Five Surprises Waiting In Amsterdam

by Annie Bierbower

Amsterdam may be best known for its world-famous (and perhaps world-controversial) tolerance of vices, but the city has much, much more to offer. Culture, art, beauty, and romance are easy to find in this city known as the “Venice of the North.” Here are five secrets you'll love discovering while studying abroad in Amsterdam.

The Venice of the North - Amsterdam.
The Venice of the North - Amsterdam. Photo by Jonathan Miers

1. It Has More Canals And Bridges Than Venice.

There are 165 canals crisscrossing through lovely Amsterdam with almost 1,300 bridges sprinkled acrossed them to walk, skip,and jump over. This outnumbers the famous canals of Venice. Amsterdam's canals become an everyday part of life, but there are plenty of ways to get more up close and personal. Amsterdam offers the Floating Dutchman: a unique amphibious bus that gives passengers spectacular views of the city from the canals. Enjoy the Blue Hour which is a beautiful time between day and night where the city takes on a breathtaking blue shade from the reflections of intense blue sky onto shimmering waters.

2. It's Safe And Earth-Friendly.

Don't ever leave your common sense at home, here or anywhere else, but know that violent crime is extremely rare in Amsterdam. The city was ranked 22 out 215 worldwide cities for safety by the Mercer 2008 Quality of Life Survey. Amsterdam has not only earned major points for its safety, but the city has been recognized for its eco-friendly infrastructure and practices, earning it a European Green Capital Award.

3. It's So Romantic.

Canals, bridges, and the “blue hour” alone paint a pretty picture when it comes to a romantic scene, but Amsterdam adds even more smooch inspiring scenes. The city was one of the most important ports in the world in the 1700s, and the infrastructure of everything from the streets, to the buildings reflects that. Why is that romantic? To accommodate high shipping needs during its heyday, many of the buildings actually tilt forward. Each subsequent story purposefully reaches out a little further than the previous, so goods could be raised by ropes to higher floors. The result is cobblestone streets lined by centuries-old buildings that lean in around you. A stroll down one will truly leave a couple feeling as if they're the only two people in the world. Add some street music and the fact that bikes outnumber people, and a romantic vibe takes over.

4. It Has Beaches.

Urban beaches have become a trend in Amsterdam. The three most popular are the Strand Zuid, Strand West, and Strand IJburg. They each have a very different feel: Zuid offers more luxury, Strand West is known for its particularly laid-back vibe and live music, and Strand IJburg is a family favorite, one of the few beaches where you can actually swim. There are also rooftop “beaches” if you want more of an aerial view with your sun.

5. It Has Gobs Of Culture And Entertainment.

Amsterdam is a good-sized city, but its quaint character and rich artistic heritage leave some calling it a global village. The city boasts 51 museums that house 206 Van Gogh paintings and 22 by Rembrandt. One of the most well known museums is the Anne Frank House. The annex where the young Jewish writer hid from the Nazis with her family and others has been preserved in its original state, and houses Anne's real diary.

The largest is the Rijksmuseum, which holds the Rembrandt pieces. There are also 55 theatres and more than 140 art galleries. Summer is filled with festivals, especially in August. When studying abroad in Amsterdam, expect an abundance of operas, dancing, live music, festivity, and food. Much of it is even free — music to any student's ears.