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Amsterdam: the 5 must-dos…

January 19, 2014

No, it is not to go to the Red Light district as soon as you get off the Central Station… but read on if you want to know Amsterdam more than that..

Till not very long ago, Amsterdam was a tourist destination of sorts for 20-somethings wanting to experience legalised prostitution and drugs and so was no.1 on their ‘Euro Trip’ list. Hash brownies, gorgeous women in lit-up windows and cannabis cafes are what defined Amsterdam for the longest time. The focus had shifted from its rich artistic heritage towards its sleazy, hedonistic side. But not any more. Amsterdam is back with a bang (no pun intended!) and how.

We made a 3-day weekend trip to this gorgeous city and fell in love instantly and I can safely say, it is diverse, tolerant and must feature in everyone’s weekend-break destination list. So here are 5 things you must do in Amsterdam in 3 days:

  1. DSC_0198Lose yourself in the city’s canals: Amsterdam is known for its many canals and cobbled streets. Any turn you take, you will find yourself staring in awe at a bridge, standing sturdy over a canal, dotted with house-boats that are idling away in the still water. Amsterdam is possibly one of the healthiest city I have come across. It’s made for walkers and cyclists, so you must take complete advantage of this.
    • Start with Brouwersgracht – at the start of the Jordaan district, this canal has one of the best sunsets and examples of some of the best Dutch architectures, lining the streets.  Originally a working class neighbourhood, Jordaan has redefined itself as the art, music and cultural district of Amsterdam.  The bridges, barges and bicycles lined along the canal, makes it a typical Amsterdam scene.
    • Walk over to Prinsengracht – the most picturesque canal in Jordaan district. It is the main canal leading to Nine Streets, the shopping district and finally to Leidseplein (the heart of the city). Haphazard cobbled streets run up to the main canal, dotted by colourful house façades and cosy cafes, making it a walk worth its time.
    • Move on to Leidsegracht – Just before hitting Leidseplein, the busiest street swarmed with tourists, take a moment to enjoy this quiet little street. The canal houses on Leidsegracht are most beautiful with intricately designed gables leaning over the streets and brick walls. Spend an afternoon strolling along the canal and you will know what I mean.
    • Finally end with Groenburgwal – While you dodge the stuffy tourist-filled main streets of Leidseplein and Dam Square and find yourself in the Old City Centre, you will come across this gem of a canal with a view straight out of a postcard. This is about two streets before Waterlooplein market and oh! it is one of 8 wooden drawbridges, overlooking the Zuiderkerk – the southern church. Made your heart leap there, didn’t I?
  2. Explore the Albert Cuypmarkt: The largest street market of Amsterdam, this one is sort of melting pot of many cultures. Moroccan, Indonesian and Dutch come together to haggle over knickknacks and cheese. The market is situated in the heart of De Pipj district, a very lively area filled with shops, restaurants and cosy bars. Do remember, the market is open Monday-Saturday, 9:00 – 5:00pm and don’t forget to try the Dutch local, raw herring from a local stall.
  3. Spend a day in the museum quarter: Now I understand not everyone loves the museums, or is as crazy about them as I am. But the museum quarter of Amsterdam has something for every traveller. Three of the best museums are next to each other – Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh museum and Stedelijk museum. Add Vondelpark and Museumplein to the mix and you have a complete day planned out. Big open grounds, great for picnics on a perfect sunny day, street food stalls selling waffles and small boutique shops – what else do you need to make a gorgeous day? While Rijksmuseum will give you the Dutch art flavour coupled with modern art extravaganza, Van Gogh museum is a perfect tribute to the artist with some of his best works on display. And Vondelpark is amazing for sinking your toes in the grass and enjoying a lunch of bread, cheese and wine.
  4. Explore the neighbourhood: There are many small towns around Amsterdam within an hour’s train ride that are worth
  5. DSC_0086half-day exploration. Choose from De Haag, Delft, Haarlem, Alkmaar or Hilversum. We decided to go to Haarlem. No more than 20 kilometres from Amsterdam, this is one of the oldest towns in The Netherlands. Till not too long ago, it was overshadowed by it’s obviously very famous cousin, Amsterdam. The town is now coming to its own; travellers are discovering its charm, its art and its history.  We took a 15-minutes long train journey to Haarlem from Amsterdam Central Station. Any train that goes to The Hague, will stop at Haarlem, but do make sure you check with the conductor before getting on the train. We spent all day checking out the weekend street market, exploring its many cobbled streets, enjoying a pint of beer as street performers enthralled us in the market square, Grote Markt. And, yes, the one tip would be – walk back from Grote Markt to the station – the many sights include perfect houses, tree-lined cobbled streets, children playing in sunny patches of the parks and couples cycling their way through the city.
  6. Sit by the canal in the middle of De Wallen: I may sound old, married and boring with this one, but trust me when I say, it is the best thing you will do one lovely evening. De Wallen, popularly known as the Red Light District, leaves nothing to imagination. Over weekends it is swarming with 20-somethings awkwardly staring at the display or living it up in the free sex-and-drugs capital of the world. But if you can find your own little zone in the middle of all the hedonistic craze, it will be the best time you will have. We bought a bottle of wine, 2 glasses and some authentic Dutch fries, found a calm spot by the canal near the main street, watched the sun go down and absorbed the atmosphere around us. It is something.DSC_0280

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