As Eurostar announces a new direct train to Amsterdam – a city celebrated for its art, culture and coffee houses not to mention its legendary tolerance and pragmatism – TNT shares how to spend a weekend in the delightful Dutch capital
On yer bike
Amsterdam is a city of 750,000 people and 600,000 bicycles – undoubtedly the best way to explore and enjoy this refreshingly compact city. One caveat: before you clamber on your bike, be warned that the Dutch are aggressive cyclists. Stay safe by sticking to the designated cycle lanes and ring your bell loudly, when nec-essary, to warn others of your imminent approach.
Pay your respects to the amazing Anne Frank
Open every day from 9am-10pm (April-Oct) and 9am-7pm (Nov-March) and visited by more than one million people a year, the Anne Frank House is where the legendary Jewish girl, and her family, hid in a bid way to escape the Nazis before being mysteriously betrayed to the Gestapo in August 1944. Anne’s father, Otto, was the only member of the Frank family to survive and after the war he published his daughter’s diary which today has been translated into 60 languages. Tickets can be booked two months in advance for timed entry between 9am and 3.30pm. Not that organized? Tickets are available on the door after 3.30pm.
Red Light District (RLD)
No visit to Amsterdam is complete without a wander around the infamous Red Light District (RLD) where tourists are juxtaposed alongside drug dealers, pimps and yes, prostitutes. The ‘girls’ pay around 60 to 100 euro a day to rent their window and typically charge 50 euro for a 15-minute encounter. Strange but true: only five percent of the women working in the red-light district were born in Holland – the lion’s share of the prostitutes hail from Eastern Europe, with randy Brits accounting for 40 per cent of their ‘business’.
When you need to escape city life, venture to Vondelpark – Amsterdam’s answer to New York’s Central Park – which is as much a part of the city as the coffee shops and canals. A playground for people from all walks of life, Vondelpark is named after the poet and playwright Joost van del Vondel who passed away in 1679. Head here to relax, to read a book, rollerblade or simply share a spliff with mates. Well, when in Rome…
Shop to it
Fantastic retail therapy is another of Amsterdam’s short break draws. The two most popular areas are Nine Streets – chock full of independent boutiques – and Kalverstraat. The latter is a busy shopping street that boasts a branch of Hema, a funky urban lifestyle store that’s a veritable Amsterdam institution. Then make a beeline for Bijenkorf – Amsterdam’s famous department store – before checking out Bloemenmarkt, a colourful canal side flower market that has been in existence since the 1860s.
Amsterdam is home to an array of coffee shops and cafes. Confused as to the dif-ference between the two? Allow TNT to enlighten you… While, in Amsterdam, a coffeeshop does sell coffee (and often alcohol), cannabis is king. The most his-toric and famous type of cafe is the ‘brown cafe’ – so called because the walls have been stained by centuries of cigarette smoke. Meanwhile beer cafes, as the name suggests, serve beer – often up to a whopping 300 varieties.
Art is everywhere in Amsterdam but Museum Het Rembrandthuis – a beautifully restored house dating from 1606 where Rembrandt lived and worked during the peak of his painting career – is especially worth visiting for its near complete collection of the painter’s etchings.
The Van Gogh Museum which houses some 200 paintings and 500 drawings by Vincent Van Gogh – the self-taught painter who came to be regarded as one of art’s greatest – is another must. Expect to see famous paintings including The Potato Eaters (1885), The Yellow House in Arles (1888), The Bedroom (1888) and Wheatfield with Crows (1890) which Van Gogh completed shortly before his sui-cide. TNT’s tip: visit on a Friday night when cocktails and live music fill the vast new entrance hall until 10pm.
The former workers’ quarter is now the city’s hippest neighbourhood, packed full of pubs, cafes, shops and art galleries that are sure to grab your attention. Next check out Jordaan’s trademark hofjes – houses surrounding small greenery filled courtyards that were built for widows and funded by wealthy Amsterdammers in the 17th Century – before finishing up in Johnny Jordaanplein. In this shady little square, you’ll find a painted hut adorned with the lyric from a song by Johnny Jordaan (the pseudonym of popular musician Johannes Hendricus van Musscher), “Amsterdam, wat bent je mooi” which means “Amsterdam, how beautiful you are.”
Words by Kaye Holland