Spend two days in one great city

With its tree-lined canals, ornate iron bridges and gabled townhouses, Amsterdam is an award-winning entry into any competition for global tourism. Unfortunately in recent years its reputation as a seedy city with a relaxed policy on taboo activities has often preceded what this city does best – the arts.

With more bridges than Paris, more canals then Venice and hundreds of museums and galleries, you can live life king-size in Holland's capital.

Amsterdam has many fascinating neighbourhoods, from bohemian chic to stately grandeur. The landscape is riddled with graceful bridges and eccentric churches and everything is easily accessible from the city centre. There is also something for every traveller – whether you prefer culture and history, serious partying, or just the relaxing charm of an old European city.

But what do you do if you have only 48 hours in a city where historic landmarks, grand museums and entertainment options vie for attention? Start the day by buying a museum card, this allows unlimited viewing of all the treasure-filled museums and means you can beat the crowds.

Getting around couldn't be easier. Although for UAE visitors saying goodbye to the car might be hard, exploring by bike is the best way to get around. Amsterdam is flat, which also makes it perfect for jogging and walking, should you want more of an activity getaway.

The first stop for my culture fix was the Rijks museum, which houses masterpieces from Rembrandt to Vermeer and is one of the most beautiful buildings in the city. Its Victorian Gothic structure has a fine collection of Dutch art, but if time is short it is best to head straight for the Masterpieces – you won't be disappointed.

The Van Gogh Museum next door contains the largest collection of his paintings in the world. It also provides the opportunity to keep track of the artist's developments, or compare his paintings to works by other artists from the 19th century.

But a warning, arrive early and expect to queue for a long time. It's a must for all international art students and the day I arrive, there was a huge crowd.

If you want a break from cultural pursuits, head to Vondel Park. This glorious green space, named after the Netherlands' premier poet Joost Van Vondel, is affectionately dubbed the lungs of Amsterdam. With grazing animals and jogging tracks, it is a second home to many. Flocks of parakeets screech a welcome chorus, as I cycle along the water's edge. They sing of a time when the park served as a private playground to the wealthy families living around it. But my attention turns from song to film, as I spy the large pavilion of the Netherlands' Film Museum.

While setting out, I resisted the temptation to carry a picnic basket full of Amsterdam's specialty pancake 'pannekoken' – a thicker version of the French crepe, to snack upon. But as the hunger pangs start I regret my decision and head to one of the famous "brown cafés" for which Amsterdam is well-known. A dapper Dutchman informs me over a tumbler of freshly-brewed coffee, that these cafés acquired their name from their dark wood interiors. He employs the word 'gezelligiheid' to describe them. This means coziness or conviviality. As I look around at little groups of people playing cards, sipping coffee, engaging in gossip, I immediately understand what he means.

On the street outside, spring is in full bloom. Beside the cobbled walkway, by the crooked houses, tulips and daffodils grow abundantly. Floating on the Singel Canal, the medieval protective moat of the city, is a daily flower market called Bloemenmarkt that has been held for centuries. Visit it for the history, as much as the blooms.

As the sun rises, the water in the canal changes from opal blue to turquoise, finally transforming into a pasty green that looks like it's been plucked from a painter's palette. It is easy to see why so many artists were inspired by this city.

I survey the work of street artists who squat outside the house of Rembrandt, working with zest and concentration. The house brims with his etchings and the rare objects that he had a passion for collecting. An artist admits to me, "I feel that if I sit as close as possible to the work of the master, I will become as good as them." His charming speech bowls me over and I buy a dozen prints.

Late afternoon is spent exploring the many markets and buying souvenirs. Sketches of windmills are appropriate gifts for friends, but for my grandmother, nothing short of Delftware will do. This pottery style, that developed across the country during the Golden ages, is still available at high-end outlets.

On day two I explore the city on two wheels. As I rent a cycle the bike-owner hands me a slice of freshly-smoked eel as a reward for using "the most-eco friendly transport in the city." I pass a group of buskers playing bongos around the tourist-filled shopping area of Kalverstraat and the Oude Kerk Church, the oldest city house of prayer, gives a stately stare as I fly past. Eventually I stop at the Foam Museum – a photo gallery featuring contemporary photographs and photographic publications. It is off the tourist trail, but well worth a visit.

You can't go to Amsterdam and not stop at the Anne Frank house. It's like going to Rome and bypassing the Vatican. That's what the tourist guide and my parents told me. It was in this house during the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam during the Second World War that Anne wrote her famous diary. She and her family hid for two years in an attempt to avoid capture and deportation. I emerge from the house, thought-provoked.

Opposite the house I see a line for the MuziekTheater, I overhear the men in the queue discuss Tulip finance. Apparently, in Amsterdam's golden age, wealthy merchants would speculate in tulips. In 1637, three tulip bulbs changed hands for a scandalous price equivalent to the cost of a luxurious canal-side house. This craze may have withered with time, but the story, like Amsterdam's charm, will always linger on.

 

Essential guide

Getting there: Amsterdam's Schipol Airport is one of the largest and busiest in Europe. There are several direct and stop-over flights connecting Dubai to Amsterdam.

Staying there: Hotels in Amsterdam are not cheap, so research carefully if you want a good deal. If you're willing to pay, the Amsterdam American Hotel, Southern Canal Belt (www.amsterdamamerican.com) is a comfortable option. There's also the Ambasadde (www.ambassade-hotel.nl) if you're interested in experiencing life in a historic canal house.

Must see:

  • The Rijks Museum for the finest collection of Dutch art anywhere in the world (www.rijksmuseum.nl)
  • The Hortus Botanicus for more than 8,000 species of plant life (www.dehortus.nl)
  • Van Gogh Museum for an insight into the artist's works (http://www3.vangoghmuseum.nl)
  • The Bloemenmarkt, for the tulips
  • A cruise down the city's canals for a slow dance through this dynamic city (http://www.amsterdamboatclub.com)
  • The Anne Frank House (+31 (0)20 556 71 05)
  • Amsterdam's maritime past at the Scheepvarten Museum (www.scheepvaartmuseum.nl)

Don't leave home without:

  • A camera
  • A jacket: It may be spring but the weather can be on and off during this season
Comments

Comments