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10 fun things to do in Amsterdam

http://www.vancouversun.com/travel/things+Amsterdam/4544064/story.html

Trying to define Amsterdam in terms of 10 fun things to do will not be easy. This gorgeous, historical and legendary maritime city in the Netherlands offers so much more! Still, first-time visitors need to know where to start, so here are 10 suggestions – given with the knowledge that, once you’ve arrived in Amsterdam, you will find much more to keep you entranced.

1) Some of the best fun you can have here is to wander around the old city, which is built around a series of canals. Not only is the landscape stunningly beautiful, but the bridges and well-tended buildings that line the canals are hundreds of years old. Many of the buildings have hoist beams sticking out from their gables, close to large windows or doors. These were designed for hauling furniture to the upper floors, thus avoiding the need to cart them up narrow staircases.

2) Speaking of canals, the Singel Flower Market is located here on floating barges. Founded back in 1862, it’s named for the Singel canal, on which it is located. Whatever your taste in flowers, you will find them here in abundance. Remember, Holland is the country that made tulips famous. There was a time, back in 1636, when tulips were selling for as much as $100,000 (in current dollars) per bulb. Like the dot-com bubble, the Tulip Craze soon collapsed, but Amsterdam remains one of the world’s signature locations for tulips and other kinds of flowers, year-round.

3) Unlike many cities, Amsterdam has succeeded in keeping its historic core alive with shops, restaurants and bars. Many of the oldest are known as “brown cafés.” These are cozy and popular local pubs, called “brown” because of their wooden interiors and stains from generations of smokers. Reputedly the oldest is De Drie Fleschjes, whose name translates to The Three Little Bottles. Rumour has it that Rembrandt was among those who attended the grand opening in 1650. Not much has changed since then; 52 wooden vats line the walls and sand on the wood floor makes for an authentic feel. Distiller Bootz took it over in 1816 and De Drie Fleschjes remains the company’s samplinghouse for Dutch liqueurs and gins.

4) Speaking of restaurants, “the Jordaan neighbourhood is really nice for walking around and full of little restaurants and bars/ cafés,” says John Heintz, a Canadian schoolmate of mine who now teaches architecture at the Delft University of Technology (Holland). “One of our favorites is Café ‘t Smalle, Egelantiersgracht 12. It’s a really cute, really small place, with a nice little room in back above the bar. You have to climb the steepest spiral staircase you’ll ever see, though.”

5) Another restaurant worth mentioning is D’Vijff Vlieghen (The Five Flies). Consisting of nine rooms located in five interconnected 17th-century townhouses, the Five Flies combines authentic history (there are real Rembrandts inside) with great food – and star appeal. Just check the guest book: You’ll see the signatures of Walt Disney, Orson Welles, Bruce Springsteen, Kirk Douglas, Tyra Banks, Dmitry Medvedev, Esther Williams, Anne Baxter, Marcel Marceau, Samantha Fox, Paul Stanley and Mick Jagger.

6) Amsterdam is a city of museums , filled with items that are truly worth seeing. One of these is the Van Gogh Museum, featuring iconic paintings such as Sunflowers and Fishing Boats on the Beach at Saintes-Maries-dela-Mer. A second must-see museum is the Rijksmuseum with its astounding collection of Rembrandts. Of these, the famous and rather large Night Watch – also known as the Company of Frans Banning Cocq and Willem van Ruytenburch – is worth the trip. What makes the Night Watch special is that it was, in essence, a class photo of a local militia. To add drama to the scene, Rembrandt laid it out as a company preparing to march off to war, rather than standing stiffly in rows trying not to smile.

