Experience the tranquil side of Amsterdam

Experience the tranquil side of Amsterdam

by Gretchen Kessler
Stripes Europe

What do you picture when you think of Amsterdam? Head shops selling magic mushrooms, sultry prostitutes of the famed Red Light District, those bold triple Xs on a shock of red and black: the Amsterdam flag. Now that we have this out of the way, let me relate to you the real Amsterdam, and why it deserves a spot on your bucket list.

Visit Vondelpark.

The most notable distinction of Amsterdam’s city center is the serenity. Park yourself at any major confluence at rush hour, and you will soon hear … nothing. Not the cars that tear down most metropolitan streets, “hangry” commuters beeping at cars who hesitate a moment too long, not the constant, roaring traffic of modern life. The first time I went to Amsterdam, I was struck by how I could hear the little girl playing on the other side of the canal, with only the whoosh of an occasional bike passing between us. Not far from this scene, the path leads to Vondelpark, the largest city park in Amsterdam and the most famous park in the Netherlands. Free concerts abound at the open-air theater, and wild herons stalk the banks of the lakes while you watch and sip a coffee from one of the cafes. Think of Vondel as a Dutch Central Park, easy to get lost in the 120 acres of greenery and forget you’re in a major city.

Tour the city on a tram or bike.

The tranquility of Amsterdam comes from the local propensity for walking and biking, combined with the city’s comprehensive and easy-to-use public transportation system. Tickets are valid for an hour after their timestamp, as well as unlimited 24- and 48-hour passes available for purchase directly on the trams. Tour the city like a resident by renting bikes in the city center, or directly from locals on sites like CycleSwap. For prices as low as 3 euros, you can cruise around town like the most self-respecting Dutchman. Take a moment to get used to the flow of traffic when you arrive in the city. Everything moves: pedestrians, cyclists, trams and the occasional car make this bustling city a veritable obstacle course.

Reflect on the history.

Amsterdam’s coat of arms, the three white Xs on a stripe of black, represents the crosses of St. Andrew, a martyr of lowly fisherman origins — the perfect patron saint for a fishing village settled in the thirteenth century. Very few medieval buildings remain, as early houses were generally constructed out of wood. Downtown Amsterdam is nevertheless beautiful: full of exquisite Dutch Renaissance architecture, constructed when old wooden buildings were razed and replaced with brick. The endearing tilt of the riverfront edifices are a reminder that we live in a privileged era to see them. Consider rising sea levels and the eternal march of time, and ol’ Amsterdam will one day be a contemporary Atlantis.

Amsterdam has 165 canals and 80 bridges just in its downtown area. The result is nothing short of an Eden. Houseboats float leisurely past, their inhabitants toasting one another with blithe smiles, their hair catching in the gentle breezes that rustle the tree leaves above your head. One can’t help but think they lead entirely careless lives. (If you owned a houseboat on one of these gorgeous canals, would you harbor a single care? Likely not!) Window boxes full of flowers perfume the streets you walk by, and every arch of stone bridge is a photo op.

There’s so much more to Amsterdam than smoke shops and the Red Light District. Get to know Amsterdam on a different level by taking the time to experience the city’s tranquil side.

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