FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

Amsterdam: Dutch Treat

Dec 1, 2010
2010 / December 2010

There will be clichés — they can’t be avoided. So let’s address them up front: canals, 17th-century gabled townhouses, bicycles, the Red Light District, coffee shops selling cannabis, Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Anne Frank, Heineken beer, tulips, Edam cheese, wooden clogs. I guess we’re in Amsterdam.

The city is so heavily laden with preconceptions, you might wonder if it’s worth visiting at all. You start to think again as soon as you touch down at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. This is the world’s third-busiest international hub, maintaining centuries-old connections with all corners of the world. For all Amsterdam’s parochial trappings, it comes as a surprise to discover that it is among the most cosmopolitan cities in Europe.

Before you leave Schiphol, take a moment to marvel at the Dutch ingenuity that enabled it to be built on this spot southwest of downtown. Almost a third of the Netherlands is below sea level, including the airport, which occupies the site of a major naval battle fought in 1574.

Amsterdam has a love-hate relationship with water. On the one hand, it is engaged in a never-ending battle to protect the land reclaimed from the North Sea with an extensive system of dikes (equivalent to levees). On the other, the city planners created a spider’s web of 165 canals, bringing water to the doorsteps of most of the inhabitants.

Construction of the Grachtengordel (the “girdle of canals”) began almost exactly 400 years ago and helped to transform Amsterdam’s fortunes. Today, as you stroll along the leafy, cobbled banks of the canals, it is hard to imagine the industrious bustle of barges and schooners that once carried international trade directly into the heart of the city.

One of the most significant pillars of the early boom in international commerce is to be found inside an unassuming gabled entrance on Oude Hoogstraat, a narrow street in the center of the city.

Walk through the dingy passageway and you enter a beautiful 17th-century courtyard. Above a doorway on the far side are the letters “VOC” — Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie. The Dutch East India Company.

Established in 1602, the VOC was the world’s first multinational corporation, presiding over a commercial empire that spanned Asia. It was the first company to issue shares to the public and the first to pay its shareholders an annual dividend. Modern capitalism began in this brick building.

Thanks to the company’s 200 years of success, Amsterdam flourished, becoming the wealthiest city in the world. Merchant ships shuttled in and out, bringing cargo and people from far-flung lands.

Some port cities respond to immigrants by becoming insular and unwelcoming. Amsterdam embraced the outsiders and forged an enduring reputation for liberal tolerance. Today, about a third of the population is of non-European origin, though the city doesn’t have the kaleidoscopic, multicultural feel of London or New York. This is a melting pot in which the flavor remains uniquely Dutch.

Although old Amsterdam was built on trade, in recent years the city’s commercial center of gravity has shifted south to the district of Zuidas, where the multinational successors to the long-gone Dutch East India Company occupy a growing cluster of gleaming skyscrapers.

Now that the business of making money has been relocated elsewhere, something of the old city’s traditional dynamism has been lost. Yet it remains a richly rewarding destination, and for that we have the clichés to thank.

Take a bicycle ride along the dappled streets or hire a pedal-boat to explore the canals. The city is compact allowing you to immerse yourself completely without fear of getting hopelessly lost.

Both in preconception and reality, refinement coexists with a slightly seedy underbelly. Right next door to the Baroque finery of Dam Square is the gaudy excess of the Red Light District. The wafted aromas from a local deli intermingle with a pungent haze of cannabis drifting out of a coffee shop. Posters advertising the latest exhibitions at the Van Gogh Museum or the Rijksmuseum are plastered on walls that are densely sprayed with crude graffiti. This is Amsterdam, clichés and all.


Info To Go

International flights arrive at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMSAMSAMS), five miles southwest of the city. Transfers to the city center by taxi or bus take approximately 20 minutes. Schiphol Station, beneath the airport, provides 15-minute transfers to downtown Amsterdam as well as connections to other cities in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. Visit http://www.holland.com .


Diversions

If you intend to do some serious sightseeing, be sure to equip yourself with an I amsterdam Card, which provides free or discounted access to most of the major museums and attractions as well as unlimited use of public transport. The cards can be purchased online or at local tourist offices. A 24-hour card costs about $46, a 48-hour card is about $58, and a 72-hour card is about $70.

Fine museums and attractions are scattered throughout the city. Three of the most important museums are situated close together a short ride southwest of the city center. The Rijksmuseum contains one of the world’s great art collections, including iconic masterpieces by Rembrandt and Vermeer. The Van Gogh Museum houses the world’s greatest collection of work by Vincent van Gogh, with 200 paintings as well as drawings and letters. Other artists displayed in the museum include Gauguin, Monet, Seurat and Toulouse-Lautrec. Across the road, the Stedelijk Museum, which boasts an important collection of modern art, is currently undergoing a radical renovation. A temporary exhibition will open in the old part of the museum this August. The New Stedelijk should open toward the end of 2011.

Closer to the center of the city, on the banks of the River Amstel, is the Hermitage Amsterdam, a branch of the great State Hermitage in St. Petersburg. Besides the museum’s permanent collections, there are important temporary exhibitions. From March to September, the flagship exhibition is dedicated to the pioneers of modern art, including Matisse and Picasso. A major exhibition devoted to Alexander the Great runs through March 18, 2011.

