Amsterdam-Culture, Heritage & Sin

Amsterdam is one of the most beautiful cities in the world and is synonymous with windmills, clogs, tulips, canals and cheese markets. What is unique about Amsterdam is that it caters to a wide variety of tastes. Its attractions range from 17th Century Canals, Museums with masterpieces of Rembrandt & Van Gogh to De Wallen, the notorious Red Light area. Amsterdam is also a great shopping destination offering bargains on antiques, latest fashion labels as well as some quirky items!

Travel Tips for Amsterdam

Amsterdam has a wide variety of stay options. Hotels in Amsterdam are available in the City Centre and even on the House Boat.

The first thing to be done after reaching Amsterdam is to buy an "I Amsterdam Card".  This gets you access to Trams, Buses and Metros run by GVB. It can be got from any of the Tourism Offices spread over the City, including the one opposite The Central Station.

The best way to explore Amsterdam is in the evening on its Canals! Often called s the Venice of the North, Amsterdam has several canals running across it with the four main city center canals being Prinsengracht, Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Singel. Canal Cruises have been conducted right since the 17th Century and more than 3 million visitors have taken this ride.  The Boat House is located along the main canal called Prinsengracht and is just 5 minutes from Dam Square.

Brief History of Amsterdam

Amsterdam got its name after a dam was built over Amstel River. It was a fishing village in the 12th century. Amsterdam went on to become one of the most important Ports of the World during the Dutch Golden Age in the 17th century when it was the richest city in the world. It was the financial and diamond capital of the world during those days.  Today it’s one of the most popular Tourist destinations in Europe and a key educational center as well.

Dam Square

The Dam is just a five-minute walk down the Damrak from Central Station and is literally at the heart of Amsterdam. It is probably the most striking piece of architecture in Amsterdam. It was created in the 13th century when a dam was built around the river Amstel to prevent inundation of the city. In 1808, It served as the reception area for Napoleon when he seiged this country.

The Royal Palace in the center of the Square with its royal facades and fine sculpture, used to be the erstwhile Town hall.It was built by Jacob Van Campen  in the 17th Century and was the residence of King Louis Bonaparte and later of the Dutch Royal House. It was built using a curious mix of marble, yellow sandstone and 13659 wooden piles! Right at the top of the Palace is a domed cupola with a weather vane in the form of a Cog Ship which has today become the symbol of Amsterdam.

Madam Tussauds Wax Museum is one of the most popular attractions on Dam Square. Did you know that a wax figure takes 3 months to make once the subject has been decided. A team of sculptor, photographer, color specialist and hair dresser meets the subject for the pose. After the sculptor had finished the clay model, a professional  caster makes a plaster mould. Hot Wax is filled in the mould and coloring is done after it cools down. Real hair is used to insert into the head! Once it is ready, it is sent from Tussuads Studio in London to Amsterdam through car and ferry. Each figure costs approximately 85000 Euros.

Art Museums of Amsterdam

Rijksmuseum is the grandest museum in Amsterdam. Built in 1800 it has some famous masterpieces from Rembrandt, Vermeer, Van Dyck and Jan Steen. The painting that made the greatest impression on me was Night Watch where Rembrandt depicts a troop of militiamen. I also liked Merry Family by Steen as it was different. It portrayed a very disorderly family scene.

Van Gogh Museum has the largest collection of the most prolific painter of the 19th century. Some attribute his greatness to a spate of depression and madness that led him to self-mutilation and finally suicide. While the collection has more than 200 paintings, 500 drawings and 700 letters, the highlights were The Potato Eaters, Bedroom in Arles, Blossoming Almond Tree and Still Life: Vase with Twelve Sunflower.

Take a break from heavy duty Renaissance and visit Vodka Museum for some fun. It is a 3 storied museum which will tell you about the history of Vodka, the production process and the different types of Vodka. This Museum also doubles up as a popular venue for events and bachelor parties. The best part of the Museum is the shop where you can buy more than a 100 different types of Vodkas!

