Destination Immersion

Seven Things to do in Amsterdam

Thursday, February 27, 2020
By Azamara

In 2020, we're taking a look at a few of the Northern European destinations we can't wait to visit.

Today, we're highlighting Amsterdam.

Amsterdam is a city with a fascinating reputation on the world stage. For many, the name alone evokes an anything-goes atmosphere — but there's more to it than that. This is a city with an unbelievable wealth of history and traditions, a world-class culinary scene, and an eye for design that demands attention. It's a colorful city, full of character — and characters — as well as an unmistakable sense of romance. It's as authentic as it is eccentric, and we can't wait for you to visit Amsterdam with us.

Crooked houses in Amsterdam reflect off the water

Getting a Sense For Gezellig 

A quick note before we dive into must-see Amsterdam. During your visit, you're sure to hear a lot about gezellig. This is a distinctly Dutch quality that, for many, lies at the heart of the entire culture. It has also proven tricky to translate into English over the years, but, essentially, it's an expression of conviviality, coziness, and fun. That well-being you feel when you're spending time doing something you love with someone you love? That's gezellig. And you should expect to feel a lot of it in Amsterdam. 

Here are seven things to do in Amsterdam when you travel there with us.

Ride The Canals 

Dutch Houses reflections at night on the water of the canal

Over the years, many people have come to refer to Amsterdam as "The Venice of the North". And while we'd argue these are two beautiful and brilliantly distinct cities, one thing they certainly have in common is their intricate series of waterways. Amsterdam's canals are a signature design element of the city — and an excellent example of forward-thinking planning.

Amsterdam is not a large city, but it's uniquely designed. The city center's layout is a tiered curling series of rings made up of streets and canals. All told, you'll find more than 60 miles of canals in Amsterdam — which is actually more than you'll find in Venice. In fact, the canal system is among the largest ever built of its kind. 

Colorful houses, canal and a classical tour boat of Amsterdam

While there are many canals throughout the city, the three most well known are Herengracht (Gentlemen's Canal) Keizersgracht (Emperor's canal), and Prinsengracht (Prince's canal). To have your home or business located along Herengracht is considered quite prestigious, and you'll find the official residence of the mayor of Amsterdam here. Keizersgracht is the widest canal in the city center (31 meters). Prinsengracht is the outermost of Amsterdam's three main canals, named after the Prince of Orange. 

If you're eager to explore the canals during your time in Amsterdam with us, we recommend checking them out via shore excursion. You can join us by day, explore in the evening, or after an insightful walking tour.

Pedal Through the Petals 

Orange bicycle next to a field of hyacinths.

If there's a common thread that binds many of Northern Europe's countries and cities together, it's a love of cycling. Amsterdam is no different. As of 2017, nearly 70% of all commuter traffic here is done on bikes. Perhaps more impressively, it's been said that there are more bikes than people in Amsterdam (a rumor we have no interest in dispelling). According to the bi-annual Copenhagenize Index, Amsterdam is the second-most bicycle-friendly city in the world. A true pedestrian paradise, there's just no better way to get around here. 

Bikes on the bridge in Amsterdam Netherlands

In Amsterdam, locals bike everywhere. You'll see businessmen in suits riding bikes, seniors out for a pedal with the grandchildren, couples dressed to the nines out for a night on the town. And as the old expression goes, when in Rome (or Amsterdam)! Don't be afraid to hop on a bike and make your way to a fancy restaurant or even you've planned. Embrace the way locals do it and you'll feel right at home here.

Traditional dutch windmills and houses near the canal

There are plenty of bike tours throughout the city, or, you can simply rent a bike for a few hours and explore on your own. If you'd like to escape the city center into the Waterlands, you can join us for a cycling journey into the Dutch countryside. Here, you'll pedal past fields of flowers through charming villages and, of course, see the iconic Dutch windmills. Along the way, you'll learn about the unique geography of the Waterlands, as well as the region's natural beauty. A brisk bike ride through the beauty of the Dutch countryside? Sounds like a picture-perfect way to spend the day. 

