Amsterdam and Dutch Side Trips
Rick Steves' Europe: Episode # 206
Amsterdam stimulates all the senses, with Rembrandt's and stately architecture from its Golden Age, hidden churches and Holocaust memorials from its troubled times, and Van Gogh's and titillating street life from its modern age. Then, side-tripping into the countryside (and below sea-level), we hike dikes, climb windmills, tour the world's biggest flower market, and see how in Holland, "everything's just so Dutch!"
- Read the script from the show.
While Amsterdam has long been known for its tolerant attitudes, 16th-century politics forced Dutch Catholics to worship discreetly. Near the train station in the Red Light District, you'll find a fascinating hidden Catholic church filling the attic of three 17th-century merchants' houses. Don't miss the silver collection and other exhibits of daily life from 300 years ago (Oudezijds Voorburgwal 40, tel. 020/624-6604).
This is an impressive look at how the Dutch resisted their Nazi occupiers from 1940 to 1945. You'll see propaganda movie clips, study forged ID cards under a magnifying glass, and read about ingenious and courageous efforts — big and small — to hide local Jews from the Germans and undermine the Nazi regime (tram #9 from station, Plantage Kerklaan 61, tel. 020/620-2535).
A middle-aged Rembrandt lived here after his wife's death, as his popularity and wealth dwindled down to obscurity and bankruptcy (1639–1658). Tour the place this way: See the 10-minute introductory video (Dutch and English showings alternate); explore Rembrandt's reconstructed house (filled with exactly what his bankruptcy inventory of 1656 said he owned); imagine him at work in his reconstructed studio; marvel at his personal collection of exotic objects, many of which he included in paintings; ask the printer to explain the etching process (drawing in soft wax on a metal plate that's then dipped in acid, inked up, and printed); then, for the finale, enjoy several rooms of original, marvelous, and well-described Rembrandt etchings (Jodenbreestraat 4, tel. 020/520-0400).
Near the Rijksmuseum, this remarkable museum features works by the troubled Dutch artist whose art seemed to mirror his life. Vincent, who killed himself in 1890 at age 37, is best known for sunny, Impressionist canvases that vibrate and pulse with life. The museum's 200 paintings, a stroll through the artist's work and life, were owned by Theo, Vincent's younger, art-dealer brother (Paulus Potterstraat 7, tel. 020/570-5200).
Haarlem is the hometown of Frans Hals, the foremost Dutch portrait painter of the 17th-century Golden Age. This refreshing museum, once an almshouse for old men back in 1610, displays many of his greatest paintings, done with his nearly Impressionistic style. You'll see group portraits and take-me-back paintings of old-time Haarlem (Groot Heiligland 62, tel. 023/511-5775). Look for the 250-year-old dollhouse on display in a former chapel.
Get a bird's-eye view of the huge Dutch flower industry during working weekdays. Wander on elevated walkways (through what's claimed to be the biggest commercial building on earth) over literally trainloads of freshly cut flowers. About half of all the flowers exported from Holland are auctioned off here in four huge auditoriums (tel. 0297/392-185).
For up-to-date specifics, see the latest edition of the Rick Steves' Amsterdam, Bruges & Brussels travel guide — or join us on one of our free-spirited Holland and Belgium tours.