Everyone loves Amsterdam. Everyone hates Amsterdam. There is a famous line from the film, The Hangover 2 when the search for a missing friend in Bangkok is constantly met with the words “Bangkok’s got him”. That sums up Amsterdam for many visitors pretty well. For all of its reputation, the city is still a major hub of European business and has some of the most innovative and eye-catching architecture in the world. Not that many of the 7 million annual visitors see the wonders of train-shaped ING House or the Hotel Pedro as they head straight for the nearest “cafe” or wander down to do some window shopping.
Few places in the world can boast such a diverse range of attractions for the visitor than Amsterdam. A place where Van Gogh easily rubs shoulders with sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. Despite the superb museums, the stunning architecture and canals that make Venice weep, the city still has a seedy edge. The Red Light District around the canals of Voorburgswal and Achteburgwal is still as active today as when lusty sailors arrived in port 100 years ago. Ironically, it’s not the girls in the window that cause the nuisance here – the sexonomy is highly regulated and very well policed- but the drug dealers harassing visitors. In some ways the shop displays selling contraptions to fill every orifice and the tired and jaded “clubs” such as the Casa Rosa and The Banana Bar today remind us of English seaside resorts, high on innuendo and suggestion (although The Butler would blush with shame if he saw what went on on the stages).
Amsterdam is a work in progress. It’s actually been in that state for what appears to be 20 years. Whilst the canals are romantic and give the city its character, they prove a nightmare when it comes to construction projects and traffic snarl-ups. The covers have finally come off the magnificent Centraal Station building although the working taking place in the basin opposite seems to be the latest project to run over budget and timescale.
The city, for all its faults, is still a great 24 hour destination. A huge selection of cheap flights from the UK, a fast and efficient transport system (buy your 24 hour public transport tickets for €7.30 from the Tourist Office opposite the station), great street food, culture and family attractions if that’s what you are here for, or beer and debauchery if you aren’t. Amsterdam is a city that can sate the most obscure taste (if you don’t believe me then take a wander down Kloveniersburgwal after dark) but delivers some great memories.
For those with children (or those who are just big kids) take a left out of the main station and walk along the quayside for 5 minutes to NEMO (NEwMetrOpolis) the science museum, that packs in enough interactive exercises for (ahem) the kids such as texting your IQ, reaction time and dam building skills. Ten minutes further east is the Artis Zoo which is a hugely popular destination when the sun is shining.
Amsterdam has been the home of Heineken for well over a hundred years and a visit to the brewery on the southern edge of the city is a good way to spend a couple of hours (trams 16 or 24 from Centraal). Did I mention that you get three beers as part of the tour? Step this way sir!
Avoid the Hop On/Hop Off buses that can’t really show you the true Amsterdam, which really only requires a map and some decent shoes and simply wander. The city centre is very compact and hemmed in by water, meaning it’s hard to get too lost. If you want a guided tour then board one of the boat trips that transverse the centre and provides a commentary, albeit rather vanilla on the history of the city. The boats will also give you a good view of the huge queues outside Anne Franks House (if you do want to visit then get here very early).
Michael Jackson warned us about the midnight hour and when darkness does fall then creatures do crawl but not in search of blood. Some grab a portion of chips with mayonnaise or Bittenballon (spicy Dutch croquettes) from one of the fast-food shops on Damrak and simply watch the world go by whilst most head for the window shopping, cannabis cafes and smokey bars of the Red Light District.
Everyone should experience Amsterdam at least once. Nothing can really prepare you for that first trip as your senses will be overwhelmed, but when you return you will see, hear, taste, touch and smell everything just a little bit more familiarity.
If you want to get the most out of your 24 hours, invest in an Amsterdam Card which offers free admission to most museums and free public transport. Currently these cards cost €38 for 1 day and can be bought from the Tourist Offices around the city.