Amsterdam, long known for being Europe’s capital of sex and drugs, has much more to offer than that. Let’s be honest, the first thing that comes to mind when we think of Amsterdam is the Red Light District and all of its delights. In previous centuries, it was known as a centre for trade with its many ports and guilds(read The Miniaturist for a great tale of these), things are slightly different these days. Whilst the delights are enticing, there is so much more to this fascinating city and it’s surrounds. There is a reason that you will mostly find tourists in the Red Light District, the locals have something more exciting to do, and with Amsterdam being a European City of Culture, there is a little something to excite everyone.
I have visited Amsterdam a number of times so here some #mustsees, including sites within the Red Light District, if you must!
- Anne Frank Huis – this isa cultural must. Renovated recently and a now with a self guided tour, you can walk through the tiny hideout of the Frank family. There are videos and photos of Anne and much heartbreak and sadness to witness. My advice is to book your time in advance, as it does sell out.
- Rijks museum – this is one of the most beautiful buildings in Amsterdam. Its imposing presence on the canal on one side and the IAMSTERDAM sign on the other, it is very popular with tourists. The building itself is an attraction, but inside there are a number of exhibitions, with something for everyone.
- The Sex Museum– yes, I know, I know. This is not for the prudish, but if you are prudish, best you stay away from the Red Light District. This museum has all manner of artifacts to look at, as well as wondering, “how does that work?” There are a number of vintage cartoons and cartoons to make all have a wee giggle. This place does not seem to take itself too seriously and it is a bit of a relief.
- The Condomerie – whilst in Amsterdam, or elsewhere, we should all practice safe sex. Some of what The Condomerie sells is not for actual use, more of an amusement, but it interesting to see what designs you can have! They also stock vegan and latex free condoms as well as many different lubricants. There is something for everyone, presented in typical open Dutch fashion.
- The Red Light District at night– again, not for the prudish. The women in the windows are there to entice you in, and are showing their wares to all who pass. My first time in the District, I was fascinated to see one lady being bought dinner on a plate, by what looked like her mother. The society here is very open and accepting of the worlds oldest trade. Whilst you are there, check out a sexshow. These again are not for the fainthearted, they range from light hearted to hardcore. The most famous of these is Casa Rosso – this is more light hearted, with some voluntary audience participation and two drinks included in the entry price. This is also the district of cafes that will sell you cannabis and mushroom products. You will see a number of blissed out tourists wandering the streets and eating in the numerous late night bakeries. Make sure that as you walk around, you try the hot chips with satay sauce on them, a Dutch delicacy!
- The Heineken Museum – this famous tour is very interactive, giving guests a chance to follow the journey of the beer from hops to its bottled form. There is even a chance to practice your pour to attain the perfect head. There are samples to try at the end!
- The flower markets – these are floating on the canal on a giant barge and are just lovely. Here you can buy all manner of traditional tulips and other plants. There are lovely gift shops that stock cute nick nacks and Amsterdam souvenirs.
- Vondelpark – if you want a nice walk or in the summer to sit on the grass and relax, then this is a very popular place. There are playgrounds, an open air cinema, lots of trails and lovely meeting places. A beautiful play to take some respite from the tourists and relax.
There are also a number of easy day trips that can be done from Amsterdam when you are ready for a break from “the debauchery.”
- Zaanse Schans – this is a working windmill village that can be visited all year round. There are different windmills for different products such as chocolate and hops. All have a small shop attached where you can sample their wares and take some back with you. The village is chocolate box cute, and wandering around it, feels a bit like you have gone back in time. My top tip is to visit the De Hoop op d’Swarte Walvis and order the chefs choice menu. The food is a surprise and you will not be disappointed. So tasty and delish.
- Utrech – the home of Dick Bruna, who wrote and illustrated Miffy, who you will find in pretty much every gift shop in Holland, this gorgeous town is worth a visit. There are churches, a Miffy Museum, cute walks along the canal with beautiful artisan stores, and of course even a sex shop or two. It is accessed by train and is the right mix of upmarket and hipster.
- Delft– this one is next on my list, as there is always something that has to be saved for next time. An hour from Amsterdam, there are again, cobblestoned streets and old churches for those so inclined, as well as some gorgeous figurines or earthenware for which the town is famous.
So there you have it. There is something for everyone in Amsterdam. I personally enjoy walking around the city, getting lost and found again. Eating at the various specialty stores along the way and taking in the scenery. One of my fav moments on my visit this year involved a book, an Aperol spritz and a view of the flower market, in the 30 degree heat. Do yourself a favor and visit Amsterdam sometime soon.
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Photos by Nicola Whyte