Holland is the name given to the western part of the Netherlands that includes Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague. One of the most densely-populated countries in the world, the Netherlands is also one of the most tourist-friendly, with most cities, towns and villages sporting at least one tourist information office providing maps and free brochures. Ocean currents keep the spring and summers very temperate and pleasant, but be prepared for the weather to change at the drop of a wooden shoe!
With over 800 bridges more than Venice, Amsterdam also sports nearly 900,000 bicycles. That’s more bicycles than inhabitants and four times the number of cars. This has led to the city being EXTREMELY bike friendly. In fact, one of the most photographed sights in Amsterdam is the bicycle parking in front of Central Station. Renting bikes to explore the city and take advantage of the more than €120,000,000 invested in bicycle infrastructure is a great way to experience life as a native. Amsterdammers bike approximately 2,000,000 kilometers (1,200,000 miles) every single day. There is even a bike-friendly museum in Amsterdam, the Rijksmuseum, which is the only museum in the world you can cycle through.
There are 51 museums in the city (the highest concentration of museums in the world), which make it a wonderful place to explore art and history. The Netherlands lays claim to some of the world’s most famous painters: Rembrandt, Vermeer, Steen, van Gogh and Mondrian. Besides the Rijksmuseum, people flock to the van Gogh museum and the Anne Frank house, so be SURE to get tickets in advance. The van Gogh museum tickets are available online and give you an assigned start time in order to control the flow of visitors through the museum. Don’t be late for your entry time, or you may not be able to get in. The Anne Frank house releases 80% of their tickets two months in advance, and the other 20% at 9:00 AM the day of.
For those with a more than passing interest in history, a canal cruise is a perfect way to explore the city and see the sights. There are over 60 miles of canals in Amsterdam, separating it into 90 different islands, and Grachtengordel, the historic canal belt, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Many locals actually live in one of the 3,000 houseboats on the canals, and some of them are even available for tourists to stay in rather than bunking in a hotel.
Dining in Amsterdam is an exploration of world cuisine. There are the traditional Dutch foods such as Bitterballen (deep fried crispy meatballs), Frites (thick cut Dutch fries served with mayo), Snert (a thick green stew made from split peas, pork, celery, leeks and onions), and Stroopwafels (two thin waffles with a sweet syrup holding them together). But you can also get an Indonesian Rice Table dinner (25 to 30 small plates of veggies, meats and other delicacies), a Javanese Bakabana (fried plantain in peanut sauce), Tibetan Dumplings, and Eritrean Meat Stew (with beer served in a coconut shell).
For those looking for a shopping experience, there are numerous department stores and shopping centers, most notable De Bijenkorf in Dam Square and the spectacular Magna Plaza. Kalverstraat and Leidstraat sport numerous exclusive shops such as Paul Warmer, Filippa K and Shoebaloo, as well as more of the typical European fare such as Zara, Esprit and UNIQLO. For antiques and art, be sure to visit Spiegelkwartier. And no visit to the city would be complete without spending some time at Bloemenmarkt, the floating Flower Market and one of the most fragrant places in all of Amsterdam. You can even find flower bulbs certified for export so you can bring some of Holland’s colorful Tulips home with you. You can find tulips in every color in a 64-crayon box, and then some more colors and patterns Crayola never imagined!
A short tour bus ride from Amsterdam is Lisse, home to the famous Keukenhof, the largest flower garden in the world. Hyacinth, tulips and daffodils can be found in spectacular arrangements of colors, creating a display like no other. There are bikes available for rent which you can ride through the fields and surrounding gardens. But the garden is only open a VERY limited amount of time each spring, so if this is one of your chosen destinations, plan carefully, and be sure to take your allergy medication so you can enjoy the incredible smell without sneezing for days.
When your historic, artistic, floral and dining senses have all been overwhelmed, Amsterdam sports the ‘Literary Landmarks Walking Tours’ focusing on libraries, book cafés and the city’s most important writers. Holland’s industrial and mercantile history fostered a robust book trade, which wasn’t subject to the same degree of control that was imposed in countries such as France and England. This brought about a very stimulated cultural and intellectual life for the cities residents, one you are sure to fall in love with as you explore this phenomenal city.
The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank
Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City, Russell Shorto
The Coffee Trader, David Liss
Amsterdam: A Brief Life of the City, Geert Mak
The Signature of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert