Best Places to Watch a Santorini Sunset

Best Places to Watch a Santorini Sunset

The Greek Island of Santorini is best known for its gorgeous sunsets. Just before the sun goes down every evening, the entire island ventures out to find a viewing location. When you visit the island, make sure you take the time to plan where to watch your Santorini sunset.

There are myriad towns along Santorini’s cliffs that provide a beautiful view of the sunset. However, everyone visiting the island tends to flock to Oia for the sunset. Forego the crowds and head to one of the locations below for an incredible Santorini sunset experience.

Santo Winery: Dinner and a Santorini Sunset View

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The most beautiful Santorini sunset experience I ever had was at Santo Winery. I arrived a half-hour before sunset and secured a table on the lower terrace flanked by Santorini’s infamous white concrete. Everyone around me was enjoying delicious-looking dinners of fresh-caught fish and homemade pasta. My travel companion and I ordered the sixteen-glass wine tasting experience so we wouldn’t miss a single flavor the winery had to offer. A jazz pianist accompanied by a live vocalist who sang smooth lounge music all evening, adding the perfect touch to the winery's environment.

As the night went on, the winery's guests prepared to watch the sun go down together. Santo Winery’s location midway down Santorini’s coastline makes it the best place from which to view a Santorini sunset. The elegant, relaxed atmosphere significantly enhances the experience.  If you make no other plans before arriving in Santorini, you should make a dinner reservation at Santo Winery about thirty minutes before sunset so that you too can have this magical experience.

Sailing on a Sunset Cruise

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There is nothing quite like a catamaran cruise around Santorini’s caldera. Many cruises are available each day. For a unique view of Santorini’s sunset select an afternoon cruise that includes a sunset from the water.

The cruise itself could include a hike on Santorini’s volcano, a swim in the volcano’s hot springs, a stop at the nearby island of Thirisia, or dinner and drinks provided onboard. All of these options will enhance your experience, but the best part of a Santorini cruise is the unrestricted view of the sunset while sailing on the water.

Santorini Sunset Down by the Water in Ammoudi Bay

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The town of Ammoudi Bay sits directly below Oia. You can reach it from by boat or taxi, or walk down the winding path from Oia. Viewing Santorini’s sunset from Ammoudi Bay gives you an unobstructed view of the sun setting over the water from Santorini’s northernmost point without having to fight through Oia’s crowds.  You could sit on the docks to take in the view or grab a table at one of the seaside restaurants. If you choose the restaurant you will enjoy the sunset along with a freshly-caught fish, homemade baklava, and a sip of ouzo.

An Oia Sunset without the Crowds

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Admittedly, you cannot leave Santorini without seeing the sunset from Oia. On my last trip to Santorini, I made the mistake of thinking you could arrive in town shortly before sunset, easily stroll over to any spot overlooking the caldera, and peacefully watch the sunset. I even thought I could grab a seat for dinner as a walk-in! I was incorrect in all these assumptions.

It seems like at least half the island is in Oia for the sunset each night. Tourists pack the streets making it difficult to get anywhere. Restaurants fill up with reservations made weeks in advance. Once you find a spot to stand, you’ll be jostled by passersby. Ultimately, you may not have the unrestricted view you were anticipating.

To avoid these problems make a dinner reservation in advance. The sunsets from Oia are breathtaking, and with a dinner reservation, you’ll enjoy this experience peacefully. Just remember to arrive in town early so you can arrive at your chosen restaurant stress-free!

All Santorini sunsets are stunning. Wherever you are when the sun goes down over the caldera, you will have a magnificent view. If you are able to make it to one of the best places to view the Santorini sunset your experience will only improve!

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Discover the best places around the island of Santorini from which to watch the sunset
Discover the best places around the island of Santorini from which to watch the sunset
Discover the best places around the island of Santorini from which to watch the sunset
Zaanse Schans: The Best Day Trip from Amsterdam

Zaanse Schans: The Best Day Trip from Amsterdam

A visit to the Dutch town of Zaanse Schans is the perfect day trip from Amsterdam. Just 40 minutes north of Amsterdam by train, Zaanse Schans offers a real-life view into historic Holland. Take time out of your trip to Amsterdam to discover Zaanse Schans, a village compiled in the 1960s with operating windmills, a cooperage, the original Albert Heijn Dutch grocery store, a clog shop, a cheese farm, and much more.

Looking for other day trips from Amsterdam? Head south and spend A Day in the Hague instead!

N.B. This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase using an affiliate link I receive a commission at no cost to you. Thank you!

What to Do in Zaanse Schans

You will need at least a half day to spend in Zaanse Schans. You could really find a full day’s worth of things to do in the town if you stop for lunch too. These are some highlights from the village and top tips from my recent visit to Zaanse Schans.

Zaanse Schans Windmills

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In the 1960s and 1970s, the Dutch relocated some of its nearby windmills to Zaanse Schans to create a historic Dutch village. The windmills are not just for show: they continue to grind crops and make products available for purchase throughout the country! Many of the windmills offer tours and exploration for a small fee. Others accept either the Zaanse Schans Card or the IAmsterdam Card for entry. Some of them are free to visit!

De Huisman

The first windmill you will come across in town is De Huisman. This windmill is free to enter. Customers are encouraged to purchase the windmill’s products in exchange. The windmill has been used over the years to grind different spices. Currently, it is used to make ground mustard. The interior of the windmill shows the history of the spice trade and spice creation in the Netherlands. My favorite part was the interactive exhibit where customers could blindly smell six common spices and guess which ones they were. I got four correct!

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De Kat

Farther down the path of windmills you will find De Kat. This windmill is currently used to grind chalk for paint. Multiple grinding wheels are operated from the same exterior sails. Different closed rooms grind different paint colors. They are kept separated so the colors do not mix. The best part of visiting this windmill is that you can climb to its upper levels. You can stay inside on the second level or continue to the outdoor platform. Though there is a barrier preventing visitors from getting too close to the moving sails outside, you can feel their power and see their enormity up close from this vantage point. The platform also offers a spectacular view of Zaanse Schans itself. Admission to the De Kat windmill costs €4.50.

Catharina Hoeve Cheese Shop

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Cheese lovers will be in love with Zaanse Schans’ cheese shop and farm! One of three cheese farms in The Netherlands contributing to the production of the popular Henry Willig cheese, the Catharina Hoeve shop provides a proper Dutch cheese-tasting experience. Visitors can see how the cheese is made in the front of the shop, and then taste free samples of all the varieties for sale. There are at least 30 kinds of cheese! When you have sampled all the cheese and selected which ones to purchase, you exit out the back of the store to the farm where the goats are kept that provide the milk to be made into cheese. This is a Zaanse Schans experience not to be missed.

Zaanse Schans Clog Shop

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Clogs are a traditional Dutch souvenir. Perhaps you envision the Dutch clomping in them through town or wearing them to a formal dance. Did you know that clogs are certified by the European Union as work-safety shoes? They readily protect your feet from being crushed or soaked and therefore used in industry and on farms. There are also everyday clogs and wedding clogs that are much fancier than the industrial clogs.

When you visit the Zaanse Schans clog shop you can see how clogs are made and try a pair on for yourself. Once you see how comfortable and easy to walk around in they are - I was very surprised! - you may want to buy a pair for yourself. A plain wooden pair costs about €20 and a painted pair costs about €40. I did not purchase any for myself but I enjoyed learning the history of clogs, seeing them made, and wandering around the shop. This experience was free.

Kuiperij and Wevershuis

As in most historical villages, Zaanse Schans has its own cooperage (Kuiperij) and weaver’s house (Wevershuis) to visit. These attractions cost €2 each for adults and €1 each for children but are free with either the IAmsterdam Card or the Zaanse Schans Museum Card.

Kuiperij Zaanse Schans

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The Zaanse Schans cooperage was founded in 1919 by Jaap Tiemstra. It moved to Zaanse Schans in the 1960s and closed its production to become a museum in the 1990s when steel barrels became favored over wooden barrels. The cooperage is available for visitors to view and explore. The docents are happy to provide demonstrations, explanations, and historical facts about the cooperage. For example, the docents explained that because the cooperage made wet barrels (for holding wet goods), it was the #1 provider of barrels for Amstel beer until steel barrels came into favor.

