On our first European trip we spent three nights in Amsterdam. Amsterdam is a very large and extremely busy city that offers a bit of everything. Canals and waterways are nearly everywhere in the city. A set of concentric canals radiate outward from Central Station and perpendicular canals connect them to one another and to the main waterways.
Amsterdam has something for everyone with historical and classic buildings as well as ultra-modern architecture. The city contains history, museums, shopping, bicycles, food, churches, bicycles, education, flowers and plants, parks, bicycles (LOTS of bicycles), and so much more. We were there for three nights and only got to see a miniscule amount of the city.
On our first day we took a bus and boat tour. These tours provide a good overview but you will be part of an armada of tour busses traveling to the same locations. We first stopped at Zaanse Schans and saw windmills, museums, shops, bakeries, etc. Our tour guide provided lots of information both in route and at the locations. I especially liked seeing the windmills in the cool, early morning air when the sun was a bit lower.
The tour continued to a farm in Edam where they made cheese and wooden clogs. We enjoyed the demonstrations and the cheese samples. In the town of Edam we saw the canal, bridges, two churches, and some of the shops. Edam seemed like a place where you would want to spend a few hours walking and enjoying. From there we stopped for lunch at the waterfront town of Volendam. This tourist town was a fun stop and I enjoyed some really excellent ice cream from one of the street vendors (it was seriously good). The next stop was the little waterfront town of Marken. I felt like a bit of an intruder being with so large a group in such a quaint little village. It seemed like a storybook kind of place.
After the bus tour we took a boat tour of Amsterdam. The tour boat meandered through city canals and we admired the architecture while hearing a bit about the history of the city. These tours are very touristy but we did see many sights in a short amount of time and we got lots of good information about Amsterdam and the Netherlands. I would recommend this type of tour for first time visitors but you must realize that it is somewhat of a “cattle car” experience.
We staying in the suburb of Zaandam, about 15 minutes by train from Amsterdam Central Station. This area is much quieter, less expensive, and there is a lot to see there. The train fare was about $14 per day, round trip, for two. The lower hotel cost more than compensated for the train fare. I also prefer to stay in a place a bit off the beaten track.
On our last day we walked past the train station and accidentally found all sorts of interesting sights in Zaandam. There was an entire promenade lined with shops, eateries, and bakeries. A restaurant section near the canal bridge was packed with diners enjoying the warm evening. There were nice views from the bridge and two large churches with towers within a few blocks of each other.
When in Amsterdam you must see the Rijksmuseum. This museum contains so many things including original art, mosaics, woodwork masterpieces, ceramics, textiles, and so much more. Seeing original works by Van Gogh, Rembrandt, and Vermeer is amazing. It is best to buy tickets before arriving since you have to reserve an entry time.
The museum contained so much but some of my favorite things were the stained glass windows, mosaics (mostly on the floors), wood items, historic weaponry, and the model ships. The wood items included some of the most amazing furniture and carving that I have ever seen. It amazes me that people had such a high degree of skill to make such things by hand. I would look at some of those pieces and think that an artisan with decades of experience probably took months to create a single piece.
The entrance to the Rijksmuseum is in a very large and impressive tunnel. The tunnel had some rather impressive acoustics and a variety of musicians performed there (much to my delight). We listened to a variety of music and all of it was excellent. Behind the museum was a manicured garden with interactive fountain. The fountain created a water cage that would open and close so visitors could enter and get photos.
Amsterdam has hundreds of different sights. Walk around the city, admire the various parks and public squares, enjoy the architecture (both old and new), take the time to get some photos of the various canals and waterways.