Amsterdam is the Netherlands’ largest city and one in which nearly everyone speaks English and rides bikes. The city also has a reputation for being a liberal, hippie, multi-racial, laid-back city of free love, accessible drugs, wild parties, great food, and friendly people. While this reputation is true to some degree, it distorts the fact that Amsterdam has grown into a somewhat respectable, cosmopolitan center for business and international finance.
The glory days of Amsterdam date back to the 17th century when the Dutch established a worldwide empire of colonies and trading posts. During this time, many of Amsterdam’s major canals, its monuments, architecture, and famous paintings and art were produced. Many of these mementos of the good old days are still around today – Amsterdam’s major canals (like the Herengracht, Prisengracht, Keizersgracht, and the renowned concentric canal ring), its famous monuments (like the Royal Palace), its architecture (like the buildings of Henrik de Keyser and the many canal houses and mansions in Amsterdam’s historic center), and its paintings and art (renowned are the masterpieces of Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Hals).
Many visitors flock to Amsterdam every year for the nightlife, marijuana smoke shops, and to visit such icons to liberalism like the Red Light District – a famous tourist district where prostitution is permitted and licensed. However, there is more to Amsterdam. A real cultural experience can be had by exploring the city’s historic center, which happens to be one of Europe’s largest with close to 7,000 registered historic buildings. Among these historic structures include medieval wooden houses, old canals, begijnhofs (or medieval enclosed courtyards with houses of beguines or religious communities), and large warehouses that were used in the medieval era, including a few that were used by the famous Dutch West India Company back in the 17th Century. There are also old canal houses and mansions in the historic center that were used by the wealthy merchants back in the 1600s such as the Trip House on Kloveniersburgwal, the Bartolotti House on Herengracht 170-172, and the House with the Heads on Keizersgracht 123.
Of course, the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum are must-visits while in Amsterdam. The latter houses works by Rembrandt, Vermeer, and other famous Dutch artists. The Van Gogh Museum, as its name indicates, is dedicated to the paintings of Van Gogh, who was a pioneer of expressionist art and famous for cutting off his left ear as a result of the mental illness he was suffering. The Anne Frank House is another must-visit. This museum and house is where the famous girl, Anne Frank, and her family hid in WWII while attempting to escape the Nazis.