Wevershuis Zaanse Schans

The weaver’s house looks small and yet it was shared by two families when it was in operation! As the docents explain, fabric for sails was imperative for the Dutch to dress both their windmills and their ships. However, the materials were so cheap that sails did not produce a lot of income for the families making them. Even though weaving was a skilled craft, the families that occupied the weaver’s house were poor. When you visit the weaver’s house you will get a first-hand look at an old Dutch loom stil operational by the docent.

Logistics for your Visit

If you’re considering a visit to Zaanse Schans from Amsterdam, the following information will help you plan your trip.

How to Get to Zaanse Schans from Amsterdam

Zaanse Schans is a 40-minute car or train ride from Amsterdam. If you have a rental car anyway the drive looked pretty easy. Otherwise, getting to the village by train was simple to figure out. Trains to Zaanse Schans leave from Amsterdam’s Centraal Station frequently. The Zaanse Schans train station was small and unoccupied. It is likely it is mainly used for accessing the historic village of Zaanse Schans. When you disembark in the small station follow the signs and the other passengers to find the village. It is about a 15-minute walk from the station. Bicycles are available for rent at the train station if you prefer a quicker and more typical Dutch type of transportation.

Zaanse Schans Card

If you plan to spend a full day in Zaanse Schans and do not have an IAmsterdam Card, consider purchasing the Zaanse Schans Museum Card. While it is free to walk around the village of Zaanse Schans and some of its attractions are free, you will save money visiting the paid museums in town with the Zaanse Schans Card. For €15 for adults and €10 for children, you can see the Zaans Museum, the Zaan Time Museum, the Weaver’s House, the Cooperage, and the Jisper House for free, as well as receive discounts around town. If you intend to visit all these attractions the card will save you money.

Opening Times of Zaanse Schans

Zaanse Schans is an operational village. As you wander around, you will pass quaint houses that the residents live in. One girl working in the cheese shop told me that she will often be at home and have tourists bang on the exterior wall to see if the building is real. She said the residents don’t mind and she will usually bang back from inside, startling the tourists!

Given that Zaanse Schans is not just a historic town, but one people live in too, it is always open to wander around. Most of the shops and attractions, however, are open from about 8 AM to 6 PM in the summer and from 8:30 AM to 5 PM in the winter. If you choose to spend an evening in Zaanse Schans, the rest of the town outside the historic section has restaurants and pubs that you can spend time in once the historic town attractions shut down.

Zaanse Schans Weather

Admittedly I did not have the best weather when I visited Zaanse Schans. It was my last day in Amsterdam and I had really wanted to see the town, so even though it was raining when I woke up, I still ventured to the village. I could see the windmills across the water as I traversed the Juliana Bridge to reach the town, but the sky was grey and I am holding an umbrella in all my photos. Once the rain stopped, the wind picked up and the sky was still grey. Stories from other travelers to Zaanse Schans describe similar experiences. While this may not sound ideal, remember that most experiences in town are inside. The weather should not deter you from making the trip, just remember to bring your umbrella!

Where to Stay in Zaanse Schans

If you would like to stay overnight, there are a few options in the modern town of Zaanse Schans nearby. You can see all the options available for Zaanse Schans hotel accommodations here. There are also AirBNBs available at reasonable prices located on the river with great views of the windmills. Find a Zaanse Schans AirBNB and get $40 off your first booking with this link!

I loved my visit to Zaanse Schans. If you have additional questions please leave a comment or contact me!

Don't forget to also read about the Top 20 Things to Do in Amsterdam itself!

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Plan the BEST day trip to the Dutch historic village of Zaanse Schans from Amsterdam using the guide in this blog post. Learn how to visit real windmills, see how clogs are made, and sample fresh gouda cheese FOR FREE! #zaanseschans #amsterdam #holland #netherlands #windmills
Plan the BEST day trip to the Dutch historic village of Zaanse Schans from Amsterdam using the guide in this blog post. Learn how to visit real windmills, see how clogs are made, and sample fresh gouda cheese FOR FREE! #zaanseschans #amsterdam #holland #netherlands #windmills
Plan the BEST day trip to the Dutch historic village of Zaanse Schans from Amsterdam using the guide in this blog post. Learn how to visit real windmills, see how clogs are made, and sample fresh gouda cheese FOR FREE! #zaanseschans #amsterdam #holland #netherlands #windmills
Top 20 Things to do in Amsterdam

Top 20 Things to do in Amsterdam

When you think of things to do in Amsterdam, the stereotypical Red-Light District and pot-filled coffee houses may come to mind. However, there are dozens of things to do in Amsterdam that have nothing to do with either of these activities! Amsterdam is a multi-cultural city with a rich history that will appeal to many travelers. Whether you are interested in museums, food, shopping, culture, or spending time outside, you will find something to enjoy in the Netherlands’ capital city. I went to Amsterdam for the second time about a month ago: here are the top 20 best things to do in Amsterdam that I discovered during my visits.

