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Wednesday, June 29, 2005

10 great things to do in Amsterdam

Posted by on June 29 at 15:56 PM

For Christopher, who’ll soon be departing for Europe (lucky bastid), and whom I hope will fall as sincerely in love with A’Dam as I have:

1) Rent a bike. Even if you don’t ride a bike at home, flat Amsterdam is perfect for it and learning to ride like the Dutch is easy. You’ll find dedicated bike signals and lanes almost everywhere in the central city, and cars yield to you; even Taxis! Ride like the plucky Dutch and use your bell to warn heads-up-their-asses tourists to get out of your way.

2) Ride your bike to and through Vondel Park. It's a huge old park out by the museums. The loopy paths of the rose garden are especially fun to swoop through on a bike. Look for the wild parrots that live in the park's trees.

3) Siberie. This coffeshop is a friendly place to order bud off a menu for the first time and then sit with cool locals. They've also got cheap internet and snacks. It's on the picturesque Brouwersgracht, number 11, in a sweet little neighborhood on the west side of the main canals, near the Jordaan. This neighborhood also has some good breakfast options.

4) Abraxas. My all-time favorite coffeeshop is tricky to find but an absolute gem in the central city. It's four cozy floors in all and feels like a lovingly maintained tree house inside. Buy any drink and 15 minutes of internet time is free (ask for a token). This is where I read The Stranger online and drink mango tea before I start my days in Amsterdam. Really good hash here, too. Wander all the way up to the top. The clandestine door cross the alley is the once super hot Supperclub, where you can eat an overpriced dinner while lounging in a big bed. How to find Abraxas: From Dam Square in the center of town, start down the main shopping street, Kalverstraat. Take the first alley to the right (Jonge Roelensteeg). Abraxas is on your left down the alley (the sign is overhead).

5) Saint Nicholas Boat Club's Hash Boat Tour.
A tiny antique open-top canal boat complete with local guide/captain, where you get to dictate the route and everything is permissible onboard (BYOB, BYOH, BYOwhatever). If it's at all windy, dress extra warm and bring a wind-proof lighter. Ask your captain about their favorite hangouts and nightspots. Book at Boom Chicago box office on Leidseplein.

6) Art History. If you only go to one museum, choose the Van Gogh. It's perfectly sized and details his messy life alongside his art. Also, the Anne Frank Huis is pretty damn moving if you have the time to devote. But go very early or late to avoid a long queue.

7) Eat. Gather a few people and ask a local to recommend good Indonesian rijstafel ("rice table"). It's a feast (up to 30 small dishes, from sweet to spicy) that originated here in Amsterdam. Rijstafel can come anywhere from super fancy to very cheap; pick something in the middle.

8) Oude Kirk. While you're investigating the surreal red-light district, check out the gothic Oude Kirk ("old church," I think). The floor inside is made of gravestones. It's normally only open until 5 pm, but look for notices of concerts and special events. Once we stumbled into a late-night screening of a Bella Lugosi film complete with live organ accompaniment.

9) Eastern Docklands. Do this for sure if you have a bike and the weather's dry: Take your bike on the (free) foot ferry from behind Central Station to KNSM/Java Island and explore the water-city neighborhoods of the Eastern Islands. The Java Ferry drops you at the north tip of Java Island, one of the ingeniously redeveloped slices of former industrial land, now a trove of modern architecture. Go to the end of KNSM Island (connected to Java ), peek down the narrow canals at the witty modern canal houses, and then take a series of bridges and check out the very chic, very Dutch housing on Borneo Island. No coffeeshops out here, but lots of cool crevices and glimpses of how real people live in Amsterdam.

10) If you have time for another bike trip, the Buiksloterweg Ferry departs from jetty 7 behind Central Station and takes you across the harbor to Amsterdam-North. This area encompasses both marine-industrial and cottage-cute residential districts, and feels more like the Netherlands' countryside.