What better way to celebrate your birthday than visiting the European centre of debauchery…Amsterdam. Despite its reputation for attracting the shifty sort, Snoop Dogg wannabe’s and celebrating all things Europop, Amsterdam is a beautiful city with oodles of history.
Here are some of my favourite historic moments from my trip:
The Begijnhof is one of the oldest and best known hofjes, or almshouses, in Amsterdam. It consists of a group of houses built snugly around a secluded courtyard, and provided modest homes for unmarried religious women who lived there under vows of chastity.
The Almshouses, known as the Begijnhof Convent.
The original Begijnhof buildings date back to the 14th Century, however, many of the gothic facades have been replaced. The wooden house (Houten Huys) at Begijnhof 34 is the oldest house in Amsterdam.
First off, I genuinely didn’t think Van Gogh had produced so many paintings. When I realised how many floors there were I balked at going in. To be honest, I imagined it would turn into a bit of a dry affair. But I had got Van Gogh seriously wrong. The museum charts the progress of his career, relationships with other European artists of the time, and the progression of his style and technique.
The Van Gogh Museum plays host to hundreds of Van Gogh paintings. The space is simple, light and airy, and is the perfect setting to complement his intrinsic and rather ‘busy’ works of art.
The highlight for me was not only getting up, close and personal with his most famous works, but discovering Van Gogh’s amazing repertoire of other paintings. They range from the unexpected to the truly stunning.
If you visit Amsterdam, you simply must go. Located on the Museumplein, alongside the Rijksmuseum and the Stedelijhk Museum, it is easy to access via tram or bicycle. It isn’t a cheap affair, with entry costing €15 – but it is well worth the money.
Dam Square is probably the most well-known of Amsterdam sites, aside from Anne Frank’s house. Centrally located, the Square takes its names from its original function…a dam. The original was built in 1270, and provided a connection between the two original settlements on either side of the Amstel River. The area grew, and Dam Square became a centre of commerce and governmental importance.
Dam Square is the centre of the ‘hustle & bustle’ in Amsterdam, and is the perfect meeting place for groups.
Today, Dam Square is known as a national square, well known to the population of the Netherlands. It is a hub for demonstrations, rallies and events. It’s also a great place for meeting people at the end of a heavy night!
The Westerkerk Church is breathtakingly beautiful. Built between 1620-31 in the Dutch Renaissance style, Westerkerk is the largest church in the Netherlands built solely for use by Protestants. The Westertoren (Western Tower) is the largest church tower in Amsterdam, standing at 279 feet…that’s almost 52x Jenna’s! The painter, Rembrandt, is buried within the expanse of the church, although his exact burial location is unknown.
The beautiful Westerkerk Church, whose bells provided solace to the ill-fate Anne Frank.
Westerkerk Church received regular mentions in Anne Frank’s diary – the house where Anne and her family hid from Nazi persecution was located just around the corner. Anne wrote that the bells of Westerkerk provided a comfort to her during her confinement. There is even a statue of Anne just outside the church which serves as a poignant reminder of the inhumanities suffered by many.
The Munttoren Tower stands on the bustling Muntplein Square, where the Amstel River and Singel Canal meet. The tower was originally part of the Regulierspoort; one of the main gates in Amsterdam’s medieval city wall. The original gate house was built in 1480, but suffered damage in fire in 1618. The tower was rebuilt in the Amsterdam Renaissance style, in 1620. The Munttoren houses a carillon bell structure and a clockwork with four clock faces.
The Munttoren Tower.
Bonus: Dutch Windmills
I love a good windmill. And I had never really thought about why the Netherlands have so many.
Such is the importance of windmills in Dutch society that there is even a NATIONAL WINDMILL DAY. But why so many windmills?
A beautiful Dutch windmill, it all its glory!
The Netherlands is a low lying country, and has been susceptible to floods and equally, water shortages, for centuries. Ingeniously, the Dutch began to build windmills as a mechanism for controlling the flow of water on the land. Back in the day, the Netherlands boasted more than 10,000 mills, however, there are only circa 1,000 left standing. Many of the remaining mills are open to the public and a couple have even been transformed into homes.
So, is it worth a visit?
If you get the opportunity, get yourself on an Easyjet flight to Amsterdam. Whilst it is expensive, there are hoardes of amazing little pubs, bars and restaurants to feast and make merry, and there are tonnes of budget hotels to rest your weary head.
Forget what you already know, and enjoy Amsterdam for everything else it has to offer. And it has history in abundance!