Amsterdam, the epitome of tolerance and outrageous behavior, is also a city of great charm, with its many canals and excellent museums. Obviously a place of great contrasts, it should be savored over time to be appreciated. Here are my choices of the best that Amsterdam has to offer, to be followed by a photo album.
1. Anne Frank’s House – The most popular of Amsterdams’ attractions, this immersion into Nazi-dominated Europe of the 1940’s is a somber reminder of an embarassing and horrifying time in world history. The scene is familiar to all who have read The Diary of Anne Frank, but the actual physical circumstance is difficult to believe as tourists wander through the house where Anne and her neighbors were virtual prisoners for several years.
2. Canal Boat ride – There is no better way to see the city than a canal boat ride. The perspective allows visitors to appreciate the architecture, the size, and the complexity of the city while avoiding the distraction of traffic and pedestrians. I suggest that this a fantastic orientation which can then be followed by walking or biking back to interesting places to see them in more detail.
3. Rijksmuseum – The foremost museum in the city is a must-see, especially for fans of Rembrandt. But there is more than the Dutch artist to appreciate in this world-class art exhibition.
4. Stroll the Red Light District – A walk through this "seedier" section of Amsterdam is a required sojourn for the curious. Culture-tolerated prostitution is on public display here, and, although some may be embarassed or repulsed by the wanton disregard for propriety, the system has worked well for many years.
5. Smoke a Joint in a Brown Cafe – Marijuana-smoking is also tolerated here and is always available at these interesting establishments, all over the city. Even if you do not smoke or are unwilling to try, it is a worthwhile experience to just stop in and look around.
6. Van Gogh Museum – Immerse yourself in one of the Netherlands’ favorite sons in this museum dedicated to the tortured artist, Vincent Van Gogh. More of his paintings are found here than anywhere else in the world.
7. Take an Excursion to Keukenhof Gardens – Not far from Amsterdam, in the town of Lisse, is one of the most beautiful gardens in the entire world. Visit in the springtime for the most beautiful display of Holland’s famous tulips and other bulbs. The gardens are gorgeously landscaped and there are even indoor pavilions for the display of less hardy plants.
8. Drive to Haarlem – This lovely Dutch city is great for walking and has numerous interesting sights for the visitor. Worthwhile stops include the Grote Markt (main square), St Bavo’s Church, and the Stadhuis (Town Hall).
9. Check out the Interior of St Nicholas Church – This unassuming (on the outside) church, close to the docks and canal boat station, has a lovely interior well worth exploring.
10. Begijnhof – The city’s old almshouse has been restored and is also worth a look. Places like this are common in both Belgium and the Netherlands.