With the current strong Euro, those in search of an affordable week-end get away are being advised to avoid the Euro Zone. But good value destinations still exist and Amsterdam – known for its art, culture and coffee houses not to mention its legendary tolerance and pragmatism (the city is home to the biggest gay scene in Europe) – is one of them. KH has compiled eight great ‘easy on the wallet’ things to see and do in the delightful Dutch capital Rent a bike
Amsterdam is a city of 750,000 people and 600,000 bicycles – undoubtedly the best way to explore and enjoy this gorgeously compact city. But before you get on your bike, be warned that the Dutch are aggressive cyclists. Cycle safely by using the designated cycle lanes and be prepared to ring your bell loudly to warn others of your imminent approach. There are dozens of rental companies throughout the city clamouring for your cash, all of whom require ID in addition to a deposit.
Ann Frank Huis
Visited by one million people a year, this is the house that Anne Frank, a young Jewish girl, and her family used as a hideaway to escape the Nazis before being mysteriously betrayed to the Gestapo in August 1944. The Franks were among the last Jews to be deported and tragically Ann died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in March 1945, only weeks before it was liberated. Anne’s father, Otto, was the only member of the Frank family to survive; after the war he published Anne’s diary which today has been translated into 60 languages. Queues to get into the museum tend to snake around the block but you can beat the crowds by arriving early or late in the day. You can also save time by buying tickets online in advance and then using the separate entrance for advance ticket holders.
Red Light District (RLD)
No visit to Amsterdam is complete without a wander around the RLD where sightseers share space with drunks, drug dealers, pimps and nearly naked prostitutes – in peace. The ‘girls’ pay around 40 to 100 euro a day to rent their window, depending on its location, and typically charge 50 euro for a 15 minute encounter. Interestingly only five percent of the women working in the red-light district were born in the Netherlands (the majority come from the former Soviet Union and Eastern bloc countries), with randy Brits accounting for 40 per cent of their ‘business’.
Amsterdam’s answer to New York’s Central Park, Vondelpark is as much a part of the city as the coffee shops and canals. The park – a playground for people from all walks of life – is named after the poet and playwright Joost van del Vondel who died in 1679. Regardless of whether you want to relax and read a book, rollerblade, fly kites or share a spliff with friends – rest assured that you can do it all in this popular park.
Good retail therapy is another of Amsterdam’s short break draws. The two most popular areas are Nine Streets, which is chock full of quirky little shops specialising in one offs, and Kalverstraat; this busy shopping street has a branch of Hema – a cross between Kmart, IKEA and a funky urban lifestyle store and is an Amsterdam institution.
Close to Kalverstraat lies Bijenkorf – the city’s famed department store. It’s not cheap (there’s even a charge even to use the loos although admittedly they aren’t bog standard washrooms) but who says you have to buy? If you’re in the mood to splurge but your purse strings are suffering (and times being what they are, that’s most of us), then make for the markets. Be sure to check out Bloemenmarkt, a colourful canal side flower market that has been in existence since the 1860s and the place to buy your tulip bulbs, as well as Waterlooplein; the latter is all about antiques and vintage clothes.
Amsterdam is by no means one of the culinary capitals of the world but what it lacks in fine dining, it more than makes up for in charming coffee shops and cafes. Confused as to the difference between the two? Let KH enlighten you... In Amsterdam a coffee shop sells coffee (and often alcohol), but the emphasis is on cannabis. The most historic and famous type of cafe is the brown cafe – so called because the walls have been stained by centuries of cigarette smoke. Meanwhile beer cafes, as the name suggests, serve beer – often up to a whopping 300 varieties.
Art is everywhere in Amsterdam but Museum Het Rembrandthuis – a beautifully restored house dating from 1606 where Rembrandt lived and worked during the peak of his painting career – is especially worth visiting for its near complete collection of Rembrandt’s etchings (although not all the etchings are on display at once).
Another must see is the Van Gogh Musuem; opened in 1973, it houses approximately 200 painting and 500 drawings by Vincent Van Gogh – the self taught painter who came to be regarded as one of art’s greatest but not before he cut his own life short. Famous works on display include The Potato Eaters (1885), The Yellow House in Arles (1888), The Bedroom (1888) and Wheatfield with Crows (1890) which he finished shortly before his suicide.
Get lost in Jordaan
The former workers’ quarter makes no demand on your cultural conscience but the cosy lanes are home to plenty of pubs, cafes, shops and art galleries that will grab your attention and easily occupy an afternoon. Aim to end your amble in Johnny Jordaanplein, a shady little square situated just west of Prinsengracht, at the corner of Elandsgracht. There you’ll find a colourful painted hut adorned with the lyric from a song by Johnny: ‘Amsterdam, wat bent je mooi ’ which means ‘Amsterdam, how beautiful you are. I couldn’t have put it better myself ...