Reading Time: 11 minutes
Seriously, what’s there to write about Amsterdam that hasn’t been written before?
I mean, everybody knows about the Red Light District and the coffee shops. Oh wait, there is the Van Gogh museum as well. There, we’ve covered “what to do in” Amsterdam.
And to be honest, if you do just that you can probably have a perfectly good time in Amsterdam. I say probably because I don’t smoke and I am not into Van Gogh so I try to avoid 2 out of the 3 places. As for the 3rd… Well, the RLD has some nice bars there (yes, there is more than just windows) and it’s fun to watch the faces of tourists when you show them around but it’s really not my thing either.
So what is there to do in Amsterdam that doesn’t include those 3 things? Trust me, there is enough left for you to see or do. I suggest you just wander around (anybody that knows me knows I like to wander) and that you take in the sights as they come. However, to help you get started, I’ll just suggest a route (to see a map click this link: http://bit.ly/1PjYUvn) that you can do in a couple of hours. It will take you past several sights I consider worth seeing and will give you an impression of the center of Amsterdam. For now I’m going to assume you arrived by train. Don’t worry if you didn’t, you can just go to Central Station and join us there. Ok, ready? Then let’s go!
We will leave Central Station through the main entrance and will turn left once we’re outside. Soon we’ll see a bridge on our right hand side. We’ll go and cross the bridge and will find ourselves in front of the Basilica of St Nicholas. It’s pretty much the first “sight” you see after leaving the station. I say “pretty much” because, if you haven’t done so yet, just turn around and look at the station itself.
Centraal Station is considered to be one of Amsterdam’s sights itself and was designed by the same architect who also designed the Rijksmuseum (national museum), Pierre Cuypers, and is one of the heritage sites in the Netherlands. As it’s still in use Centraal station and it’s the second busiest railway station in the Netherlands it’s also the most visited heritage site in the Netherlands.
Ps, as you’ve probably noticed, I’ve included links for points of interest. These links will take you to Wikipedia where you can find out a bit more about the sites than the summary I will give you.
Once you’re fed up with the Basilica and the station keep walking along the street (in the direction that we were going) until you get to Zeedijk. Turn left onto Zeedijk but then immediately turn right again into the alley (St Olofspoort). I’m leaving Zeedijk off the tour today but you can always go and visit it yourself at another point in time if you’re so inclined. St Olofspoort turns into Warmoesstraat, one of the oldest streets in Amsterdam. Keep walking down this street till you see see “Oudebrugssteeg”. Once there turn right into Oudebrugssteeg and keep walking until you come to Damrak. It’s the first big street you see with trams running down it so you can’t really miss it. Just in case there is any doubt though, it’s the big street that goes straight up to Centraal station on your right hand side.
We are going to turn left and are now walking on Damrak. The building we’re passing (on our left side) is the Beurs van Berlage. This used to be the commodity exchange until late last century when the exchange was shut down. These days the Beurs van Berlage is used as an exhibition and conference center and it’s accessible to the public.
When you’re done checking out the Beurs continue walking in the direction you were already going. We’ll pass a tiny square (again on our left side) and then we’ll come to the next building, De Bijenkorf (a department store). De Bijenkorf is housed in another classic building and it often has some of the best window displays during the holiday season. It’s also a favourite among tourist because of their application of the shop in shop concept through which they host brands like Louis Vuitton. If you brought a well filled wallet or a bunch of credit cards feel free to go crazy!
After leaving (or passing) De Bijenkorf you’ll get to Dam square. Home of the Royal Palace, De Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) and the National monument. Granted, the Royal palace was never designed as such (it was designed to be the city hall which is was for more than 150 years) nor is it really used as a one. But as it’s been designated “palace” for several hundred years now so we’ll just go with that. If you’re curious to see what it looks like on the inside, it’s open all days except Monday.
When you feel it’s time to move on we’re going to change direction just a bit. Stand in front of the palace, facing the building and look to your left. You’ll see a shopping street (Kalverstraat) which is where we’ll be heading next. Don’t worry, I won’t force you to shop (although feel free to) but it’s the easiest way to get to our next destination, het Begijnhof.
For now just go down Kalverstraat. You’ll see several alleys on both the right and left hand side. Just keep going until you see an alley on the right hand side called “Begijnensteeg”. Follow this to where it intersects with “Gedempte Begijnensloot” and you’ll see an entrance to Begijnhof.
