Why a Weekend in Amsterdam?
One of the great advantages of being British is that our little island is only a stone’s throw away from a wealth of experiences in mainland Europe. One of my favourite European countries is the Netherlands. The people are welcoming, their culture is intriguing and their cuisine is to die for.
Amsterdam is a great place to visit on a long weekend. If you rent a car in the UK, you can cross the channel via the Eurotunnel or on a ferry between Dover and Calais. From there, it’s a 3.5 to 4 hour drive through the north of France, Belgium and a significant portion of the Netherlands before you arrive in the capital.
There’s a lot to see, but most of the top sights are within walking distance of each other. Cars are discouraged in the centre, but you could rent a bike and make use of its 400+ km of cycle paths, or hop on a boat and cruise the canals. Here’s a selection of some of the top activities you can enjoy on a weekend in Amsterdam…
Anne Frank’s House
If there’s one place you really should see when you visit Amsterdam it’s the house where Anne Frank and her family hid from Nazi persecution during World War II. Adult tickets cost €9.50. Visitors are free to explore the hidden annex, before learning more about those who hid there and those who helped them hide. There’s a room housing the original diary, plus other manuscript papers. Temporary exhibitions, usually focusing on other key characters in Anne’s story, are introduced every six months.
There are over 150 so-called ‘coffee shops’ in Amsterdam, where the sale of cannabis is permitted subject to the display of an official green and white sticker in the window. Since coffee shops are as characteristic of the Netherlands as clogs, windmills and bicycles, many tourists choose to pop in, whether or not they’re interested in sampling the produce. If you do decide to buy, bear in mind that the use of cannabis has negative effects, including reduced reaction times and concentration. Generally the more expensive it is, the stronger the cannabis. You must be over 18 and have ID.
One of the most iconic sights of the city is a huge ‘i amsterdam’ sign. Located at the Museumplein behind the Rijksmuseum, this slogan is a much sought after photo opportunity. On a virtually continuous basis, people can be seen clambering over the letters or curling up inside them and having their photos taken. i amsterdam is a collective catch phrase for the city’s residents. The city card of the same name provides unlimited public transport and free entry to the best museums and attractions.
Stroopwafels are made from a sandwich of baked dough with a caramel-like syrup in the middle. You can buy them in souvenir shops and supermarkets – usually in a decorated tin – or from food markets, where there’s the option to have them dripping in melted chocolate. Traditionally, you’re meant to place them over the top of a cup of tea or coffee and wait for the syrup to soften, but they taste pretty damn good straight out of the packet.
A Boat Trip on the Canals
Considering the city has over 100 km of canals, it would be a shame not to explore some of it by boat. The canals, which were constructed in the 17th century, form concentric rings around the city centre and are a listed UNESCO World Heritage Site. You could use your cruise as a mode of transport between your chosen points of interest. Other options include dining, cocktail and even pub quiz cruises.
There are far too many museums in Amsterdam for you to be able to see them all during one weekend break, but the good news is that they’re incredibly eclectic, so there’s something to suit everyone. In addition to Anne Frank’s house, the main ones are the Rijksmuseum (featuring some of the nation’s most famous works of art), the Stedelijk Museum of modern art, the Van Gogh Museum, the Amsterdam Museum and the Hermitage Museum (an exhibition space with a focus on Russian history and culture). More obscure options include Cat Cabinet, the Museum of Bags and Purses, the Biblical Museum and the Sex Museum.
Situated in the same location as the former Heineken brewery, which was in operation for more than 100 years, the Heineken experience is more than just an opportunity to drink lots of beer. As well as providing information on the brewing process and the history of Heineken, there are a variety of interactive experiences, including opportunities to pull your own pint or bottle your own beer, make music videos and play games.
Nightlife and Partying
Amsterdam is home to a large selection of top nightclubs and regularly hosts music festivals featuring everything from hip hop and urban beats to electronic music, dance parties and LGBT-focused events. One Netherlands-wide party that’s definitely worth considering is Koningsdag – a national holiday in April that marks the birthday of the king. Locals and tourists alike dress head to toe in orange and party in the streets from dusk till dawn.
Of course, it’s difficult to ignore Amsterdam’s seedier side after dark. Prostitution is legal and it’s not uncommon to see scantily clad women moving provocatively in red-fringed window parlours. Some visitors will find this an uncomfortable experience, while others actively seek out the ‘Rossebuurt’ district in search of a brothel or sex show. While safety is key, and sex workers are well protected by the police, the reality is that it’s very difficult to guarantee that forced prostitution and trafficking does not occur. If you visit this area, do not take photos, keep an eye on your belongings, and bear in mind the ethical considerations of financially supporting such an industry.
Receiving over 4.5 million international visitors per year plus 16 million day trippers, Amsterdam is one of Europe’s most popular destinations for tourists. Do you already factor in those statistics? If so, what attractions would you add to this list?