Proving there's more to Amsterdam than canals, coffee shops and cycles

Short of ideas for a great day out (or short break) this summer? If so, look no further than Amsterdam, less than three hours’ drive from Brussels.

Although exploring Amsterdam always deserves more time than expected, the city’s clever urban layout lends itself to short or impromptu excursions.

Amsterdam is easy to get around on foot or by bike, and it’s fit-to-bursting with things to see and do

Here is our guide on how to get the most out of a short visit to this terrific Dutch city.

First stop should be one of the city’s undoubted gems, Artis, short for Natura Artis Magistra (a Latin phrase meaning “Nature is the teacher of art”) which is a zoo in the centre of Amsterdam. It is the oldest zoo in the Netherlands and one of the oldest zoos of mainland Europe. As well as a zoo, Artis also contains an aquarium and a planetarium. Originally founded in 1838, it houses more than 900 species of animals and also has beautiful 19th century buildings and lush gardens. It is a terrific escape from the bustle of the city (a refuge from the red light district and coffeeshops!).

In addition to the outdoor enclosures housing giraffes, lions, meerkats, gorillas and wallabies, there are also indoor structures devoted to groupings of animals. Check out the Butterfly Pavilion, insect, reptile and bird houses. And don’t leave without admiring the diversity of plants, trees and shrubs that form the plant kingdom in the Botanical Gardens. Exotic species can be found in acclimatized greenhouses.

Amsterdam Artis is also one of the fewest zoos in Europe to have so many listed buildings within its grounds, namely the Large Museum (1855), the unique Library building (1867) and the Aquarium (1882).

Another “must see” attraction, albeit reflecting a tragic past, is the Anne Frank House, a biographical museum dedicated to Jewish wartime diarist Anne Frank. The building is located on a canal called the Prinsengracht, close to the Westerkerk, in central Amsterdam.

Anne Frank is one of Amsterdam’s most well known former residents and this is where she lived in hiding with her family for more than two years during World War II. Now converted into a museum it contains a sobering exhibition about the persecution of the Jews during the war, as well as discrimination in general.

The doorway to the annex was concealed behind a specially constructed moveable bookcase. On 4 August 1944, their hiding place was betrayed. The people in hiding were deported to various concentration camps. Only Otto Frank survived the war. Anne’s diary from the period was published and became a bestseller worldwide. The rooms at the Anne Frank House still portray the atmosphere of the period spent in hiding. Historical documents, photographs, film images and original objects that belonged to those in hiding and those who assisted them help illustrate the events that took place.

Canal tours might sound a bit touristy, but if you’re short on time, they’re a great way to see the city and open boat tours run by Swedish company Stromma are just the job.

An hour long highlights trip takes you past the Royal Theatre Carré (a great example of neo-renaissance architecture), the Hermitage Museum, National Maritime Museum, NEMO and the seven bridges of Amsterdam. The pick-up point is on the canal near the city’s main rail station.

Another very popular tourist attraction is Madame Tussauds, located at the Dam Square above a department store. Famous, of course, for it old fashioned wax figures cabinet, Madam Tussauds in Amsterdam has been modernized, equipped with multimedia effects and is always a delight to children and adults alike.

When you think of Amsterdam, you think of canals, cyclists, great museums, cool coffeeshops and the red light district but Amsterdamis much more than a destination for stag weekends and hen parties, there is so much to do and see that Amsterdam is perfect for either a city break or a longer holiday.

You can immerse yourself in culture at the 44 museums,many of which are world class, or you can explore the canal ring – a UNESCO World Heritage site. If you fancy a shopping break, there are over 6,000 shops and 32 markets to browse.

Night owls will find plenty to amuse them in the city’s 1,500+ bars, cafés and clubs. While for families, there are 40 parks, the fabulous Artis zoo in the heart of the city and, when the weather is good, a great selection of urban beaches accessible by public transport.

So, come on, what better reason is there to hop over the border and (re) discover this delightful city this summer.

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Martin Banks

Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a highly qualified journalist with many years experience of working within the EU institutions. He is an occasional, and highly valued, contributor to EU today, writing on a wide variety of issues.

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