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Amsterdam’s wider appeal

Amsterdam city of contrasts and extremes.  Famous and infamous. But can you really relax there?  Is it a place to go with your partner for a quiet weekend, is it somewhere you would want to take the children?  The answer to all is yes.  Although Amsterdam is one of the top destinations for mad weekenders, mainly the stag parties and the hen nights (oh yes the ladies love it too), it is such a diverse and truly ancient city that  no-one should write it off when planning a trip on the basis of it’s wild reputation.

There are two main areas for the mad weekender’s, the most obvious being Damrak. Damrak is the road leading from the main train station in Amsterdam to Dam Square, it is based on a loop with restaurants, cafés, hotels, bars, souvenir shops and main street shopping on each side and through the middle, The Damrak has a distinctive pulse and atmosphere, always busy and colourful where the buildings jostle for space and need to lean against each other else they fall down.   Dam Square at the top of the Damrak is roughly a fifteen minute walk from Leidesplein Square, and you’ll pass the flower market on the way which is always wonderful to visit. Flowers of every colour and type can be found here, including exotic tulip breeds.  There are also cafes and surprising little shops filled with old prints and maps of ancient Amsterdam or unique Christmas decorations nestled opposite the flower stalls.  Just off the Damrak is the red light district.  Threaded through with beautiful little canals and lovely old buildings it is at odds with its reputation.  The ladies in the windows are indeed tacky, although not so obvious as you might think. More obvious are the sex shows.  They seem to shove their way between the more innocent buildings, with their neon lights, tacky posters and large, silent doormen.  As you stroll down the leafy walkways of the red light district, you’ll find dotted about between the ancient buildings and the sex shows, are the coffee shops, cafes and bars in plentiful supply. Ideal for people watching, or just chilling out.  As night falls the place lives up to its reputation, the older, wiser side of the red light district fades into the darkness and  the ladies turn their lights on.

The second area for the mad weekenders is Leidseplein square and its surrounding roads.  Leidseplein is as populated as Damrak but is bigger and more wide spread making it feel less hectic, but only slightly so.  Leidesplein square differs substantially from Damrak with more bars and coffee shops and is the best place for night clubbers.  There are  no souveniour  shops or main street shopping.  But here is where you can really indulge yourself if food is your passion.  Restaurants abound in the small streets hidden behind the square.  Find your way between the Bulldog bar and the obligatory Burger King and you’ll emerge into small, quiet streets filled with tastes of the world.  The restaurants are very  reasonably priced and in all  those I visited the staff were attentive and friendly and the food quality superb.  The square itself is great for bar hopping and entertainment, with theatres and clubs hidden just off the main square.
To escape the mad weekender’s you can visit the Museum Quarter and south of the Leideseplein. 

Vondelpark is just south of Leideseplein and is a hub of performing art students and  natives.  In the summer months of June, July and August there are free concerts held in Vondelpark every Sunday at 2pm. The park is truly beautiful and is fairly large, it is a lovely place to spend the day, especially with children. Personally I found it very restful after the Damrak and Leideplein.  The performances are well worth taking the time to watch and book into your schedule.   Take a canal trip from the Damrak and see all vintage Amsterdam from the waterways, the cruises are reasonably priced and are well worth it, take a drink with you though as in the sun it can get a bit warm under the glass roofed canal boats.   The Van Gogh Museum is a delight featuring a wide range of his work.  Spend a day wandering around the museum and picnic in the park where it is situated.  Anne Franks house is situated north of Leidesplein and is as unremarkable from its neighbours as the remarkable events it has housed.  The inside is still much the same as it was when Anne and her family were betrayed two years after moving there to hide from the Nazis in 1942.  The interior’s poignancy is in no way diminished by the amount of visitors it receives.  Finally as Amsterdam is forever a city of contrasts, a trip to the Heineken Experience is not to be sniffed at, walk around and discover the history of Heineken and all it’s beer making.  You even get a free sample at the end. 

Staying and getting around in Amsterdam is very easy.  The hotels, bed and breakfasts, hostels and campsites abound and cater for every type of budget and holiday you could wish for.  The main way to get around Amsterdam is by tram, they are very easy to use, efficient, on time and frequent. If you’re feeling more adventurous you can join the vast majority of those who live in Amsterdam and cycle.  Hiring bikes can be done through the various cycle shops. Your hotel or the Tourist Information centres will be able to point you in the right direction.

Amsterdam can easily live up to its reputation as a mad weekenders haven.  From the red light district to the night clubs it cannot be faulted.  However for couples looking for romantic getaway or parents for somewhere interesting and diverse to take the children for a city break it is just as accommodating.   Amsterdam is a city of ancient architecture and modern living, a city of warm, friendly people that is full of fun and diversity, a truly cosmopolitan city.   Take the children, Take your loved ones, but leave your preconceptions behind.

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