Things to Do in Amsterdam - page 3
Amsterdam’s picturesque ring of canals is one of the city’s most iconic sights and after the famous waterways achieved UNESCO World Heritage status back in 2010, a new museum sprung up to celebrate their rich history.
The Het Grachtenhuis, or the Canal House, opened its doors in 2011 and features a series of exhibitions devoted to the history of Amsterdam’s 17th-century canals and the city development project behind them. The self-guided tours utilize audio guides and a series of interactive installations to provide a uniquely entertaining and engaging rundown of how the system was designed and built. 3D video projections, miniature city models, animations and galleries all help to bring the exhibition to life, making it a thoroughly modern museum experience.
The Canal House itself, perched on the banks of the Herengracht or ‘gentleman's canal’, is just as impressive outside as it is from the inside.
Located in a terrace of sprawling 17th-century mansions along Herengracht in Amsterdam’s UNESCO-listed Canal Ring, the Willet-Holthuysen Museum forms the elegant backdrop to a wonderful collection of fine paintings, antique furnishings and decorative pieces. Owned in the 19th century by the wealthy Willet family of avid art collectors, the house and its contents were later donated to the city. Today it forms the best example of 19th-century style and decoration in the city.
The carefully restored interior, decorated in rich blues, gold and greens, is typical of the indulgent lifestyle of Amsterdam’s prosperous merchant classes. Above stairs there’s a ballroom, library, dining room, salons and a bedroom complete with an ornately carved four-poster bed; they are all kitted out with silverware, silk wallpaper, gold-embellished Meissen porcelain, hand-embroidered curtains and beautifully crafted furniture.
On a visit to the Begijnhof, an enclosed former 14th-century convent, you’ll discover a surreal oasis of peace, with tiny houses and postage-stamp gardens around a well-kept courtyard.
Contained within the hof is the charming Begijnhofkapel, a "clandestine" chapel where the Beguines were forced to worship after their Gothic church was taken away by the Calvinists. Go through the dog-leg entrance to find marble columns, wooden pews, paintings and stained-glass windows commemorating the Miracle of Amsterdam.
The other church in the Begijnhof is known as the Engelse Kerk (English Church), built around 1392. It was eventually rented out to the local community of English and Scottish Presbyterian refugees, and still serves as the city's Presbyterian church. Also note the house at No. 34; it dates from around 1425, making it the oldest preserved wooden house in the country.
The Munttoren, which means “Mint” or “Coin” tower in Dutch, is located on busy Muntplein Square in Amsterdam, precisely where the Amstel River and the Singel Canal meet and formed Regulierspoort. Built in 1487 as part as one of the main gates in Amsterdam's medieval city wall, Munttoren was mainly used to mint coins until it burned down in 1618.
It was later on rebuilt in the Amsterdam Renaissance style, with an octagonal-shaped top half and an open spire designed by celebrated Dutch architect Hendrick de Keyser. But visitors looking for a tower fitting this description will be disappointed; indeed the original guardhouse, which had survived the fire, was entirely replaced with a new building in the late 19th century except for the original carillon. It was made in 1668 and consists of 38 bells that chime every 15 minutes, even to this day – a carillonneur employed by the city of Amsterdam gives a live concert every Saturday between 2 and 3 p.m.
Topping off the western side of Amsterdam’s plush Canal Ring and crossing into the bohemian enclave of the Jordaan, Brouwersgracht is an enticing canal lined with narrow, gabled townhouses and former warehouses with façades that tilt precariously forwards. Connecting the canals of Singel and Singelgracht, it has been voted the prettiest street in the city and its length is home to hundreds of houseboats moored chaotically along the bank. In the 17th century known for its tanners and brewers, the canal has lost little of its tranquil atmosphere even though many of its houses have been converted into luxurious apartments and boutique hotels. It also has some architectural highlights: Brouwersgracht 2 has one of the best examples of 16th-century step gables in the city; the row at Brouwersgracht 188–194 were formerly warehouses storing leather, coffee and spices, and sport a series of identical spout gables dating from the 17th century.
As vital to Amsterdam as Rembrandt, canals, and coffee shops, on a sunny day there’s not place better than Vondelpark. As people from all walks of life descend on this sprawling English-style park - beautifully appointed with ponds, lawns, thickets, and winding footpaths - a party atmosphere ensues.
Some kick back by reading a book, others hook up with friends to cradle a beer at one of the cafes, while others trade songs on beat-up guitars. Still others jog, cruise on inline skates, ride bikes, and fly kites. Let us not forget families with prams, couples in love, teenagers playing soccer, and children chasing ducks - Vondelpark encourages visitors to enjoy and explore its bucolic surroundings. On a summer day, a great place to follow the action is the upper terrace of Café Vertigo. Also check out the open-air theater and the lovely ponds and rose gardens.
