Amsterdam’s reputation precedes itself. A latter-day Sodom and Gomorrah where the red lights mean ‘you can go’ and the cakes are not exactly like the one’s gran used to make.
Thirty-one years old and I’d never ventured to the debaucherous Dutch capital until now.
The Hull to Rotterdam mini-cruise gives you a full afternoon there - six-and-a-half hours to be precise - not enough time to get into any serious trouble (although I suppose that depends on your objectives) but enough to sample some of the city’s less spoken of sights.
No matter what your reasoning for visiting Amsterdam, the Anne Frank House is a must. The experience is as haunting as it is moving and one, much like Auschwitz, that will remain with you for a long time. It isn’t just a stark reminder of how evil Mankind can be but also how precious life is and how even decades on, there are people out there who are willing to fight to preserve such important memories.
Book online, at least a couple of weeks in advance, in order to avoid the queues. I got there just after 10-30am on a Monday and the queue (which can pass the three-hour mark) was already snaking well around the block.
The Rijksmuseum, Netherlands’ national museum, is a little further afield but still within walking distance. A city renowned for its brothels and cafes, this is its cultural heartbeat, majestically guiding visitors through centuries of Dutch history while simultaneously showcasing some of arts greatest masterpieces, namely Rembrandt’s The Night Watch.
The museum’s surrounding gardens are free to roam and just as beautiful and for those whose thirst for art needs further quenching, the Van Gogh museum is also nearby.
For those more interested in climbing giant letters, one of the city’s grand ‘I amsterdam’ signs is located at the back of the Rijksmuseum. The other stands at the airport while a third set changes location round the city. They may as well say ‘I am tourist’.
Lowering the tone slightly The Sex Museum may be slightly culturally vacuous but for €4 it is something a bit different. The length of time you’ll need to spend in there? The length of time it takes you to get bored of ogling saucy snaps from the 1870s and sitting in giant penis seats. Not long.
In amongst all the tales of sordid streets and ladies of the night, nobody ever really told me about how beautiful Amsterdam truly is. The network of canals that run through the city like a carpet of glistening sapphires offer idyllic backdrops at every turn. A tour on these canals will cost you in the region of €15 and is undoubtedly the best way to see Amsterdam while learning about its history.
Dam Square, home to the Royal Palace, may not be as resplendent as the ones found in other European cities but it is a good place to relax and unwind at one of the many nearby cafes or restaurants. Only being there a short time I jumped in a small Irish bar called Slainte, down one of the streets running off the square. And ‘slain’ was exactly how I felt after being charged €17 for a cheese and ham toastie with chips, a Guinness and a vodka lemonade. When you’re not clock watching it’s a lot easier to take your time when selecting somewhere to dine.
How do you write about the Red Light District without sounding like a perverted Peeping Tom? You can’t. I’ve tried a variety ways by they all sound equally creepy. I genuinely did want to see the city’s most famous area for myself and it is something you really have to see to believe. Just don’t take a wrong turn and end up wandering into the transgender district because after one double-take too many you can begin to look a little bit too interested.
Six-and-a-half hours is not nearly enough time to properly explore a city the size of Amsterdam. The day trip offers an affordable way to sample its many sights and sounds but if you can, find a deal which includes a night staying over. I’m sure Amsterdam is a place that truly comes into its own once the sun goes down.
One last piece of advice. If you are to try a ‘Funny Muffin’ from one of the many cafes dotted around, don’t do so 15 minutes before your coach ride back to the ferry - just in case the hour-long journey becomes a gruelling two-and-a-half hours long thanks to traffic.