Best Amsterdam Museums

If you want to visit Amsterdam's museums, purchase the I amsterdam City Card. Before visiting the city I researched the card and decided against buying it. However, once I was in The Netherlands, I realized I would save money with the 48 Hour I amsterdam pass. The card allowed me to visit museums I may have otherwise skipped because they were essentially free. You can purchase the card online or at the Rijksmuseum store once you are in the city. All of the museums recommended below, and many more, are included with the I amsterdam City Card.

1.   Rijksmuseum

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The Rijksmuseum is the most famous museum in Amsterdam. Its collection stretches a millennium from 1000 AD to the current era. Its most famous painting is Rembrandt's "The Night's Watch," and it maintains the largest collection of Rembrandt paintings in the world.

Some of the best things about the Rijksmuseum are the guides provided for the most famous pieces. They describe the background of each painting and help visitors appreciate details that may otherwise be passed over. For example, I learned "The Night's Watch” was named such centuries after it was painted because the canvas had become dirty, making it look as though Rembrandt intended to paint men gathering in the middle of the night. After restoration, it was clear that daylight shone through a window in the painting, but the name stuck.

2.   Oude Kerk

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The oldest building in Amsterdam is Oude Kerk or Old Church. Built in 1390, Oude Kerk sits on a canal in the Puritan Quarter of De Wallen, which is the Red-Light District. Ironic, right? While the church certainly stands out in the area, its structure is less imposing from the outside as you would expect from its size. I easily missed it the first time I walked by.

Stepping into the Oude Kerk's interior took my breath away. I was completely in awe. This is far from the first European church I've visited, but its vast space was nothing like I'd seen before. Not only is the interior large but it is almost completely empty. The center does not have pews, just a few chairs behind a wall facing a pulpit. There is a small music room off to the side with a piano available for playing that fills the entire space. Even if you’ve seen your fill of European churches, Oude Kerk is not to be missed.

3. Rembrandthuis

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These "box beds" were so small because people in Rembrandts' era slept sitting half-upright: they believed if you fell asleep lying down all the blood would rush to your head and you would die! Sounds uncomfortable to me.

Rembrandt was once a wealthy inhabitant of Amsterdam’s city center. He had a multi-story house sitting on one of the canals that he lived in and used as a painting studio. Unfortunately, he went bankrupt and all of his things were sold to pay off his creditors. Visitors to Amsterdam can visit Rembrandt’s house to learn how he lived and see his living quarters, but most of the things in the house are replicas of items he may have owned, as his real items are lost to history.

4. Van Gogh Museum

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Van Gogh is another famous Dutch artist whose work is featured in Amsterdam. Visit the Van Gogh Museum to see his famous “Sunflowers” still life and his self-portrait, both painted in the late 1800s when he lived in the South of France. Though you may have seen recreations of these and other Van Gogh paintings before, viewing them in person in the museum brings them to life. Visitors can see how much the colors he used pop off the canvas and can study the details in the paintings that you can’t see in a photo or recreation.

5. Resistance Museum

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The story of World War II for The Netherlands is much different from that of many other European countries. In May 1940 the Nazis leveled Rotterdam in a bombing campaign. They threatened to do the same to Amsterdam and other Dutch cities. As a result, Dutch Queen Wilhelmina surrendered to prevent additional destruction and loss of life and fled to the UK. The Nazis invaded and took over the country.

The Resistance Museum tells stories of various Dutch citizens during the war. It describes how the Nazis initially treated most of the Dutch well because of their shared Germanic roots. The museum includes stories of Dutch citizens who thought Nazi rule was the new normal and joined their ranks, citizens who tried to mind their own business during this time, and citizens who supported the underground resistance efforts. The matter-of-fact inclusion of all these stories provides an in-depth look at life in The Netherlands during World War II.