Few people know that Amsterdam has played an important role as a diamond center for more than four centuries, mostly because of the Dutch colonization in South Africa back in the 1800s. Since 2007, the Diamond Museum Amsterdam has helped visitors understand how diamonds are formed from a geological standpoint, through a process taking billions of years and beginning 200 kilometers underneath the earth’s surface. The museum’s permanent collection includes several world-famous pieces, such as the Katana, the Rembrandt Diamond, and The Ape Skul. Visitors can also witness diamond cutters and goldsmiths at work, turning stones into valuable and beautiful pieces of jewelry. The beam behind the museum has worked on the restoration of some of the most precious jewels in the world, including the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom and the Saxon dynasty's Dresden Green Diamond.
More Things to Do in Amsterdam
Amsterdam is known for its canals and bridges – the city boats 165 canals and more than 1,200 bridges. One of the most popular bridges is known as the Bridge of 15 Bridges, named as such because it is the only place in Amsterdam where you can see as many as 15 of the city’s bridges. While it is a great spot any time of day, it is particularly impressive at night when the bridges are illuminated. It is also considered one of the most romantic spots in Amsterdam.
To spot all 15 bridges, make your way to Thorbeckeplein, which is adjacent to Rembrandtplein. Walk south to Herengracht and, at the intersection of Reguliersgracht and Herengracht, stand on the odd-numbered side of the street. With your back to Thorbeckeplein, you can see six bridges across the Reguliersgracht and gazing down the Herengracht to your left, you can see another six bridges. Two more bridges are visible to your right and the 15th bridge is the one you are standing on.
The Museum Van Loon is located in a fine mansion overlooking the Keizersgracht canal; it was designed by Adriaen Dortsman in 1672 and the house’s first tenant was Ferdinand Bol, a pupil of Rembrandt. Between 1884 and 1945 it was home to the Van Loon family, who founded the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie or VOC) and were one of the wealthiest families in Amsterdam. Today this is one of the few 17th-century canal-side townhouses in Amsterdam to have retained its original integrity and the elegant double-fronted mansion still stands with its vast proportions intact. It certainly reflected the Van Loon family’s elevated social standing by its sheer size, with grand apartments stuffed with Louis XV furniture, fine porcelain and precious silverware leading on to a procession of yet more ornate rooms.
Since opening its doors back in 1864, the Tropenmuseum, or ‘Museum of the Tropics’, has amassed 175,000 objects from Dutch colonies around the world, making it one of the largest museums in Amsterdam.
Split into eight sizable permanent exhibitions, the items showcase the daily life and possessions of Dutch overseas residents and provide a fascinating glimpse into the diverse cultures and traditions of inhabitants around the globe. Each exhibit focuses on a different geographical region, with Southeast Asia, South Asia, West Asia and North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, all getting a nod. Other key attractions include a vast collection of over 150,000 photographs dating from 1855–1940; a theatrical exhibition featuring masks, puppets and musical instruments from around the world; and a Junior sub-museum, with a series of interactive exhibitions and events, including dance, art and cooking, aimed at children.
Michel de Klerk was the leading architect of the early 20th-century Amsterdam School movement, and his legacy is the foremost example of the style in the city. Greatly influenced by the works of Hendrik Berlage, the designer of the Amsterdam Stock Exchange (Beurs van Berlage), De Klerk’s Het Schip is found just north of the Westerpark and was completed in 1921. It was to be his swansong, a vast apartment building intended to provide social housing for more than 100 families of railway employees to combat a severe housing crises in the city. Beautifully formed in the shape of an ocean liner and constructed from red brick, Het Schip is adorned with elaborate masonry, spiky towers, spires, ornate glass and wrought-iron grid-work. When it was completed, the complex also incorporated a school, meeting hall and a post office; the latter is today a museum of Amsterdam School architecture featuring a typical working-class apartment of the 1920s.
Located opposite Artis Royal Zoo in the Plantage, the award-winning Dutch Resistance Museum has been named as Amsterdam’s best history museum. The displays follow the story of Amsterdam in World War II, from the point of Nazi invasion of The Netherlands in May 1940 until the end of the war in May 1945. The slow build-up of Dutch resistance to their German occupiers is highlighted with the use of clever dioramas and interactive exhibits that manage to convey a sense of claustrophobia and urgency. As well as following the tragic fate of the 140,000 Amsterdam Jews murdered in Nazi concentration camps, the museum recounts the story of the 20,000 Dutch political prisoners who were sent to labor camps such as Dachau in Germany; of those 2,000 were executed and several thousand died of disease.
