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My one perfect day in Amsterdam

January 1st, 2003 by MrLuxuryFashionGuru

Since quite a number of people have found this page searching for “a perfect day in Amsterdam”, I thought it would be a public service if I posted some information on what I did on my perfect day in Amsterdam.

Of course, exactly what makes a perfect day in a new city will be different for different people, and depends on when you arrive, what season it is and so on.I arrived by bus on July 18th (Sunday) at about 5pm at the Eurolines Amstel station. (I had come from Paris, which is about six hours away by coach) I then made my way to the city center via the subway system. It’s four or so stops to Centraal Station, which is the main railway station, and also where the main tourist information office is – there you can pick up city maps, get brochures for various attractions, rent bicycles etc. (You can also get city maps from just about any hotel reception – just ask for one.)I then went to my friend Eric’s summer apartment in Amsterdam, which is close to the Central Station. The area also has loads of reasonably priced hotels, and again the tourist information office (ask any police officer or look for the many, many street signs) can direct you to someplace to stay. By about 7pm I was ready to go out again, so I went to the Anne Frank Museum, which was open till 9pm that day (Sunday). The sun doesn’t set till about 10pm in July, so it was a lovely 15-minute stroll through the city. The old part of the city (the part that is ringed by two circular canals) is very compact, and it takes less than 15 minutes to walk right across town. The “Anne Frank Huis” is quite an experience, especially if you’ve read the book, seen the play/movie or even just know a little bit about her and what she represents (the face and voice of hundreds of thousands, even millions of faceless, nameless victims). The house involves some clambering about, with a couple of steep, narrow staircases so it’s not very handicap friendly (and not at all wheelchair-friendly). Definitely worth a visit to pay tribute to one tragic aspect of the beautiful city of Amsterdam.

I was back at Eric’s apartment by 9pm, and we left for dinner at about 9.30pm. He cycled his bike and I rode pillion. The city of Amsterdam is made for bicycles, and it’s a great idea to rent one for the day. There are bike lanes literally everywhere in the city and loads of bike racks to park/lock your bike on every street. I definitely recommend a bicycle as a must-have component of a perfect day in Amsterdam. Be careful though, many, if not all, bikes in Amsterdam have a braking system that’s different from what I’m used to in Asia and the US – instead of brake handles at the handlebars, you have to back-pedal to brake. It’s not hard at all, but it takes a little bit of getting used to when you first start.

Anyway, we had a lovely dinner at a Jewish restaurant in the former Jewish quarter, which of course is now all newer buildings since the area was razed when the Nazis occupied the city. As with most of Europe, very little remains of the pre-WWII Jewish populations or culture in Amsterdam and the Netherlands, although remarkably, the large Jewish synagogue in the former Jewish Quarter somehow escaped destruction. The name of the restaurant we ate at escapes me now, but it doesn’t matter – Amsterdam is filled with great restaurants, eateries, bars and caf鳠which line every street, it seems. Kitchens tend to close between 10pm and 11.30pm, so try and order before that.

If you really want a restaurant recommendation, try Coco’s Outback in Rembrandt Plain. It’s an Australian bar with a great food and drinks menu. The place is pretty sprawling and the atmosphere is fun, relaxed and upbeat (like the music mixed by a live DJ), while the staff (all young travellers themselves) are friendly and pretty cool too. And during the two happy hours each night at 5-6pm (most drinks) and 10-11pm (all cocktails at half price), these are some of the cheapest mojitos, frozen margaritas and G&Ts in town (about €2 to €3). And let’s not even start on the unlimited ribs and chicken offer on the menu…

Dutch food is reportedly not very impressive, in general (mostly fishy stews and things like that, I’m told), but Amsterdam has very good Indonesian cuisine, and the ubiquitous donner kebabs (also known as shorma) are some of the best in the world. Ask for a “shorma sandwich” and expect to be impressed by the scrumptious-ness of this humble comfort food.

