Amsterdam first appears as a huge city. I stood in awe as I floated across the wide river on a ferry one night to my floating hotel (Botel). Over the coming days, I realised there’s still some culture hiding behind Amsterdam’s less savoury pastimes, and quaint moments of enjoyment down each cobbled street.
If you ever visit this European capital, I did most of the main Amsterdam attractions, so read on for some inspiration.
Sexmuseum de Venustempel
The Sex Museum is a classic and much like the one in Barcelona. This is the more popular one, but there’s another called the Erotic Museum. It’s filled with bizarre sculptures and explicit imagery, from the naked statue which can be seen from the street, to hardcore acts of depravity!
Particularly interesting are the Marilyn Monroe exhibits, like the one with an air vent beneath her white cocktail dress which simulates her iconic scene in 1955’s The Seven Year Itch.
One positive of this museum is that it has a small, historic sample of the red light windows which guests can peer into. It’s great to see what goes on in there without having to actually… entertain one of the ladies.
TIP: I missed the Anne Frank Huis as tickets were sold out way in advance. 80% of tickets sell out in advance, and as a last resort load up the website at 9am to try grab one of the remaining 20% which are released on the day. Buy these before you go, along with the Icebar. Most other things you can just walk into on the day.
Bulldog Mack & Prix d’Ami
|Website||Price: €5 pint|
drug coffee shops… I did venture in to sample the more modern ‘culture’, so that you don’t have to! Bulldog Mack is next door to the much smokier Bulldog Bar.
I bought a spacecake from Bulldog to start off easy on my first trip… I had half in the shop before wandering round the Botanical Gardens, and half in the Icebar. To our surprise, it literally had zero noticeable effect on me, apart from draining me of 7 euros and tasting syrupy.
Prix d’Ami is the 3-storey one with a cinema-lounge on the top floor. The other floors play disturbing videos which must be very trippy for patrons. I asked what they recommended for beginners, and smoked a pre-rolled joint in there with some drinks. Again, no effect! I did the same thing the next day just to be sure. Though it was probably a good thing that weed didn’t do a whole lot to me.
Hortus Botanicus Amsterdam
|Website||Price: €2.50 entry|
The botanical gardens provide a great break to stroll through nature. It’s not quite up to the New York botanical gardens’ standard, but does has a butterfly house, cactus/desert greenhouse, and a great tropical greenhouse. It really reminded me of the spectacular Eden Project in my beloved England.
TIP: You can definitely do everything you want to in Amsterdam with 3 or 4 full days.
Red Light District, aka De Wallen
|No booking needed||Price: Free|
Ah, the other unsavoury attraction of Holland. This is the central neighbourhood near Centraal Station so it’s unavoidable, and regular people do live and work there. However, walking down the narrow street (occasionally past a dirty mattress) past all the Bulldog coffee shops, one can’t help but notice the red lights around and big windows with scantily-clad women stood looking out.
It’s weird, it’s awkward (Do I look? Is that rude?), especially when the curtain’s closed and you know the lady’s ‘tending’ to a customer who paid 50 euros for 15 minutes of her time (so I’ve heard).
The other thing one can’t help seeing is the row of various sex shows. One, the Banana Bar, features bananas as a central theme of the sit-down show. There’s Moulin Rouge, Theatre Casa Rosso, and the one we ventured into – The Sex Palace Peep Show. Enter one of several booths arranged in a circle, slot 2 euros into the machine, and the window becomes transparent for a few seconds, revealing a woman stripping and putting on a show. Occasionally, there’s a male and female ‘performer’ doing the naughty. Careful before you visit the Peep Show – some things cannot be un-peeped!
|Website||Price: €22.50, includes 3 drinks|
Amsterdam Xtracold Icebar is a bar, set at -10°C/14°F, where everything from the walls to the glasses are made out of ice. You get 3 drinks out of the ice glasses, photo opportunities, and when you’re absolutely numb, get out of there!
A’DAM Lookout + Swing
The A’DAM Lookout tower and its swing is the closest thing to an extreme activity in Amsterdam, unless the bungee jump opens back up. It’s a beautiful, 20-storey building consisting of various social clubs and attractions on each floor, then an expensive circular, 360° restaurant, and on top, another square floor place diagonally, serving as a bar and observatory.
Once outside on top of the building, you get wonderful views of the city and its river and ferries, and multiple photo opportunities for all the wannabe Instagram models.
I paid an extra 5 euros to ride the swing over the edge of the skyscraper, 100 metres over the river.
As with most European countries, there’s lots of delicious main courses and desserts to be sampled. Visit one of the many cheese shops and try the local produce, and get a cone of chips on the street with mayonnaise on it. Haring or ‘Hollandse Nieuwe’ (Dutch new herring) is probably the most famous Dutch food, so opt for that one dinnertime. Croquettes are a lovely side dish.
The Dutch love their apples, so try apple pie, apple tart, and strudel di mele (apple strudel). Also, visit a pancake house for a tasty sweet or savoury pancake, and buy a stack of stroopwaffels. The best way to eat these is after warning one up over a cup of tea.
Portie ossenworst (raw ox sausage) is a particularly adventurous tradition. I tried this so you don’t have to – it tastes like slimy cold salami, with mustard. Not bad, but certainly not great.
Also, Amsterdam wasn’t the cleanest city in my experience. One high street restaurant served me a delicious pizza. Then there was a rat in the corridor. Nope nope nope
Speaking as someone who cannot comprehend why men enjoy the bitter taste of beer, this was awesome! Yes, it is effectively brand awareness for Heineken – you’re paying them to advertise to you, but it’s the most enjoyable museum I’ve been to!
It tells the story of entrepreneur Gerard Adriaan Heineken (1841–1893) and how he established the world’s most recognisable beer brand, it’s various marketing iterations, and teaches you how beer is made, before an impressive cinema experience.
The Heineken Experience utilises all 5 senses, and doesn’t get boring at all. At the end, you learn to taste beer and get to drink two at “the best ‘Dam bar”. Also: horses!
The most educational and interesting museum in Holland, the Rijkmuseum takes a good half-day to get around. Its exhibitions range from 1100 to 2000. On display when I visited was the Night Watch – Rembrandt’s most famous piece – and a collection of large model ships. There is also the most amazing, 3-storey, Hogwarts-like old library right in the middle.
Despite the occasional piece of modern ‘art’, the Rijksmuseum has some beautiful landscape pieces and teaches you about the history of the Netherlands.
|No booking needed||Price: Free|
It’s a huge park and makes for a very enjoyable stroll on a sunny day. Walk round the ponds and look at the birds.
TIP: Since they’re all a little out of the way, do Heineken Experience, Rijksmuseum, and Vondelpark the same day as they’re close together.
|Book online or find one on the day||Price: €15-20|
You can’t say you’ve done Amsterdam until you’ve been on some of the 160+, or 100+km of canals. There’s over 1,700 bridges in the city and 3,000 houseboats.
A canal tour need not be booked in advance, and lasts about an hour with some history thrown in. I recommend the one just outside Centraal Station near tram zone A, as it’s 12 euros and very warm and comfy.
Amsterdam Attractions – Verdict
It may be a little grubby and full of drugs and prostitution, but there’s still some great food, history, views, and architecture to be had in Amsterdam!