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Laid-back Amsterdam

Sculpture reading "Iamsterdam" (photo: Helen Bunting)

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As capital cities go,
is very easygoing. It makes the perfect destination for the type of traveler who doesn’t like to rush around, checking off tourist sites as they go. The city has just enough to see and do, but not too much. And it’s only a 45 minute flight from
’s Gatwick airport.

Below, a few must-see stops to help you plan your trip:

The Rijksmuseum occupies the top spot on
’s museum list. It is currently undergoing extensive renovation, but all of its best pieces are on display in the museum’s Philips Wing. The collection includes works by masters such as Rembrandt and Vermeer, landscapes, still life paintings and art and artifacts from the heyday of Dutch sea power. Best of all, background information is displayed with each piece, so visitors can put everything into historical perspective.

The Red Light District is perhaps the most famous thing about
, so it’s worth walking through (during daylight hours) just to see it for yourself. The area used to be quite rich in the 19th century, but is now mostly just seedy and tacky. Beware that goofy sex shop window displays (think: superhero condoms) may induce fits of giggles.

The Van Gogh Museum contains “the largest collection of Van Gogh’s work anywhere in the world,” according to its website ( But there is more to the collection than paintings. Interspersed among the art are letters that Van Gogh wrote to other artist friends, many of them about his work. Also on display are works by Van Gogh’s contemporaries from which he might have drawn inspiration, or which might have been inspired by him. The result is a more genuine understanding of Van Gogh himself and of artistic movements during his time.

The Anne Frank House attracts massive numbers of tourists—and with good reason. Lines can be long, especially during the summer months, but the exhibit is definitely worth the wait. Anne Frank and her family hid in the house for two years during the Nazi occupation, and were eventually betrayed (no one has ever been able to find out by whom). Out of everyone hiding in the house, only Otto Frank, Anne’s father, survived the war. The small upstairs rooms are almost exactly as they were when he and his family lived there. If you only visit one cultural landmark in
, this should be it.

De 9 Straatjes is an area in central
named for nine picturesque streets loaded with interesting boutiques, cafes, and restaurants, just down from the Anne Frank House. I highly recommend a little place called Pancakes!
, at 38 Berenstraat. The cozy café serves massive pancakes with a huge variety of toppings.

Forget tulips and windmills. When it comes to cultural icons, the Dutch beer Heineken is far more ubiquitous. Beer devotees can take a trip to the Heineken Experience, a shrine to the brand housed on the site of the old brewery. Be warned: the tour is far too long and the product-pushing incessant. But there is plenty of free beer at the end.

Be sure to try genever (a traditional Dutch spirit), pommes frites, and the plentiful Asian food. For those who’d like to visit a “coffee shop,” any guidebook will give you a list of places.

is easy to navigate, whether you walk, use the tram system or rent a bike. And everyone speaks English.
Useful websites:
- (in Dutch—click on the “Route” button for a small map and “Contact” for the street address, telephone number and email).