Essential encounters in Amsterdam with
Alight from a train at Amsterdam Central, and the city’s personality instantly greets you. The pervasiveness of commuter pedal power, the fabled gabled roofs and the romance of the watery ribbons, weaving through the city, writes Mike Yardley.
Amsterdam’s profusion of museums are seriously addictive and diverse. With over 40 museums on offer, you must explore the Rijksmuseum, which has been recently rebuilt and modernised, boasting a world-famous collection now presented in a far more thought-provoking way.Across 80 galleries, 8000 objects tell the story of 800 years of Dutch art and history, from the Middle Ages to the Mondrian. The Van Gogh Museum is my top pick, housing the world’s biggest collection of one history’s finest painters. It’s an emotionally-charged experience, as the museum presents his complete story: the artist, his personal ambitions, his wild mood swings, the myths and his enduring influence. Almond Blossom, Sunflowers and The Bedroom are the three unmissable post-impressionist masterpieces.For a lesser-trafficked treasure, head to the Amsterdam Tulip Museum which ingeniously takes you through the history, craze and universal love affair with tulips. Central Asia is the original home of wild tulips, but it was the Sultans of Ottoman Turkey who collected, nurtured and displayed large quantities of tulips. It’s believed that trade and diplomatic links between the Ottomans and Western Europe brought the tulip bulbs to the Netherlands towards the end of the 16th century. In the mid-seventeenth century, tulips were so fiendishly popular that they created the first economic bubble, known as "Tulip Mania."Believe it or not, a single bulb became more expensive than the sale price of a canal house. The dizzying heights were not to last and the market crashed. Today, the tulip remains Holland’s most famous export, generating nearly NZ$10 billion in annual earnings. Head to Keukenhof, just south of Amsterdam, for the seasonal spring display of the hundreds of tulip varieties being commercially grown. From April, seven million bulbs bloom, heralded by purple crocus and cheerful daffodils, before blazing with tapestries of multi-coloured tulips.
Anne Frank House
Unquestionably, the most heart-wrenching and evocative city experience is to pay homage to the victims of war and hatred, by visiting Anne Frank House. The museum is built within the confines of the Prinsengracht canal house, where Anne’s father operated his business, and the family went into hiding, living on the upper floors of the annexe. It is truly poignant to walk through the moveable bookcase which concealed the door to the annexe and especially made for this purpose. You’ll see all of the family’s rooms including Anne’s, where the walls are decorated with pasted pictures of film stars and a young English Princess Elizabeth. Buy a ticket in advance to beat the queues.Next door is Westerkerk, a towering triumph of Dutch Renaissance architecture is stacked with square blocks of Doric, Ionic and Corinthian pillars. The imperial crown of the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I also crowns the sky-piercing tower. Within this mighty church, pay your respects to another great Dutch master, Rembrandt van Rijn, who was buried here in a poor man’s grave in 1669.
Canal Ring Treasures
Prinsengracht, Keizergracht and Herengracht will become familiar names to you, as they are the three main canals in the city’s 400 year old canal ring. I love wandering alongside them aimlessly, delighting in the serendipitous scenes, marvelling at the humpbacked stone bridges and soaking up the infectious, free-spirited city vibe.Keep your eyes peeled for the façade stones gracing many old houses. Before street numbering was introduced in 1795, residents used special stones in the façade of the building to identify themselves. Usually combining a picture with an inscription, the stones would often illustrate the home owner’s line of work. The city still has 800 façade stones which can be readily identified.The 9 Streets Shopping Area (De 9 Straatjes) in the heart of the UNESCO World Heritage -protected Canal Ring is an absolute thrill to roam through, bursting with quirky little independent shops and inviting cafes . The same sense of human-scale, intimate shopping and hospitality studs the tiny higgledy-piggledy lanes of the atmospheric Jordaan district.
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