Amsterdam – Beyond the Red Light District & Coffee Shops



by Wendy Foster-DeGroot,

Amsterdam is a trendy and culture-rich destination for a day, a weekend or longer.

Mention taking a trip to Amsterdam and often the first thoughts are of the Red Light District or the narcotic offerings from the coffee shops. But Amsterdam has come a long way from its seedy reputation of the last few decades and is emerging as one of the trendier places to see and be seen in Europe.

Even the Red Light District is going through a transformation as artists and craftspeople are moving in and setting up shops and studios. This is part of the city’s attempt to reclaim valuable real estate and cut down on the organized crime that had increased in that area over the past few years.

See Amsterdam by Canal

Canal boats can pick up and drop off visitors just about anywhere in the city and provide the atmosphere for the city’s deserved title of Venice of the north. A canal tour is a must for anyone visiting Amsterdam for the first time, giving a charming perspective of the city’s thousands of tall, narrow townhouses squeezed together, each showing individual style, wealth and innovation in how they have evolved with the city.

People watching in the cafes or bars that line many streets is an another wonderful way to get the relaxed yet lively feel of the place. Cycles are everywhere and even those are stylish, inventive and diverse. Children are transported around in the front of bikes in large crate-like carriers, on child seats at the back or on little seats on the crossbar with small wind visors on the handlebars to protect them. Hardly anyone wears cycle helmets but it doesn’t seem to be an issue as cycles appear to be a dominant form of transportation around the city. Cars tend to give way and fit in where they can, often precariously parked inches from the river’s edge.

Art in Amsterdam

Many museums and galleries have also received a makeover in Amsterdam. Most notable is the Hermitage Amsterdam. The building was a home for the elderly for over 300 years and has recently been converted into a stunning gallery to house rotating exhibitions from the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. The modern facilities and stunning artwork on display make this a must visit location.

Other museums well worth a visit include the Anne Frank House, the Riksmuseum, and the Van Gogh Museum. The Stedelijk Museum is reopened since March 2011 after being closed for a while for it’s expansion.

The city is surprisingly easy to navigate and it is a pleasure to just walk around taking in the sites and enjoying the cosmopolitan scenes. Every turn offers an interesting vignette. Fill a day or a week and still go back for more.

The Dutch are friendly, fun and multilingual-almost everyone speaks at least 3 languages and often more!

Useful information can be found at the official Amsterdam tourism site.

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