Nemo is an exciting Science Centre to visit for all with an inquisitive mind. You will get answers to questions like what happens when you kiss, how will you look in 30 years,  why you look so much like your parents, how to purify water, how lightning and satellites work and more profound questions of everyday life.

Anne Frank House is where Anne Frank and her Jewish family hid for 2 years during World War II. The doorway to the annex was concealed behind a moveable bookcase. Many people in the building helped with food and water supplies to the hiding family. Tragically they were betrayed on August 4, 1944 and sent to Concentration Camps.  The moving story was chronicled by Anne Frank in a diary which is on display.

Museums of a different kind

A warehouse in the middle of the Red Light Area houses the Erotic Museum! Three floors are dedicated to the history of the Red Light District, photographs, lithographs and erotic art. There is a projection room where a different version of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” is screened. And, yes, there is a shop for erotica souvenirs as well.

Damrak Street opposite the Central Station is probably the busiest street in Amsterdam and interestingly houses Sex Museum-Temple of Venus. Some of the famous figures you will meet here are Goddess Venus, Mata Hari and Marlyn Monroe. The museum is full of art, unique objects and rare old photographs. The most amusing exhibit is a Sex Machine which has an audio of a woman’s screams of joy comig from the speaker on the ceiling!

Just across the bridge from the Anne Frank House is the Amsterdam Tulip Museum, dedicated to the national flower of The Netherlands. . A multimedia presentation covers the history of Tulips, its cultivation and the various types. There is a shop from where you can buy bulbs of rate Tulips.

Tulip Garden in Amsterdam

Keukenhof Gardens is a must visit for all flower lovers during Spring Time. It has more than seven million tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and spring bulbs. It’s a riot of colors as you walk over the 15 KM of footpath. Exquisite pieces of art from local artists lie amidst the flowers.  In fact Keukenhof Garden is the most visited tourist spot in Netherlands.

Shopping Secrets of Amsterdam

Noordermarkt near Jordaan is a great place for shopping Antiques and second-hand books. It is best visited on either a Monday when it hosts a flea market or on a Saturday when an organic farmer's market is on.

De 9 Straatjes or the Nine Streets that connect the Canals is another great place for shopping for the unusual. Donna Fiera is for women who are not afraid of attracting attention while Zipper is for those looking for trendy vintage.

Van Ravenstein has creations from Belgian designers like Dries van Noten, Martin Margiela, Dirk Bikkembergs and Ann Demeulemeester.

Stout in Berenstraat is an erotica shop specially for women with stylish lingerie and naughty toys! Shoe freaks can feast at Antonia in Gasthuismolensteeg.

Another must visit is Haarlemmerstraat and Haarlemmerdijk with more than 200 stores offering toys, gifts, jewelry, books, electronics and delicatessen.

Famished after shopping? You can visit a Dutch Café and try bitterballen the local favorite. It is basically deep fried croquettes filled with beef and flour.

Windmills of Amsterdam

No trip to The Netherlands is complete without having visited a few Wind Mills. Amsterdam has 8 wind mills within the city limits. The ones open for tourists are at De 1200 Roe on Haarlemmerweg 465, De 1100 Roe on Herman Bonpad 6 and the Riekermolen located along the Amstel River. Gooyer or Fuenmolen located on Fuenenkade 7 is walking distance from The Maritime Museum. It is a must visit not only to check the Wind Mill but to taste the traditional Dutch Y-lake beer at Bierbrouwerij‘t Ij.

A Discovery at Amsterdam

Madam Tussauds was a real person. Anna Maria Grosholtz (1761–1850) learnt wax work in her early years in Strasbourg, France and moved to Paris after marrying François Tussaud. She was in Paris during the French Revolution. She made death masks and head sculptures of executed aristocrats! Legend says she used to pull out the more interesting heads from the pile of decapitated bodies.  These figures later made it to the Madam Tussauds Wax Museum.

A fun way to explore Amsterdam is on the Bicycle, the favorite of the Local population! There is a bicycle lane throughout the city and several rental shops as well.

For more of my travelogues across the world, visit Great Vacations.

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