7) While in Amsterdam, the locals – upon hearing that I was a tourist – always asked me the same thing: “Have you been to the redlight district?” This is Amsterdam’s district of legalized (and regulated) prostitution, in existence for centuries due to the constant influx of visiting sailors. Located in the old city, the district, known as De Wallen, is considered a prime tourist site – even for those just curious about its reputation. (If you do look around, watch out for pickpockets and know that you could lose your camera if you try to take photos.) By the way, I eventually figured out that the reason I kept getting asked if I’d visited the red-light district was not because I looked somehow morally suspect. Instead, the Dutch know that North Americans are scandalized by the idea of legalized prostitution. That’s why they have so much fun asking us if we’ve visited it yet: They like to see our reactions.

8) The Oude Kerk (Old Church) is in downtown old Amsterdam, in the red-light district. Dating back to 1306, the Oude Kerk is the city’s oldest consecrated church. For North Americans, wandering around a medieval church that is nearly 700 years old, yet is part of a living, breathing urbanscape, is a very unusual experience. So, too, is the graffiti carved into the pews and other wooden surfaces. I remember spotting one vandal’s name followed by the year he carved it: 1776. (After coming here, nothing back in Canada will ever seem “old” again.)

9) So much to see in Amsterdam! One of my favourite sights is the NH Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky. Located in downtown Dam Square, across from the old Royal Palace, the Hotel Krasnapolsky was established by Polish tailor Adolf Wilhelm Krasnapolski in 1866. Eventually, he bought up 39 small houses and built the Hotel Krasnapolsky. Rated as a five-star hotel – and deservedly so – the ‘Kraz’ has many wonderful features. My personal favourite is the wrought iron-and-glass Winter Garden restaurant, which is essentially a giant greenhouse that is home to an excellent buffet breakfast.

10) Speaking of the Royal Palace , this 17th-century masterpiece -after 3½ years of restoration -is again open to the public. Originally built for the Amsterdam government, this palace was subsequently home to Louis Napoleon, who was made king of Holland for four short years by Napoleon Bonaparte (1806-1810). Afterwards, Prince William of Orange (later king) took over the palace as his Amsterdam residence. Today, it remains in the Dutch royal family. If you can’t get to Buckingham Palace to celebrate Prince William and Kate’s wedding this year, visiting the Royal Palace (Koninklijk Paleis) in Amsterdam is a good second choice.

So there you have it: Ten fun things to do in Amsterdam! For many more, go online at www. iamsterdam.com

WHERE TO GO

Ten sights worth seeing and websites that’ll tell you more:

DE DRIE FLESCHJES

www.channels.nl/amsterdam/flesche.html Gravenstraat 18 Reputedly the oldest “brown café” in town, its name translates to “The Three Little Bottles.”

CAFE ‘T SMALLE

www.t-smalle.nl/?sectiondrinken&page-Foto’s Egelantiersgracht 12 A popular spot in the Jordaan neighbourhood.

D’VIJFF VLIEGHEN

www.thefiveflies.com/en/Home Spuistraat 294-302 Historic eatery favoured by the stars, its name translates to “The Five Flies.”

RED-LIGHT DISTRICT

www.iamsterdam.com The famous -some would say infamous -legal (and regulated) prostitution zone that has become a tourist attraction.

OUDE KERK

www.iamsterdam.com Amsterdam’s oldest church; a living landmark.

VAN GOGH MUSEUM

www.vangoghmuseum.nl Paulus Potterstraat 7 Home to numerous masterpieces by PostImpressionist painter Vincent van Gogh, including the ubiquitous Sunflowers.

RIJKSMUSEUM

www.rijksmuseum.nl Jan Luijkenstraat 1 Home to a vast collection of art, including numerous paintings and etchings by Rembrandt van Rijn.

NH GRAND HOTEL KRASNAPOLSKY

www.nh-hotels.com Dam Square A venerable 5-star hotel worthy of its rank.

THE ROYAL PALACE

www.paleisamsterdam.nl Dam Square A chance to see how kings and queens really live! Just a 10-minute walk from Centraal Station.

AMSTERDAM’S CANALS

http://www.iamsterdam.com The canals wrap around the old city like necklaces; you can’t miss them. Visit the Singel Flower Market, which can be found floating on barges in the Singel canal.