It’s one of those cities that will stick with you for the rest of your life. With its romantic canals, rich architectural history, fabulous nightlife, and amazing shopping, it’s no wonder that Amsterdam is the fifth busiest tourist destination in Europe, with more than four million international visitors every year. Plus, since it straddles the picturesque Amstel river and is connected to the North Sea, Amsterdam is a perfect getaway destination.
We’ve traveled extensively throughout Western Europe and feel there’s no better way to experience this fascinating, historical city than one of the many European river cruises that travel through it. There are a number of longer cruises that just stop over in Amsterdam, but there are also shorter cruises that afford a close-up view of the canals and architecture that make Amsterdam so unique. There are many options available, but in researching your next trip to Amsterdam, be sure to schedule time for these can’t-miss sights.
Van Gogh Museum
This museum houses the largest collection in the world of the famous master’s works. See one of Van Gogh’s stunning Sunflowers paintings, as well as his celebrated Bedroom in Arles. With a 1.5 million visitors every year, this museum fills up quickly, so be sure to get there early in the morning and do a little research before you arrive.
Although it was originally inspired by the great national museums of France, there is something quintessentially Dutch about the Rijksmuseum (or, “State Museum”) in Amsterdam. This enormous museum has a huge collection of paintings from the Dutch Golden Age (think Vermeer’s Milkmaid or Rembrandt’s Night Watch).
The famous painter bought this house in 1639 and lived there for seventeen years until he went bankrupt. The house itself had a storied past until Queen Wilhelmina opened it in 1911 as a museum to pay homage to the national treasure that is Rembrandt’s legacy. The museum has an impressive collection of etchings, drawings, and copper plates. It’s a more intimate museum than most and definitely one not to be missed.
Anne Frank House
Although this former house and location of the hiding place of the famous wartime diarist Anne Frank is dedicated to her memory, it is also an exhibition space to commemorate all forms of persecution and discrimination. It is a somber, small museum, but if it’s your first time to Amsterdam, you absolutely cannot miss it-or its powerful message.
Heineken Brewery, Red Lights, and “Coffee shops”
Of course, Amsterdam wouldn’t be Amsterdam without experiencing some of the vice that we tend to associate with this city. The “Heineken Experience” is a popular tour of the Heineken brewery. It’s a bit cheesy, but still fun. Also, a stroll through the famous Red Light district will certainly be, ahem, eye-opening. Just don’t bring the kids. Finally, try not to be too scandalized if you visit a coffee shop and find that your neighbors are smoking cigarettes whose smell reminds you of your college roommate. It’s perfectly legal in The Netherlands. As with any travel, use your good sense and judgment, and never do anything or go anywhere you feel is unsafe.
This short guide is by no means an exhaustive list of everything you must see and do in Amsterdam, but hopefully it’ll give you some idea of what this fabulous city has to offer. Filled with the history, culture, and romance that make every vacation special, Amsterdam will be a city you’ll never forget. By Rob Mernck