Amsterdam has long had the reputation of Europe’s “anything goes” capital city. From the red light district with prostitutes in the windows and sex museums to the cannabis cafes, it has always been a popular destination for anyone looking for a debauched weekend.
However, new rules have recently come in and the city has cleaned up its act somewhat, meaning that around a third of the brothels have been shut down and now non-Dutch citizens cannot buy drugs in the cafes.
This is great news because while Amsterdam has always been home to some of history’s finest paintings, the seedier nature of the city may have previously put art lovers, (along with many other people), off. Now it seems Amsterdam has become a city break destination for everyone; not only will culture vultures appreciate the huge collection of Van Goghs, Rembrants and Vermeers in the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum (temporarily being homed at the Hermitage Museum), but romantics can cycle through the network of 165 sweet little canals and fashonistas will love the designer shopping in New Bond Street equivalent, Pieter Cornelius Hooftstraat.
Along with the obvious museums and art galleries, no trip to Amsterdam would be complete without a visit to Anne Frank’s house – the house turned museum where Jewish teenage girl Anne wrote a diary of her time in hiding from the Nazis in occupied Holland during the Second World War. Moving and emotional, this experience will tug on every visitors’ heartstrings.
If you find yourself with a few minutes to spare, many of Amsterdam’s houses have secret gardens hidden behind their huge fronts. Begjinhof, a 15th century convent, situated in a tiny courtyard garden, which despite its position right in the city centre, is almost completely silent from the traffic and hustle and bustle outside. The entrance can be found behind an unimposing wooden door next to the American bookshop which sits on the corner of Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal.
Heading up towards Centraal station are many little jetties offering boat tours of the canal networks. Despite being unashamedly touristy, these trips give you a fascinating insight into the history of Amsterdam, from the imposing merchants’ gabled houses to the 650-odd houseboat dwellers and their alternative way of living.
The largest open space in Amsterdam is Vondelpark, a 120 acre space perfect for walking, picnicking and sports. If you are visiting in summer, check out what is on in the open air theatre as there are performance of dance, music and theatre. In keeping with the sleazier character of Amsterdam, in 2008 it was decided that heterosexual sex would be permitted in the evenings and night-times in Vondelpark, although this ruling was later retracted!!!
Finally, well worth a wander around is Jordaan district – an upmarket residential area to the west of the city with lovely one off shops and a buzzing cafe culture (of the non drugs variety). There is also a market, Lindenmarkt, which sells clothes, books and bric a brac, as well as food, and an organic farmers’ market on a Saturday – the Noordermarkt.