Feature: The wonderful city of Amsterdam

Wednesday, 13 July 2011 1:29 PM

Cultural, hedonistic, historic and relaxed; Amsterdam is many things in one. But it is almost impossible to deny that this is a fantastic city. With miles of UNESCO listed canals cutting through charming cafe lined walks and past medieval buildings, the city is a feast for the eyes as well as the senses. Sure there are loads of coffee shops and bars, but if you spend your time partying too hard you’re missing out on the many delights like Anne Frank’s house, Artis Royal Zoo and windmills!

And as the city is so close to the UK, there are numerous flights and ferry services, so is a perfect place for a short city break away. Here are just some of the things you can get up to...

Museums
Made famous by her sorrowful diary written during Nazi occupied Holland, Anne Frank hid for two years in the attic of a residential house on Prinesengracht 263. A visit to the house is a must, which has now been preserved as a museum with photos lining the walls and her original diary on display.

Visitors can also gaze at the many works of post-impressionist painter Van Gogh at a museum dedicated to him, explore cultural history at the Rijksmuseum and get a tour of a diamond factory, all in the Museum Quarter. There are also abundant modern art galleries like Cobra Museum of Modern Art which documents the Cobra Movement - a 20th century break away from abstract ideas with a focus on spontaneity and colour. Or if you’d prefer something more obscure, there are museums specialising in everything from houseboats and cat paintings to spectacles!

The modern and old
From glass covered modern architecture to 14th century relics, Amsterdam is a city that respects its ancient foundations while pushing the boundaries into the new. Starting off from the grand and impressive 19th century Central Station, you’ll want to take a picture of the Bike Flat, a huge, sloping three story parking deck that can hold 2500 bicycles! From there head towards the lively Dam Square which is flanked by the incredible Royal Palace and De Nieuwe Kerk. Then continue until you get to Begijnhof – a collection of gothic almshouses once home to the Beguines, a religious group of women famous for their chastity.

In the eastern docklands is Scheepstimmermanstraat, a residential street where people have been allowed to employ their own architect to build a dream house. One of them has been built around a tree! The city is also home to the world’s narrowest house – at one metre wide – a modern Buddhist temple with relics imported from China and an Old Church erected in 1306... And let’s not forget the many historic windmills. Could there be anything more Dutch?

Water life
With more than 100km of canals and bridges, Amsterdam has been called the Venice of the North, but what most people don’t realise is that the city’s waterways outnumber the Italian’s by far! Canals are also the most defining thing about Amsterdam and have been immortalised in songs, poems and stories. These UNESCO listed waterways can be enjoyed in many ways, from private boat tours, canal buses or with some live on-board jazz with Live@thecanals.

Do as the Dutch do and rent a bike to cycle beside them, sip coffee from the many cafes like Villa Zeezicht and Cafe van Zuylen or dine in the floating restaurant Amstelhaven. Or of course you can just sit by them and enjoy the passing city life...

There are also ten city beaches in the metropolis like the sandy Strand West where you can lounge in a hammock. For a unique experience, head to the high rise BovenNEMO atop the Science Centre, complete with olive trees, ice-cream and sand all complemented with panoramic views of the city!

Nightlife
With a penchant and international reputation for hedonism, it’s no surprise that Amsterdam has a thumping nightlife scene. There is a huge smattering of jazz clubs, brown cafes and chic restaurants. Along with Britain, Germany, Belgium and the Czech Republic, the Netherlands is one of the great traditional brewing nations of the world. Dutch beer is fruity and strong, and there is no better place to try it than in a brown cafe. These authentic pubs are named after their dark, wooden interiors and are a great way to experience historic Amsterdam. There are many catering to all types of clientele but most are very relaxed. In ‘t Aepjen is one of the oldest in the city and is a good place to try jenever, a Dutch spirit similar to gin.

Amsterdam is also known as one of the world’s premier jazz cities and is home to a concert hall dedicated to the music – the Bimhuis. Otherwise there are plenty of joints like Cafe Alto which is a brown cafe and gig venue merged into one!

The Dutch capital will not disappoint. In summer the weather is pleasant and tranquil, while in winter pubs and cafes are perfect for warming those cold hands with a steaming cup of coffee or warm beer. So get out here for some cultural treats! 

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