Amsterdam, Capital City of Netherlands
Other major European capitals are defined by their ornate palaces and grand estates, but in Amsterdam, the joy is in the details. In the capital of the Netherlands, floating houseboats add even more character to the 160 man-made canals, elaborate gables welcome visitors and even the street names tell tales of naval heroes, national legends and Golden Age painters.
You cannot walk a mile in Amsterdam without bumping into a masterpiece. In a city of so many museums, it is impossible to pick a favorite, but the Van Gogh Museum is definitely a highlight. The museum is as much a tour of the troubled painter's mind as it is a walk through his body of work. Hundreds of Van Gogh's works chronicle his short but astonishing life. Through the paintings and drawings, visitors go with Van Gogh from Holland to Paris and finally to Arles, and accompany him on his evolution as an artist. The permanent collection includes highlights like The Bedroom, The Yellow House in Arles and still lifes that depict sunflowers shimmering in intense Mediterranean light. Also on display are personal effects, like a milk jug from Van Gogh's brother Theo that made an appearance in many paintings.
More than 200 masterpieces are on display at the Rijksmuseum, the country's premier art museum. Inside are iconic pieces like Vermeer's The Milkmaid, Rembrandt's Night Watch and an array of world-famous masterpieces by Van der Helst, Steen, Hals, Cuyp and other Golden Age stars. The pride of the Netherlands, the museum is a must-see for anyone with an appreciation for fine art.
Anne Frank is one of the 20th century's most famous authors, the writer of an optimistic diary detailing her experience as a Jewish girl forced to hide in a secret apartment with her family from the Nazis. The actual diary of Anne Frank sits alone in a glass case at the Anne Frank House, the annex where the family and others sat in silence, read Dickens, covered the walls with pasted photos of movie stars and outgrew their clothes for two years before they were betrayed and sent to their deaths. Moving, haunting and inspiring, the museum represents both the darkest and most beautiful aspects of the human experience.
Amsterdam's parks are just as vital as its museums. There is no better place to spend a sunny day than the Vondelpark. The sprawling green space has an almost party atmosphere as locals from all walks of life relax on the grass, read books, share beers with friends and pluck out tunes on acoustic guitars. An abundance of gardens, ponds, lawns and winding footpaths await visitors, encouraging them to explore one of the most beautiful places in the capital.
The city is ripe for rambling, and the atmospheric lanes and quarters are best explored by bicycle. Two-wheeling is a way of life for locals. It is how they get to work, meet dinner dates and go shopping. It is easy for visitors to gear up for a spin thanks to the many bike rental shops in the city center, but if you prefer a less strenuous tour of the city, hop on an open-air canal boat to feel the wind in your hair as you go past hidden gardens, cafes, houses painted in primary colors, tulips in every shade imaginable and charming steepled churches.
Other must-see sights in Amsterdam include the House of Bols gin distillery and museum, the Begijnhof former convent, the Heineken Experience, the 19th-century Waag house, Madame Tussauds, the Amsterdam Tulip Museum, the Artis Zoo, the shining Diamond Museum, the archaeological Allard Pierson Museum, the flower-filled Amstelpark and the Oost-Indisch Huis, former headquarters of the Dutch East India Company.