Het Begijnhof is an old courtyard that is home to one of the oldest remaining wooden buildings in Amsterdam (building wooden houses was forbidden after the 3rd large city fire in 1597). It’s an oasis of tranquility just a few meters away from one of Amsterdam’s most busy streets. Take your time to unwind a bit before moving on.
Once we’re done we’ll leave Begijnhof through the other entrance, on the left side from where we entered.. This will take us to Spui. There is nothing much to say about Spui except that it’s a square with the statue “het lieverdje”, the little darling. It represents the Amsterdam youth who, even though they are always pranking and up are generally up to no good, have hearts of gold.
From here we’ll go back into the direction of Kalverstraat. This time though we won’t go into Kalverstraatbut we’ll continue on for a little while (about 30 meters) until we get to Rokin. This wide street used to be the last part of the river Amstel but, as so often in the Netherlands, we needed land more than water so all that’s left of the river is a tiny bit of water where you can get onto one of the canal cruises (definitely do one of those if you have the time. They leave from several places in town and give you a different perspective on the city). Now that we’re on Rokin we turn right and keep walking till we see a tower at the canal on our right hand side.
This tower is Munttoren and was originally part of the Regulierspoort, one of the main gates to medieval Amsterdam. The tower got it’s name becauseof the guard house that was attached to it. This guardhouse was used to mint coins in the 17th century.
Next we’ll cross the bridge and turn right onto the canal. Although we are now on Singel this part of the canal is known as “Bloemenmarkt” (flowersmarket) and is the world’s only floating flower market. If you want to bring some tulip bulbs home you won’t find a wider selection anywhere else.
Keep walking untill we come to the next square, Koningsplein where we turn left. I’d say something about Koningsplein but really, I don’t think there is anything to say about it as it’s not all that special so let’s not waste any time on it either 🙂
When we reach the next canal we’ll turn left again. We now find ourselves on Herengracht. And not just anywhere on Herengracht but at the “Gouden bocht“, the golden bend. This is the most prestigious part of Herengracht. Pay special attention to house numbers 475 and 476 as they are known for having the prettiest facades.
We’ll keep on walking along the canal enjoying the sights as we go. We’ll pass the first bridge and when we get to the second bridge we’ll see a small square on our left. The figure in the statue is Johan Rudolph Thorbecke and the sqaure, named after him, is Thorbeckeplein. Johan Rudolph Thorbecke was an important statesman in Dutch history, Johan Rudolph Thorbecke.
As we cross the square we’ll get to Rembrandtplein. This is one of the main nightlife squares in Amsterdam and a place where both locals and tourists convene in summer to have a drink on one of the terraces and watch the people go by. The square was named after the statue of Rembrandt that was moved there in 1876 and now also holds bronze casts depicting the various figures of Rembrandt’s most famous painting, De Nachtwacht (The Night Watch). This will also be a good place to stop and relax. We can grab a cup of coffee (or a glass of beer if you prefer) and give our legs a bit of rest. Any of the bars here will do and there are enough of those to choose from.
When we’re ready to start moving again we’re going in the direction of Escape, the biggest club on the square so it shouldn’t be that hard to find. When we’re there we’ll look for “The 3 Sisters” which is a big pub and should also be easy to find (it’s to the right of Escape if we stand facing it). Once there we turn left and walk to Amstel. This is now the last part of the River before it disappears into Amsterdam’s canals. In the distance you’ll see the the tower of the Zuiderkerk (Southern Church) but we’ll get to that later. For now we turn right and start walking again.
When we come to the next bridge, Blauwbrug (Blue bridge), we have 2 options. We can either keep walking along the river until we come to the next bridge, Magere Brug (skinny bridge) or we can cross here. I let the route on the map ignore it cause it drove the routing function crazy but I’m going to assume we’ll walk on just a bit further to check it out. If we don’t, you can see the Magere Brug from here so at least you know what I’m talking about. Before we go on though, you might be wondering why this bridge is called Blue bridge. After all, there’s really not much blue in it at all. The name is a leftover from days past. Before the current bridge was build there was another bridge in it’s place which had been painted in the same blue as can be found on the Dutch flag. When the new bridge was build the old name stuck and it has until today.
Ok, on we go to the Magere Brug. The Magere Brug is still one of the skinniest bridges in Amsterdam. It is however much wider than it used to be. Through the centuries the bridge has been rebuild several times and was widened a bit each time. It’s a drawbridge that’s still in use and is opened several times a day to allow river traffic to pass.
