is a city everyone thinks that they know. Images of scantily clad
women turning on those red lights and wafts of cannabis smoke are
as much ingrained on the consciousness as the myriad canals and
the tragic story of Anne Frank. While popular preconceptions
about the Dutch capital ring true for many arriving visitors, they
really only tell half the story.
is a real, living and breathing city, not just an oasis for tourists,
those who like a smoke and men in search of some extra-marital sex.
In the canals beneath the stag parties and working girls, young
Internet entrepreneurs strike deals across Europe from their houseboats
and just outside the old core is the RAI, one of
the continent’s key conference and business hubs. As well
as the chugging canal boats, the city’s waterways also increasingly
play home to some massive cruise ships and cargo vessels from all
over the world. Today, Amsterdam peddles tourists almost as slickly
as it has peddled goods and services over the centuries.
Situated at the southern end of the Markermeer,
in Noord Holland, the city has clearly come a long way since it
was founded, as legend has it, by two fishermen and a seasick dog.
The story goes that the dog jumped ship to deposit the contents
of his stomach and the two fishermen became the founders of Amsterdam.
The reality might have been slightly more prosaic, with the River
Amstel being dammed in the 13th century and spawning a
settlement, which took the name of Aemstelledamme.
The lifeblood of Amsterdam has long been its aquatic
locale, close as it is to the North Sea and built
on myriad canals, which neatly divide the city into easily navigable
districts and imbue it with a small town ambience. There seems to
be a canal around every corner in Amsterdam and
not too surprising, considering that the city is home to a staggering
165 of them. The city is often compared to Venice but Amsterdam
is no museum city, whose young people are fleeing in droves. Here,
beside the tourists and visiting businessman, the tolerant locals
get on with their lives. Despite the bad publicity surrounding the
rise and murder of far right politician Pim Fortuyn,
in 2002, Amsterdam’s tolerance is still famed. But it does
not only extend to practical solutions on how to deal with one of
the world’s oldest industries and the controlled use of soft
drugs. The city is also a haven for many nationalities, various
sexualities and people of radically different political and religious
persuasions. Whatever visitors make of the sex and drugs, it is
difficult not to be impressed by this live-and-let-live mentality.
As well as being a nefarious oasis, the local tourist board is keen
to stress that Amsterdam boasts more museums per
square inch than anywhere else on the planet. And, in a sense, the
whole city is one living museum, a crucial part of Amsterdam’s
Throughout the summer, all of the city’s eclectic groups come
together in Vondelpark, to relax in the balmy weather.
Amsterdam statistically might be one of Europe’s wettest capitals
but as soon as the clouds clear and the sun is allowed to shine,
its inhabitants spill out onto the streets, to sit in the numerous
pavement cafés, take a cruise on a canal or even partake
in that most ubiquitous of Amsterdam pastimes, ride their bicycles.
Amsterdam’s winters tend to be cold with plenty of rain but
this seldom seems to deter the tourists, who flock to the city all
year round. Particularly cold winters also offer the unique chance
for visitors to witness Amsterdamers uniting in skating across the
picturesquely frozen canals.