Amsterdam has something to offer everyone, from the shockingly perverted to the über-conservative. This is why it time and again ranks as one of Europe’s most popular city break destinations. Yet, like kebabs and Che Guervera T-shirts, the “crazy” weekend away in Amsterdam, is one of those student clichés that one might feel one is simply too unshakably cool to indulge in – this would be a shame. If ever a place was created for the young, the beautiful and the open minded, it is Amsterdam. This city simply oozes style and soul.
Renowned for its synthesis of vice and high brow culture, Amsterdam is a place of contradictions. It resists classification, combining world-renowned, laissez faire liberalism with a typical European homage to rules and regulations. This is a place where soliciting is legal, provided that one has the right paperwork. Wander down a street in Amsterdam and one will find baby clothing stores happily residing next to Rastafarian coffee shops. Galleries dedicated to sixteenth century art are only a tram ride away from museums plotting the history of porn. And shoe shops display ‘Hush Puppies’ alongside neon, plastic platforms.
It is quite true that Amsterdam might be famous for all things continental and controversial, but it is also too chilled out to care even if one is not. And although the red light district is well worth a visit, if only to point and laugh at the bizarre notion of consumerised copulation, there are plenty of other things to see and do in this historical and deliciously cosmopolitan Venice of the North.
Instead, one could visit Anne Frank’s house, or cruise along the pretty cat’s cradle of canals on a boat tour, or stroll around Dam Square to see the Royal Palace. If art is the thing of interest, then spend the morning with the Dutch masters in the famous Van Gogh gallery or Rijksmuseum, which houses works by Vermeer and Rembrandt, particularly his impressive masterpiece The Night Watch.
If one is feeling decadent, one could always visit one of the city’s numerous diamond factories and try on Elizabeth Taylor-esque jewellery that a person has absolutely no intention of buying. In addition, there are countless museums, ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. And although the museums of sex, beer and marijuana tend to stand out in people’s minds for obvious reasons, it is also possible to receive a comprehensive education in Jewish history, anthropology, modern art or film. However, even traditional museums represent an unusual Dutch twist, the Maritime museum features the arm of a Dutch naval hero thoughtfully preserved in alcohol.
While visiting the Venice of North the best way to capture local color is simply on foot, loosing one in the city’s web of narrow streets, whilst picking up kitsch, bohemian bargains that would make Sienna Miller proud. In spite of the fact that Amsterdam could never market itself as a fashion capital, the city does have some lovely shops, even if in a quirky, ‘incense-burning-overkill’ kind of way. A trip to a local market is also a must see, especially a cheese market or the charming ‘bloemenmarkt’, Amsterdam’s famous, floating flower emporium. The Venice of North is joy to visit.
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