Culture, cafes... and other things to do in Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Amsterdam: a picture-perfect European city, with beautiful canals and people cycling, but with a darker (or maybe it’s red-hued?) edge. That’s what I like about it - sugarily pretty, but with salty elements, much like fried chicken and waffles or bacon and pancakes, mm mm mmmm.

I went to the city over four years ago now, but a return visit often plays on mind, especially now the Eurostar is an option. If you’re thinking of doing a long weekend, or maybe a week-long trip, you’ve gotta be sure to check out some (or all, tbf) these impressive stops.

Churches

While not everyone is religious, there’s no arguing with the beauty of churches - or most religious buildings, to be honest. Amsterdam is no exception and its most famed is the 17th-century Westerkirk. With its towering spire, it’s pretty hard to miss… as are the queues to the Anne Frank Haus next door. A great idea to go explore this beauty is to travel with others and take turns visiting the church next door, while some wait in the queue. Although the architecture was fabulous, I was most impressed by the candle holder in the shape of a bush; a literal burning bush. Be wary of the early closing times though.

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Museums

As mentioned, next door is the Anne Frank Haus and an absolute must-visit in Amsterdam. Like many others who went to school in England, I learned in great detail about the 13 year old and the horrendous things her family and community went through, but it was really something else to see the actual house in person. The tiny corridors, the dark rooms, everything - it was really sobering. You can see the diary itself when you head downstairs to the artefact section of the museum.

Rijksmuseum is another one to tick off. I was lucky enough to visit when the big ‘I am Amsterdam’ sign still sat outside and I got the obligatory pic after strolling the spellbinding paintings. From Rembrandt’s grand canvases to cool installations (there’s one I really loved about sitting in a dark box after seeing something incredible so your brain can process the beauty), you can spend hours exploring. Another great art museum is the Picasso Museum - it was another subject we studied intently at school, like Anne Frank’s diary, which was brought to life for me on this trip.

Canals, parks and cafes

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In front of the Picasso Museum is the sprawling Vondelpark, a great spot for a picnic or to catch your breath after a whirlwind sightseeing tour. Locals seem to come here at lunch, kids play frisbee - when we went in August, it was a picture-perfect summer spot.

In a similar vein, be sure to get on a boat around the city’s defining canals. We used the tour cruise as a sort of mode of transport, like I often do with sightseeing buses - get your bearings, but also use it as a great way to get from landmark to landmark from the hotel. You’ll learn a lot about the city, for example, why the buildings are slightly tilted and why they have cool hooks at the top.

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From alfresco eateries to those brownies, Amsterdam’s cafe culture is renowned - and it wouldn’t be an authentic experience without a visit to one of the latter. We probably timed our one and only visit a little weirdly; we went during the afternoon before we flew home. Whoops. Less said about that the better. You can smoke or eat the good stuff, and there are different strengths. Top tip: the weakest options are pretty weak, so if you want to feel something, you’ll need to choose from the menu accordingly.

Take a stroll

Amsterdam is so pretty that, sometimes, there’s no need to have a plan; just stroll. We stayed not too far from Dam Square, the equivalent of London’s Leicester Square, which while packed with tourist, is still a great spot to stroll through. We pretty much stumbled across the infamous Red Light District not too far from here and, I’ll be honest, it really wasn’t as seedy as you’d think. In the evening August light, with the atmospheric red glow, families strolled through the area, commuters storming past, just like on any street. I don’t mean to demean or cause offence with my comments, but you could almost liken it to living Barbies in their boxes until you remember why they’re gesturing for you to come closer.

For something a little more wholesome, just before you head home, don’t miss the daily Floating Flower Market, where you can buy a whole range of flora. The vendors will be happy to advise you on what you can and can’t carry back overseas.