• 5 February 2016

Magda Lombard, a South African travel blogger from Cape Town, is a true explorer at heart. Recently, she joined our  Christmas & New Years Tour and shared some of her experiences and first impressions of the Netherlands with us! Thanks for sharing your story, Magda!

How fortunate can you get? Having the rare opportunity to go beyond the tulips and canals of Holland’s postcards to see, for the very first time, its pretty towns and unique customs during the last moments of the old year and the first moments of the new, I was very fortunate indeed to experience “Oudejaarsavond” in the Netherlands.

Amsterdam is an immensely popular and busy New Year’s Eve destination. It’s a fascinating city that offers the best of Vincent van Gogh and Rembrandt art, exquisite architecture (including windmills like De Jonge Dikkert), bicycles, endless canals, museums and charming side streets. To be honest, my new fridge magnet actually says it all: “The Bike Town of the World.” Bikes are all over, pedaled by all of the population, young and old, big and small.  Whether you’re looking for history, natural beauty, great food, or beautiful old-world architecture, you can find it all in and around this city. Amsterdam is about so much more than marijuana, prostitution, the red-light district, and tolerance towards habit-forming substances.

Amstedam. "The Bike Town of the World."
Amstedam. “The Bike Town of the World.”

Let’s start at the very beginning… with only two days in Amsterdam, as part of a ten day Expat Explore Christmas European Tour, I started my visit with an orientation drive of the historic city center, canals around each corner.

Visit the Museums

As a European cultural center, there are tons (400 to be exact) of museums and monuments to visit throughout Amsterdam. These museums feature exhibits that range from highly artistic culture to elements like the history of pornography, vodka and cannabis. Admiring Rembrandt’s masterpieces at the Rijksmuseum, visiting a historic diamond polishing factory and the Van Gogh Museum, with many of the painter’s famous works like Starry Night and Sunflowers, are not to be missed.

A highlight before the New Year’s celebrations was a brief visit to the Anne Frank House, which is a biographical museum dedicated to Jewish wartime diarist Anne Frank. The building is located on a canal in central Amsterdam. During World War II, Anne Frank hid from Nazi persecution with her family in those hidden rooms. She did not survive the war, but her wartime diary was published, and the museum preserves the hiding place. The museum is the third most visited museum in the Netherlands, after the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum.

Statue of Anne Frank in Amsterdam.
Statue of Anne Frank in Amsterdam.

I’m sure Amsterdam is a pleasant city to explore all year round, but travelling in winter means you reap unexpected rewards like exploring the museums and relaxing in snug canalside cafes. The only thing I missed was not being able to “tiptoe through the tulips”! Holland’s tulip festival is in full swing in springtime (March to April) every year. You can visit Keukenhof Gardens just outside of the city. There are over seven million bulbs planted annually, from bright yellows to soft violets. I was happy to settle for a collection of the colourful wooden versions to take home.

Get to know the Dutch people and culture

The Dutch are patriotic, direct, organized and conscious of time. We dared not be late for our canal cruise on day one! But they are also so friendly, energetic and open people (not to mention very tall)! We felt very welcome as holidaymakers, and interestingly enough I noticed how quick they were to educate any ignorant tourist about the “coffee shops,” the cookies that are sold and contents thereof. I love the Dutch language and adored hearing “Hallo” (Hello), “Tot  ziens” (Goodbye) and “Dank je wel” (Thank you)!

Eat, eat and eat in Amsterdam.

Dutch food is unpretentious and delicious! Amsterdam is known for its hearty food, great fries (frites), and fine beer. Amstel and Heineken are the most famous Dutch brands. What I quickly learnt was that the Dutch are very, very serious about their beer. Traditional Dutch cuisine is warming and substantial, with unpretentious dishes like pea soup, mashed potatoes and sauerkraut.

