Amsterdam is not your typical city, it does have lots of character and what some may consider a racey city with constrasting aspects such as the culture and the relaxed ambiance, the art and the architecture. Perfect for any cultural travel itinerary!
But if you want to know what I mean exactly by “racey”, “contrastig” and “relaxed ambiance” you definitely want to keep reading!
The Intriguing City of Amsterdam
But what makes Amsterdam so “one of a kind”? And most importantly, how does it go above and beyond the norm to overcome ingrained societal stereotypes?
The Bike Culture
Within a few moments of arrival visitors will notice that biking is more than just a hobby in the city. A legitimate bike culture exists within the city of Amsterdam.
Roads are lined with extensive bike lanes, there are cheap rental places left and right, and concrete bike parking policies are enforced around the city.
This bike culture provides great benefits to the city and its people, including increases in health and wellness among residents and decreases in pollution levels.
For the most part, Amsterdam is a rather flat so getting across the city is usually not a very difficult task and the mostly mild weather provides ideal biking conditions, even for business professionals.
In general, it is estimated that over one million bikes inhabit the city’s streets on any one day, easily more than the number of cars.
For visitors, renting or purchasing a bike can be an ideal way to get around the city affordably, while experiencing the local culture fully. Riding through the streets among locals and tourists creates a splendid, almost childish, experience.
Many foreigners may be surprised to see the majority of bikes are in the traditional Dutch style and have backpedal breaks similar to most bikes for small children, adding to the experience; in any case, it may take a little brushing up to get the hang of riding the traditional Dutch bikes, though modern bikes are also quite widely available.
Alternative Drug Policies
Within the city of Amsterdam use of certain drugs is apparent, accepted, and legal. When walking from one street corner to the next it is hard not to pass by a store selling marijuana infused suckers, tins of magic mushrooms, or salvia seeds.
Even the most innocent looking store often sells pipes in the back room for tobacco or pot leaf adorned key chains near the checkout. With all this drug paraphernalia at their fingertips, foreigners would expect a huge drug problem in the city among locals, equipped with gangs, crime, and violence. However, this is far from the truth.
Amsterdam is a beautiful city, saturated with Dutch culture, historic brick buildings, and lazy canals. It is far from a reflection of a typical inner city with a high rate of drug use.
Instead the open minded, free-use drug policies create just the opposite. Yes, visitors may come to the city to have new experiences not available so openly at home, and yes, there may be individuals who drink too much just like in any other city.
But overall locals use the drugs responsibly and nonchalantly, so if visitors choose to indulge they should be very aware of their limits in order to adhere to local expectations.
When peering in shop windows or looking at a coffee shop menu the differences between Amsterdam and other European cities is clear; but when strolling down a typical alley or street Amsterdam is just another historically-engrained city in Europe.
Extensive Canal Systems
From nearly any point in the city a canal can be seen, it makes for both confusing and helpful navigation, considering many of the canals look exactly alike yet they still act as a stable landmark.
Hundreds of canals exist across Amsterdam, historically used for transport of goods throughout the city. Presently, locals drive boats through the canals as a pastime, tourists see the city by canal boat tours, and some residents permanently reside in houseboats lining the canals.
The extensive canal system makes it quite easy for locals, and foreigners, to use the canals for public transport to and from various destinations around the city. Acting as canal ferries, boats leave at regular times from particular dock points, allowing passengers an eco-friendly way to get around the city.
A Taboo Income
Any foreigner visiting Amsterdam inevitably stumbles upon, or curiously explores, the Red Light District, which encompasses many street blocks at night and is the largest of its kind in the world.
The term Red Light District refers to strings of windows where women stand behind after dark, literally marketing themselves to locals passing by or tourists in disbelief. Many people see this district as completely derogatory towards women or as a promotion of prostitution.
But for the most part the tourist side of the Red Light District remains harmless, especially to foreigners, and can be quite entertaining at times.
Though prostitution is legal in the city and highly regulated, illegal prostitution activity is still regularly prosecuted and overall it is still a moderate social issue for certain populations.
Legalization does allow participating women to receive work permits, which means they have certain labor rights and receive more legal protection. Gradually the city government is closing down brothels or windows that don’t abide by the laws, and as a whole they are becoming more strict on the business.
Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Monet, all of these major classic artists have original works of art in Amsterdam. There are replicas for sale on almost any city block or displayed in the nooks and crannies of local establishments.
Van Gogh has an entire museum dedicated to his work, and any-level art enthusiast can find beauty and amazement within the gallery walls. The Rembrandt House Museum is a must see for art history buffs, displaying not only his works of art themselves but the locations where he created them.
The Rijksmuseum displays all types of art work from antique china, hundred year old Dutch gowns, and intricate models of history’s ships. Art is also apparent in the city’s architecture, tall, lean brick buildings dot the streets each, with some unique touch setting it apart from the others.
From the exterior the EYE Film Institute is literally eye catching, and the interior is filled with a plethora of viewing pleasures from the past and present.
Whether for a weekend or a semester, Amsterdam, infused with history and modern day wonders, will satisfy any travelers curiosity for the land of the Dutch while exposing them to every entertaining quirk the city has to offer.
Elsa works as Content Manager of GoAbroad.com‘s Asia Office and spends her free time managing her community center through a local NGO and helping people rebuild their lives.