Legends, lore, and little hidden gems of Amsterdam

Will travel for tulips – All the days – Keeping Amsterdam Weird

Like I said before, I used the I AMsterdam card like I was mad at it. I would recoup my Euros even if my legs gave out trying to get to yet another location where the card meant I could get in for free.

Amsterdam is full of things to do. That’s obvious. Many people visit the big ones like Rijksmuseum, Anne Frank Huis, and the Medieval district, but there are loads of little alleys, hidden courtyards, historical buildings, and restaurants to explore as well.

Here are some of the gems of Amsterdam I had the chance to visit:

Rembrandt Huis (Jodenbreestraat 4, 1011 NK Amsterdam, Netherlands) – I’m obviously an art fan. The Rembrandt Huis is a restored studio and house Rembrandt used at the high of his artistic career. Nestled near museums and churches on the far eastern side of Amsterdam, it’s a great example of a historical Dutch house with period furnishings and rooms. Also, it showcases Rembrandt’s eclectic selection of shells, animal heads, and taxidermied items he often used in still-lifes. An audioguide is included. Another refuge for the art-minded among us. Just watch your head on the narrow stairwells and low ceilings!

 


 

Museum Van Loon (Keizersgracht 672, 1017 ET Amsterdam, Netherlands) – Rising above the Keizersgracht, this 17th century house has been restored to its original beauty and is a combination of an art museum for period pieces along with being a typical wealthy Dutch family canal house. The rooms have loads of information in them about the wallpaper, art, furnishings, and other interesting tidbits of local history during the 1600s. The kitchen was closed for refurbishing, but the back gardens and coach house were open. Enjoy a cappuccino in the garden and marvel at how the other half lived in the 17th century.


 

The House with the Blood Stains (216 Amstel Amsterdam, 1017 AJ Netherlands) – Located along the Amstel River, this house has a bit of local lore attached to it. In the 1600s, it was built for a man named Gijsbert Dumber, and thus, the real name of the house is Gijsbert Dumber Huis. Eventually, it passed on to a man named van Beuningen, who seemed to have everything going for him. He was a leader in Amsterdam, being both a mayor and an ambassador. However, history seems to favor that he was probably bipolar, but the story goes that he slowly went mad and started to write symbols and pictures (in blood?) on the outside of the house. Whether it’s his blood or red paint, the faded reminders are still there and feeding legends daily.


 

Begijnhof (1012 Amsterdam, Singel) If you have to get thee to a place like a nunnery, you can do worse than the Begijnhof. The elegant, quiet courtyard is flanked by old buildings and two old churches. The Beguines were groups of women who wanted to live a devoted religious life with good service to God without taking formal vows. In the square is the Wooden House, one of the oldest surviving wooden houses in Amsterdam (1420ish? 1520ish? Not sure). One church is the English Church, which has very beautiful interior designs. Another of the buildings had previously been converted into one of many secret churches in Amsterdam. The square is open to the public, but as it’s still a living space, it’s best to keep the volume down and not be that tourist taking a million photos of everything, especially of private spaces.


 

Museum Ons’Lieve Heer Op Solder (Oudezijds Voorburgwal 38, 1012 GE Amsterdam, Netherlands) – In English – Museum of Our Lord in the Attic – is a “secret” Catholic church open to the public. When the Netherlands went Protestant, it said “no” to Catholic churches. Eventually, when it lightened up on the rules, Catholics were allowed to have churches, provided it didn’t look like a church on the outside of the building and wasn’t visibly a church. This led to a rise in secret churches, one of which used to be in the Rode Hoed (Red Hat building), one in the Begijnhof, and the most elaborate one here at Ons’Lieve Heer Op Solder. It’s a canal house with connected attics to form a complete church with pews, altar, and sacred items. Really, it’s a stunning building on the inside, especially considering the engineering work that went into making it stable. The Museum is near the Oude Kerk in the Medieval District.


 

Oude Kerk (Oudekerksplein 23, 1012 GX Amsterdam, Netherlands) – This old church (13th century) is indeed older than the Nieuwe Kerk (15th century), and the inside is outstanding. There was an art installation of broken glass and mirrors when I visited, but besides that, it’s an open space with incredible history. Rembrandt’s wife is buried there (Saskia), along with other Dutch notables. Pick up the well-drawn artistic map of the church’s interior before walking around inside. Outside the church, you are indeed in the very heart of the Red Light district. For most Americans, it’s definitely an eyeopener how unhidden the world of prostitution is in Amsterdam, but if you haven’t done your read up, then the Medieval district will be a big shocker.


 

Dockworker Statue (next to the Portuguese-Israelite Synagogue, Meijerplein) – In the small square, a single man commemorates the Dockworker Strike in 1941 to protest the round-up and deportation of the Jews during the Nazi regime. A worthy tribute to people who tried to protest how the Jews were treated.


 

Other notable small museums which sound cheesy (yes, bad pun) but are also included on the I AMsterdam card for free admission:


 

Otherwise, there are loads more nooks and crannies to find if you have the time to take a wander. These are listed in the Lonely Planet guide, but I found it just as easy to roam around and find more places to visit. Amsterdam doesn’t disappoint if you’re looking for local lore and interesting history that won’t be found anywhere else. Another favourite title of mine (website and book) is Atlas Obscura. I have the hardback book, but I look at the website (http://www.atlasobscura.com/) a lot as I’m traveling just to see what other oddities might just show up on the map.

After all, it’s little bits like that which make the difference between really learning about a place and just passing through.

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