Amsterdam is one of those cities that every traveler has an image of in their mind before they’ve been there.
While I did come across the scenic canals, the tightly packed buildings, the red light district with prostitutes hanging out in the windows, the weed-filled coffee shops, and the narrow streets filled with cyclists that I was expecting, the capital city of the Netherlands offered so much more.
I found myself in awe of the gorgeous architecture, the abundance of unique street markets, and the significant sense of history and culture packed into this busy city.
My very first observation of Amsterdam was the perfection of the fall weather. After stepping off the bus (where I had been unsuccessfully trying to sleep for the last 12 hours), the crisp, fresh air breathed life into my exhausted body and I began to notice the warmth of the sun and the calm breeze rushing over the water.
The refreshing weather remained for the entirety of our trip, which only enhanced the visual beauty of late October in Amsterdam. Most of the city is enveloped in practical, neutral tones of white, black, brown, and gray, so the changing leaves of the trees added colorful diversity to the streets.
The canals emphasized the beauty of autumn, as their calm, smooth water reflected the red, orange, and yellow leaves and the bright blue sky. So while most of the narrow buildings of Amsterdam lack bright colors, the stillness of the clear water absorbed the vibrance of nature and projected its energy into the modest metropolis.
Although the canals supplied significant aesthetic attractiveness, they did make getting lost exceptionally easy since they all look similar. But if you’re going to get lost, you might as well get lost somewhere beautiful, right?
Amsterdam is an exciting city in so many ways, one of those being the street markets. Endless rows of small tents crowded the narrow cobblestone streets, where vendors sold fresh foods, vintage clothes, antiques, souvenirs, flowers, and anything else you can think of.
My favorite place was the Bloemenmarkt, or the floating flower market. Situated on the edge of the Singel Canal, this market was packed with so many gorgeous flowers and unique plants that we actually visited the area twice and browsed for as much time as our busy schedule would allow.
Another aspect of Amsterdam that consumed a substantial amount of our time was sampling cheese. I quickly noticed that cheese is as culturally and economically essential to the Netherlands as chocolate is to Belgium, or as tea is to England. Every street contained numerous cheese shops with shelves sporting pristine cheese displays and generous amounts of free samples.
We also visited the Amsterdam Cheese Museum, where we learned about the process of making and exporting cheese, saw a diamond-encrusted cheese cutter worth more than my life, and tasted flavors that I didn’t even know existed.
While the Cheese Museum was free, unfortunately many of the other museums I wanted to visit were too expensive for our limited student budget. So the only other museum we explored was the Tulip Museum, which was an adorable little addition to our Amsterdam experience.
For three euros, we enjoyed a small exhibition that outlined the history of tulip production and cultivation, and explained its significance to the culture and economy of Holland. The historical information combined with incredible paintings and photograph displays of the beautiful flower made the Tulip Museum an enlightening and visually pleasing attraction.
Aside from learning about tulips and substituting meals with copious amounts of free cheese samples, we spent a good amount of time admiring the architecture of Amsterdam.
I had seen many pictures of those infamous tall, narrow, canal-side houses, but seeing them in person added a whole new level of depth to the beauty of these buildings. From the ornate roofing designs, to the small, quaint balconies, to the perfectly symmetrical windows and the rustic brick walkways, every building emanated a sense of history and artistic magnificence.
The most amazing architecture we found was a place called Zevenlandenhuizen, which consisted of seven houses sitting adjacent to each other on a narrow side street. Each house was constructed to reflect the style and architecture of a different country, including England, The Netherlands, France, Spain, Italy, Russia, and Germany.
The buildings were absolutely stunning, and you could see the influence of each unique culture in the artistic styling of the houses. For example, the Spanish house clearly represented the early Muslim influences in southern Spain with its elaborate painting and dome shaped window frames. The Russian house resembled a majestic cathedral and had a minaret on top, and the English house resembled a traditional countryside cottage with its modest styling and brown and white color scheme.
Every building was absolutely beautiful, and seeing all these different architectural styles lined up right next to each other emphasized the contrast of the different cultures.
(From left to right: English, Dutch, and Russian houses)
(The Italian house)
(The Spanish house)
(The French house)
(The German House)
We spent most of our time in Amsterdam walking around trying to absorb as much as we possibly could. So with two full days of nonstop exploring, the two times that we actually sat down for dinner felt like a dream because we could take the weight off of our throbbing feet. But there’s nothing quite as satisfying as sitting outside, eating a delicious meal by candlelight, and watching the day drift into darkness.
I love how Europe is filled with cafes that offer outdoor seating because it’s so nice to people watch, feel the cool night air on your face and enjoy the vibrant city scenery while you eat. On our last night in Amsterdam, relaxing outside allowed me to reflect on my short but fulfilling experience in the city.
Overall, Amsterdam represents a chill and peaceful, yet culturally enticing place with intoxicating sights and a relaxed, enjoyable atmosphere.
Not to be creepy or anything but this fine gentleman hanging out on his boat with his adorable dog seemed to really embody the relaxing atmosphere of Amsterdam, so naturally I had to capture this beautiful moment.