After dinner it was about 11pm, so Eric and I headed over to Rembrandt Plain (Rembrandtplein), one of the three or four centres of nightlife in Amsterdam. There we went bar hopping with a couple of other friends. Amsterdam’s nightlife is truly incredible – people in the bars are chatty, interesting and from all over the world. Don’t be surprised if someone buys you a beer, just try and return the favour sometime. The smaller bars are actually more intimate and more fun to be in, in my opinion, but definitely stop by someplace like the ARC bar, one of the chic-est places to see and be seen. Don’t be surprised to see an unusually fetching collection of tall, buff, well-groomed men there and everywhere in the area – the area is also one of the epicentres of gay nightlife. But don’t be intimidated, the place is open to everyone (the owner happens to be straight) and the mood is comfortably laid-back and inviting (and razor-sharp fashionable). Rembrandtplein is also home to Escape, one of the main dance clubs in Amsterdam. The cover charge may seem a tad steep (€14 when I went), but the huge club is worth it, and you can dance till dawn if you like.At some point, do not forget to walk through the very famous red light district, which is squarely in the centre of the city. The area is safe, always crowded with tourists, and police presence is reassuringly constant. The atmosphere is far from seedy. The professional, official-looking set-up of picture windows in the buildings lining the street looking into small rooms populated by one or several women posing in (fairly modest) lingerie is actually more curious or surreal rather than titillating. From afar they simply look like mannequins in a Victoria’s Secret or La Perla store, so it’s a bit disconcerting to realise that the “mannequins” are in fact prostitutes advertising their services. This is a tourist sight not to be missed in a city (and country) famous for its “coffee shops” selling marijuana (which is legal here), legal prostitution, same-sex marriages and legal euthanasia.Try to get to bed before the sun rises, like I did, (which in the summer would be before 4am). That way you’ll be refreshed and ready for the rest of the perfect day ahead.I was awake by 10am the next morning (Monday) and after a bit of breakfast, I was on my bike by 11am headed for the famed Rijks Museum (Rijksmuseum). As I’ve mentioned earlier, the entire city is very, very well-labelled with signs pointing to various landmarks and tourist attractions at every other street corner, plus everyone on the street is more than happy to point you towards your destination. Sometimes, all you need to do is look a bit lost and someone will ask if you need directions.

The Rijks Museum is home to four of the very few surviving paintings by Vermeer, including my favourite, The Kitchen Maid. (Yes, it’s the same Johannes Vermeer from the movie Girl with a Pearl Earring starring Scarlett Johansson and Colin Firth. That iconic painting is at the Hague.) It also boasts an impressive hoard of Rembrandts, including his most famous (and largest) work, The Night Watch. The museum is undergoing major renovation work till 2009, but about a third of the permanent collection remains on display, including all the most popular and important works. (The rest is on loan to other Dutch museum across the country.) A real gem of a museum.

A short stroll across the Museum Plain (Museumplein) from the Rijksmuseum is the Van Gogh Museum, which is the most expensive museum I visited in Amsterdam, but worth the admission price (under 17s get in free, and there are youth/student rates at most museums). Not only is the museum quite large, but it houses hundreds of Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings which comprises about a third of his entire artistic output (including The Potato Eaters, one of his iconic Sunflowers, and the brilliant Room at Arles), and some 900 of his letters (archived). Definitely get the audio guide (which I generally recommend at all Amsterdam museums), which adds coherence and animating detail to the general visitor’s experience. The museum lobby also has a stand from which you can send a free video message to your friends and family via email. Go for it – you’ll enjoy having the video clip as a little keepsake when you get home.

After visiting both museums for about an hour and a half apiece, it should be about 2.30pm, and you’ll be ravenous. Head back into the city for some lunch, en route to your next destination. (PS: There are a number of other museums in the Museumplein area, including a museum of contemporary art, but I decided to give those a miss.)

After another tantalising shorma sandwich (my first was at a stand in the red-light district the night before), I headed for Rembrandt House (Rembrandthuis). This is a house once owned by Rembrandt that has been restored and furnished with period furniture and artwork to closely recreate what it looked like when Rembrandt lived there. It’s also home to the largest collection of Rembrandt’s etchings. I thought the idea was interesting and the execution of the house itself quite impeccable, but personally I don’t find etchings very interesting, so this was not the highlight of the day. If you do visit, however, try to attend one of the regular live etching demonstrations in the etching press room one flight above street level which are interesting in their own right, and also make the collection of etchings more compelling to look at later.

Amsterdam has been the centre of the diamond trade for centuries now, so if there’s still time left in your day, go visit one of the many diamond workshops in the city centre. There you can get a free guided tour of the premises showing you and explaining the gem-cutting, polishing and jewel-setting processes, and afterwards you can admire (or purchase) exquisite finished pieces (or loose stones) in the showroom.

If you have time for one last dinner before you leave as I did, check out an Indonesian restaurant (Indonesia was a Dutch colony for quite a while) – they’re very good, pretty authentic (I should know, I’m from that part of the world) and not that expensive. And with that, I headed back to the bus station and bid adieu (or aju, in Dutch) to Amsterdam and my one perfect day in the beautiful city sometimes called the “Venice of the North”. I hope your visit will be as lovely and memorable as mine was.

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