Europe is a big place. Obvious point I know. And yet, for my American friends in particular, Europe can get boxed into a very small space that consists mainly of Paris, Rome, and London. And let’s be real here: Rome is horribly overrated.
And there’s one city I LOVE more than any other in Europe, and when I say it is my favorite, opinion is always strongly divided. Some people love it and get excited someone else sees it the same way, but by and large people strongly disagree with me on it. But here is the interesting thing: The people who often disagree most strongly, have never ever stepped foot in the city because they often think of one thing and one thing only when they think of the city: Red light district.
And this is of course unfair to the city. Now grant it, you’re talking to a guy from LA and I love LA. But I imagine if like many tourists my only snapshots of the city I have come to know like the palm of my hand was Hollywood and maybe Venice Beach, I might not be such a big fan either. So it goes for Amsterdam. This city is so much more than the red light district, and when you discover that, well…
Why love Amsterdam? Here are but a few reasons.
The Art and Museum Scene is Real
Most are aware of the Rijksmuseum (the National Museum), the Anne Frank House, and the Van Gogh Museum. But there’s over 50 different museums in this little city of 50 million. The Rembrandt House, the Jewish Historical Museum, and the Royal Palace are but a few of my favorites.
Hell, even the red light district has some museums, grant it on a subject matter the area knows well. You can check out the Sex Museum and the Erotic Museum. The Erotic Museum is more what we might call a shits and giggles museum, whereas the Sex Museum actually does try to capture the attitudes of societies throughout history on sex. And if I am to believe one of the people I met at the museum, it’s the fourth most visited museum in the city.
But my favorite exhibit is a temporary one I have found the last couple years on my visits to this great city. The World Press Photo exhibit is hosted this year from April 18 to July 5. Hosted at De Nieuwe Kerk, the World Press Photo 2015 exhibit is powerful.
This year, it had a feature on drone photography in the USA, capturing moments similar to what US predator drones must see from time to time of everyday normal life in the regions they are in operation. There was a gripping short documentary about migrants attempting to flee violence for the shores of Italy by boat. And there was a documentary on an ambulance driver by the New York Times, a powerful visual story on the fight against the disease.
But they have a variety of photos, as witnessed here by this photo I technically don’t think I was supposed to take of an exhibit photo. But, I mean, it was too good to pass up on!
I mean, even the chain food is great. One of my favorite stops in Amsterdam is Wok to Walk, a to go Asian joint that is located throughout the city. Anyone who has spent any amount of time in Amsterdam also knows they’re serious about their frites (crispy french fries). Vlaams Fritehuis is perhaps the most famous, but Manneken Pis and the crowds that line up there are yet to fail me. But my favorite fry spot, focuses its advertisement elsewhere: Burger Bar. The waygu beef burger is great, and the frites with the truffle sauce- some of the best!
But what I love most in Amsterdam is grabbing a baguette from my favorite sandwich shop Cora, and then sitting at a canal like this, people watching.
We are millennials, so we detest using private transport when traveling. For 10 Euros round-trip, you can take a train from the airport to city center, and it takes only 15 minutes. The city center is small enough to walk almost anywhere, and if you don’t want to walk there are two popular modes of transport: Rent a bike, or hop on one of the cities many trams! I’ve yet to take a taxi or Uber in Amsterdam, there’s just no need!
If you’re going to bike or walk, let me give you a public service announcement from the people of Amsterdam: Learn the written and unwritten rules of navigating this city. In a city with more bikes than people, bike lanes are a big deal. Don’t walk in them. Likewise if you’re going to get on a bike, get a grip on the etiquette: Bike single file and when in doubt pull over, don’t block other bikes.
Communication is easy
Every once in a while, I like being taken out of my language comfort zone. There’s always that great time you landed at a place to eat where the menus nor the waiters gave any hint of English, and you did your best to find something and prayed it would work out alright. But there’s the other times when you’re lost or in quick need of assistance and no one speaks any of the languages you speak. I have a rule when I travel: Learn how to say please and thank you in the language you will be entering into for your journey. And flying to Amsterdam, trying to grasp basic phrases, I was struck with fear: This language is hard. And I worried for nothing: A study by the EU revealed that almost 80% of people in Holland are estimated to be able to converse in English. In Amsterdam, I’d say the number is even higher!
Tolerance is king
I first visited Amsterdam after some time in Germany. I instantly found a cool bike tour and hopped on it and seeing the city AND countryside was a highlight of my first trip.
The woman leading it was an American, and she said she came to Amsterdam for work, and never left. I had to know what drew her to the city, and her answer came quick: “The tolerance. This is a city that is built on tolerance. And so yes, that’s what allows things like a red light district and legalized drugs, but it’s also what has allowed this city to become so diverse. Did you know people of 170 nationalities call this small city home?” Of course, this isn’t to say the whole city embraces tolerance. There are growing challenges everyday, on everything from prostitution to immigration. But by and large, you can feel the openness of the city when you spend time in it!
Amsterdam is a beautiful city and most certainly one of the most underrated European cities. Good food, good people (as well as the tallest in the world- random trivial), and good places to visit and people watch. If I had to pick one city in Europe to move to, Amsterdam would be it!
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