By day, I found Amsterdam to be a quaint, compact city. Amsterdam by night is another story: from sunset to twilight the city’s slightly cookie cutter charm is replaced by a relaxed, moody beauty. The buildings fade into the increasing inky blue of night, but the street lamps and home electricity illuminate the white window panes and throw shimmering bands of light in the canals.
Bicycles parked against railings add to the grandeur of Amsterdam’s canal houses illuminated at dusk.
The timing of my Amsterdam trip was a happy accident that really made my trip: I arrived just before King’s Day (April 27), the holiday celebrating the birthday of the King of the Netherlands, so preparations were already underway without the massive crowds that usually accompany the holiday. As such, I began my sunset walk in De Wallen, Amsterdam’s Red Light District area, which was far less seedy than I had anticipated, other than the occasional woman striking a pose in a large window, though that too was far more amusing than arousing. From De Wallen I walked to Dam Square, and the sun just started to sink turning the clouds to wafts of pink. The neon lights of the Dam Square carnival for King’s Day came on about the same time, and I took the opportunity to take a ton of very colorful photos.
Sunset in Dam Square with the King’s Day carnival already set up.
Strolling from Dam Square, I walked down Rokin Street and into Rembrandtplein, not quite as raucous as it would become later in the evening, but still teeming with people at the bars and cafes in the square. From there, I followed the river Amstel to its intersections with Amsterdam’s famous canals: Herengracht (Patrician’s Canal), Keizersgracht (Emperor’s Canal), and Prinsengracht (Prince’s Canal). Straddling the Amstel between Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht was the glorious Magere Brug, or Skinny Bridge. While not much to look at by day, at night the white drawbridge is illuminated by tiny lights, creating a most beautiful scene. As before, I snapped a lot of photos, but the most dynamic managed to grab a fast moving boat on the river, which accentuated the ribbons of light dancing on the water.
After Magere Brug, I was not yet hungry enough to interrupt my nighttime strolls. So I wandered fairly aimlessly, only setting to constantly cross each of the canals and shoot photos of the beautiful Dutch Golden Age homes and buildings that flanked the canals, along with the bridges connecting the streets that ran parallel to these aquatic arteries.
Little bulbs cast long light trails in the canals
Walking to Museumplein adds another layer of atmosphere to Amsterdam’s night, a haunting, almost lonely mood best captured in the still space beneath the Rijksmuseum. By day this tunnel teems with museumgoers, tourists crossing into the canal ring, and locals speeding through on bikes. By night, an occasional cyclist slowly pedals through, but the tunnel is quiet, and the dark sky and beautiful illumination show off the the gothic inspired curves of the tunnel.
Night in the Rijksmuseum tunnel creates an ombre effect of golden light to brown stone, and the emptiness adds to the mood
Though the tunnel is empty, the square in front of the museum seems to never empty of people. Teenagers hung from the famous “I amsterdam” letters (and may selfies were snapped), while couples sat by the pond, talking and enjoying the cool night air. I too was swept away by feeling: seeing Amsterdam by night was so interesting, the city’s grandeur and stately elegance coming to the forefront in the blue to black sky, and of course illuminated by the magical, plentiful lights of Amsterdam dotting canals, bridges, and windows. I amsterdam, and the words were a call, both a noun and verb, wanting to experience but also wanting to be part of the city. I snapped my own photo, and whistled contently on my walk back to my hotel.
Symbols of Amsterdam by night: the illuminated Rijksmuseum, I amsterdam letters, and floating tulips for good measure