Explore Your Artistic Side 

Rijksmuseum exterior Amsterdam

If you're an art lover, Amsterdam should definitely be high on your list. It's home to a treasure trove of museums — showcasing everything from the iconic to the obscure — in sprawling galleries and narrow canal houses alike. Here are a few favourites you're sure to love: 

Rijksmuseum: The largest art museum in the country, around 8,000 objects are currently on display in Rijksmuseum, ranging from Asian artifacts to masterpieces by iconic painters. Perhaps its most famous piece is Rembrandt's The Night Watch — a dazzling example of the Dutch Golden Age. Equally as impressive as the collection inside this museum is the neo-Gothic/Dutch Renaissance facade of the building, which is one of the most recognizable in the city.

Van Gogh Museum: If you love Van Gogh, consider this museum an absolute must "Gogh". Here, you'll find the largest collection of Van Gogh paintings in the world — ranging from his earliest works to his self portraits and some of his final creations. In addition to works by Van Gogh, you'll also find pieces by many of his contemporaries here, including Utagawa Kunisada, Henri Gabriel Ibels, and Maurice Denis.

Museum het Rembrandthuis: Not to be outdone, Van Gogh is not the only Dutch art icon with a museum dedicated to him. Museum het Rembrandthuis pays tribute to Rembrandt, and is actually housed in the home where he worked from 1639 to 1656. The interior has been meticulously reconstructed, providing an intimate glimpse at what life was like for the master during his time in Amsterdam.

Stedelijk Museum: This fantastic museum's collection is a veritable who's who of the art world. You'll find works by Picasso, Van Gogh, Matisse, Jeff Koons, Lichtenstein, Warhol, Mondrian, Rothko, and more here. 

Kattenkabinet: A beloved canal-house museum, the curious collection on display here is dedicated to domestic cats. Make your way through the house, and you'll find cat art from masters like Picasso, Rembrandt, and Steinlen — proving that while dogs may be man's best friend, cats are much better at posing for portraits.  

Electric Ladyland: If your taste in art leans a little more towards kitch, you'll adore the world's first museum of fluorescent art. Here, everything is displayed under the hyper-stylized glory of fluorescent light, creating a glowing display of psychedelia that has to be seen to be believed. This museum is by appointment only, so be sure to book in advance

Dine Around the City — and Beyond

Sitting for a break in a cafeteria enjoying Amsterdam

There's something truly special about Amsterdam's culinary scene. Every day, it feels like there's a new restaurant popping up to offer a new spin on an old favorite and taking the gastronomy of the city an exciting new direction. From snacks to steaks, ultra-healthy to contemporary concepts from around the globe— you'll find it all in this foodie stronghold. 

If you're looking for a smorgasboard to sample, you can't go wrong at Foodhallen. This international food hall is known for curating a flavorful food culture that boasts a wide array of dining options. Located in a repurposed tram depot, Foodhallen is the place to go to check the pulse of dining in the city. With over 20 vendors, you can sample world-class dim sum, vegan delights, classic fried chicken, authentic dutch meatballs, and more. Afterwards, stop by the beer bar to sample more than 60 local and international beers. 

If you'd prefer a quick snack on the go, you'll definitely want to try Flemish fries. Absolutely not to be confused with French fries, these sliced potatoes are typically drenched in mayo and other toppings to create a delicious Dutch treat adored by locals. And, of course, you can't talk about Dutch food without mentioning cheese. In fact, when you join us on shore excursion, you can do more than sample cheese, you can learn how to make it yourself at a local farm — where you'll also get a first-hand look at life in rural Holland. 

