Amsterdam city guide

Amsterdam, capital of my home country; the Netherlands. A tiny little kingdom at the North Sea: small in size, but larger than life in imagination and ambitions. Many foreigners refer to it as Holland, which is actually wrong since North and South Holland are provinces. One of the first things that come to mind of foreigners when they think of Amsterdam is one of those Ocean’s Eleven movies. I mean the one in which they try to rob an art collectors apartment but Vincent Cassel beat them to it. They used to meet up at one of those charming café’s right next to a canal, have a chat at one of the numerous bridges, looking at the characteristic architecture. Amsterdam has a worldwide reputation of the place to be for party animals, legal weed and prostitution, constant festivals all year long and most important: tolerance. People there don’t judge others, they organize gay marches, parades and such and no one bats an eye, it’s great.

It’s a thin line between being assertive and straightforward or and just being rude. In my international oriented job I know from own experience that diplomacy is not always the strongest asset of the Dutch. I am always surprised and pleased to notice that in many other countries people are less loud in public areas like restaurants or public transport. I mean: when you are in a Dutch train or restaurant you sometimes get the feeling you are on an outdoor market where everyone is loudly promoting its goods. Or it feels like you are an overcrowded hen farm. I happen to be often in Central and Eastern Europe where people have the reputation of being bold and brutal. But I always notice, especially in Russia, that they behave much more civilized. At least they are much less loud in public sphere. But hey, these are just my 2 cents I like to throw in and for many other reasons I completely understand why my country is so beloved with foreigners.

Many people who are visiting my country for the very first time are astonished how open everything is. And that is meant literally: “ Don’t you guys have curtains to cover your windows?” screamed a Polish friend and colleague when he was on his first visit to the Netherlands. If fun is your main objective then you should try to be around in the Netherlands on King’s Day on 27 April, a national holiday marking the birth of King Willem-Alexander and an alibi for Dutch people to celebrate whole day and night. Don’t get the wrong impression; Amsterdam is not only about parties. It is a cradle of culture with nowadays a stunning number of over 40 000 arts and other cultural events every year. The Holland Festival in June is a noteworthy event to look forward to: the country’s biggest performing arts festival in the covering all kinds of music, opera, modern dance and theatre. Spring and summer are great seasons to visit the Netherlands and its capital but also autumn is a good period to hop over to Amsterdam. Each year in October there is the ADE, the Amsterdam Dance Festival; a five-day electronic music conference and festival held which has turned into a major event of global importance for the electronic music industry. One of the highlights at the end of November/beginning of December and personally one of my favourite events is the IDFA, the biggest international documentary festival of the world, which screens audiovisual masterpieces from all over the globe.

Amsterdam is also popular for its museums. And then I do not necessarily mean the Sex Museum and Marihuana museum (AKA the Hash Marihuana Hemp Museum), which are a popular stops for many foreign young tourists and fun seekers visiting the city. Especially the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum are crawled by huge numbers of tourists; no wonder in a country that had so many famous painters as Rembrandt van Rijn, Johannes Vermeer, Jan Steen, Vincent van Gogh and Karel Appel. Together with the Anne Frank House and the red light district de Wallen, these two museums are the big tourist staples. Everyone who likes contemporary art cannot afford to miss the Stedelijk Museum (usually short named as het Stedelijk) with its great collections. A rather new pearl in the crown of Amsterdam museums is the Amsterdam Hermitage that actively cooperates with the Russian equivalent.

The I amsterdam sign with the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam at the backdrop

The I amsterdam sign, immensly popular with tourists but no longer welcome in the city centre of Amsterdam for being too individualistic

When you are near the Rijksmuseum, which is considered to be country’s most important museum you might wonder what happened to the famous I amsterdam sign that used to be in front of it. The sign, which became the most popular selfie spot in town, has been taken away on initiative of the Amsterdam City Council. The sign was removed in December 2018 since it was deemed to be too individualistic and giving a wrong signal. Amsterdam should instead promote solidarity and diversity, according to the left wing local politicians. Maybe I cannot keep pace anymore with modern times and ideas but I do not get it. I mean: don't we have more important problems to solve in this country? But maybe I should see it from a more positive angle: a country that can focus on such luxury problems is probably blessed. Anyway, don’t be in despair when you would like to make a selfie like hundred thousands of tourists did before you in the past. There are still other I amsterdam signs; at Schiphol airport and Sloterplas Lake in Amsterdam West. Also at the occasion of some city events the famous letters might return for a while.

