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3rd March 2016
1) Anne Frank House Oh my. Where to start with this one. I absolutely love Anne Frank's Diary and read it multiple times throughout my teenage years. So as you can imagine, I was super excited to finally visit the house in which the entire diary is based. Anne's story is a tragic one, but Anne and her family are just a few of the many people that went through the trauma of the Holocaust. I've never been to an exhibition/museum that portrays quite how devastating this time was for many people across Europe (although "The Topography of Terror" in Berlin and the "House of Terror" in Budapest do a pretty good job!). This is a must see in Amsterdam, although prepare to stand in line for hours during peak season. The House opens at 9am, we arrived at 8am just to be sure and there was still a huge queue! Very limited tickets can be bought online months in advance, so maybe check out that option if you know exactly when you are going to be in city! 2) Wander the streets/canals... Or rent a bike! Amsterdam is a pretty city, there's no denying it. So make sure you take time to wander the canals, get lost, enjoy the scenery and of course take lots of pictures for Instagram! Alternatively, do like the Dutch do and rent a bike! 3) Explore the Red Light District A few people might be put off by this one, but it's one of those things you have to do in Amsterdam to say that you've done it! While on a walking tour of the city on my first morning in Amsterdam, the tour guide explained that prostitution was now legal in The Netherlands and it was great for the girls. Prostitution was still a roaring trade prior to legalisation, so in order to ensure the girl's safety, legalisation was the best process. Just make sure you don't have your camera out in this district! 4) Take a day trip to the countryside I visited Amsterdam between Christmas and New Year's Eve and it was absolutely heaving with people. On our last day in the city, we thought it would be nice to see what the countryside has to offer. I'm informed by friends who have lived in the Netherlands that there are some great places to explore (especially if you rent a car!). As we were short for time, we opted for an organised day trip that you can read all about here. 5) Visit the many museums Never have I been to a city where museums make up such a vast majority of the "top things to do". The main two that you will hear about are the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum. I would recommend booking fast-pass tickets and arriving early in the morning! We had a spare afternoon and thought the Van Gogh Museum would be a great way to spend it - nope. There was a 6 hour queue (we travelled in a very busy season between Christmas and New Year's Eve), so decided not to waste time queuing and instead went to the House of Bols (see below) for a slightly different museum experience! 6) .... If museums aren't your thing, at least get a super touristy photo outside. Yes, of course I am talking about the "i am amsterdam" sign. Some really touristy photo opportunities just have to be taken. However, be warned that you will have to wait for an eternity to get a clear photo with no other people in! 7) Have a few drinks... Option 1: The Heineken Experience While I'm travelling, I don't tend to drink at all. This comes as a surprise to my friends who enjoy a cheeky tipple of an evening. I don't know why it doesn't appeal to me at all - maybe because I love getting up early and feeling ready to explore the city, I hate to waste a moment that could be spent exploring! However, both the Heineken Experience and The House of Bols are definitely worth your time! The Heineken Experience shows you the brewing process of this world famous beer (of course you get to try a glass or two at the end!). It's an interesting process and a great indoor activity for a rainy day - although I have heard it doesn't compare to the Guinness Museum in Dublin! 8) Have a few drinks... Option 2: The House of Bols As I'm not a massive fan of beer, so the House of Bols is much more up my street! With an interesting story of the history of the brand, smell tests, taste tests, this is a real sensory overload! At the end, you get to choose a cocktail and two shots to try. With 42 different flavoured liquors, there will be something to appeal to everybody's taste buds! I recommend the peach and watermelon shots! 9) Cruise the Canals Seeing as the city is based around canals, it would be wrong not to cruise around them! We visited during Amsterdam Festival of Light and paid more to cruise at night to see the lights (I won't lie, it was pretty disappointing. The audio was dull and there wasn't much to see from the water). I would love to go back and cruise during the day! 10) Stroll through Vondelpark Vondelpark is a beautiful large park in the city centre. Great for relaxing, exploring and getting away from the hustle and bustle of the city. 11) Sample all the cheeses! The Netherlands is famous for it's cheese production, so it's no surprise that you will come across plenty of cheese shops throughout your time in the city. Make sure you pop in, there's PLENTY of samples to try from! 12) Visit a "coffee shop" Now... this isn't something that I actually did as I'm very anti-drugs, however if this is you're cup of tea (excuse the pun), visiting the world famous "coffee shops" will be right at the top of your lists! 13) Do a walking tour of the city Always a favourite activity of mine on my first morning in a city. This one was particularly insightful in a city filled with sin such as Amsterdam! Learning how the Red Light District works with the law, finding out how "coffee shops" are acceptable even though they are technically still illegal and plenty of other great stories made for a very interesting tour! 14) Spend some time in Dam Square You're definitely going to stumble across Dam Square during your time in the city, it's home to the beautiful Royal Palace (a real stunner before sunrise when you're walking to the museums at ridiculous o'clock!). 15) Try some of the sweet street food! One thing I noticed in Amsterdam in every single shop window/on every stall is waffles. Lots and lots of waffles. A recommendation from my boyfriend's dad is Oilebollen (small doughnuts!). 16) St Nicholas Basilica We all know that I love a good cathedral/church! And for some reason, I haven't seen this one listed on many tourist maps/websites. It's near Amsterdam Centraal Station and is definitely worth a quick peek inside! Many of the other churches in the city have been transformed into something else (the one in the Red Light District has a great chocolate shop inside!), so it's nice to see this one has been retained. 17) Enjoy peace and quiet at the Beginhof The Beginhof is one of the oldest inner courtyards within Amsterdam. We were taken here on a walking tour and it's so secluded, I'm not sure I'd be able to find it again while unguided! It was established in the 14th century for a residence of women that lived like nuns, men were forbidden back then and still can only visit at certain times! The courtyard is deadly quiet and a real sanctuary from the busy city. It's also home to Amsterdam's oldest wooden house (there are only two remaining in the city)! 18) Sexmuseum Really this should fit within the "museums" category, but 17 seemed like a strange number of points to have, so I needed one more (hehe). Yes, you heard it right, there is a museum dedicated to sex. Not everyone's cup of tea once again, but if you're up for a bit of a laugh, this is the place to be. No doubt you will walk past it a dozen times between Amsterdam Centraal Station and Dam Square anyway, it would be rude not to stop and have a look!