The romantic charm of Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands, is best seen by boat trip along its 17th-century canals lined with quaint homes and mansions dating from the city’s great days as a maritime nation. The canals and walkways are the heart of the Old City, now a UNESCO World Heritage site redolent of the Dutch ‘Golden Age’ of exploration and trade in far-off Asia. By the 17th century, the city was the world’s wealthiest, with silks, teas, ivory and spices ordered by its prosperous merchants arriving in tall ships owned or commissioned by the Dutch East India Company. Fortunes were made through trading, and the same fortunes were lost when ships fell foul of typhoons and tropical storms.
Nowadays, Amsterdam is a popular long weekend and longer stay destination for its picturesque cityscape, gabled homes and its vibrant nightlife and music scene. After the canals were built, the old city remained as it had been planned until the 19th century when the first expansion took place, It’s been growing ever since, but the Old City is a stand-alone attraction easily explored on foot and notable for its fine architecture in the Dutch Renaissance style as well as for its elegant Art Nouveau buildings dating from the end of the 19th century. Amsterdam’s fascinating Maritime Museum tells tales of times when the Dutch tall ships ruled the seas of the Orient and fought with English ships for its treasures.
Amsterdam’s historic heart is set around its canals, with their banks lined by the gabled mansions wealthy merchants built during the city’s Golden Age of Asian trade and commerce.
Anne Frank House
Set on the Prinsengracht Canal, Anne Frank’s house is now a museum dedicated to the Jewish girl who wrote her famous diary while hiding from the Nazi persecution with her family in secret rooms at the rear of the building. Anne and her entire family were anonomously reported to the Nazis, finally captured and, with the exception of Anne’s father, Otto, died in the camps.
Amsterdam’s Diamond District is one of the most important centers for diamond trading, cutting and polishing in the world. A traditional trade here for over 500 years, its craftsmen continue their work with the sparkling gems just as they did in the 16th century. Fascinating tours of the major workshops can be had. The temptation to purchase a souvenir of your visit is almost irresistible.
Van Gogh Museum
Located in Paulus Potterstraat, Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum holds the world’s largest collection of the artist’s work totaling 200 examples, all painted during his short ten-year career. His famous self-portraits, still life compositions and iconic landscapes are all here.
Lined with the mansions of the fabulously wealthy merchants of the city’s Golden Age, the canals are best seen by boat, with the three major waterways of Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht now UNESCO World Heritage listed.
Eating and drinking and shopping nearby
Amsterdam’s Asian maritime and colonial heritage are evident in its cuisines, with Indonesian dishes especially popular. The city’s Chinatown is the place to start for first-class Indonesian eateries as well as Thai, Japanese and Chinese restaurants. Economical Middle Eastern food is found around Damstraat, and local cuisine is represented by spiced raw beef sausages as well as the famous Dutch cheeses, fired meatballs and traditional herring dishes, all washed down with micro-brewed Dutch beer. For fine dining, head for the Sofitel Legend Grand Hotel’s Restaurant Bridges or the Intercontinental Amstel Amsterdam’s excellent restaurant. Close to the Museum District and the Park Hotel Amsterdam is the chic Fashion District, known for its designer shoes, trendy boutiques and interior design outlets, while ethnic teats abound in Javastraat. Art and antiques are found in Speigelstraat and also in several of Amsterdam’s lively markets.
Amsterdam’s Old Town can be explored by foot or by tram until midnight, when a night bus system takes over, and a metro service runs between downtown and the suburbs. Bus travel covers the city and nearby towns, and ferries link downtown with the north of the city. Taxis are plentiful, but fares are high and the service is unreliable.