Perhaps the best-known Dutch delicacy is the sweet known as stroopwafels, which consist of two thin waffle-like wafers with a sticky, sweet syrup spread in the middle. Said to have originated in the late 18th Century as a poor man’s cookie treat, it’s typically made with flour, butter, milk, eggs, sugar and cinnamon, pressed on a waffle iron and drenched in butter-and-sugar-based syrup, heated to gluey consistency. So yummy, I could not stop devouring the entire packet…delicious and so cheap. And, these popular, chewy stroopwafels make excellent souvenirs to take home.

Stroopwafels - a sticky and sweet Dutch treat.
Stroopwafels – a sticky and sweet Dutch treat.

Take advantage of the included experiences on your tour: Canal Cruise & Walking Tour.

 One of the included experiences on the tour was a late afternoon pizza cruise of the canals of Amsterdam, and also a walking tour to the red-light district. The canal cruise is an absolute must! The experienced captain on board made our cruise highly enjoyable as he eagerly shared his knowledge of the metropolis while exploring Amsterdam’s canal ring.

Amsterdam Canal Cruise exploring the canal ring.
On the Amsterdam Canal Cruise you exploring the canal ring and drift past house boats, canal-side cafes and beautiful Dutch houses. .

It was quite entertaining to visit the red-light district, which is part of the urban area where prostitution and sex-oriented businesses can be found. The term originates from the red lights that were used as signs of brothels.

De Wallen or De Walletjes is the largest and best-known red-light district in Amsterdam. It consists of a network of alleys containing approximately three hundred one-room cabins rented by prostitutes who offer their sexual services from behind a window or glass door, typically illuminated with red lights. These “kamers” are the most visible, and typical of the kind of red light district sex work found in Amsterdam, which has become a large tourist attraction. The area also has some sex shops, sex theaters, peep shows, a sex museum, a cannabis museum, and a number of so-called “coffee shops” that sell marijuana.

Celebrating New Year’s Eve in Amsterdam!

Celebrating New Year’s Eve in Amsterdam is amazing! The city came alive with its third Light Festival, and we saw magical laser shows piercing the night skies and glinting off the canals. Countless bars and restaurants had special events; streets were lit up like diamonds and filled with thousands of people. The atmosphere was electric with firecrackers sounds all around us.

Amsterdam at night!
Amsterdam at night – one of the best spots in the world to ring in the New Year!

The next day, feeling slightly delicate after hours of joyful celebrations until the early morning hours, being a cheese lover, I was guaranteed to love the Amsterdam cheese tour (at Clara Maria Cheese Farm) to the famously known fishing village of Volendam. It was a place known for its magnificent cheese making and the art of traditional clog making, typically referred to as “klompen.” Along with the delicious and rich cheeses that we tasted, I explored and discovered ancient history, culture and natural beauty in the windmill village of Zaanse Schans.

Windmills in Zaanse Schans near Amsterdam.
Windmills in Zaanse Schans near Amsterdam.

These were great moments – only a tiny taste of my unique and unforgettable experience in that far away land of tulips and bicycles. So don’t wait, pack your bags and go on this great adventure to see Amsterdam for yourself!

Magda Lombard

Magda is from a small village called Gordon’s Bay, close to Cape Town in South Africa. She is a corporate lawyer by day, and although the law is her training, travel is her passion. She is a seasoned and keen traveller, who lives by Mark Twain’s motto:

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbour.  Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

If you’d like to be featured as a guest blogger on Expat Explore’s blog or if you just want to give us some feedback about your tour and experiences, please email us at marketing@expatexplore.com. Alternatively, poke us on Facebook or tweet us on Twitter, we want to hear all the stories you have to tell!

Questions & Comments

  1. Hi Magda,

    Thank you for such an informative blog on Amsterdam. It can sometimes be daunting to plan a two day stay in a foreign city, when there is just so much to see and do in such a short time frame – but you summarised the top attractions as well as some unknown ones perfectly.

    Your insider tips and recommendations have made me want to plan a trip to Amsterdam :)

    Thank you again for your very informative blog, I look forward to reading more of your articles!



    I now wish to

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