Travel and Tourism in Amsterdam

Amsterdam, graced with scenic waterways, tall, gabled houses and impressive monuments, is an attractive, tourist-friendly city that hosts over five million visitors per year.  Amsterdam offers  interesting attractions, a broad mix of cuisines, hearty beers and a number of popular entertainment venues.

Amsterdam is the perfect place to hang-out for a couple of days between travel connections.  The city is a fun visit that provides a nice mix of interesting sights and offbeat attractions that, on balance, seem to fit Amsterdam quite well.

It is Amsterdam’s unique cultural environment that attracts numerous travelers from around the world, as Amsterdam is a city with an edge. It mixes the old with the new, Calvinism with the sexual revolution, conservatism with laissez-faire and yet it retains the practical sensibility that is the hallmark of Dutch society.Many  travelers connecting to other destinations in Europe via Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport,  often take the opportunity to spend a day exploring Amsterdam.   Be warned, the city is at its best at night and it has too many interesting attractions to wedge into a short daytime visit.

Amsterdam has numerous tourist attractions and attempting to see all of them would take too much time and energy.   Thankfully, some of the attractions are of minor importance and others are incredibly touristy. Of the remainder, some are tacky, unusual, humorous (like the Sex Museum and the Erotic Museum (think Red Light District)), or niche attractions that appeal to a modest number of travelers.  The best places to visit in Amsterdam, however, are relatively close together and the city is easy tour on foot or using public transportation.

Amsterdam Canal
Amsterdam Canal

Much of your time will be spent in the 17th century Canal District of Amsterdam, an area shaped like a half-moon that is enclosed by nested rings of canals.  The Canal District was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2010. Creating the “ring” of canals to the west and south of the Old Town involved draining swampland, creating canals and filling their edges with what was once a relatively uniform set of gabled townhouse.  The Canal Ring of Amsterdam (Grachtengordel), which is comprised of over 160 canals, is celebrating its 400th anniversary this year (2013).

Today, the Canal District of Amsterdam is one of the most popular sections of the city for tourism.  If you are interested in more information about the canals and their lovely houses, visit the Het Grachtenhuis , a museum dedicated to the Canal District (located at Herhngracht 386).

Our recommendations for the  best places to visit in Amsterdam are  focused on twelve of the city’s many attractions, including the city’s two “must sees” – the Anne Frank House and the Van Gogh Museum, which we describe below.

Our recommendations for the other “best places to visit in Amsterdam” can be found in the menu at the right edge of this page. We should note that the relatively new Heineken Experience claims to be the most popular attraction in town, but we think that title is actually held by the bars  in Amsterdam’s Red Light District.

Guide to the Best Places to Visit in Amsterdam

Anne Frank Huis

Anne Frank House
Anne Frank House

The Anne Frank House (267 Prinsengracht) is, perhaps, the most famous attraction in Amsterdam.  When you approach the house from Prinsengracht, you may wonder where the Anne Frank House is located, as, in many parts of the world, the photographs and images  associated with the Anne Frank Huis  are of the back of the  Annex which is not visible from the entrance, which faces the canal.

The front of the house serves as the entrance to the property and is where Otto Frank once operated his business.  The back part of the property, called the Secret Annex, is where the family lived in hiding during the early years of World War II.

Annelies Marie (“Anne”) Frank was born in Frankfurt Germany in 1929, but spent the majority of her life in Amsterdam. Although born a German citizen, her Jewish heritage caused the loss of her citizenship.  Her family had originally moved the Netherlands to avoid the perils of being a Jew in Nazi Germany.  Unfortunately, the Netherlands were occupied by Germany in 1940,

Visiting the Anne Frank House is a sobering experience that is made even more melancholy by the knowledge that  the fifteen-year old Anne Frank died  from typhoid shortly before her concentration camp was liberated near the end of World War II. Some say she died of a broken heart, mistakenly believing her entire family had preceded her in death.

Anne Frank’s mother died in  the Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Poland and this was the camp where she, her husband Otto and her daughters were originally imprisoned.   Margot and Anne were later transferred to the Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp in northwestern Germany where both died.   Margot, succumbed to the same epidemic as Anne, preceding her in death by several weeks.   Her father Otto Frank was liberated from Auschwitz and was the only member of the Frank family to survive the Holocaust.

As you walk from room to room at the Anne Frank House, you will begin to feel that you are an observer watching the unfolding of a terror-filled story.  Touring the house, reading the placards, and watching the short films takes about an hour. You will be mentally exhausted by the time you finish. There is a comfortable cafeteria offering food and beverages just before the exit.

Arrive near opening or closing times, as the crowds during the rest of the day (even in off-season) can be significant and the wait lengthy.  The building is small and the rooms can be very crowded during peak hours in the summer.

Visiting the Anne Frank Huis is not for the infirm or physically challenged. There is only one route through the house and most visitors, riveted by the displays, take their time while learning the significance of this tribute to bravery in the face of repression.

There are many steep stairways and narrow corridors to contend with in the residence that reflect the “hidden” nature of Frank Family’s sanctuary. The older section of the Anne Frank House which includes the Secret Annex, is not accessible to wheelchair users.

In the summer of 2010, the chestnut tree that Anne Frank could see from the secret attic and wrote about several times, finally succumbed to old age and disease after 150 years.  Saplings from the tree have been donated to locations around the world as a living  remembrance of  Anne Frank’s courage when confronted by the horror of the Holocaust

For detailed information on visiting, see the Anne Frank House Museum’s official website.  In addition to practical information for your visit, it provides a detailed history of Anne Frank’s life.

Van Gogh Museum

After seven months during which it was totally renovated, the Van Gogh Museum reopened on  May 1, 2013 with a jubilee exhibition titled “Van Gogh at work” celebrating the artist’s 160th birthday. The exhibition runs until 12 January 2014. See the Van Gogh Museum website  for details on its “new” look and the exhibition.

Van Gogh Museum
Van Gogh Museum

The Van Gogh Museum is the “crown jewel” of Amsterdam’s art museums and one of the most popular attraction in the city.  The museum, which houses the world’s largest collection of Van Gogh’s paintings (over 200), drawings (500) and letters (700), is located in close proximity to the Rijksmuseum and the Stedelijk Museum, also on the Museumplein.

You can walk to the Museumplein from the Dam in about thirty minutes or arrive in ten minutes by hopping a local streetcar. (See our section on Transportation for information on the efficient  public transportation network in Amsterdam.)

We recommend that you do not miss the chance to see the amazing history of artistic accomplishments contained in this collection. Van Gogh’s works are displayed chronologically and the progression through his keynote color palettes andtechniques is astounding, showing the artist’s talent for innovation and his fearless attitude towards change. Changes in the sequencing of the collection may occur based on exhibitions and the aspects of Van Gogh’s work they may emphasize.

As his painting techniques evolved through Van Gogh’s life, they appear to reflect various stages of his dementia.  All of Van Gogh’s  works displayed in the Museum are outstanding. The range of style is so diverse that it is difficult to understand how these paintings were created by the same artist. Perhaps there were several talented personalities inside of Vincent van Gogh.

The Museum is usually packed with visitors, but the display rooms are large and handle the crowds well.  There is platform seating in the center of most rooms for those who want to study the works and for those who are just plain tired of walking.

The official website of Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum can be found here. The website has an excellent biography of Van Gogh and photographs of many of his most famous paintings.  There is a lot to see here and you might want to use the website to find your favorites and their locations before your visit.

Advance tickets can be purchased online at this page of the Museum’s website .

The museum is accessible to the disabled. Lifts serve every floor and wheelchairs are available free of charge.