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The Van Gogh Museum is home to the largest collection of Van Gogh paintings and drawings in the world. (Photo by Zoe Roos/elan )
Canals divide the city, making navigation quite simple. (Photo by Zoe Roos/elan )
Iconic Dutch friet cones are easily found throughout the city. (Photo by Zoe Roos/elan )
No trip to Amsterdam would be complete without a glimpse of wooden shoes. (Photo by Zoe Roos/elan )
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Traveling to see flowers in spring isn't exactly a "groundbreaking" concept, but when it comes to visiting Amsterdam, a trip in the spring is worth the cliché. It's a city that embraces all the best Dutch staples – tulips, large wooden shoes, fries – but also boasts an impressive amount of art, history, and culture, making Amsterdam a city that shouldn't be overlooked.
The capital city of the Netherlands, Amsterdam is in a northern province of the country and is a port city. The city is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe and those tourism numbers continue to climb. With such a strong tourism industry, Amsterdam can be as loud and bustling as any other European city, but the design of the city coupled with a pleasant lack of automobile traffic provides a noticeable sense of calm not often found in metropolitan areas.
Famous canals divide the city, forming a series of half concentric circles that begin in the city's center and build out to the suburbs. The canals make navigating the city quite simple, and they play a key role in tourism as there are canal cruises a plenty. However, if you hope to get around the way the Dutch do, grab a bicycle. Amsterdam is one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the world. People of all ages bike to work, and school, and renting a bike is by far the most cost-effective way to get around the city. As an incentive, if you bike as a tourist you can eliminate any possible guilt over consuming multiple portions of fries.
Amsterdam has a number of highly ranked restaurants but, in this writer's personal opinion, all the five-star restaurants in the world can't hold a candle to the iconic Dutch friet cones – cones filled with fries and then slathered in mayonnaise. There are some famous spots like the Frietboutique to find the fries, but as fries are a Dutch staple, there are plenty of places to purchase friet cones and it's hard to go wrong when talking about fried potato.
The city also boasts a number of markets including the famous Floating Flower Market. Located along the Singel canal, flowers are brought in fresh every day and displayed on floating barges. Here, tourists can buy tulips and tulip bulbs, but if you want to see the tulips before they are cut, you have to venture a little bit outside the city.
Located near the city are the Keukenhof Flower Gardens. The gardens are typically only open from March to May, boasting millions of flowers in full bloom. Photos of the gardens just don't do it justice.
It might seem odd to spend time indoors during the spring season, but Amsterdam's museums are not to be missed. The Van Gogh Museum holds over 200 paintings including some of his most famous works like Sunflowers, The Potato Eaters, and The Bedroom. Located nearby is The Rijksmuseum, dedicated to arts and history in the city. The museum has over 8,000 works on display including works by Rembrandt and Frans Hals.
One of city's most visited museums, however, boasts no massive collection or large structure. In fact, if not for the long queue of visitors, most might walk right past it as they wander the canals. The Anne Frank House, the hiding place where Anne Frank wrote her famous diary during World War II, is in the center of the city. Her diary is on display as part of the permanent collection of the museum and temporary exhibits focus on anti-Semitism and persecution of the Jews in WWII. The hiding space or secret annex the family used is a preserved to this day as part of the museum.
Amsterdam proudly promotes its museums, cuisine, and even its wooden shoes, but a couple of the city's more notorious attractions are noticeably absent from any brochures or travel sites, mainly because of abuse by tourists. Prostitution is legal in Amsterdam and De Wallen, more commonly known as the Red Light District, draws millions of people each year. The city is currently considering major changes to the area, however.
The Red Light District is also home to a large majority of the city's legal marijuana dispensaries, commonly known as Coffeeshops. The shops have to be licensed and every shop has a menu to order from. However, overeager foreign tourists have developed quite the reputation in the city for purchasing marijuana, failing to heed the warning that cannabis products in Amsterdam are much stronger than that found in other countries, and taking too much. So, while marijuana is legal, the Dutch have little tolerance for tourists who can't handle a hit.
Plan Your Visit
Numerous airlines fly into the Netherlands and plenty of connections can be picked up out of the major London and Paris airports. If traveling via Paris, there is also the option to take a train from Paris to Amsterdam which is just a lot more fun than getting on another plane but also lets tourists see more of the countryside before they reach the city.
Once in Amsterdam, there are plenty of hotels to choose from. The city has a wealth of boutique hotels and various apartment rental options, which can be more relaxing if planning for a long stay.
Rent a bike. It's the best way to get around but fair warning, if you don't bike often, maybe try to get your sea legs back before your visit. The Dutch, and rightfully so, did laugh at me when I tipped off my bike at a stoplight.
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