This guest post is from Rotterdam resident and blogger Michael Afanasyev. You can follow Michael at his own blog Small European Country
Every major tourist destination has the “big ones”, the things everybody wants to see – like South Africa with the Big Five. Amsterdam has the Big Three. I mean, everybody goes to the Anne Frank House, visits the Rijksmuseum and takes the canal tour, right? Unfortunately, the popularity of these hot-spots tends to bring them down, too. To make the “experience” suitable for the masses, the attractions (yes, Anne Frank is also an “attraction”) make themselves suitable for mass consumption, in what I call the McDonaldsization of travel. I am not a huge fan of Amsterdam myself – to me it is a bit like a sleazy Disneyland. But over the years I’ve learned to appreciate the Amsterdam behind the touristy facade and discovered Amsterdam is more than red lights and canal tours. These are my suggestions for alternatives to the Big Three.
During the German occupation this theater was first turned into “Jews only” venue. Soon after, it was transformed into a monstrous deportation center, right in the heart of Amsterdam. Rather than shuffle with the crowds through Anne Frank’s hideout for 15 minutes after a two-hour line, you can visit the Schouwburg. Try to imagine thousands of Jews packed into this theater, waiting for days and weeks for the journey to their final destination and their tragic destiny. Anne did not pass through here, in case you wondered.
An American visitor once said to me “I didn’t come to Europe to see modern art”. Well, in the words of Jerry Seinfeld, “I think you may have made a big mistake”. I mean, the Stedelijk has paintings by Matisse, Chagall, Mondrian, Malevich, Kandinsky, Appel. It has Dutch design by Berlage and Rietveld. And that’s just on the ground floor! I’m not even talking about the exhibitions featuring the creme de la creme of contemporary art, just these modern classics are worthwhile. And the building itself – neat, calm, spacious – I’m sorry, Rijksmuseum, but you’ve really been out performed here. Besides, the best of the Dutch Old Masters is in the Mauritshuis in The Hague.
Two hour line outside of the Anne Frank House
Rent your own boat
Yes, the best way to experience Amsterdam is from the water. No, its not on a canal cruise. A myriad boats of all types, shapes and sizes are up for rent in Amsterdam. Anything goes – from a one-man canoe to a party ship for 250 people. For any price range and taste, there will be a water-going vessel you can hire, that will give you the opportunity to explore the canals at your own pace and style. Just don’t drink and drive, OK?
I admit, I’ve been to the Amsterdam Big Three myself. Sure, they’re on everyone’s “to do list” but I think these alternatives are really worth considering.
Amsterdam canals—go where the cruise boats don’t.