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Amsterdam! What an incredibly amazing city. Locals and visitors alike enjoy the museums, strolling along canals or through an open market.
Amsterdam really is a magnet for tourists from around the world. Sometimes, though, the city and the popular attractions can feel overcrowded which might take some of the fun out of your vacation.
So what can you do when you have seen all of the well-known tourist spots but the city feels like it is just too crowded for your liking?
Why not explore a few off-the-beaten-path locations, but inside the city as well as a few kilometers away?
Haarlem – not the district in New York City!
Yes, the Harlem in New York was founded by Dutch settlers, but the city of Haarlem is very different. Located on the river Spaarne, it is only 20 kilometers from Amsterdam.
In the past few years, Haarlem has become a destination for tourists. An impressive city center with lovely buildings throughout is just one of the drawing factors.
Specialty shops and boutiques for your shopping pleasure are easy to find as well as the well-known chain stores. If you are interested in art galleries, you will find them in Haarlem.
In total, there are 14 large and smaller museums situated in Haarlem. You may want to book passage on a Haarlem Canal Cruise to see the city from a different vantage point. These cruises will last for around 50 minutes.
Step Back in Time in Zaanse Schans
One of the most popular attractions in the Netherlands is here at the Zaanse Schans open air museum.
This is a great place to discover a little bit about what daily life may have been like in this country a couple of hundred years ago. As you walk around in this open-air museum, you will be surrounded by the traditional buildings of a Dutch village from the 19th century.
See the workshop where the craftsmen made klompen, or wooden shoes which were everyday shoes back then.
When you visit the Dutch Bakery Museum, the smell of baking bread will certainly make your mouth water.
Take the opportunity to visit the cheese factory and the pewter foundry. Be sure to take in the classical Dutch windmills. Zaanse Schans is a delightful day trip from Amsterdam, full of wooden houses, barns and workshops.
Go cycling or sailing while you are there. Treat yourself to a lunch of pannekoeken, Dutch pancakes. They make for a wonderful meal any time of day.
And now for something completely different …
Here is an activity you can do when you are spending time in the city, perhaps taking a day of rest … De Poezenboot is located close to the main train station in Amsterdam.
The literal translation is “The Cat Boat”. It is the only known floating cat shelter in the world. It is just possible that this shelter was established as much for the people who are extreme cat lovers as it was for the needy cats of Amsterdam.
This would be the perfect place to spend a little time to rest, relax and pet a few local cats. Playing with the Dutch cats is free of charge, but a donation would be greatly appreciated.
The KattenKabinet, or The Cat Cabinet, is a museum filled with a variety of works of art that is devoted to cats, including paintings by Rembrandt, Picasso and Toulous-Lautrec.
The owner of the museum, located at Herengracht 497, lived upstairs on the second floor of the building. Their cats can be found lounging or roaming around in the museum.
This quaint town dates back to 1355 in the time of the Middle Ages. Weesp, which is situated on the river De Vecht, was a very important town and harbor for traders from the 12th through the 15th century.
There was a Civil War in the Netherlands in the late 15th century and that brought an end to this time of plenty. After the war and a period of “economic decline”, some of the new industries that began to develop in Weesp included breweries in the 17th century, porcelain in the 18th century and a chocolate factory in the 19th century.
Today’s Weesp is a place of peace and tranquility in comparison to the hustle of Amsterdam. You will be able to see canals, small shops and majestic old buildings just like in the big city, from here, you can experience them from a different perspective.
Come here to find the cool people
The Xtracold ice bar Amsterdam is a place, unlike any traditional Dutch tourist sight. It is actually a fantastic place to get away from all the usual trappings. When they say IceBar, they really mean it.
The bar is made of 60 tons of natural ice. The room is kept at -10C (14F). If you can, bring something like a sweater or light jacket to keep you warm. Your ticket includes a 20-minute tour of the IceBar by Willem Barentsz.
He will share stories from the time he spent living on the Mercury, a ship he owned in 1956. Some of his stories tell of a time when he was stranded on the North Pole.
Also included in the price of admission are 3 drinks with the first cocktail awaiting you upon your arrival as you enter the lounge. The second two will be served at the XtraCold Icebar.
And if you didn’t bring a sweater with you, they have warm clothing for you to wear. You will especially need the gloves which you will want to hold onto your glass. Like the bar, it is also made from ice.
Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder Museum
Located in Amsterdam‘s Red Light District, this building holds a very interesting piece of Dutch history. In some ways, Museum Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder is an example of how politics and religion can work together and offer a peaceful outcome.
When the Dutch were able to retake the city and the nation from the Spanish Catholic rulers, the Protestant government determined that people would be able to worship in the way that the wanted.
The only stipulation was that they must keep their religious symbols out of sight. Nothing on the building should give away that it was a place of worship/
From 1661-1663, a local merchant purchases 3 adjacent buildings. He then turned the attic into a Catholic church.
Many other such buildings were constructed, but this is the only one that remains. It has been renovated to allow people to visit and see this example of Dutch history.
On the first floor, feel free to visit the museum cafe for a cup of coffee or tea. Enjoy a tasty piece of cake or perhaps a full lunch. You will find a museum shop on the ground floor that carries books, souvenirs and gifts.