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Amsterdam: Out of the Box Thinking

Amsterdam is a relatively young city…for Europe.  Amsterdam has an incredible history derived from out of the box thinking and innovation, which is still alive and well today.

I enjoyed learning about Amsterdam, especially during the city bicycle tour.

Discovering Amsterdam by bicycle is a must. There is no other city in the world that is more bicycle friendly or has more bicycles. You don’t want to be a pedestrian in the bike lanes…

tandem bike

There are many bicycle tours to select from, I did a tour with Mike’s Bike Tours, and I would highly recommend them. The tour guide was very knowledgeable, funny and interesting.

It’s was about a 3 hours tour, and we hit most highlights of the city of Amsterdam.

The day prior, I took a river cruise, which covered some of the same areas, but it didn’t provide anywhere near the same level of information, details, or entertainment. I recommend doing a river cruise, but I would start out with a bike day tour, and follow it with a night river cruise.

River at sunset

The tours covered the establishment of Amsterdam, its growth, and the origin for its unique architecture. I would’ve loved the opportunity to walk through some of the slim houses that line the canals – to see how they are setup inside, and how people make it work. The slimmer the house, the lease expensive the taxes were at one time, some are seriously narrow. The houses were also built with a tilt, and a pulley attached to the top of the roof.  The pulleys are used to move furniture in from the outside since there’s no way to bring furniture up through the inside of the house. The tilt in the house is to keep the furniture being hauled up from hitting the side of the house, and windows in the lower floors. The pulleys are still used today.

Also lining up the Amsterdam canals, you’ll find a wide variety of house boats.

Sufficient housing in Amsterdam has been a challenge for many, many years, so people got creative, and apparently squatting is legal in vacated buildings.

Street with River Boats

As you tour and wonder about the city, you’ll be remiss if you don’t notice the Amsterdam Coat of Arms on the buildings, and flags. The tour guide explained that the three crosses represent the three major threats to the ancient Amsterdam: Flood, Fire and the Black Death (the plague).

Coat of Arms Amsterdam

Coat of Arms Amsterdam

The canal system reminded me a little of Venice, but otherwise, Amsterdam and Venice are nothing alike.

While Venice will likely someday find itself under water, I don’t see the same fate falling on Amsterdam. Over the centuries, the Dutch became masters of engineering to keep their city from flooding and they are constantly improving their architecture.

Another interesting fact about the canals, and the use of out-of-the-box thinking was to solve the problem of drownings in the canals.

On a yearly basis, over 200 people used to drown in the canals. After studying what the bodies had in common, it was discovered most were men, and most had their pants unzipped. They narrowed down that drunk men urinating in the canals were falling in and drowning. Instead of putting up fences, and raising walls, the Dutch instead decided to install urinals around the city. Drastic drop in drownings came as a result.  Problem solved.


Part of the bike tour took us for a short walk through the Red Light District. In Amsterdam, prostitution is not only legal but it is also unionized. Prostitutes pay taxes, so they have benefits, protection, and are saving for their retirement. There are also programs to provide education and other opportunities to help women find a different lifestyle. It’s definitely a lot more progressive than other places. Same can be said about the drug policies for marijuana. Marijuana is actually not legalized in Amsterdam, it’s simply allowed. Marijuana is a safer alternative to the drugs that were at one time running rampant in the city and ruining lives.

Random Street

I really like the way the Dutch seem to handle problems by exercising out-of-the-box thinking, and instead of being restrictive, they bring issues out in the open to actually get at the root of the problems and find workable solutions.

Amsterdam Museums

There are many museums in Amsterdam, and I actually wish I’d had more time to visit more of them. There was no making it to Anne’s Frank house, unless I started standing in line at 8am for a 9am opening time. Online tickets are booked months ahead of time. Just getting into the Van Gogh museum was a 25 minute wait, although I got in line at 9:15am. Thankfully, my hotel was only a block away!

The Van Gogh museum turned out to be a lot more interesting than what I’d expected. I knew very little about Van Gogh prior to the visit, but learning about him while seeing his work, created a strong connection. I’ve never found myself fascinated this much by an artist. I’m currently reading a book of his letters.

There are some other museums such at the Cheese, Tulip and Bags and Purse museums I would have liked to visit, had I more time.

If you want to see one of the three outdoor Picasso work still in display today, head to Vondelpark. It’s part of most tour bikes.

Outdoor Picasso Amsterdam - Vondelpark

Outdoor Picasso Amsterdam – Vondelpark

Amsterdam Restaurants

Of all the European cities I’ve visited so far, Amsterdam had the most ethnic restaurants selection of them all. Finding a Dutch restaurant proved to be a challenge, but whatever else I could have possibly been in the mood for was available in duplicates within a few blocks of each other. It was also very easy to find healthy grab and go meals at the bakeries and stores.


Amsterdam Miscellaneous Info

Street parking is expensive. It was 36 euros to park on the street – didn’t matter what time of day or what day of the week. They are also extremely efficient at handing out parking tickets (I know because I got one). If you drive an electric car though, you get to park for free, and take advantage of free electricity to refuel. Again, out-of-the-box-thinking to promote, encourage and get people to shift over to electric vehicles.  I don’t doubt that a year or two from now, Amsterdam resident will mostly drive electric vehicles – besides their bicycles!

The Dutch seemed to speak and be a lot more at ease with speaking English compared to other places I’ve been in Europe as well.

How About You?

Have you ever visited Amsterdam?  What was your favorite part?  Do you believe Amsterdam has a lot of “out of the box thinking” for such a thriving country? Feel free to comment below or contact Ann’s Adventure Tour Travel Writer here.