Uncover Amsterdams Secrets 

Traditional old buildings and boats with fireworks in Amsterdam

It should come as no surprise that Amsterdam is a city full of delightful little secrets waiting for you to find them. Keep your eyes peeled for these hidden gems as you make your way through its winding streets:

The Tiny Hidden Houses on Westerstraat: Make your way to Westerstraat in the Jordaan neighborhood and you'll notice the civic numbers on the north side of the street skip rather abruptly from 54 to 70. This isn't uncommon in cities like Amsterdam — houses are merged, entryways are closed, courtyards are repurposed, and before you know it, houses appear to have mysteriously gone missing. Except, in this case, the houses are still there — they're just very tiny. Take a closer look between the four inches that separate row houses 54 and 70, and you'll discover seven additional miniature row houses. Meticulously detailed and built in the same style as the other houses in the area, this stack serves as a whimsical reminder to always be present — you never know what you might miss! 

Our Lord in the Attic: From the outside, canal house Number 40, Oudezijds Voorburgwal, looks like many of the other Queen Anne-style homes Amsterdam is famous for. But make your way inside and up to the attic, and you'll find something entirely unexpected — an authentic, operational, miniature Catholic church. Meticulously detailed, the church has room for about 150 worshippers, who attend regularly — and have for the last 400 years. So, why is there a nearly half-millennia old church in the attic of an Amsterdam home? Well, persecution of Catholicism in Holland in the 17th century was rampant and the owner of the home, Jan Hartmann, wanted a safe (and secret) place for fellow worshippers to practice their faith. Just like that, Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder was born. 

Pizzeria San Marco: If you're exploring the beautiful Amstelkanaal and and find yourself hungry for an Amsterdam good slice of pizza, Pizzeria San Marco is sure to hit the spot. What makes this pizza parlor special? Well, instead of a drive-through, it offers sail-through service. Find the parlor in the former watchtower on the canal bridge, knock on the window and order up a delicious pizza pie — it may just be the most unforgettable one you've ever had! 

Spend the Day in Vondelpark

Golden letters on the gate at the entrance to the Vondelpark in Amsterdam

Once a private park for the wealthy elite, today, Vondelpark is known as the most popular urban park in the Netherlands, attracting more than 10 million visitors annually. Spend a little time here, and you'll quickly discover the secret to its enduring popularity. Located in the heart of the city, just across from Leidseplein, Vondelpark is a perfect spot to cycle, enjoy a picnic on pristine lawns, watch the swans swimming through the large ponds, or take a amble along winding walkways. 

Large group of people are cycling through the Vondelpark in Amsterdam

On warm sunny days, the park is at its absolute best, and practically radiates that sense of gezellig we mentioned earlier. Locals and tourists flock to the park to play footie on the grass, strum guitars, and simply take it all in. Perhaps nowhere else quite encapsulates the Dutch lifestyle better than a beautiful day in the park. 

Pay a Visit to Anne Frank Huis

Anne Frank Statue in Amsterdam

Perhaps Amsterdam's most enduring landmark, a visit to Anne Frank Huis is a harrowing experience and reminder of the very human cost of war. Not a replication, this is the actual location where Anne, her family, and others hid in a secret annex for more than two years during the horrors of the Second World War. Here, they observed complete silence during the daytime. Anne's father, Otto, followed the progress of the Allied Forces on a map pinned to the wall and tracked the growth of his daughters with pencil marks on the wall. Anne collected pictures of movie stars and pinned them to her wall. And, of course, she wrote in her diary — which is on display here in a glass case. 

Interestingly enough, it's her diary that helped ensure this essential piece of our collective history remains standing today. After its publication, the Anne Frank Foundation was established with the goal of protecting the property from developers. 

In addition to preserving the hiding place, Anne Frank Huis also houses a permanent collection that documents the life and times of the famed diarist, as well as a tasteful and insightful series on persecution and discrimination around the world. While not a lighthearted endeavour, a trip to this important historical landmark should be considered essential when visiting Amsterdam. 

Amazing Amsterdam Awaits 

Amsterdam has earned its reputation as one of Europe's great cities, and now it's time to discover it for yourself. Best of all, with our Land Program, you can stay longer, and experience more than ever before. Check out our upcoming cruises to Amsterdam today.  

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