Serenity is the perfect word to describe Amsterdam. Due to its reputation, one might think that Amsterdam is a city that never sleeps, and that the entire city is a dance floor, partying 24/7. Well, let me warn you: This article is not about partying but instead about finding inner peace while walking around the historic streets and discovering the best examples of the high art of the lowlands.
I usually plan my journeys down to the second and create a timetable so I can see and do everything when I am in a new city. For the first time in my life I decided to go with the flow and enjoy what the city has to offer without a plan or feeling rushed.
In the second week of June, my husband and I got on a plane and began our journey to Amsterdam, the Netherlands for four nights. The journey to Amsterdam from Istanbul takes three and a half hours, which was not something I was accustomed to since the longest flight I have ever been on was to Italy, which only took two and a half. When I got off the plane, I was a little disoriented and my legs were killing me after sitting for almost four hours straight. Yet, we had to rush to the train station, and since my husband was pulling me along by the arm, he left me no choice but to follow.
Amsterdam's spiderweb-like railway has a station inside Schiphol Airport, making it easy to reach the city center. After a 15 to 20-minute train ride, you arrive at Amsterdam Central Station in the heart of the city. Tickets for the train from the airport to the city's center cost 11 euros each, but it is one of the most comfortable train rides you will ever experience.
After we arrived in the city center, we decided to head straight to the hotel and drop off our luggage. And, thank God for Google Maps! When it comes to finding the place you want to go, Amsterdam is easy. With a little help from Google Maps, we easily found our hotel, which was close to the central station, and hurried back to the street after dropping off our bags.
Walking around Amsterdam is the best thing you can do. The streets take you to the heart of the city whether you like it or not and if you want to get lost, you really have to purposefully try to do so. On our first day in Amsterdam, we dedicated our time to experiencing the spirit of the city and to discover our surroundings. Surrounded by a series of canals, Amsterdam offers you surprises around every corner. You can come across a tiny garden that will inspire you or an old monastery now turned into a performance studio.
You can't walk a kilometer without bumping into a masterpiece in the city. In fact, I call Amsterdam a city of fairy tales since each building and each corner stands as if they are artwork. On the second day, we decided to pay a visit to the acclaimed museums of Amsterdam. Amsterdam's Museum District is not only surrounded by museums but also a great variety of luxury brands and designer labels. Museum Square is home to world-famous museums such as Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, Stedelijk Museum and the Royal Concertgebouw. This is also the place where you can take a picture with the world-famous "I Amsterdam" letters.
Staying near Central Station, the Museum District was a little far away for us, but there was no need to worry. You do not need to use public transportation if you want to get to know Amsterdam on foot. We started walking from Central Station and in 30 minutes, we were at Museum Square. On our way, we discovered a lovely shop where you can find the latest collections of local designers and a great cafe that serves healthy food.
The museums of Amsterdam are unmatched but since we had little time on our hands, we had to choose two we really wanted to visit. We set our sights on the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh museum and went to buy our tickets. A quick tip: If you ever want to get into Amsterdam museums, either purchase your tickets online before you arrive or get up early to avoid huge crowds and long lines.
Rijksmuseum is home to the finest examples of high art of the lowlands. Its vast collection showcases iconic art and a wide variety of artifacts that reflect more than 800 years of Dutch and global history, including jaw dropping paintings by the likes of Rembrandt, Vermeer, Frans Hals and countless more Dutch greats. As well as being a national treasure in its own right, Rijksmuseum's internationally revered collection features some of the most famous national treasures in the Netherlands, and perhaps most notably Rembrandt's "The Night Watch."
Rijksmuseum is a huge, maze-like building, so it is possible to get confused since you are already mesmerized by the art. Make sure to make a mental note of the galleries you visit so you don't waste time visiting the same gallery twice. Also, since the museum and its collection are among the biggest in the world, it takes more than two hours to see all of the artwork.
After walking our feet off at Rijksmuseum, we moved on to the Van Gogh Museum, which is more modern in terms of curation. Van Gogh is a relatively small museum in comparison. It features a wonderful compilation of Van Gogh's artwork, starting with his self-portraits and moving on to his best-known pieces. In total, the permanent collection of the museum includes 200 paintings, 500 drawings and more than 700 letters, plus his collection of Japanese prints. In addition to the works of Van Gogh, the museum has a rich and varied collection of his contemporaries.
Leaving the Museum District, we choose a different route to our next destination. Amsterdam takes you right into its heart and every street you choose is a magical route, encouraging you to walk more.
And the rest...
For the first time in my life, I felt no obligation to see every landmark of the city. Amsterdam gave me the feeling of belonging, inviting me to walk every narrow street, sit on every bench next to the canal and go in every little shop I came across. For the next two days of our trip, we just simply let ourselves relax. The weather was rainy, but we did not care. Even the infamous Red-Light District is serene during the day. From what I experienced, I recommend you to wake up really early in the morning. In the mornings, the city is more inviting and ready to offer you its true face. Also, you should rent a bike at least for a day to feel like you are one of the residents of Amsterdam. Bicycles are such a big part of the lives of Amsterdam locals that they can even text while riding their bikes 15 kilometers per hour.
Also try different cafes you came across while walking around the city. Neighborhoods that are not so close to touristy areas are the best places to find hidden gems.
Do not forget to have breakfast by the famous canals of Amsterdam. Even if you cannot find a cafe, grab some croissants and a cup of tea and enjoy the serene beauty of the city.