|Amsterdam canal during the blue hour|
But I was pleasantly surprised to find there is so much more to this amazing city than ladies of the night and 'coffee shops' (places you go to buy and smoke weed).
Amsterdam is a city rich in history and culture. With its picturesque canals, stunning architecture and lush greenery this is one of the most beautiful cities I have been to.
Nicknamed "Venice of the North", the best way to experience this city is by boat along the canals. You see the city from a different perspective and in all its glory.
You can walk through the city very easily which is another great way to take it all in. Bike riding is also very popular there with tourists and locals alike. However there didn't seem like there was enough road for the cars and the many many bicycles so we decided to stick with using the canals and footpaths.
Of course, most visitors to Amsterdam want to take a walk through the Red Light District or visit one of the many coffee shops Amsterdam is so well known for. And we did just that.
Its quite surprising to see the 'ladies' standing in the doorways of their tiny rooms waiting for their next customer. And what's even more surprising is the smell of weed wafting out from every other shop in broad daylight. It's a very surreal situation. But something I encourage everyone to experience because there are not too many places in the world quite like this! Do not worry about safety issues; Its very safe to walk through the district and its quite common to see a family strolling through the area. Keep in mind however, you are not allowed to photograph the ladies (unless you want to see your treasured camera thrown into the canal).
A few of our favorites places...
This World Heritage Site is a picturesque body of water and is one of the three major canals that shape the city.
Prinsengracht, which translates to 'prince's canal', is filled with gorgeous houseboats and lined with cafes, galleries and boutique shops and is the liveliest of all the canals.
Another great World Heritage Site in Amsterdam, the Jordaan is a charming neighborhood in Greenwich Village. With narrow alleys, picturesque canals and 17th century houses this quaint neighborhood is worth a visit.
Walk through the Jordaan and shop at the designer boutiques, have lunch at a charming café and visit the eccentric specialty shops.
The city's most famous park has been around since 1850 and is a popular area for both tourists and locals alike. A great place for a casual stroll or, for those with more energy to burn, cycling and skating are very popular here.
It's the largest of Amsterdam's 30 parks and in the summer months you can struggle to find a piece of lawn for yourself.
A great place to enjoy a picnic on a beautiful sunny day.
Free City Walking Tour
I am a huge fan of free walking tours and this one did not disappoint. As you walk through the city your guide will share some of the fascinating history with the group and show you some of the best sites Amsterdam has to offer.
They offer different tours, depending on what you are most interested in, which are free (though you are expected to tip). We did the 3 hour city tour which covers a little bit of everything and gave us a great feel of the city. There are also a tour that focus on the Red Light District and a bike tour.
Tours like this are the best way to get to know a city better and to orientate yourself on arrival.