Amsterdam has been enticing tourists for decades now, not only for its history and culture, but also for it’s slightly naughty vibe in the form of coffeehouses where pot-smoking is encouraged, and its tawdry Red Light District, where prostitutes are on display. Whether you visit for Anne Frank or Mary Jane, here are 10 essential Amsterdam experiences that should be on your itinerary.
Amsterdam’s version of a pub, brown cafes get their name from the nicotine-stained walls and ceilings in dark wood-paneled environs. Newer establishments will stain faux nicotine-stained walls to give the illusion of age. Brown cafes began during the Dutch Golden Age in the 17th century when Holland pretty much ran Europe’s liquor industry. A traditional brown cafe was attached to a distillery, and served as its tasting room. Today the best ones still are.
Holland is famous for its tolerant attitude towards prostitution, and since 2000 sex workers have been allowed to legally ply their goods in windows in one of the city’s three Red Light districts. The main, and most famous of the three is the Walletjes area between Centraal Station and Nieuwenmarkt. Here you will also find sex shops and a museum along with the many brothels.
You can’t go to Amsterdam and not see the house where Anne Frank hid with her family during World War II and wrote her famous diary. Today it is a moving museum.
The Van Gogh Museum is one of Amsterdam’s most famous attractions, but the city is also home to other world class art venues such as the Rijksmuseum. It is located in Museumplein (Museum Square), which also boasts the striking bathtub-shaped Stedelijk Museum with a bold collection of beyond post-modern contemporary art.
An activity synonymous with Dutch culture, cycling is also a great way to see Amsterdam. Rent a bike from one of a number of stands around town and head out into the city. Stop at one of the many bridges crossing the canals for the perfect Amsterdam photo opportunity.
Start in the elegant and very green Vondelpark, then stroll up PC Hooftstraat — Amsterdam’s version of Rodeo Drive. Most of the world’s most famous design houses have storefronts here.
Colorado may be the only place to legitimately sell recreational marijuana, but Amsterdam still has the upper hand when it comes to smoke culture. You can’t walk into a bar in Colorado and purchase a joint to smoke on the premises with a shot of espresso and maybe a pastry. But in Amsterdam’s hash bars, you can. Amsterdam’s cannabis laws differ from Colorado’s in that it is perfectly legal for establishments to sell cannabis in Amsterdam, but it is illegal for that same establishment to purchase the pot it sells.
Head to the Jordaan District to organize a boat tour of Amsterdam’s canal belt. The beyond-picturesque and romantic experience is another must-do.
The Jordaan District is also known for its contemporary art. Explore the streets just below the center of the city’s canal belt — from the Prinsengracht to the Lijnbaansgracht, and from Rozengracht to Leidsegracht. The Torch Gallery is a small, family-run place that attracts many international artists.
In the Noord District, hit up Amsterdam’s blockbuster film museum, the EYE Institute. It was designed by Viennese architectural firm Delugan Meissl, and the building alone is worth a visit. To get there you’ll need to take a free three-minute ferry ride from the terminal behind the Centraal Train Station. There are good restaurants around here as well.