I have to admit, before my visit in November, my impression of Amsterdam was that it was a party town, a place to score mary jane and watch lots of live porn. Mind you, this was coming from a very uninformed point of view. The Amsterdam that I actually witnessed is the polar opposite. In fact, it struck me as being very family friendly, cultural, progressive, stylish and a historical bulwark of days gone by.
We’d decided that we wanted to take a day-trip while we were in Paris. My motto is if I am going to cross an ocean, I’m going to make it worth my while. So, what better way to maximize our experience than to visit a city that I had long wondered about after seeing so many beautiful pictures posted on various social media by my travel blogger friends. Maybe I should give the city a try despite the questionable reputation that preceded it?
The problem was that we would only have one day to experience the true ambiance of a city that held so much promise as I began to do my research. So, I decided to set a challenge for the two of us (my daughter, Carisa and I); we would attempt to use that limited time to discover the top 5 things to do if you only had a day in Amsterdam.
The best resource in helping us to meet that challenge was to contact the city’s Tourism Office. The number one thing to do is to purchase their 24 hour I amsterdam city card for 40 euros. It truly is the most cost effective and less taxing way to see as many of the famous, local museums, gardens and the local zoo. Other activities can be experienced at 25% off the entrance fee. The card is actually a mini-guidebook with tips from locals on must-sees, maps, a list of literally everything there is to do in the city when it comes to shops, restaurants, gardens, comedy clubs, night clubs, etc.
When you open the book, you will see a museum pass and a travel pass affixed to the inside cover. Carefully remove these two cards because the museum pass will allow you unlimited entry into all museums within the time specified. Similarly, the travel pass will allow you unlimited passage on all of the local transportation systems like the Tram or the Metro Buses for the same 24 hours; the clock starts ticking as soon as you scan it.
If you happen to have more time on your hands than we did, you can also purchase a 48 hour card for 50 euros or a 72 hour card for 60 euros. You can purchase your card from any of the six tourist offices, but I got mine from their VVV Service Center which is located right across from the Amsterdam Central Train station in the city center and the # 26 tram line that brought me to the city center from the bus depot where Megabus dropped us off.
VVV Service Center
Noord-Zuid Hollands Koffiehuis, Stationsplain, 10
Phone +31 (0) 20 201 8800
Open: Monday – Saturday 9 am – 6 pm; Sunday 9 am – 5 pm
Here is my personal pick of the top five things that you should make sure that you do when you visit this very popular European city.
1. Visit the Hermitage Museum to view the visiting Van Gogh Collection
The Van Gogh Museum is currently undergoing renovations (will reopen May 1, 2013) so the bulk of their exhibition is being hosted at the Hermitage which can be reached from Central Station via Tram line 9 or 14 to Waterlooplein metro station and is located at 51, Amstel Street. There is a 2.50 euro surcharge to see the “Vincent” exhibition, so be prepared for that. You will have the option to check out a self directed audio tour. The audio tour is available in Dutch, French, Spanish, Italian and English and costs € 5. No photography is allowed which wasn’t a big surprise given how tourists with their flash cams have wreaked havoc for the rest of us. They will also expect you to check any bags before viewing the exhibition. For the past six months, The Hermitage has been hosting a retrospective on Impressionist Art and not only did we enjoy the painting and sketches of Van Gogh, but the masterpieces of Monet, Manet, Gaugin, Cezanne, Renoir and Pissarro were a beautiful bonus. That exhibition ends on January 13, 2013.
2. Take a Canal Cruise with the Blue Boat Tour Company
This is really a no brainer because you will get to see the city from a divine perspective that can be missed when taking a leisurely street stroll. The city will soon celebrate the 400th anniversary of the canal’s construction so I am sure there will be many festivities to honor one of the things that makes this city so uniquely special. Take the Tram 1, 2 or 5 to Leidseplein (I was hoping this was how the Metal band Led Zeplin got its name….apparently that is not the case) Metro Station. You will board at Stadhouderskade 3o, right across from The Hard Rock Cafe. The City card offered our cruise for free.
3. Visit the Anne Frank House
Apparently, I wasn’t paying attention in class because I didn’t remember that Amsterdam is where the Frank family hid from the Nazis during WWII. They spent two years hiding in fear of being discovered by the SS forces which were occupying much of Europe during that time. Decades later, now dubbed The Anne Frank House, it is situated in the centre of Amsterdam at Prinsengracht 263-267. It takes around 20 minutes to walk from the Central Station to the museum. Trams 13, 14 and 17 and buses 170, 172 and 174 stop nearby, at the ‘Westermarkt’ stop. The lines are extremely long, but you can save time and avoid having to queue by buying tickets online for a reserved time for € 9.50 per adult. Note: They do not accept the I amsterdam card.
Copyright Anne Frank House. Photographer Juul Hondius.
4. Get a birds’ eye view of the city by riding a bike!
It is estimated that there are more than 881,000 bicycles in the city of Amsterdam and about 780,000 residents. Over half of the population chooses this mode of daily transportation over cars and public transportation. Near the Amsterdam Central Station alone, there are over 7800 bike parking spaces. My personal observation is that it is so easy to see why this is the case. The city is one of the most bike friendly locations that I’ve ever seen. There is an extensive bike path network which makes it a safe mode of travel. I saw many mothers biking with their wee ones in tow. I think there are so many things that Urban America could learn from studying this system. There are plenty of cars milling about, yet they seem to co-exist with bicycles and most certainly contributes to a more pollution free environment. There are roughly 900 people injured in traffic accidents ever year and the vast majority are cyclists. One could argue it’s because helmets aren’t required, but I will let you be the judge of that. All in all, it is a great way to traverse the city and sightsee at your own pace. Several bike rental shops offer 25% off with the I amsterdam card.
5. Visit the FOAM Museum
It is located at Keizergsgracht 690 and can be reached by taking Trams 4, 16, 24 or 25. This museum is dedicated to the art of Photography. One Photographer of note is exhibited for a period of several months. We had the pleasure of viewing the works of the late Diane Arbus. This black and white collection was Ms. Arbus’ celebration and in fact, challenge to that which most people would view as ugly, undesirable, and living outside the boundaries of good taste and propriety. I saw her photographs as shocking and antithetical to what was usually put on display in museums. I thought that her subjects were brave to agree to be photographed in such a candid, raw manner but they not only agreed to it, their faces belie the fact that they enjoyed their newfound role in being the center of attention.