Mooi! Beautiful Places to Visit in Amsterdam

The graffiti is mooi in this colorful squat on Spuistraat.

After gezellig and lekker (see previous posts), my vote for most uttered word in the Dutch vocabulary is mooi. Far easier to translate (meaning, simply, beautiful) and pronounce (like moy in English) than the first two, mooi describes anything that is pleasing to look at, in a nice or sweet way.

To compliment someone say, “Je bent mooi” (20,000 hits on Google—a number possibly enhanced by the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty). Melt your lover’s heart with, “Ik vind je heel mooi” (I think you’re really beautiful). Ramp it up with, “Je bent het mooiste meisje dat ik ooit heb gezien” (You’re the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen).

Mooi can apply to a city as well as an attractive thing or romantic interest. Indeed, it’s the word I use most often to describe the global village that captured my heart in 2007. Some 10 million visitors join me annually here, drawn by Amsterdam’s tolerant vibe, shimmering canals, historical landmarks and quirky culture. A few come for the museums, others are seduced by the weed and many are magnetized by the sheer physical beauty of this international melting pot.

In any season, the Netherlands’ capital is a spectacular destination. You can warm up with hot cocoa and ollieballen in December after ice skating in Leidseplein or Rembrandtplein—entertainment squares where holiday food booths hawk the sugary donuts and rinks lure skaters. Spring brings tulips and an abundance of other bloemen. Autumn ushers in cultural season and Amsterdam Dance Event, when renowned DJs and musical artists from around the world congregate to showcase their talents.

Whenever you come, here are three beautiful, not-to-miss sights in Amsterdam:

Amsterdam’s 17th Century Canal Ring was named a UNESCO Heritage Site in 2010.

17th Century Canal Ring: Added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 2010, Amsterdam’s canal ring—an urban extension that served as a model of large-scale planning until the 19th century—encompasses four concentric canals (Singel, Herengracht, Kaisergracht and Princengracht) to the west and south of city center. Numerous smaller ones connect a network of bridges, bike paths and sidewalks. Serene swans glide down the tree-lined canals, which are illuminated at night and have become a symbol of Amsterdam’s cultural heritage.

Highlights include the bridge on the corner of Reguliersgracht and Herengracht, offering a view over 15 others, and the Magere (Skinny) Brug, one of the city’s most picturesque, defined in the evening by lights reflecting off the water. Numerous canal tours offer views of gabled houses where wealthy merchants lived in the 16th―17th centuries, as well as popular landmarks like Anne Frank’s former hideaway on the Prinsengracht.

On nice days, Vondelpark is a mecca for skaters, cyclists and peace-seekers.

Vondelpark: Beloved by locals and popular with tourists, Vondelpark is a 120-acre oasis of green on the southwestern edge of a buzzing city. Situated west of Leidseplein, it became a state monument in 1996.

Vondelpark was designed by landscape architect L.D. Zocher and opened in 1865 as the Nieuwe Park. It was later renamed after 17th century writer and playwright Joost van den Vondel, whose legacy is celebrated in a statue in the park. In the 1960s‒70s, Vondelpark was a magnet for the peace-loving “flower children” and has evolved into a symbol for a place where everything is possible and (almost) everything is allowed. The park hums with activity on summer days, when residents converge to enjoy A’dam’s rare sunshine. An array of bars and restaurants (Blauwe Theehuis, Café Vertigo, Groot Melkhuis, Vondeling and Vondeltuin) provide numerous options for snacks and drinks.

Alien spaceship? No, it’s the Blauw Theehuis in Vondelpark, a great place for a snack + drink.

Vondelpark also is home to a skate rental shop, open-air theater, playground, bandstand and rose garden. From June‒August, concerts are held in the 19th-century Pavilion, which houses the Nederlands Filmmuseum and a movie theater screening everything from 19th century silent films to contemporary digital productions. Also in summer, music, dance and cabaret performances take place in the open air theater.

Friday Night Skate is a great way to experience Vondelpark.

Experienced bladers can experience the park up close and personal on Friday Night Skate. A different 15―25-km route is covered each week, starting between 20:15―20:30. No reservations are necessary to attend the free event, which departs in front of Café Vertigo in the Filmmuseum. The two-hour ride ends at Café De Vondeltuin.

If you’re lucky enough to be in Amsterdam on April 30 for Koninginnedag (Queen’s Day), don’t miss the annual vrijmarkt (free market) in Vondelpark during which children hawk old treasures and showcase their talents.

The Begijinhof, once a sanctuary for a Catholic sisterhood, is one of A’dam’s most picturesque courtyards.

The BegijnhofYou won’t have to stand in line to visit this top A’dam attraction as you do for other popular tourist spots, e.g. Anne Frank’s house and the Van Gogh Museum. A serene inner courtyard surrounded by typical Amsterdam-style houses, The Begijnhof’s history dates back to 1150, when a group of Catholic women banded together in a religious community. It encompasses the Miracle of Amsterdam and a few other scientifically inexplicable events that happened along the way.

