If you’re visiting on a cruise or just transiting through Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport, and have a few hours to kill, it can be pretty difficult knowing how best to maximise that time. Truth be told, this amazing old merchant’s city- once the focal point of a vast colonial empire that stretched out to the Far East- is so chock full of attractions and diversions that even a week would barely allow you to scratch the surface. So, we’d better get cracking….
If culture is your thing, then the museums in Amsterdam are second to none. The recently re-opened Stedilijk is more contemporary in terms of displays. It could easily absorb your attention during the entire stay. So, too, could the legendary Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh, two overblown confections of amazing art work from the likes of Van Gogh, Vermeer and, of course, Rembrandt.
On a far more sobering and contemporary note, you might check out the haunting, claustrophobic bolt hole that is the Anne Frank House. The young Anne was only thirteen when she began writing her famous diary, in 1942. Of the extended Frank family, only her father would survive their subsequent betrayal and brutal internment. It’s a sobering, yet ultimately quite life affirming, experience.
Culture is all well and fine, but to gain a real perspective on this beautiful city, try taking a canal cruise in Amsterdam. The city is locked and welded together by a serpentine network of canals that are actually the very life blood of the city.
You’ll beetle at a sedate pace past a landscape of looming brownstone houses, flanked by lanes of elegant plane trees. Cyclists on both banks try to keep up with your boat as it ghosts under a succession of vaulting bridges.Old barges, many of them long since converted into floating homes, sit alongside the river banks,
If it’s an evening cruise, street lights shimmering on the water enhance the vibe no end. On some cruises, you can savour the delicious local Dutch herring, washed down with a bottle of the refreshing, local Amstel beer. Some even feature live, languid jazz and blues on board. And, because the boats are enclosed, it’s a great way to spend a couple of hours, regardless of the weather.
Amsterdam is a relatively easy city to walk; it’s pretty flat and even. Enjoy cafe life in Dam Square with a beer and some of the delicious local bitterballs, as you watch the office crowds rushing home at the end of the day. The local trams run the whole length of the city; they look like nothing so much as giant, yellow mechanical snails that swoosh silently past umbrella flanked bars and restaurants that crouch along the sidewalks.
For a matchless view out over the old copper spires and steeples of Amsterdam, you can do a lot worse than to check out the rooftop terrace of the Doubletree Hilton Hotel. The cappuccinos are first rate, but the view out over the city on a warm summer night is just sublime, and a definitely recommended highlight.
The hotel also has the advantage of being very near to the cruise terminal, and it’s also quite close to Dam Station, if you are getting the train back out to Schipol Airport. For those that wonder, journey time from the city centre out to the airport is around eighteen minutes, and up to five trains an hour run in either direction during peak hours. There are also hourly trains that run right through the night.
So, there’s a slice of Amsterdam for you. Compact, compelling and totally attitude free, it remains one of the most enduring and endearing of all the great cities of Europe. Enjoy.