Amsterdam: History & Dutch Culture

A month ago I had the pleasure of visiting the beautiful city of Amsterdam. Its name just oozes of revel for foreign tourists, and it’s the major cultural epicenter of Dutch culture.

As a New Yorker, I particularly think that Amsterdam is interesting since it’s getting a glimpse into the cultural beginnings of New York before the British came, and I can’t help but wonder how the USA would’ve been different if the Dutch were the major colonial power instead.

Amsterdam canal

Amsterdam canal

Pay a visit to West-Indisch Huis, the building that once housed the Dutch West India Company, which is one of the primary forces of how our world became what it was today. You’re also able to view the dock behind a residential building where Henry Hudson set sail across the Atlantic when he settled and founded modern day Manhattan.

It’s a pretty incredible city despite all that makes it touristy. Yes, there are the coffeeshops and the Red Light District; they are cool to take a gander on your first day in Amsterdam, but I urge that you explore other aspects of Amsterdam after.

Amsterdam's thinnest building

Amsterdam’s thinnest building

The novelty of these things has long worn off in Dutch culture, it’s so normalized that it’s not a big deal. From an outside perspective, Dutch culture is paradoxically a mix of the adorable and the “sin city” aspects. You have the windmills, clogs, tulips, stroopwafels, biking, sprinkles, and canals alongside the legal prostitution, rowdy sex clubs, and legalized soft drugs.



Clog boat on a canal!! I mean come on!!!

Clog boat on a canal!! I mean come on!!!

Being Dutch means that very little shocks you; they’ve grown to be world famous for their tolerance and embracing of diversity, including immigrants from all over the world and the acceptance of the gay community from very early on (the first to pass same-sex marriage in 2001). If you find yourself here in early August, Amsterdam hosts the only gay pride parade in the world that the floats are on boats!

Although, allegedly some Dutch people do go to coffeeshops in the more local area of Jordaan; regarded by locals as the best area of Amsterdam. There’s also a lesser known Red Light District in the De Pijp area of Amsterdam.

That being said, this was my second visit to Amsterdam so I already knew some things about it. This was my first time in the summer so I really got to enjoy it a lot more. I’ll discuss the sites more in depth in my next post about Amsterdam.

Amsterdam is really meant to be enjoyed at a slow pace. Choose a canal and just stroll down it leisurely (some nice ones include Singel, Herengracht, and Brouwersgracht). One of my favorite things about the city is that its beauty is very different in the daylight and in the nighttime.

Daytime canal

Daytime canal

Nighttime canal vibe

Nighttime canal vibe

Another way to view Amsterdam is through its charming canals. Amsterdam’s canals are an official UNESCO world heritage site, and it’s a completely different outlook of the city. I found it interesting to tour by canal after orienting myself to the city by foot. Certain canals gain a lot of traffic due to small and tight overpasses, in areas you wouldn’t expect.

Something else somewhat unique to Amsterdam is the number of house boats that people live on. They range in how dingy or luxurious they can be. I didn’t get a chance to visit any, but I would imagine it’s rather cold to live on one in the winter!!

AMS by canal boat

House boats

Canal perspective

Canal perspective

Canal ride through Red Light District

Canal ride through Red Light District

I did my canal tour with a Couchsurfer who owned his own boat and gave us a free canal tour, although there’s many canal cruises offered all over the city.

Lastly, you gotta love how diverse Amsterdam is! If Amsterdam were 100 people: 49 people would be Dutch, 16 from other European countries, 9 from Suriname, 9 from Morocco, 5 from Turkey, and 12 would be from elsewhere (thank you LonelyPlanet).

I will post about what to do & see in Amsterdam tomorrow.

Have you been to Amsterdam? What are some of your favorite things about the city?


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