A modern interpretation of The Miracle of Amsterdam.

The women in the sisterhood were called Begijnen. Without taking monastic vows, they lived like nuns, cared for the sick and educated the poor using The Begijnhof as their sanctuary. Today it’s still occupied by single women. While no longer a beguinage in the strict sense of the word, it’s a site for daily masses. Weddings and baptisms also are held, and priests are available for confession and personal talks.

More than nine centuries after its beginnings, The Beginhof retains its sanctified atmosphere and reputation as one of Amsterdam’s mooiste attractions.


  1. First was a snake on the wall I’ve been shooted in front of, with yellow door at its left. Then with host of mine ride around Vondelpark and it’s beautiful, hands down, it is.


  2. The Begijinhof looks like a lovely place, and the story of the Miracle and the sisterhood sound quite interesting as well. It’s good to know, otherwise we might walk by the courtyard unaware of its history.


  3. the unique thing i think we all find in amsterdam is the small easily commutable city it is. We all love the canals or grachts. The city hasn’t been sold totally to capitalism and if you wish for anonymity ITS YOUR CITY 🙂


  4. It’s great to read about Amsterdam from an expat point of view. We will definitely try to visit these three places in two days and not just ‘be seduced by the weed’ 🙂


  5. I’ve already know the second of these mooi suggestions! Been around the whole Vondelpark, and even under the rain it was like a peace sauna, a really vibrationally relaxing enviroment. I found it quite special muy very mooi indeed.


  6. Being in the place described in one of the most famous autobiography of this last century, Anne Franck’s diary, has to be very impressive. She was an expat too here in Holland. Fortunatly with those new democratic times I wish you long life, but the same success Melissa


  7. Mooi, I think is my new favourite word. As I’m visiting for the first time ever in Jan I think I will certainly be using it a lot! :]

    The Begijnhof is a place I’ve never heard of, and it will be added to my to-do list! Hopefully it won’t be too cold to soak up the atmosphere.

    You’ve been super helpful already!


  8. Wow! All these mooi places are already annotated in my little moleskine. I can’t wait to walk in Vondelpark and to breathe the Amsterdam’s soul…


  9. Its amazing how Amsterdam has much to offer irrespective of the season. I want to come here EVERY season because I don’t think I will get enough of this city. Graffiti is another major reason I want to visit Amsterdam, other than the beautiful canals of course. I love how the Dutch are always happy and willing to help, and that definitely fuels my interest in going to Amsterdam as well. And I can imagine the park being really beautiful in spring as well as in winter, when the snow blankets the entire scene.


  10. This is exactly the kind of thing I am looking for! Places people from the city really love, not just the top tourist attractions. Getting a real feel for the city is so important when travelling, especially in popular cities where tourists are abundant. It can be so easy to get swept up in the typical experiences that everyone else will have. Thanks for the post!


  11. I just supposed that it was a beautiful painting on your homepage, good-look, an a little bit similar with tradition style in folk of East Asia. But now I’m very surprised to know that it is an architecture! Full of imagination, isn’t it~
    Thank you very much to recommend these nice interests and activities in Amsterdam! Looking forward to visit this city!


  12. All of them seems nice and interesting. I am just making my plan about where to go in Amsterdam. I hope we have enough time to visit all of them! Thank you for the list of recommendation!


  13. Ah! I want so badly to add the skating tour to our to-do list! We’ll be arriving Friday afternoon, so perhaps there’s hope, but we’ll play it by ear. At any rate, what an awesome (or would mooi be an appropriate word here? haha) way to tour a city!
    The other thing this and the previous post make me wonder: Did you learn Dutch before or after moving to Switzerland? Before I moved to Holland, MI, for school, I thought it would be fun to pick up a little Dutch for kicks and giggles (no one there actually speaks it). Although that dream has yet to be realized (one for the bucket list), I’m curious as to whether it was a difficult language to learn?


  14. I really enjoyed reading your columns! And finding out that Amsterdam was named second hottest city to visit in 2013!
    Only what I am afraid that 2 days will be two short to discover all ‘gezellig’, ‘lekker’, ‘mooi’ parts of town, channels, museums, bars, cafés… At least I believe I can pronounce those 3 words well, while with ‘vreselijk’ I will need some practice 🙂


    • You’re right, Ivana…2 days is just enough to scratch the surface of A’dam. You need a lifetime to discover + understand her…that’s why I moved here from Southern California!


  15. Great blog you have here but I was curious if you knew of
    any forums that cover the same topics talked
    about in this article? I’d really like to be a part of online community
    where I can get suggestions from other knowledgeable people that share the
    same interest. If you have any suggestions, please let me know.


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