An Introduction to Amsterdam
Thinking of visiting Amsterdam for a weekend? Considering moving to Amsterdam? Amsterdam is a city unlike any other. There are no high rise buildings, no palaces, no castles. Imagine water everywhere: long, curvy canals, bridges connecting narrow cobbled streets. Crossing them are racing cyclists, carrying groceries, kids, off to work! You watch the little boats sailing gently on the canal, the ducks, the birds, the swans. On Dam Square is the Royal Palace, built in 1655 as the Town Hall, a relict from the Golden Age, when the Dutch merchants ruled the world. Their stately homes line the canals. You try the street food: raw herring and french fries with mayonaise. You push your way through the crowded Red Light District with hundreds of other curious tourists. You try some marihuana and are blown away when you see the Van Gogh paintings in real life.
Capital of The Netherlands
Amsterdam is the capital of The Netherlands. The Netherlands is a small country and one of the most populated countries per square kilometer in the world. It has about 850.000 inhabitants, about the same as Marseille, Zagreb and Turin. Stockholm, Brussels, Prague and Barcelona are all bigger.
The biggest problem of Amsterdam is the amount of tourists! Best book a hotel room in advance. Most tourists visit the same museums: Van Gogh, Rijksmuseum and Anne Frank House, making the waiting lines very long. Best buy your tickets online to skip the line!
Things to do
A good tour is always a great way to start exploring a city and to understand its history. A relaxing boat ride is popular and recommended. Go through the list of Amsterdam activities in Amsterdam to find things to do. For original ideas, check out the article on How to spend a week in Amsterdam. If you master the bike, see greater Amsterdam by bicycle. Remember: there is more than the Red Light District and coffeeshops and smart shops in Amsterdam!
The Netherlands is a highly developed country and because it is so small, it has excellent infrastructure. It has one of the densest road and railway network in the world, connecting even the smallest towns. It is very easy to get around in The Netherlands! A visit to Haarlem, Rotterdam, Utrecht and city of The Hague are only a short train ride away. Also consider a day trip to Kroller-Muller Museum.
Windy in Winter
The Netherlands lies along the North Sea and especially in the West (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague) it can be quite windy. The Netherlands has a ‘mild’ climate (hardly gets above 25 C or below 5C), but because of the strong winds, winter in Amsterdam is very unpleasant. It quickly feels really cold in Amsterdam, so bring a winter coat, gloves and a hat when you visit Amsterdam from October to April.
In spring (april), you can visit the amazing tulip gardens in bloom and autumn is colourful, cosy and romantic, but the best time to go to Amsterdam is summer, (july, august), although it’s the busiest time of year. Still, you are bound to get some rain. It rains a lot in Amsterdam.
Language no problem
The people from the Netherlands (the Dutch) speak their own language: Dutch. The language is similar to German. It has also borrowed a lot of vocabulary from the French and English. It is one of few languages that have a harsh ‘g’ sound, like in the Arab language.
Luckily, like most small Northern European countries, Dutch people speak English really well. Many speak other languages as well: German and French are most common.
Biking in Amsterdam
The most famous transport in The Netherlands is the bicycle. Being an entirely flat country with no hills or mountains, the Dutch go on the bike to work, to take the kids to school, to do the shopping and for recreation. Wanna go biking in Amsterdam? There’s a bike rental company in Amsterdam at every corner. For about 5 euros you bike for an hour and from 10 euros for 24 hours. It’s busy in the street so this is not for inexperience bikers!
Amsterdam has some great neighbourhoods. De Pijp, a lively area with the famous Albert Cuyp Market, the Jordaan Quarter, with its quiet streets, rich history and warm cafes, the Amsterdam Food Halls in Oud-West, the old shipyard NDSM, a cultural hotspot for the locals and only a ferry ride away, the Westergasfabriek with its many culinary festivities and great terraces, and the Jewish Quarter with its war museums and the Amsterdam Zoo. All of these are within walking distance of the city center.
What are Dutch people like?
Dutch people are known to be extrovert, helpful and direct. They love talking to foreigners in another language to help out and to show off their language skills. But when you are walking on their bike path, you will see they are not afraid to tell you how they feel!
Freedom is important
Like most countries in the North of Europe, The Netherlands has a very liberal climate. Freedom is important. Over the last 40 years the Dutch have choosen to install many laws that secure that freedom: Freedom to choose abortion, to choose a partner of the same sex, freedom to smoke cannabis, freedom to end your life in the case of unbearable suffering and the freedom for prostitutes to work legally. The Dutch are not afraid to speak out!
Want to know more? The Dutch government prepared a declaration to explain some controversial laws.