I am slowly trying to tick off as many European cities on my travel bucket list as possible and this year I was lucky enough to have visited Amsterdam for a long weekend with my husband, sister and my oldest friend. We found a great flat via Airbnb, a typical Dutch house complete with steep stairs right next to the city’s beautiful Vondelpark, a short walk to the main attractions.
Amsterdam has tonnes of things to do from exploring the city’s historical buildings, restaurants, coffee shops and retail stores to secret gardens, canals and a multitude of museums. Our visit was only short so we had to pack in as much as possible, so here are my top things to see during a weekend in Amsterdam.
Van Gogh Museum
The Van Gogh Museum is an art museum dedicated to the works of Vincent van Gogh and his contemporaries in Amsterdam in the Netherlands. Unsurprisingly the museum can be found in the Museum Square in the south of the city near to the Stedelijk Museum, the Rijksmuseum, and the Concertgebouw. The museum is made up of three floors showcasing works from throughout Van Gogh’s life including 200 paintings, 400 drawings, and 700 letters! It was so exciting to be able to see his famous piece Sunflowers (1889) in person. This is a must-see for any art lover.
You can’t visit Amsterdam without admiring the canals which encircle the city. There are 165 man-made canals which were designed to stimulate trade and transport and reclaim land to expand. In 2010 Amsterdam’s canal ring was recognised as a UNESCO world heritage site. There are many canal cruise options including hop-on-hop-off services, romantic candlelit tours, child-friendly adventures and intimate guided boat tours for smaller groups. Seeing Amsterdam from the water is just amazing, you have the perfect view of the Dutch architecture and you can marvel at canal-side mansions worth millions while learning about the city’s history.
Anne Frank Museum
This part of our visit was very humbling. We visited the house and biographical museum dedicated to Jewish wartime diarist Anne Frank who hid along with her family and four other people in hidden rooms at the rear of the 17th-century canal house, known as the Secret Annexe, during the occupation of Amsterdam by the Nazis. I studied the Diary of Anne Frank during my school years and to be able to walk through the hidden door behind the bookcase and walk around the spaces described in the book was exciting and saddening. There is a permanent exhibition on the life and times of Anne Frank as well as an exhibition space about all forms of persecution and discrimination.
When you think of The Netherlands you probably imagine clogs, windmills, cheese and tulips. I couldn’t wait to explore the famous Flower Market in Amsterdam. Founded in 1862 it is the only floating flower market in the world with the flower stalls standing on houseboats! There is a vast array of bouquets, single flowers or bulbs available to buy, the amount of choice is almost overwhelming! I came away with several bags of fancy tulip bulbs and am looking forward to planting them and creating my own piece of The Netherlands in my garden.
For something a little different why not visit the world’s first speciality condom shop? Famous for its Red Light District and enlightened attitude towards sex Amsterdam’s Condomerie was founded to help battle the rise of AIDS in the late 1980s with the aim of removing the taboo surrounding the sale of condoms and provide information about the different types and sizes of condoms available in an unselfconscious manner. It boasts a wide selection of contraception, expert information and good service, sharing the safe-sex message with a smile.
Begijnhof Courtyard Garden
For a respite from the bustling city why not visit Amsterdam’s secret courtyard garden? Originally a sanctuary for the Beguines nuns, the Begijnhof is an inner courtyard garden featuring a stunning little 15th century English Church which is one of the oldest buildings in the city. Opposite the church, there is the smaller Begijnhof chapel where Catholics and Beguines attended in secret up until 1795. The courtyard itself is picturesque containing a garden area surrounded by traditional houses built from the 16th century onwards.
The Vondelpark is a public urban park of 120 acres in the south of the city close to the Museum Quarter which first opened in 1865. The park features an open-air theatre, a playground and several bar/restaurants where you can replenish your energy! The park is very popular with the locals who walk, cycle and play sports in the open grass areas. There are many local events which take part in the park such as the King’s Day celebrations on 27 April and an annual golf tournament! When we visited we admired the lush planting and water features which attracted local wildlife including some cute ducklings.
If you’re looking for something entertaining, disturbing and I suppose educational then take a visit to Amsterdam’s famous Sex Museum which opened in 1985 and is one of the most visited museums in the Netherlands! The museum looks at many aspects of sensual love, displaying an extensive collection of erotic pictures, statues, paintings, recordings, photographs and more from across the ages. You certainly need a good sense of humour when visiting this museum as there are more phalluses on show than I ever thought possible! I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who isn’t brave enough to see uncensored, graphic exhibits!