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Amsterdam, Netherlands/Holland

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Personality Types that Like it Best

Did You Know … ?

  • Amsterdam is Holland’s legal capital, but the Hague is the seat of government.
  • There are 600,000 bicycles in Amsterdam.
  • Although marijuana and hashish are legal in the city, oral decongestants are not.
  • There are more than 500,000 bulb flowers on city lands, but just one central flower market.
  • Amsterdam has 22 Rembrandt paintings but 206 by Van Gogh.

Drugs, bikes and canals

Few European cities reveal such startling contrasts as Holland’s capital. An institutionalized permissiveness, characterized by legalized recreational drugs and the thriving Red Light District, is offset by the way these activities are contained and monitored.

It is true that most first-time visitors to Amsterdam can’t resist making a beeline to the Red Light District for a peek, but there is much more to this engaging city than its somewhat eccentrically liberal attitude toward vice.

Besides, the city has its conservative side, with bustling businesses, efficient public transportation and a health-conscious population largely commuting to work and school by bicycle.

The city’s canals, lined with picturesque tall, thin houses, plus its lively outdoor restaurants and cafes, give Amsterdam much of the charm visitors look for.

Once a humble village, the city rose to prominence in the Middle Ages as a center for trade and as a welcoming safe harbor for refugees seeking religious asylum.

Canal life is a mainstay for residents here, and visitors can get in on the fun by booking a dinner or sightseeing cruise, hopping on a ferry or, for the more adventurous, exploring the environs by paddleboat.

For its size — something approaching 750,000 inhabitants — Amsterdam has an astonishing number of museums (more than 50 at last count), including some of the most important in the world. Two of the best known are the enormous Rijksmuseum and the relatively small but highly regarded Van Gogh Museum. The pair help account for the millions of overnight international visitors who arrive in the city each year.

Another museum is both well known and a popular site for quite different reasons: The Anne Frank House was the hiding place of the young diarist who chronicled her life while hiding from the Nazis.

An interesting indigenous cuisine is probably not the city’s strongest point, with ethnic eateries offering some of the best meals in town. Some visitors appreciate the Indonesian option, which offers taste experiences not common in other European cities. Beer, on the other hand, has long been a staple of the city’s economy, and a broad selection of excellent brews is widely available.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Work off those vacation calories — and blend in with the locals — on a rental bicycle in the Jordaan district.
  • Name your poison at Amsterdam’s famous “coffee shops,” where hash and weed are as likely to be on the menu as lattes and cappuccinos. Because they are located throughout the city, you don’t have to venture into a seedy neighborhood to imbibe, but the rule of thumb is don’t take your smoke out into the street.
  • Rent a paddleboat for a self-guided trek through the city’s waterways, but bring a friend for easier pedaling and carry a map.
  • Take a walk in the Red Light District — everyone does — but behave sensibly and keep in mind that the area is under camera surveillance.
  • Tuck into a slice of raw beef sausage, based on a 17th century recipe and still considered a delicacy, garnished with an Amsterdamse uien, or cocktail onion.
  • Get an eyeful at the Erotic Museum, which features everything from statues to paintings depicting eroticism from centuries ago to the present. Or go even further into life’s shadowy side at the Torture Museum, showcasing devices of torture dating from the medieval era.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Stand in line (it is well worth the wait) for a visit to the expanded Anne Frank House, where the original diary is among the displays.
  • Sample a local brew — from Heineken to some less-well-known brands — at a brown cafe, where the beer is plentiful, the decor is often historic and the menu sometimes includes lunch and dinner. (Brown cafes are Holland’s traditional local pubs.)
  • Indulge in purse envy at the Tassenmuseum Hendrikje (Bag and Purse Museum), where more than 3,500 handbags and accessories are on exhibit, with the oldest dating from the Middle Ages.
  • Attend the annual Robeco Summer Concerts in July and August at the Concertgebouw, boasting more than 100 concerts of classical, world music and jazz.
  • Pick up a dozen Koggetjes, an Amsterdam butter cookie that dates from the medieval era and which is still made at city bakeshops.
  • Inject some fun into learning at NEMO, an interactive science museum for the whole family that’s shaped like a giant ship.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Do your museum hopping via the Museum Boat, a hop-on, hop-off vessel that stops at all the top museums, including the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum.
  • Take in an exhibition at the Amsterdam Tulip Museum, which showcases the history of the flower and its importance to the city; learn about Tulipomania.
  • Follow in the master’s footsteps by visiting the Rembrandt House Museum and the Rijksmuseum, which boasts what many consider to be the artist’s greatest work, “Night Watch.”
  • Shop for traditional soaps named for Amsterdam’s once-great soap factories, such as Boldoot and Klaverblad, and still available in city shops.
  • Learn about diamonds on a free guided tour at some of the city’s top diamond-cutting shops, such as Gassan Diamonds or Coster Diamonds.
  • Buy a few bulbs to take home at the Bloemenmarkt (flower market) at the Singel, situated between Muntplein and Koningsplein.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Amsterdam Marketing at www.iamsterdam.com