AMSTERDAM – WHY GO?
Amsterdam is just the place for a naughty weekend, with its Rembrandts, rich architecture and risqué red light area. Grab a cycle and go for a spin around the city on two wheels as the locals do to get the best feel for this canal-threaded Venice of the North.
Set on 160 tree-lined canals (more, in fact, than Venice), Amsterdam’s distinctive 18th century gabled houses, arched bridges, houseboats and floating flower markets make it one of Europe’s most appealing capitals. A canal boat tour may feel touristy, but it’s a good way of getting a feel for the city from the water up. Corner cafes, cosy bars and hump-back bridges piled with bicycles are all fetchingly lit up at night.
Amsterdam is packed with must-sees, from the highbrow to the decidedly racy. You’ll find a square mile of art in the Museum District – home to three of the city’s heavyweight art collections. The magnificent Rijksmuseum (due to reopen in 2010) showcases the works of Rembrandt, Vermeer and other Golden Age masters. The best are currently housed in the Philips Wing while the main museum is extended.
More than 200 paintings are on show in the excellent Vincent Van Gogh museum, while the Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art (where renovations are also underway during 2009) offers a newer perspective with the works of Mondrian, Liechtenstein, Picasso and Chagall.
You’ll get a sobering insight into life in wartime Amsterdam at Anne Frank’s House, where the teenager and her Jewish family lived in hiding during WW2 until they were betrayed to the Gestapo. Anne’s famous diary movingly chronicles the life of a young girl living at the time.
Rembrandt’s House – restored to its original form, complete with the artist’s studio – is another one of Amsterdam’s remarkable relics. So too is the Willet-Holthuysen Museum, where you can get a taste of life in 18th century society in an elegant canal-side mansion home.
Not all of Amsterdam’s attractions are as wholesomely cultural. As well as an excellent film museum (with its original 1910 Cinema Parisien movie house), you’ll also find a Hash Museum, a Torture Museum and a (rather tacky) Sex Museum in the city centre.
All of which brings us nicely on to Amsterdam’s infamous Red Light district, known worldwide for its bordellos and peep shows, sex shops and ladies of the night – most of whom openly pedal their wares in red-lit window parlours.
The Rossebuurt, as the locals know it, is also one of the most historic parts of the city, with winding cobbles streets and leaning medieval houses. Crowds of visitors ensure it’s not as seedy as it might be, and it’s a well policed, pretty safe part of town. You’ll find the main area between Centraal station and Nieuwenmarkt, and if you’re too shy to go unescorted, simply sign up for a guided walking tour or download an audio tour direct to your iPod.
Amsterdam is also famous for its so-called “brown” cafes selling more than just coffee – and we’re not talking apple cake. Some 240 specially licensed coffee shops dispense marijuana, space cakes and ganja cookies alongside the cappuccino, should you wish to indulge. Prefer a glass of something thirst quenching? Then try the Heineken Experience, a multimedia glimpse at how one of Holland’s biggest exports is made. You’ll get to taste the brew at the end of your tour.