One of the most popular travel destinations in Europe, Amsterdam is a compact, charming and cosmopolitan city that invites exploration. Known as the “Venice of the North” for its more than 100 canals, the capital of the Netherlands offers easy sight-seeing adventures by foot, bike and boat. Amsterdam’s well-preserved and appealing 17th-century architecture provides a quaint if incongruous backdrop for a city famous for its modern, progressive attitudes. From the city’s fine art museums to its colorful flower markets, from cannabis-selling “coffeeshops” to the red light district, there’s something exciting and unique to discover in Amsterdam at every turn.
1. Canals of Amsterdam
The famous canals were built during the 17th century to control the flow of the Amstel River and to add acres of dry land to the city. Amsterdam’s wealthy merchants soon discovered that the canals were ideal for showcasing their mansions as well. A boat ride along one of the city’s 100 canals offers visitors a relaxing way to view traditional Dutch architecture. Lined with elm and lime trees and crossed over by more than a thousand bridges, the canals are home to some 2,000 houseboats, including houseboat hotels. Tour operators offer a variety of cruises, ranging from hour-long excursions to candlelight cruises.
Occupying the northeastern section of the Museum Square, the Rijksmuseum is arguably the most important of the nation’s arts and history museums. The total collection numbers more than one million artifacts dating from the 13th century onward. For decades, the collection was housed in buildings all over the country until 1876, when the architect Pierre Cuypers won a design contest and the construction of the Rijksmuseum began. Opened in 1885, the museum currently has around 8,000 objects on display, the most famous of which are paintings by Rembrandt, Frans Hals and Johannes Vemeer. Rembrandt’s masterpiece Night Watch is worth the price of admission alone.
3. Van Gogh Museum
Located on the northwestern side of the Museum Square, or Museumplein, the Van Gogh Museum is home to the world’s largest collection of the artist’s paintings and letters. Housed in a four-story building designed by Gerrit Rietveld in the 1970s, the museum is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Amsterdam. Two hundred paintings from the Dutch Post-Impressionist occupy the second story of the museum. Displayed chronologically, the artwork offers viewers an intimate look at Van Gogh’s evolving style. The third story contains information about the artist’s troubled life and about the efforts taken to restore his paintings. Works by Van Gogh’s contemporaries, including artists like Millet, Gaugin and Daubigny are exhibited on the top floor.
The district of Begijnhof, or Beguines Courtyard, occupies the center circle of land in Amsterdam’s circular canal system. In the 14th century, the area was an enclosed courtyard that served as a residence for the sisterhood of Catholic Beguines. The Begijnhof wasn’t a convent in the traditional sense because the women were free to leave the order if they chose to marry. When the sisterhood’s chapel was confiscated during the Reformation, they began to worship secretly at the Begijnhof Kapel, a charming structure fitted with marble columns and stained-glass windows. Begijnhof is also home to the English Reformed Church, built around 1392. The city’s oldest preserved wooden house, which dates from around 1465, is located within the Begijnhof as well.
5. Anne Frank House
Amsterdam’s most visited attraction, the Anne Frank Huis is situated along the Prinsengracht canal. The structure that once hid Anne Frank, her family and four other Jewish people from the Nazi authorities during World War II has been viewed as a memorial to the Holocaust since 1947, when Anne’s father published the diary that Anne wrote while they lived hidden within the building. A plan to preserve the building was hatched in 1955 when developers were planning to demolish the structure. The building opened as a museum in 1960. Visitors can view the rooms where Anne lived as well as exhibits that chronicle her all-too-short life.