The Dutch capital is a city with a plethora of things to see and do. Holly Cave provides some insight on what the city has to offer for groups.
Bursting with culture, this exciting city has come a long way from its humble beginnings as a 13th century fishing village. Today, Amsterdam is known for its carefree culture, pretty network of canals and rich array of museums.
SOAKING UP THE ATMOSPHERE
One of the best ways to explore Amsterdam is by canal cruise, with tours in a range of boats offered by various companies around the centre. Opt for a relaxed couple of hours aboard, or if you want to maximise your sightseeing trip, then go for a hop-on hop-off tour. Many of the larger boats are suitable for groups – just be sure to book in advance if there’s a lot of you.
Cycling tours are popular, probably because everybody else in the city appears to be on a bicycle! There are lots of local tour operators who can show you around, with some taking you further afield to the countryside surrounding the city. If you choose to rent your own bike, be sure to read up on the rules of the road first. You should, for example, always signal with your hand before turning and never cycle more than two people across. Cycle lanes are spread all over the city and are generally marked with white lines and a bike symbol. To get a good feel for the city, take a wander down Dam Square – the open heart of Amsterdam, overlooked by the Royal Palace, Nieuwe Kerk Church and War Memorial. Don’t miss the flower market on the Singel or spend an hour or so exploring the city’s three major canals: Prinsengracht, Herengracht and Keizersgracht. Cross the bridge where the Herengracht Canal meets the Reguliersgracht for a gorgeous view of 14 other arched bridges – a particularly romantic spot in the evening when illuminated. Walk through Leiden Square (Leidseplein) in the evening to soak up the vibrant nightlife or visit the few streets of the Red Light District where, be warned, it is made very obvious what is for sale.
STEP BACK INTO HISTORY
Perhaps the most famous attraction in the city is the Anne Frank House – where the famous diary writer and her family hid from German soldiers during World War II. Seeing the Secret Annexe is a very moving and memorable experience. Anyone interested in this subject might also consider visiting the Jewish Historical Museum, housed within four former synagogues, or alternatively the brilliant Dutch Resistance Museum. The National Maritime Museum is set in a beautiful antique building by the quay. Step further back in time with a visit to Our Lord in the Attic – a characteristically 17th century canal house known for its quirky hidden church which was built during the Reformation, when Catholics were forbidden to worship.
Dutch artists such as Rembrandt, Vermeer and Bosch, set the precedent for a rich arts culture in the Netherlands. The highly regarded Rijksmuseum is one place not to be missed. It’s crammed full of masterpieces, such as Vincent van Gogh’s self portrait, with additional furniture and artefacts.
The building itself is stunning and was recently refurbished. Fans of Impressionism should call in at Rembrandt House, where the artist lived and worked for 20 years of his life. For more of Van Gogh’s paintings, be sure to spend some time at the Van Gogh Museum, where you’ll find the world’s largest collection of his works. If it’s modern art you like, then the world-famous Stedelijk Museum cannot be beaten. The recently renovated red brick building and its futuristic-looking extension (nicknamed ‘the bathtub’ by locals) features works by Warhol, Kooning, Kandinsky and Picasso. It sits in great company on Museum Square, alongside the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum.
EATING & DRINKING
There’s a glut of culinary delights to be experienced around the city. Beer is a mainstay of the Dutch way of life and there are lots of ways to taste and enjoy it. A popular tourist attraction is the Heineken Experience, located in the Pilsner’s former brewery. Visitors can wander around old brewing apparatus and marvel at the collection of historic artefacts and memorabilia before heading to the tasting room. Microbreweries appear to be springing up in Amsterdam, some of which offer behind-the-scenes tours. On the edge of the Red Light District lies Brouwerij de Prael. For those looking to sample their wares, you can sit at the bar and try small (or large) servings of their beers, all of which are brewed on the premises. Those interested could also book in for a brewery tour. Go on a Sunday to enjoy live jazz music.
For a wider variety of Dutch beer, the Arendsnest tasting room serves up around 30 draft beers and a further 100 bottled brews from all over the Netherlands. Situated on the canal, this is a lovely spot for a more traditional experience, especially on a sunny day. Organic brewery Brouwerij’t IJ sits beside an old windmill and offers tours on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. They produce an amber beer, the double Natte and triple Zatte, as well as some seasonal produce. It has a lovely terrace and makes for a great way to spend a few hours. After all that, you may wish to head to the Reypenaer Cheese Tasting Room. Book in for a one-hour tasting session – suitable for up to 20 people at a time – and be guided through the flavours and aromas of a range of cheeses by a taster expert. On the streets of the city, the markets take centre stage. The Albert Cuyp Market leads the field as the city’s most popular and largest street market in the Netherlands. Held in the heart of the old De Pijp district daily apart from Sundays, you’ll find over 300 stalls selling fresh fruit and vegetables, cheese and chocolate, as well as flowers, plants and a lot more besides. Don’t leave without treating yourself to a freshly cooked syrup waffle. The Noodermarkt is also worth a visit if you’re in town on a Saturday. The flea market is in an idyllic location overlooked by a 17th century church, within the heart of the vibrant Jordaan district. Besides the gifts and clothing, there is a bio-food market with a huge range of products – all of which have been sustainably produced.
COACH ACCESS AND GETTING AROUND
Despite being designed around the canal network, Amsterdam’s roads are very good – just expect a huge number of cyclists! The city centre is incredibly compact, making it very easy to walk around. Coaches will find it easiest to park, drop off and pick up at the designated Park & Ride Zeeburg, which is located southwest of the centre. There are great facilities for drivers, just a 10-minute drive from Central Station. Through Amsterdam runs a designated coach route with 25 separate stops at key dropping off and picking up points around the city. There are coach points very close to such attractions as the Van Gogh Museum, Artis Royal Zoo, Rijksmuseum, Anne Frank House, Amsterdam Museum and the Rembrandt House Museum.
A NOTE ON COFFEE SHOPS
The Netherlands is, of course, well known for its liberal attitude towards cannabis. However, being a controlled substance, with possession and production classified are misdemeanours, prosecution is possible. As you explore Amsterdam, it’s hard to miss the numerous ‘coffee shops’ dotted around. Less streetwise visitors are often confused upon entering such premises. While the staff behind the bar might well serve you a hot drink (and indeed, these venues are said to serve some of the best coffee in the city) anyone not interested in smoking might feel a little uncomfortable, so if you’re looking for a latte then think twice before entering! If it’s a hot chocolate and a sandwich you’re after, then look out for a koffiehuis or a café.
Every coffee shop has a clear menu with a wide array of choices, which are usually divided into weed, hash, pre-rolled joints and sometimes “spacecakes” (sweet snacks baked with marijuana in them). The staff take their role very seriously and ensure that their premises are as safe as possible. They offer a huge amount of advice to anyone interested. Although these cannabis-selling shops are not technically legal, the authorities tolerate them. They abide by strict licensing conditions, part of which means they cannot sell alcohol or any other drug. You must be over 18 to enter and the staff may only sell a maximum of five grams to each patron. Strangely, smoking regular tobacco in a coffee shop is not permitted due to the smoking ban! It goes without saying that you should inform your group not to attempt to bring any such substances back with them, as doing so may well result in lengthy delays at ports.