The capital of The Netherlands, Amsterdam, is famous for its coffee shops, red lights, and canals. But it offers a lot more than that.

Founded in 1275 supposedly by two fishermen and their dog, Amsterdam became the seat of the House of Orange, the royal family that still rules the country today. Over the centuries, the city grew in importance and wealth as Dutch colonies were set up around the world and companies like the Dutch East India Company (VOC) began transferring wealth to the city. Amsterdam was the focal point of trade and, as the prosperity of the VOC grew, so did the fortunes of the city. The city also became a major financial center, opening the first stock exchange in late the 17th century for tulips!

My first trip to Amsterdam was in 2006. I was there to relax after my trip around Europe. I had seen enough churches and needed a rest. While relaxing in the city, I realized there was much, much more to Amsterdam than I thought.

Most people stay in Amsterdam only a few days, experiencing the major attractions, a coffee shop, and a canal tour. Within days, I realized this was a place that offered much more than that.

Six weeks I was still there. I had fallen in love. The city, the locals, the atmosphere – it was all there. Amsterdam was more than red lights, smoke, and canals.

I just came back from there again, and the city is as wonderful as ever.

Amsterdam canals

Visually, Amsterdam is stunning. Tiny cobblestone streets and alleys are lined with old brick buildings. Separating these streets are tree-lined canals that slice through the city. Wandering around the streets as they zig zag their way through the city, you feel as though you’ve stepped back into 1700 and somewhere around the next corner, you’ll see members of the Dutch East India Company.

Besides being a visual marvel, Amsterdam also offers a lot of activities. The Dutch love to bike. The streets, the city, the country – they’re all meant to be biked. Renting a bike and seeing the city the Dutch way is a great workout, and a great way to get out of the tourist center and visit the suburbs like Jordaan and Oost to see where the locals live.

If museums are your thing, the city is awash with them. There’s the Van Gogh museum, where you can see hundreds of Van Gogh paintings – including the famous sunflowers – as well as paintings from other impressionist painters. Then there is the Rijksmuseum, where you can see Rembrandt’s famous Night Watch painting. (You can even see Rembrandt’s house.) There’s the Amsterdam History Museum, the Sex Museum, the Hemp Museum, and the Jewish History Museum. In Amsterdam, whatever you fancy, there’s probably a museum for it.

Then there’s Vondelpark, the enormous park in the southern part of the city. During the summer, the Dutch come out of hiding and populate the park for a picnic or soccer game or just some relaxation. Vondelpark too busy? Well, there are quite a few other major parks spread out through the city, too. You’ll find what you are looking for.

amsterdam buildings

Besides culture and beauty, there is of course the well-deserved reputation of Amsterdam being a party city. If all you want to do is visit coffee shops, party, and see the red lights, the city has that too. The city has a vibrant party and club scene thanks in part to fun-loving locals and single-minded young tourists.

Whatever you desire, Amsterdam has it. It’s an exciting city, and it’s all against the backdrop of canals, brick houses, trees, and bikes. No journey through Europe is complete without a stop here. You’ll find everything you want, with friendly (and English-speaking) locals willing to show you around.

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