A short walk from the Hermitage is the Rembrandt House Museum, occupying the great artist’s former home. The museum exhibits almost all of the etchings Rembrandt made in his lifetime.

Another private house preserved as a significant tourist attraction is the home of Anne Frank, the ill-fated Jewish girl whose wartime diary provides a chilling and moving chronicle of Amsterdam under Nazi occupation.

The oldest church in the city is Oude Kerk, which in various incarnations has occupied the same site since the 11th century. Today it finds itself located rather uncomfortably within the Red Light District, where the world’s oldest profession is brazenly on view in gaudily decorated parlor windows. Sights and activities that would shock in other cities are presented matter-of-factly, encapsulating Amsterdam’s liberal mindset.


Lodging

HEM Hotel Maas

Within walking distance of major attractions, this is a small, quiet, family-run hotel; and many of the rooms have whirlpools and waterbeds. Leidsekade 91, tel 31 20 6233868, $$

Hotel Pulitzer, Amsterdam

Occupying 25 17th- and 18th-century townhouses, most of the 230 individually restored guestrooms offer canal views. Prinsengracht 315-331, tel 31 20 5235235, $$$$

NH Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky

Since 1865, the Krasnapolsky has presided over Dam Square. Guestrooms are modern while public spaces retain the hotel’s Belle Époque character. Dam 9, tel 31 20 5549111, $$$$


Dining

Brasserie de Poort

Since 1870, each steak here comes with a numbered certificate; if the number is a round hundred, you get a free bottle of wine. Die Port van Cleve Hotel, Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal, tel 31 20 714 2000, $$$

Brasserie Harkema

At this Dutch take on a Parisian brasserie, housed in a former tobacco factory, the menu is predominantly European with a contemporary twist. Nes 67, tel 31 20 4282222, $$$

Kantjil & de Tijger

Amsterdam has a long tradition of fine Indonesian restaurants. This is one of the best, with emphasis on the food rather than exotic atmosphere. Spuistraat 291-293, tel 31 20 6200994, $$$

Introducing

FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

Explore Excursions

#globility

Insta Feed
Daily
May 20, 2024

Viking Discovers Penguin Discovery

Cruising is always an adventure and, in addition to uncovering new culinary traditions and cultural experiences, lucky guests sometimes get to witness actual scientific discoveries. During a recent sailing of Viking Octantis to the waters of the Antarctic, Viking’s onboard expedition team participated in the discovery of a new colony of chinstrap penguins, identifiable partly by a distinctive facial marking that resembles a strap running beneath their beak from one side of their face to the other, as though holding down a hat.

MORE TO TRAVEL

There’s more to travel than just getting there.

Leisure Lifestyle 2024
May 20, 2024

Blending Business with Leisure Gives Rise to New Travel Opportunities

In short, bleisure travel is on the rise. A blend of business and leisure travel, this modern mode of travel transforms how people explore the world, and it’s showing no signs of slowing down. From tacking on a few days before or after a business trip to requesting to work remotely for an allocated amount of time, bleisure is flexible, dynamic and exciting.

Daily
May 20, 2024

Summer Meetings and Events Offers from Thompson Hotels, Dream Hotels

Two of Hyatt’s signature lifestyle brands, Thompson Hotels and Dream Hotels, offer special meetings and events promotions this summer.

L’Ermitage Beverly Hills: A Discreet Hideaway Awaits

Nestled between the palm-lined boulevards of residential Beverly Hills, L'Ermitage evokes a sense of refined elegance and unparalleled service. This Forbes Five-Star and AAA Five Diamond haven continues to captivate discerning travelers and Angelenos with its unwavering dedication to personalized hospitality.

Slideshow
May 20, 2024

7 Reasons to Put Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, on Your Travel List

It’s time to start dreaming of your next trip. Here’s some destination inspiration for you. Take a visual journey through Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, with us.

Daily
May 16, 2024

This Anguilla Resort Announces New, Exclusive Wine Labels to Mark 40th Anniversary

Later this year, Malliouhana in Anguilla celebrates its 40th anniversary. To commemorate, Malliouhana partnered with Tansy Wines, James Beard award-winning Sommelier Shelley Lindgren and marketing specialist Kitty Oestlien to produce an exclusive private label Vermentino and Rosé. Both sustainably grown and harvested in Northern California, these bottles embody Malliouhana’s newly launched wine program led by Lindgren and Anguilla’s first sommelier, Albert Lake.

Reconnecting the World: GBTA Convention 2023 Spotlights the Vital Role of Business Travel and In-Person Connection

In an increasingly digital and interconnected world, the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) Convention remains an indispensable platform for business travel industry professionals seeking to make the most of the power of face-to-face connections. Taking place August 13–15 in Dallas, the 2023 GBTA Convention provides the unique opportunity for professionals and companies to join visionaries, thought leaders and industry experts for meaningful networking, cutting-edge insights and inspiring innovation.

Daily
May 16, 2024

Norwegian Cruise Line Debuts New Culinary Experiences on “Norwegian Aqua”

Norwegian Cruise Line recently debuted the culinary and beverage experiences debuting on its new Norwegian Aqua, which sets sail in April 2025. The ship will boast three new offerings: Sukhothai, the cruise line’s first Thai restaurant; Swirl Wine Bar; and Planterie, Norwegian’s first dedicated eatery with a plant-based menu.