterballen, Dutch meatballs.
Don’t leave without indulging in some cheese. Try the classic Gouda or local Oud Amsterdammer to get your fill. Often served with a mustard dipping sauce, these cheesy bites make for a great midday snack.
Finish the night with the classic Dutch dessert, the stroop waffle. Warm, gooey and sweet, these indulgent treats are a winner with locals and tourists alike. Tip: if eating in, place on the rim of a hot chocolate or steaming coffee to warm the waffle and melt the syrup inside to perfection.
Beyond the instragrammed cosy canal houses and the gothic churches, there’s another side to architecture in Amsterdam.
Take a trip through Europe with the Zevenlandenhuizen. These seven houses, all in a row, are each styled on the architecture of a different European country. From France to Russia, Spain to Germany, Tjeerd Kuipers’s designs take tourists on a journey across the continent.
On a similar theme, for a quick trip to Shanghai, visit the Buddhist temple, Fo Guang Shan. With parts flown out especially from China, this building is an authentic glimpse into the country’s architecture.
Those famous narrow-fronted houses stem from historic tax laws. The wider the front of the building the larger the tax bill meaning Amsterdam’s homes were built with width in mind. Any canal front makes for a pretty picture but Singel 7 is worth a visit as the narrowest house in the world. For more small sights, visit the Oude Hoogstraat 22, the smallest house in Europe at a cosy 2 metres wide and 6 metres deep.
Get a feel for the city’s current landscape at the Architecture Centre Amsterdam. The building itself is also pretty impressive.
And no tour of Amsterdam’s architecture would be complete without a windmill. Take your pick from the eight remaining in the city. The most famous is De Gooyer which is conveniently located next to the award winning brewery, Brouwerij’t Ij, for a post windmill pint.
Of course, some things are clichéd for a reason. But if you’re bored of bikes, bud and boobs, there’s plenty to do beyond them in Amsterdam.