Amsterdam – a city with over a thousand bridges – 1,281 to be exact – over 165 canals. A city famous for its coffeeshops and the Red Light District. A city known for its cultural institutions like the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, and the Anne Frank House. Easy-going, open mindedness, diversity, Canal Pride. A city known for its I Amsterdam letters.
I’ve always been interested in this place but never got around to actually going there. It feels as if all of my friends have already been there (and probably everyone else as well), but I am always rather late with going to the ‘trendy’ places. However, the time had come for me to take a trip to the city and check it out for myself and see whether it would be as beautiful as most are rapturing about or if I’d be not impressed at all.
Amsterdam is the Netherland’s largest city, but with a population of over 850,000 people it is only the 27th largest city in Europe, and around one million people smaller than Vienna. The country’s government is in The Hague, but Amsterdam is still the nominal capital and gets the most visitors per year: 15 million day-visitors, and 3.5 million of them are foreigners. Fore more facts and figures, check this website.
I read online that the number of bicycles who land in the city’s canals every year is 25,000! That’s no surprise to me, as there are so many canals and so many fietsers (cyclists) in Amsterdam – over 600,000!
Apart from all the canals and many cyclists that dominate the urban image of Amsterdam, there are of course other beautiful sides of the city. The colourful buildings lining the canals with the charming gabled facades, often very luxurious, is a perfect example for the architectural treasures of the city. The Munttoren (Mint Tower) is a tower standing on the Muntplein square near the flower market and was originally part of the city wall and built in 1480. This tower is not only great to look at, but there is also a carillon consisting of 38 bells on top of the tower which are chiming every quarter of an hour.
The Dam Square, a town square that was created in the 13th century, is also well-known for its architecture and various events that are held there. The square is lined with food stalls, restaurants and shops such as the Bijenkorf or Magna Plaza, a Madam Tussauds, an old Stock Exchange building and the hotel Krasnapolsky. The National Memorial statue is also on the Dam Square – a memory of Dutch soldiers who died during WWII. The most prominent building on the square though is the grand 17th century Royal Palace – the Koninklijk Palace. It is, however, no longer home to the Dutch Royal family (who are located in The Hague), but the palace is still used for official receptions.
Another prominent square of the city is definitely the Museumplein, which is the cultural beating heart of Amsterdam (in terms of museums). The Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, and the Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art are located there. Oh – and an I Amsterdam letter with hundreds of people in front, behind, on top of it etc is there as well.
The local food
Despite some people arguing that there is no typical dutch cuisine, the dutch do like to fry things, the local cuisine is high in carbohydrates and fat and very heavy on the meat side.. So I did not really get around to trying Bitterballen (deep fried crispy meatballs), Raw Herring, Kibbeling (battered and deep fried morsels of white fish) or Stamppot (‘mash pot’ – mashed potatoes with veggies and sausages).
However, I had Stroopwafels – two thin waffles stuck together with a layer of sweet syrup. And I had the thick Dutch fries. Twice. Once I got them from a small shop in the typical piping hot paper cone slathered with ketchup, and the second time I had them in a vegan stew with jackfruit and vegan mayo at the Noorderlicht in NDSM. Very delicious I must say, but two times thick fries within 24 hours was more than enough for me. :D
I also tried pannenkoek, a Dutch pancake that is usually larger and thinner than an American pancake, but thicker than a Crêpe. It reminded me a lot of our Austrian Palatschinken or the Russian Bliny, but the Dutch pannenkoek is usually not rolled, and can be savoury or sweet. I had a savoury one with goat cheese, spinach, pine nuts and garlic oil. It was definitely too heavy on the oil for my taste, and way too big of a portion, but I’m glad I tried it :D
A place that my friend and I actually only stumbled upon but turned out to be really interesting and cozy was Ivy & bros. They do serve various sorts of savoury and sweet dishes, and have good coffee as well. The interior is quite peculiar with odd bits and pieces here and there, and the staff is really nice and friendly. However, one has to get used to the fact that the café/shop is located right next to window brothels as it is situated in De Wallen – the red light district.
In Amsterdam one can find various types of markets such as flea markets or regular farmer’s markets, some of which have been open since the early 20th century. One of the old ones is Albert Cuyp Market which has been in existence since 1904. With over 300 stalls lining both sides of the Albert Cuyp market in the neighbourhood of De Pijp the market is probably the biggest one in Amsterdam. One can find fruits, veggies, cheese, fish, spices, clothes, cosmetics etc. there. Basically everything at a relatively cheap price. This is also the market where I had a giant freshly made Stroopwafel at the “Goudse Stroopwafel” stall for just 1.50 EUR. The Albert Cuyp market is open Mon – Sat from 9:30 – 17:00.
The Netherlands are known for their flowers, so a visit to the city’s flower market is a must. Actually, we only happened to stumble upon it when walking around without no clear direction. Apparently the Bloemenmarkt is the only floating flower market in the world as the stalls are actually standing on houseboats. This market began trading in 1862 and is a truly colourful part of the city. One can find all sorts of flowers there, especially tulips, in bouquets, single flowers or bulbs. And loads of cacti! This flower market is located on the Singel canal between the Koningsplein and the Muntplein, and is open Mon-Sat 9:00 – 17.30 and Sun 11:30 – 17:30.
One of the really trendy areas of Amsterdam is definitely NDSM. It used to be a shipyard until 1979 which transformed into a thriving cultural hotspot that bustles with artists’ works. A creative hub, an edgy art community, making it appealing for the new generation of creatives and entrepreneurs
One can reach this area by a ferry (free of charge!) from the main train station of the city. Upon arrival one first spots the old Russian submarine and a crane that is a boutique hotel now. The area definitely has a rustic feeling to it, especially the hangars and containers. Street art is present almost on every corner though, so there is quite a lot to explore there.
NDSM – Nederlandse Dok en Scheepsbouw Maatschappij (Dutch Dock and Shipbuilding Company) – is home to festivals throughout the year and a monthly flea market in the IJ-hallen. There are various cafés and restaurants where one can get delicious food and drinks but also enjoy the waterfront and the view of the city. One of those café/restaurant is the Noorderlicht where I had a really delicious and affordable vegan stew.
The bottom line
I would never wanna live in the city center, especially around the Red Light District with all the window brothels and the coffeeshops as I’d just not be comfortable around this area, and the main reason for this is definitely the tourist hordes. From time to time it was really annoying trying to get through the crowds, especially during the evening. I assume, though, that the average citizen does not often go to the city center (as it’s the case with most bigger cities) so it might be less annoying. And fair enough, my friend Carina and I did choose a weekend at the end of summer, and the weather was really good, so we already expected loads of tourists being there at the same time as we would be.
However, my short weekend trip to Amsterdam clearly reminded me of how much I like a city with canals! Copenhagen is full of them as well, but not to the extent of Amsterdam. It might be true that after a while every bridge, every canal, ever building along a canal might look the same (or at least similar) and that after a while you can’t even notice the difference anymore. However, I immediately fell in love with the town, and especially the parts off the beaten tourist paths are especially charming. Another nice add-on to the fact that I liked the city was the little Moscow reunion with my friend Katharina who was so kind enough to show us around town and answer (almost) all our questions we had about Amsterdam.