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Rebekah Joy
Rebekah Joy

One of the European greats, Amsterdam is a picturesque city of canals and tolerance, a great tribute to the Dutch people and the many other nationalities that live there. Amsterdam is home to world famous museums, the notorious ‘coffee shops’, a jaw dropping red-light district, quaint house boats moored on the Amstel River, hundreds of bridges and canal boat rides. This small bustling city is the fifth busiest tourist destination in Europe, receiving more than four million international visitors per year....(I wonder if my numerous trips counted for a large number of them?).

Despite Amsterdam’s reputation, there is tons to do and see. The three cultural highlights would have to be the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gough Museum or the Anne Frank House. Any of these will blow your mind...and probably your time. Rain, shine or hail, visitor’s line up to see these top sights all year round. Queues can be extensive and time consuming. As I was only in Amsterdam for the odd weekend, I avoided the wait by buying my tickets online on the museum websites.

The city itself is small and can easily be visited in a day. The Rijksmuseum was founded in 1800 and contains works by such masters as Jacob van Ruysdael, Frans Hals and Rembrandt. In summer they often offer a packed picnic in the museum grounds between the Rijks and the Van Gogh museum. This is a thrifty way to enjoy the two museums and lunch all at once. Check the museum's website for activities and events. If you haven’t been blown away by all that art drop into (maybe drop in isn’t the right word if you haven't pre-booked your tickets) the nearby Van Gough museum. When I went there were live DJ's and wine and cheese. It certainly put a new spin on some old favourites.

I was also really touched by the haunting Anne Frank Museum. Not for the faint hearted the museum is the actual site of where eight people hid for two years during the war. The rooms and relics have all been maintained in their authentic state. If you’re interested in that kind of stuff the pamphlet "Persecution and Resistance in Amsterdam" takes you on a self-guided walk to the Dutch Resistance Museum and its impressive World War II exhibits. Its about 2 euros and is a good way to explore the city.

When its dark follow the pink and red lights. The infamous Red Light District (or Rossebuurt, as it is known in Dutch) leaves nothing to the imagination. It is certainly an eye opener. Brothels, sex shops, fashion boutiques and even museums coexist amongst the seediness. The illuminated district is set amongst one of the oldest and most beautiful parts of the city. Cobbled streets and charming fourteenth century architecture make an elegant backdrop for the odd red-fringed window parlors. My friend explained that many of the windows that once displayed prostitutes now display the latest fashions and designs. The Red Light District is slowly taking flight, newer and cheaper cities in the E.U are apparently now the scene.

After the Red Light District it was time to explore what the ‘buzz’ was all about at one of Amsterdam’s unique but seedier tourist attractions. The controversial coffee shops are popular for backpackers from around the world who cant believe the liberal freedom of Amsterdam. They flock in their hundreds to experience being able to smoke a joint in public. I'm pretty sure that Amsterdam is the only city in the world where the term coffee shop actually means a place where cannabis is openly sold and smoked. My Dutch friends didn’t really want to come in, ‘it’s for tourists!’ they laughed. While coffee shops in Amsterdam do sell coffee, visitors looking for just a caffeine hit should head for a ‘café’. The inclusion of the Netherlands to the E.U has but a bit of a spin on the coffee shop industry as the European Union demands a smoke free Europe. While compliance is compulsory, the Dutch coffee shops have so far managed to avoid persecution as long as no tobacco is mixed in with the marijuana.

Don’t be put off visiting Amsterdam if the red light district or the coffee shops aren’t your thing, they can be easily avoided. There are plenty of alternative attractions to do and see, take a canal boat tour, hire a bike or enjoy the art in Vondelpark. Amsterdam is an easy and delightful place to explore.


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