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Amsterdam – A Cosmopolitan Meltingpot

What can we say about Amsterdam that hasn’t already been said before? Plenty, of course. After all, we live and work in this wonderful city.

Our best advice? Come and visit the place. You’ll have to experience it yourself. Once you do, you’ll know why we say that Amsterdam is truly the world’s most unique city; a thriving, world-class metropolis in pocket format.

Meanwhile this is how the printed Lonely Planet Amsterdam guide describes the city:

Amsterdam is a work of art, a living monument with some of Europe’s finest 17th- and 18th- century architecture. It’s also at the cutting edge of social, cultural and economic developments thanks to its famed tolerance, which bring together people, ideas and products and allows them to flourish.

There’s a lively arts scene, fantastic pubs and unrivalled nightlife. Gays and lesbians find the city a breath of fresh air. Affordable restaurants serve food from all corners of the globe. Street artists – musicians, acrobats, fire-eaters – provide ready entertainment. Open-air markets sell anything from food and flowers to funky clothes, disused furniture and 78RPM records, and myriad shops full of quirky items line side streets and alleyways.

Despite the ready availability of sex and drugs there’s surprisingly little violent crime. Whoever made this whole affair work has done a great job.

Amsterdam has often been called the Venice of the North, and in many respects the comparison is apt. Venice occupies a lagoon, Amsterdam a marshland where river meets sea, and both have had to struggle with water in order to survice (Venice has 117 islands, 150 canals and 400 bridges; Amsterdam has 90 islands, 160 canals, and 1281 bridges). Both were city-states that built far-flung maritime trading empires. Both had a ruling class with strongly republican sentiments, whose wealth rested on money created through commerce and finance, not on inherited land-holdings. Both left a world-class legacy in visual arts.

But there are marked differences: Venice has no road traffic – only pedestrians and a large fleet of busy watercraft; Amsterdam has 550,000 bicycles, less road traffic than it used to, and little water transport apart from tourist boats. Venice is an architectural marvel full of tourists, but in the off season the place seems dead; Amsterdam is equally attractive and full of tourists, but in the off season is keeps powering along and shows no signs of slowing down. In short, Amsterdam is a thriving city that’s alive in all respects; Venice is a museum with relatively little to sustain itself in the modern age.

The phrase ‘cosmopolitan melting pot’ is often used carelessly for cities around the world but it is appropriate for Amsterdam, which has always enticed migrants and non-conformists. Despite (or because of) this transient mix, people accept each other as they are and strive to be gezellig, a nigh-untranslatable term that means something like ‘chummy’ or ‘convivial’ a mood often experienced by people warmly chatting over a drink or two in a cosy ‘brown’ cafe.

The whole city is ‘gezellig – buildings are attractive, intimate, very rarely imposing, and pleasantly balanced by tree-lined canals and scattered parks (Amsterdam is Europe’s greenest capital city). Everything seems designed on a human scale. The city is compact and easily explored on foot, with frequent and efficient public transport to and from the central canal belt.

The rest of the country is compact too, and is serviced by an efficient train network. Within an hour you can walk along the beach and through magnificent dunes; explore old fishing villages along the Ijselmeer; visit small but proud cities such as Haarlem, Leiden or Delft; admire Europe’s most beautiful sculpture garden in the forested Hoge Veluwe national park; shop along the refined streets of The Hague; tour the busiest harbour in the world at Rotterdam; or cycle through endless, brightly coloured fields of blossoming bulbs.

On these sorts of trips you’ll realise that Amsterdam is unique even within the Netherlands, with a mix of old and new, moral rectitude and sleaze, and traditional and alternative cultures that visitors both Dutch and foreign find baffling and delightful.

This book provides background reading, advice and tips, but a lot of things happen in Amsterdam that guidebook researchers can’t always know about. Go out and discover the place for yourself: few cities are more rewarding.

– Source: Lonely Planet Amsterdam, by Rob van Driesum and Nikki Hall

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Footnotes

Note: the above description of Amsterdam was quoted from Lonely Planet Amsterdam, by Rob van Driesum and Nikki Hall, Lonely Planet Publications, Footscray, Victoria, Australia. 3rd Edition – March 2002.

See the current edition written by Karla Zimmerman, Caroline Sieg, and Ryan Ver Berkmoes: Lonely Planet Amsterdam

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This post was last updated: Sep. 25, 2011