We spent two and a half days in Amsterdam before our recent Baltic Cruise began. With warm and sunny weather, we saw the city at its very best. Trailfinders (trailfinders.ie) had organised the Hotel Mercure (Centre Canal District) for us and it was perfectly located for sightseeing (5 minutes from the Rijksmuseum and twenty from Anne Frank House. But be warned, we are quick walkers!). The rooms were smallish but adequate and the breakfasts better than most.
Amsterdam is a beautiful city and, to be honest, you could spend your entire time there wandering around its tiny streets (don’t miss The Jordaan, The Nine Streets and The Red Light District) drinking beer in charming canal-side pubs, hanging over bridges and watching the tourists and locals go by,, having coffee and cookies in one of the many coffee shops, never go near a museum and still have an amazing time!
We didn’t. We fitted in a huge amount. And here are our top tips for Amsterdam!
To be perfectly honest, we took our lives in our hands, or more so our feet, when we stepped onto these traditional bikes for a 3- hour tour of the city with local guide Delphine. It took a while to get the hang of them, as there were no brakes and to stop you had to pedal backwards. I consider that I am a competent cyclist, but I was nearly taken out once and I narrowly avoided crashing into a roadside café when I lost control on another occasion. We did cover a huge area of the city, but I was so busy trying to navigate the dangers all around (other cyclists who look with utter disdain at incompetent tourists and unsuspecting pedestrians) that I barely looked at my surroundings. Of course, we stopped on numerous occasions (so my heart could return to its normal rhythm) and learned about the history, architecture and people, but there was always the fear that one of us (probably me) would die on day one and ruin the holiday for everyone else. But survive we did and the photo below shows a very happy group safely back with no catastrophes and plenty of tales to tell! But be warned, the Dutch take no prisoners on the roads.
Anne Frank Museum
This is a ‘must-do’ and to ensure that you don’t have to queue, book your tickets and time in advance. (Thanks Jan). This facility becomes available about six to eight weeks beforehand and you just have to keep checking. If possible, go early in the day before the crowds start to build, so that it is not too busy. The house, which held the offices of Mr. Frank’s business and the secret annex are left much as they were when eight people hid there to avoid deportation to a concentration camp. It is not necessary to have read Anne’s diary, but if you have, it will greatly add to the experience. We all found it incredibly moving and it is easy to spend two hours there with all the exhibits and an excellent audio-visual centre, where you learn about Amsterdam under the Germans in WW2.
Beside Anne Frank is the Westerkerk church which is pretty ordinary, but the tower is worth a visit (book before you go into the museum) because of the views of Amsterdam.
Those Dam Boat Guys
We were joined by two other couples (small boat only takes ten) and laden with some aperitifs, (well, it was just before dinner) and some snacks, we had a most informative, enjoyable and fun time with Alex from California for the alternative canal cruise. This is a thousand times better than the larger boat tours with an audio guide. Alex could answer all our questions and we all really enjoyed his sense of humour and his laid-back approach. See thosedamboatguys.com
We didn’t make it to the Van Gogh museum, but we can recommend The Rijksmuseum, home to the greatest collection of Dutch art in the world. ‘The Night Watch’ by Rembrandt is what most people go to see, but there are many others worth looking at. Vermeer’s ‘The Kitchen Maid’ was one of my favourites and the still life by Willem Claesz Heda incredibly realistic.
. The Victorian building which houses the museum is stunning and the gardens(below) are also beautiful and worth a visit.
We only touched the surface; there is so much more to see and do, but I hope I have given you a flavour of this wonderful city. All of us wish to return to Amsterdam …..some day!
Many thanks to Bill and David for their photographic contributions.