We cross the bridge and turn left towards Blauwbrug again. Once we get there we see the Stopera (or as it’s known to locals (the big money pit that also happens to be the biggest architectural faux pas in Amsterdam ever) at the other side of the street. Let’s make our way there. The name, Stoper, is a combination of Stadhuis (city hall) and Opera. And it is, unsurprisingly, home to both the city hall and the opera.
We continue walking on along the street and a little bit further we’ll get to Waterlooplein where we’ll turn left. If we’re walking during the day you can’t miss it as it’s the square with the big flee market. Ok, these days it’s more organized than it used to be but it’s still called a flee market anyway. We’ll wander around the market for a bit until we come to the canal (Zwanenburgwal) where we’ll turn right.
After we walk just a little bit further we’ll come to a bridge. Before we turn left and cross that one I’d like to point out (in case you hadn’t noticed yet) that you’ll find the Museum “Het Rembrandthuis” on your right hand side, just a little into Jodenbreestraat. By now I’ve seen most museums in Amsterdam so many times I’m done with them but feel free to check it out. I’ll wait for you here.
Ok, let’s get going again. We cross the bridge and turn left onto the canal. We’ll keep following the direction street as it turns right and keep going until we see Zanddwarsstraat on our right hand side. We now turn into this street which will lead us to Zuiderkerk (see, told you we’d get to that). Zuiderkerk was the first church build for Protestant services in Amsterdam and was at one point put on canvas by Monet. It’s also known for being the burial place of 3 of Rembrandt’s children as well as one of his apprentices. Aside form that there is a rumour going around that Rembrandt painted the Night Watch here but that’s thought to be very unlikely.
And we’re off again. We walk till the end of the street where it intersects with Nieuwe Hoogstraat and will turn left towards the canal. When we reach the canal (Kloveniersburgwal), we turn right and a little bit further we’ll see the Trippenhuis (number 29). The house was named Lous & Hendrick Trip, 2 wealthy arms traders from the 17th century. The house was build between 1660 and 1662 (technically though it’s not 1 but 2 houses, check the link above for more info) and is on the list of top 100 Dutch heritage sites.
We’ll keep walking until we come to a square, Nieuwmarkt. In the center of Nieuwmarkt there is still one building standing, De Waag (the weigh house). Originally this structure was a city gate and part of the walls of Amsterdam. However, after the wall was demolished the building was turned into a weigh house. Aside from De Waag you’ll find lots of bars and restaurants at Nieuwmarkt so if you fancy another break, go ahead. Grab some food or a drink.
Now that we’re done with Nieuwmarkt we’ll continue pretty much straight on along Geldersekade which leads us along the outskirts of Amsterdam’s Chinatown. Unfortunately we won’t see much of it, aside from the Chinatown supermarket and one or 2 storefronts. But, now at least you know where to look for Chinatown if you want to go and visit it later on.
As we come to the end of the canal you’ll see another lonely tower, Schreierstoren. This tower too was at one point part of the city wall as well. According to myth the tower was named for the women who came their to weep for the husbands they lost to the sea (Schreierstoren can be translated to Weeper’s tower) but reality is less interesting. Again, check the link to find out more 😉
We now turn right and we’ll see a bridge on our left hand side (Odebrug) which we’ll cross. When we get to the other side we have a choice to make. We can turn right (as indicated on the map if you’re following that and head towards the Double Tree by Hilton. The main reason for that is the skybar which gives you an awesome view of the city. However, to accompany that awesome view they also have awesome prices. As in, awesome for them. Not so awesome for your budget. So I’ll leave that decision up to you. I think it’s worth going there for a drink and enjoying the view but I can also imagine not everybody feels that way (coffee is around 7 euro although apparently you do get a refil 🙂 ).
If you don’t want to go to the skybar just keep going straight on along the water, cross under the big railroad bridge and keep walking till you’re blocked by a fair bit of water in front of you. This relatively large body of water in the heart of the city is ‘t IJ. ‘t IJ used to be a lot bigger but in proper Dutch fashion most of it was reclaimed and turned into land. Including the part you’re standing on right now. Just turn left and walk along ‘t IJ for a bit until you see the entrance to Central Station on your left hand side.
We’ve now come to the end of our tour. I hope you enjoyed this short tour of the city I still call home, even though I moved away years ago. Enjoy the rest of your day and have a great time in Amsterdam!
Let me know in the comments what you think so others can benefit from your opinion.
Oh, and one more thing… don’t go to Amsterdam without booking a hotel first. Most likely you’ll be able to find something anyway but the prices can get crazy. So make sure you’re sorted before you go.