One of the most popular travel destinations in Europe, Amsterdam is a compact, charming and cosmopolitan city that invites exploration. Known as the “Venice of the North” for its more than 100 canals, the capital of the Netherlands offers easy sight-seeing adventures by foot, bike and boat. Amsterdam’s well-preserved and appealing 17th-century architecture provides a quaint if incongruous backdrop for a city famous for its modern, progressive attitudes. From the city’s fine art museums to its colorful flower markets, from cannabis-selling “coffeeshops” to the red light district, there’s something exciting and unique to discover in Amsterdam at every turn.
Koninklijk Paleis Amsterdam
One of three royal palaces in the Netherlands, the Koninklijk Paleis in Amsterdam is located on the western side of Dam Square in the center of the city. The 17th structure began life as the city’s town hall, but was converted into a palace during the Napoleonic Wars when Napoleon’s brother Louis was crowned King Louis I of Holland. Although the exterior was constructed by Jacob van Campen with sandstone to mimic the public buildings of Rome, the interior is a premier example of the elaborate Empire style of the early 1800s. The palace is still used by the Dutch Royal House for Royal events but is open to the public for most of the year.
De Wallen is Amsterdam’s infamous red-light district, the city’s designated area for legalized prostitution. The neighborhood covers several canals and side streets to the south of Central Station. More than one hundred one-room apartments are rented by sex workers who entice onlookers from behind windows illuminated with red lights. A strong police presence keeps the neighborhood safe. Although taking pictures is not allowed, visitors are welcome. As the oldest section in Amsterdam, the district is also home to several historic buildings, including the city’s oldest church, the Gothic-style Oude Kerk.
Artifacts from Amsterdam’s rich nautical history are housed within the Scheepvaartmuseum, or National Maritime Museum. Formerly a naval storehouse constructed in 1656, the museum features 18 rooms of exhibits and artifacts. Sea trade made Amsterdam the world’s wealthiest city during the 1600s, and this multi-story museum demonstrates how the Dutch dominated the seas with exhibits that range from depictions of historical sea battles to artfully drawn maps and 17th-century weapons. The museum’s collection of carvings also gives visitors an up-close look at how sailors passed their time while at sea. Moored outside the museum is a replica of the Amsterdam, an 18th-century ship which sailed between the Netherlands and the East Indies.
Named Nieuwe Park when it opened in 1865, Vondelpark is located in the Oud-Zuid, or Old South district of Amsterdam to the west of the city’s Museum Square. The park earned its current name after a statue of the Joost van den Vondel was placed in the park in 1867. Designed and crafted by sculptor Louis Royer, the statue of the famous 17th-century Dutch poet and playwright became such a familiar landmark that people began to call the park Vondelpark. The park serves as a popular gathering spot for locals and tourists. It’s a place where people can relax, play sports on the grass, bike along pathways and enjoy a herring sandwich or Dutch beer at one of the park’s horeca facilities.
Located between Muntplein and Koningsplein on the south bank of the Singel canal, the Bloemenmarkt is the world’s only floating flower market. Seven days a weeks, flower sellers load stands and floating barges with all of the flowers and bulbs for which the Netherlands is famous. Founded in 1862, the Bloemenmarkt includes more than a dozen different florists and garden shops as well as souvenir stalls. Although locals shop here too, the market is primarily designed to cater to tourists. The bulbs offered for sale have been designated as ready for export, so visitors can purchase tulip, daffodil, narcissus and other bulbs as a lasting memento of their trip to Amsterdam.