If you happen to be a film freak like me you definitely need to visit EYE film institute with great film screenings, exhibitions and other interesting events. The restaurant has a pretty good menu card and offers a wonderful panoramic view over the river IJ and the opposite older part of Amsterdam. The iconic building with an aerodynamic structure – resembling a spacecraft according to some – is also an eye catcher and architectural masterpiece on its own. To get there, leave the Central Station at its backside and hop on the free public ferry that will take you to the Northern bank of the river IJ. The area around EYE has become a real tourist magnet over the last decade with a lot of fairly new attractions. When you are visiting only Amsterdam and lack the time to visit places outside the capital you can get yourself a ticket for the THIS IS HOLLAND flight experience to get at least a glimpse of the rest of the country. Be prepared for almost real live impressions, thunderstorms and other thrills in this 5D flight simulator. The real dare devils can try the huge swing on the roof top of new A’DAM Toren, an eye catching skyscraper located between EYE and the circular building with the flight simulator. Don’t think that the area is only interesting for tourists. It’s also a very popular spot with the local youngsters and hipsters who spend long summer evenings on the terraces of the trendy cafes next to a city beach. Unlike the area around the Central Station, especially Damrak with its notorious tourist traps, tacky cafes, lousy restaurants and overpriced tourist shops, the Northern IJ bank area feels still genuine and has a good vibe.

Girl who just bought flowers strolling around the Jordaan district in Amsterdam centre

The Jordaan district with its canals is one of the most charming areas of Amsterdam city centre

IJburg will enchant those who are interested in modern architecture. It’s the area where the young urban professionals, families and expats move, now that the old city centre has become almost unaffordable. There they have more space, green surroundings, and playgrounds for the little ones and a place to park their car. The charming old central areas like the Jordaan and De Pijp, where once the local working class lived in cramped and narrow house blocks, have now become the territory of Airbnb travellers and expats who can afford the sky-high rental prices. Close to the IJ you will also find two other top-notch museums. NEMO Science Museum is a fabulous place when you are interested in science and why wouldn’t you? It’s all about learning in an interactive way and it’s big fun and highly educating for both children and adults. The copper building shaped like a ship's hull cannot be missed. It’s one the first things that will draw your attraction when you enter Amsterdam by train. When you will book a trip with Amsterdam canal boat you will pass the striking building as well. Talking about canal cruises. This is one the few typical touristic activities I would certainly recommend you do when being in Amsterdam. If time allows I would even go two times: by daytime and by night since the atmosphere and the overall picture you get will differ dramatically. And especially de Wallen and surrounding areas are much more charming when everything is illuminated.

Close to NEMO you will also find the National Maritime Museum (Scheepvaartmuseum). Its maritime collection is almost the biggest in the entire world and tells the story of the Dutch Golden Age (Gouden Eeuw) period. It’s the period of mainly the 17th century, when the Dutch took a global lead in trade, science and military. Dutchmen sailed all the world seas and explored and also exploited countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The history of the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie; VOC) and the Dutch West India Company (WIC/GWIC) and colonies is now regarded from a different, much more critical angle. Which is completely fair. But to my opinion we can also overdo in our good intentions.

Nowadays we have a heated public debate on whether we can still have streets named after explorers, sailors and military men from the past. Don’t get me wrong: we do not have to erect statues for mass murderers or dictators from the past. But we cannot ignore our history either and pretend it did not happen. Besides, if we cover up the nasty things from the past we will never grow up and learn from it. Isn’t that the lesson we learned from the former Soviet Union and its allies? Wiping out our possible bloodstained past does not mean it did not happen. In my home city there were even activists who protested against a public kids event about Cowboys and Indians. The concert venue where this completely harmless event was supposed to take place gave in and cancelled the event in the end after receiving serious threats and indications of possible violent actions. Can you believe that? It sounds like a sick joke but it really happened. For all these aggressive and probably jobless activists and protesters who are now even ruining our children’s joys I have only one advice: get a life!

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