Europe’s den of sin or cultural capital? Up to you.
We’ve made it to the big post about Amsterdam, the infamous Dutch capital! To answer your two most pressing questions first: yes, I went to a sex show and the De Wallen Red district and legal prostitution will have a separate post soon and no, I didn’t get high – not because I’m a prude, but because it just didn’t feel fun or safe to do it by myself. And for your probable follow-up question: I felt quite safe in Amsterdam as a solo female traveller, even in the Red district, although I made sure not to stay out too late. Since there are so many things to do in Amsterdam and I was there several times during my month in the Netherlands in April 2022, I have tried to trim down this post, but it will still be very long. 🙂
You probably already know most of the famous attractions in Amsterdam like the Anne Frank house and the nearby Homomonument to the persecuted LGBTQ+ people, the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh museum in the Museum Quarter, the Botanical gardens, the Rembrandt house, the Heineken experience and so on. I actually skipped most of these, not because they aren’t interesting (although I am not really big fan of Van Gogh), but because they were overcrowded and art museums are usually huge and would have taken a lot of time that I chose to spend on other, somewhat more unique attractions. The ones I chose are highlighted in the following sections.
As a capital city Amsterdam is a vibrant, busy place, but it somehow felt less hectic than other big cities and I loved strolling through all the colourful central streets with beautiful canals and historical houses. There are lots of interesting artsy shops everywhere and their second hand game is quite strong, so I now own a nice pullover and some household items. I enjoyed exploring all different vibes on offer, like the iconic Royal palace, the 15 century De Nieuwe Kerk church and the Dam square in the fancy Royal Mile quarter, or all the parks and brunch spots in the hipster De Pijp neighbourhood. If you want a good brunch, I can recommend Omelegg or Little Collins (killer Bloody Mary!) + I’ve heard good things about Yerba, but make sure to arrive early because apparently brunch is a competitive sport in Amsterdam. If you want something on the cheap, the De Soepbar soup + snack place is also nice and there are tons of places to get a beer and some typical Dutch pub food, like this brewery in a windmill. If that’s your thing, Amsterdam is of course famous for its coffee shops where you can legally get marijuana or hash and they are impossible to miss, as well as a lot of LGBTQ+ bars and clubs.
Impressions of Amsterdam
Life on the Water
Like most Dutch cities, Amsterdam is also famous for its canals and there are still about 2500 houseboat around the city that people live in. Houseboats became popular as a solution to the Dutch housing crisis after WW2 and they are moored at specific permanent addresses. You need a permit to live in one, so they are part of the regular real estate market and they are not cheap. You can also book a houseboat as temporary accommodation or have dinner in one of the boat restaurants, but if you want to see what a traditional houseboat looked like, you can visit the Houseboat musuem. It showcases a Dutch family home boat from 1914 and it is a lovely experience. There is also a cat sanctuary boat called De Poezenboot where you can play with stray cats for 2 hours per day, provided you manage to beat the crowds.
THE MARITIME MUSEUM
While we are on the topic of boats, the Dutch National Maritime museum has one of the world’s largest maritime collections, including a replica of an 18th century East Indiaman ship, which you can fully explore and play around in. The rest of the museum is more formal and probably less interesting if you are not an enthusiast, but some of the highlights for me were the golden Royal barge and all the different ship figureheads, because clearly none of the Dutch artists had seen a lion before. The Maritime museum is located opposite the NEMO science museum, which I didn’t have time to visit, but it looks really cool because it is shaped like a boat and apparently its roof is an interesting attraction by itself.
Micropia Microbe zoo
One of my favourite things in Amsterdam and probably the most unique one there was Micropia, a sort of a crossover between a museum and a microbe zoo. Their unique exhibition covers everything about the invisible world of bacteria, archaea, viruses, fungi and other microorganisms. You can observe them under microscopes and through interactive displays, learn about their usefulness and adverse effects and even see the inside of their biotechnology lab. I would not recommend Micropia for germaphobes though, because as their intro text below says, microbes are everywhere and the exhibition will show you exactly quite how many and how prevalent they really are.
“You can’t see them, but they’re here.From the introductory text of Micropia.
They are on you. In you. And you’ve got more than a hundred thousand billion of them.
They’re with you when you eat, when you breathe, when you kiss.
They are everywhere. On your hands. And in your belly.
And they meddle in everything.
They shape your world:
what you smell, and what you taste;
whether you get sick, or get better.
They can save us or destroy us.
Microbes: the smallest and most powerful organisms on our planet.”
P.S.: You must take a selfie with the giant tardigrade, the coolest critter on Earth!
The Cheese Museum
As you know, the Netherlands is a cheese country and I am a cheese person, so naturally I had to visit the Cheese museum. It is honestly rather small and quirky, so the shop upstairs where you can try about a 100 different types of cheese is more interesting, but the museum does have a photo booth with stupid signs, which is why I now own a horrid cheese photo.
Body Worlds: The Happiness Project
Another fascinating attraction you can find in Amsterdam is the Body Worlds exhibition. Apparently this exhibition of preserved human bodies toured the world for a few years and everyone and their grandmother went to see it when it was in Slovenia, but somehow I hadn’t until Amsterdam. The theme of the exhibition slightly changes every few years, but the overall goal is to teach visitors about anatomy and (very graphically) demonstrate how our everyday choices effect our health, happiness and quality of life. If this exhibition won’t make you rethink your lifestyle and inspire you to make better choices, I don’t know what will. The willingly donated bodies are preserved through a special process called plastination where the bodies are impregnated with a polymer solution in vacuum so that all the anatomical structures are perfectly preserved, but remain pliant so that the bodies can be positioned as needed to showcase different activities and the effects on the body.
The Tot Zover Funeral Museum
For the final unique thing in Amsterdam we have the Tot Zover museum of life and death, which is quite literally a museum about how humans around the world deal with death. It dives into the diversity of funeral rites, because we can learn a lot about our time and society from how we face our mortality and honour our ancestors. It is a small museum located next to a cemetery (of course) and I thoroughly recommend a walk through the grounds after your visit to reflect on the experience and to see that Balkan immigrants always have the most fabulous gravestones.
I also wanted to go to the interactive Nxt media art museum, the museum of electronic music and culture called Our House, the Moco museum of contemporary art, the Electric Ladyland museum of flourescent art and perhaps even the WONDR Experience, which is essentially made for taking pretty social media photos and probably feels like a dystopic experiment, as well as so many other places, but I had to pick and choose due to time constraints.
Hopefully you can now see that the opening sentence is not a provocation at all – what your experience of Amsterdam will be like is entirely up to you. You can choose to visit all the museums and foodie places, or go partying in the Red district until dawn (or both), but all places always have more than one side and I quite liked Amsterdam. Whatever you do, don’t forget to try a stroopwafel and check out the Rubber duck store, because it is hilarious (not sponsored, but I wish it was).