The chronological exhibits include propaganda posters and the underground printing presses used to produce them; newspaper clippings; interviews with resistance members.
The one-time abode of French philosopher René Descartes, Maison Descartes has become a popular attraction for French tourists, housing the French consulate and the French institute, who organize a number of cultural events in the city.
Descartes lived in the house at 6 Westermarkt, in the same block as the famous Anne Frank House, in 1635 and it remains dedicated to his memory. It was here that he wrote his final published work ‘Treatise on the Passions of the Soul’ - one of his most poignant works, allegedly inspired by his affair with maid Helena Jans Van der Strom, with whom he had a daughter, Francine.
The old heart of Amsterdam runs from the throbbing Dam Square – home of the Koninklijk Paleis (Royal Palace) – south down to the great cobbled public square of Nieuwmarkt. Once bordering a canal that was filled in around 1601, Nieuwmarkt is today packed with bars and cafés and is the gateway to both Chinatown and the Red Light District, which lies a couple of streets west between the parallel canals of Oudezijds Voorburgwaal and Oudezijds Achterburgwaal. The central focus of Nieuwmarkt is the city’s last surviving fortified gate; constructed around 1425, the spiky-spired De Waag sits in the middle of the plaza and was originally one of three entrance gates into the city through the fortified walls.
Currently under renovation (penned to finish before summer 2015), the upper stories of De Waag are only occasionally open for special exhibitions but its lower floors are occupied by the Restaurant-Café in de Waag, which serves drink and food all day long
Whether you’re looking to catch the latest blockbuster or attend a celebrity-studded film premiere, the coolest place to watch a movie in Amsterdam is at the sumptuous Tuschinski movie theater, located on the city’s most famous square, Rembrandtplein.Whether you’re looking to catch the latest blockbuster or attend a celebrity-studded film premiere, the coolest place to watch a movie in Amsterdam is at the sumptuous Tuschinski movie theater, located on the city’s most famous square, Rembrandtplein.
The modern cinema has made a name for itself among the new generation of cinema-goers, for its plush, comfortable seating and beautifully restored interiors. Intricate stained glass windows, marble pillars, chiseled bronze works and hand-embroidered carpets shipped in from Morocco, all lend an air of tasteful opulence and a stunning collection of artwork and elaborate murals adorn the walls.
The miniscule but informative Tulip Museum is just across Prinsengracht canal from the Anne Frank House and has recently has a major revamp. The all-new displays take a colourful and cheery look at Amsterdam’s obsession with tulips in the 17th century, when the bulbs were imported from the Himalayas and sold on the open market in The Netherlands. For years they were more highly prized than gold and prices became so over-inflated that the country nearly went bankrupt when trade in the bulbs collapsed in 1637. This sorry tale of national folly is related in a series of basement exhibitions alongside cleverly designed woodcuts showing the journey of tulips from the Far East into Europe. Today’s multi-million-euro Dutch bulb industry is also showcased against the stunning backdrop of vast photos of tulips in glorious technicolor that adorn the walls. On the ground level of the museum is one of Amsterdam’s classier souvenir stores.
As the name might suggest, the Homomonument, located in the center of Amsterdam, pays homage to the struggles of gay men and women fighting for equity and freedom. The memorial, which includes three large pink granite triangles, was opened in 1987 and is the first in the world to honor gays and lesbians who lost their lives at the hands of Nazis. In 2011, another such monument was erected in Barcelona that was modeled after the famous Homomonument.
Travelers looking to explore the history and culture of Amsterdam may want to include a visit to this iconic destination en route to the Anne Frank museum. Travelers say that while it’s easy to miss, the pink triangle monument recognizing some 600,000 who died during the Holocaust.
Amsterdam is a city crammed with museums and galleries, but for the definitive history of the city itself, head to the Historisch Museum, or the Amsterdam Historical Museum, located just off Kalverstraat shopping street.
From its origins as a tiny, riverside settlement to the modern sprawling metropolis, the museum’s permanent exhibitions trace the city’s evolution. Exhibits feature everything from Dutch trading to bicycle use in the city, with special rooms focusing on WWII, gay rights and the city’s famously liberal drug policies. Interactive displays, a series of paintings by the Dutch Old Masters and a 17th-century style reconstructed café liven things up.
The Historical Museum is housed in a 17th century building, formerly home to the City Orphanage, and its classical facade is still adorned with the Amsterdam Coat of Arms above its entrance. Inside, rooms are circled around a central courtyard and the David & Goliath restaurant.
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