Amsterdam, a Historical Wonder in Europe

Amsterdam is commonly known for its red light district but after visiting the city I can tell you it is so much more.  It is an extremely family friendly city full of fascinating, historical, and beautiful sites.

There are so many ways to experience it all from Amsterdam canal cruise holidays to Heineken brewery tours to tulip festivals just outside the town center.  The timing of your trip will help to dictate what you see as Amsterdam can get quite cold and quite rainy at certain times of the year.  Plan the timing according to your tastes and be sure to visit one of the must see spots listed below.

Anne Frank House
The Netherlands seems so idyllic and peaceful but not so long ago that was not the case.  Even Amsterdam was effected by the horrors of World War 2.  You will find many WW2 memorials throughout the city such as; Dutch National Monument, Homomonument, and numerous museums dedicated to the remembrance of those effected by the war.

The Anne Frank house is one of those museums and is one of the most touching places I have ever visited.  Here you can explore the secret area that Anne lived out the last few years of her life in and where she wrote in her famous diary.  It is a real testament to the desire to survive when you witness for yourself how cramped the area was and then envision what it must have been like for Anne and the 6 other people she shared the space with. No matter what the age of the visitor it will be hard to leave this house unmoved by what they see.

Tip: Read the diary together before you visit for an added bond to the entire experience!

Canal tour

One of the things about Amsterdam that stands out as the city's most beautiful and unique aspect is the intricate canal system throughout the city.  Originally set up for defense and transportation these picturesque canals are now a UNESCO world heritage site.  When the advent of cars came about a huge portion of canals were filled in to make way for the roads you will see now, but 165 historic canals were retained.

There are numerous ways to enjoy the canal but taking a boat trip to relax and enjoy the architecture that lines the canal belt will surely be your best bet. There are many different types of tours possible from simple 1 hour jaunts to a more expansive luxury cruise for days.  You can even rent a house boat and stay on that rather than stay in a hotel!

Tip: If you can take a cruise in the evening.  The city is absolutely charming with the canals all lit up!

Red Light district
Also known as De Wallen, the red light district is famous throughout the world.  It is a small area of the city that basically sums up the tolerant attitude that the Dutch are known for.  If for no other reason I think it is a must see to witness first hand what the fuss is all about.  Honestly it was quite a bit more placid than I was expecting and just seemed to blended in.

Many people may not want to expose their children to these things but sex and drugs are a part of the real world and it seems to me a great spot to introduce the concept and have frank discussions about it.  For a more behind the scenes historical look you can tour the area with a former sex worker.  I have not taken the tour but I have heard it is very interesting.

You will see sex workers ready for a night of work and yes they are scantily clad.  You will also see and witness drugs of all sorts.  The coffee shops can and do sell marijuana and cannabis products.  It is totally legal for them to do so and also legal for you to partake. The shops are fabulously chill places to meet and engage with many different types of people.

Be warned prostitution and drugs are not contained behind the shops and glass windows so if it is something you cannot tolerate stay away.

Tip: Head out in the evening sans children to one of the many "coffee" houses or stop in and watch a sex show if you are so inclined.  Be sure to look for the "pimp free zone" stickers to know that who you are watching has not been forced or coerced into the trade. 

Windmills and Tulips

After the red light district the next thing I think of is windmills and tulips when Amsterdam enters my mind.  If you time it right Amsterdam, or the small towns just outside the city,  can be a total explosion of colorful tulips with the quintessential backdrop of windmills, common in the Netherlands.  In fact anytime of year will be lovely with or without the tulips.

You don't have to leave the city center to see windmills.  There are 8 located around the city.  Seeing them out in the countryside though gives it a much more authentic feel.  To see a range of windmills, take a day trip from Amsterdam to the Zaanse Schans, a kind of open-air museum just outside Amsterdam where many authentic old houses, shops and windmills have been reconstructed.

Tip: The huge, colorful tulip fields are outside Amsterdam, in and near the town of Lisse. For optimal viewing times do your research because depending on the winter weather the dates will vary year to year.  Typically though anytime in March is a good bet!

So as you can see Amsterdam has so much to offer.  I didn't even scratch the surface with this list.  Day trips alone could keep you pleasantly busy for weeks.  Do yourself a favor next time you are in Europe and head over to the Netherlands!

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