Exploring Amsterdam’s unique architecture while biking through the city

By CECILIA VORFELD | October 11, 2018

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COURTESY OF CECILIA VORFELD

Amsterdam is known for its gorgeous canals in the heart of the city.

Cycling in this city can be a treacherous task, but as I’ve gotten used to it, I’ve found that it has enabled me to finally appreciate the allure of Amsterdam.

I have been very fortunate to be blessed with gorgeous weather these past seven weeks (almost two months, I can’t believe it!), which has allowed me to really enjoy being outside on my trusty bike. 

Some of you might be shocked to hear that. It still bewilders me that now in October, we seem to only have more beautiful autumnal days, one after the other. 

I was expecting rain. Just lots of rain, and wind, and how awful it would be to cycle through. I was advised to bring waterproof everything and to be prepared to cycle through wind that would have you stuck still on the path even when you were peddling as hard as you could while heavy rain is soaked you through to the bone.

I am sure that those days may still come but arriving with those very low expectations has allowed me to really give thanks for the wonderful weather and my stunning surroundings. 

I have made the most of the weather by discovering more of Amsterdam on my bike. Often, I will use Google Maps to get to a new location like a restaurant I really want to try or a cool museum I heard about, and it will show me the most direct way to get there. 

However, on many of my enjoyable cycle rides, I’ve been taken aback by how splendid my environment is. I double check the app to see that I am not taking some “scenic route” and making my journey twice as long.

Yet, every time I check, it really looks like the fastest route. How can this be? I gradually came to realize, and now love, that Amsterdam is simply a very captivating city.

There are many reasons for Amsterdam’s enchanting beauty. What makes it beautiful for me is the amount of greenery. There are over thirty parks in Amsterdam so you are never too far from cycling through a charming green space. 

Vondelpark is one of my all-time favorites since it is so large, a when New York was still New Amsterdam, the Dutch immigrants sought to recreate it in what is now Central Park. The park is also very central, so it is easy to get to and always full of tourists, locals, families, dog walkers, joggers, roller skaters and of course, cyclists. 

There is even a Picasso there! It seems so random, but it’s a typical abstract sculpture by Picasso called “The Fish.” Amsterdam always seems to have these hidden masterpieces and surprises around every corner.

Another aspect of Amsterdam that makes it so undeniably beautiful is the canals, along with their bridges and the canal houses in the city center. The historic urban ensemble of the canal district, which was built in the 17th century, is a UNESCO World Heritage site, so it is perfectly preserved.

This also means that none of the canal houses can be altered from the outside. I think they did a pretty good job back then to build such an appealing city, especially considering how old it is now.

Your picture-perfect image of Amsterdam will therefore always stay the way you imagine it and will not be turned into an ugly city of skyscrapers and blocks of towers, which is what happens in other parts of the city as well as other major capitals across the globe. It may have the cosmopolitan vibe and cultural life of a European capital, yet it still has a village-like charm through its quaint architecture. From the canal houses, Renaissance buildings and contemporary structures, Amsterdam features a unique variety of architecture. 

Another part of Amsterdam that I find so attractive is its visible vivacity. The number of cyclists whizzing past you always makes sure that the city never looks dead, no matter what time of day or night. There are lots of old, narrow alleyways bursting with activity from the many restaurants, cafes, and shops. 

Amsterdam is certainly a compact city, canal houses squeezed next to each other, and tiny streets that just about fit two bike lanes with a sliver of pavement for pedestrians, who still always seem to get in your way even when you incessantly ring your bell. 

I like to think it makes everyone feel connected and cozy. I love Amsterdam for its small lanes and backstreets where you feel snug and can get a little lost. You almost always get drawn in to the sense of mystery and enclosure. 

If you’re not going anywhere in a hurry, it can be quite fun to veer off-track (but only a little). It feels homey and intimate. 

Everywhere you look, the buildings are uniquely Dutch and from Amsterdam. It doesn’t feel or look like any other city on Earth. I hope I can see as much as possible in the short time I have here, get a bit lost and maybe find a future home on one of these dreamy canals.

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