Earlier this year, I published a couple of blog posts about my trip to Amsterdam—my 30th to this famous city founded in 1275. The occasion, as with all my previous trips, was to teach my professional level course on Analytical Method Validation. But beyond describing my trip in those two previous posts, my inspiration for this post was actually a comment made by the person who teaches the course with me.
On one of the breaks while we were chatting with the course participants about different things to do in Amsterdam, my co-instructor said we probably knew this city better than any other city we had ever travelled to. It made me pause for a moment but then I realized he was probably right.
I have boasted to friends before that whenever I leave the hotel, I never carry a map with me since I know the city so well. Since Amsterdam is such an easily walkable city, wherever we go we typically walk and since the old part of the city is laid out on concentric canals, it is always easy to find our way back by following a canal even if we end up in an unfamiliar part of the city. And if we end up somewhere without a canal in sight, we just listen for the familiar bell of one the many trams running through the city, walk towards that, and then hop on as no matter where the trams come from, they all go back to Central Station in the center of the city.
So his comment was since we know the city so well, we can be trusted with recommendations as we also must know some of the best things to do or see. Which as it turns out are the things we have done many times over our multitude of visits.
Amsterdam is blessed with a plethora of world-class museums but there are a few that we have frequented the most often.
My favorite and the one I have probably been to the most is the Van Gogh Museum. Nowhere else in the world will you find a larger collection of Van Gogh paintings than here. And frequently their special exhibits are fabulous (like the special exhibit of Van Gogh’s famous sunflower painting next to the actual vase that held said sunflowers while being painted).
On an even broader and grander scale is the Rijks Museum, home of many famous paintings including Rembrandt’s massive Night Watch (think the Met in New York or several of the Smithsonian museums under one roof).
Probably the reason I haven’t visited the Rijks as often as the Van Gogh is that it was closed for major renovations for about 10 years. But I must say the superior quality of the facility now was well worth the wait.
If you are more interested in modern art than ancient art, then the Stedelijk Museum is a must see for you and one I have also been to frequently. I particularly enjoyed the special exhibit they had on the 70thanniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands with several artifacts from the saving of hidden paintings as discovered by the Monuments Men (click here for a special post just about this). The Stedelijk has also recently gone through a major renovation significantly enhancing its facility.
A great way to learn about the history of Amsterdam is to visit the Amsterdam Museum (previously the Amsterdam Historical Museum). Here you get a great survey of the city’s history from the first damming of the Amstel River in 1275 up to the present day.
One of the most moving experiences you can have in Amsterdam is a visit to the Anne Frank House, where she and her family hid for more than two years before being betrayed. The first time I toured the small attic space and saw Anne’s drawings still pinned on the wall, it brought tears to my eyes thinking of the tragic story. Since my first visit, an adjacent building has been added with more exhibits and a coffee shop.
There are many other great museums I have been to but although I have visited them less frequently, they are still very worthwhile (like the Dutch Resistance Museum, the Museum Our Lord in the Attic (secret church), and Rembrandt’s House).
For classical music, taking in a performance at the Concert Gebouw is a must. Opened in 1888, this is one of the premier concert halls in the world with some of the most perfect acoustics you will ever experience. I have enjoyed some very beautiful performances here (although I would not recommend going the first night you arrive as the jetlag will make it difficult to stay awake). On my most recent trip, for the first time I took a behind-the-scenes tour to learn more about the history and magnificence of this world-class venue.
After a day of sightseeing, you will also find a most diverse variety of restaurants to chose from, many rather small and quant but serving delicious food. One of my favorites is enjoying an Indonesian rijsttafel (Rice Table), now an annual tradition at one restaurant in particular (over the years, the staff has remained the same and I think they have begun to recognize me when I come in).
On the occasions when I have decided to explore beyond Amsterdam, my two most frequented spots have been Madurodam (Holland in miniature, a must see for any avid modeler)…
…and Keukenhof, the spacious 32 hectare (79 acre) garden with up to seven million bulbs blooming during their short two month season.
I speculated in a previous post about Amsterdam that I had been there a cumulative of about seven months over the 20+ years I have been travelling to Amsterdam. While my teaching often took up at least half my time there, you can see I still had plenty of time for sightseeing and learning this city better than any other. But beyond all the interesting sights there are to see in Amsterdam, the one thing I have always done on every single trip is to just sit by a canal and enjoy a cold Heineken.
So if you ever travel to Amsterdam in the future, you never know our paths may actually cross. If you see a confident American walking boldly never pausing to glance at a map, it just might be me. And if you need help with directions feel free to ask me. I will be happy to direct you to your ultimate destination in the city I now realize I know better than any other in the world.