6. Tulip Museum

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A visit to The Netherlands wouldn’t be complete without learning about its famed flower, the tulip! If you have the chance, get out into the country and experience the tulip fields for yourself. For a shorter trip, check out Amsterdam's Tulip Museum.

Admittedly this is a museum I wouldn’t have visited if I had to pay for it separately. I’m glad it was included in the I amsterdam City Card because it was fascinating to learn about the history of the tulip.

Did you know tulips are natively from Central Asia? Tulips were brought to The Netherlands by travelers from the Ottoman Empire. It was considered a flower of royalty because of its rarity. Tulip Mania in the 1600s caused tulip bulb prices to skyrocket. Unfortunately, tulip bulbs multiply themselves underground during the winter to create many more tulips. This quickly decreased their rarity and caused the tulip speculation bubble to burst. I never would have learned any of this without a visit to Amsterdam’s Tulip Museum!

7. Our Lord in the Attic Museum

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The Netherlands is considered a country of tolerance and diversity since its founding in the 1500s. At that time the Dutch proclaimed the principle of freedom of belief. A fantastic principle in theory, in practice the Dutch said “you are free to believe what you want. However, we support Protestant Christianity, so if you’d like to believe anything else, please hide it from public sight.” Catholics were specifically targeted because the Catholic Spanish that had colonized The Netherlands had just been kicked out of the country.

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This intolerance led to the creation of churches in the attics of otherwise residential-looking buildings. Our Lord in the Attic Museum is one such church. When you visit, you can see how the residents lived on the first two floors and then enter the church on the third level. The top three levels were cut away to create balconies highlighting the altar and two-story organ in the back of the church. This museum is worth a visit for its unique disposition and place in Dutch history.

Top Outdoor Activities in Amsterdam

Regardless when you visit Amsterdam, plan on spending some time outside. In typical European fashion, al fresco dining is available year-round. Many of the best areas to explore are outside.

8. Canal Cruise

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Canals at night from the water

You cannot visit Amsterdam without seeing its canals! Amsterdam is one of seven cities known as the Venice of the North due to its many canals. The best way to experience the canals is from the water itself. Canal cruises are available near the Centraal Station and the Rijksmuseum starting at 10 euros. A canal cruise is also included in your I amsterdam City Card for free! You can choose to spend an hour learning about the history of the city and the canals as your boat meanders through the watery paths around the city, or upgrade your experience with a wine and cheese cruise. I recommend an evening or sunset cruise as the water is even more beautiful with all the city lights reflecting on it.

9. A'DAM Tower

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The A’DAM Tower is a new attraction situated across the harbor from the Centraal Station. You can reach it using the free ferry that crosses the harbor every five minutes. The tower itself is a mecca of art and science innovation with many start-ups using office space throughout the building. The top two floors of A’DAM Tower are accessible to visitors. You can eat lunch or dinner in the tower’s dining room while enjoying the views of Amsterdam, or check out one of the rooftop bars. There is one inside the second floor from the top and one actually on the roof. If you are daring, you can take the opportunity to ride on an outdoor swing that sends you over the edge of the tower above the harbor! Whichever option you choose, make sure you spend some time walking around the rooftop for the best views of the city.

10. Dam Square

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A visit to Amsterdam would not be complete without a walk through Dam Square. This is where you will find Dutch residents relaxing together and tourists watching the street performers pretending to be statues and making giant bubbles.

11. Vondelpark

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Vondelpark is located outside the canal rings in the Western part of the city. At 120 acres you could spend an entire day getting lost in this park! I especially loved taking morning runs through the park during my first visit to Amsterdam. As you wander through Vondelpark’s tree-lined pedestrian routes you forget that you are in a city where buildings are built almost on top of one another. If you want to escape the city and spend some time in nature during your visit to Amsterdam, head for Vondelpark.

12. Red-Light District

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You may be intrigued by stories of the Red-Light District and want to see the area for yourself. You may instead have no interest in the area but might still happen upon it accidentally. The Red-Light District, also called De Wallen, occupies streets in the city center that are also full of cannabis shops, cheese shops, and fry vendors. The women in the windows rent out rooms for an afternoon or evening and then try to entice passersby to join them for a fee.

It is pretty awkward to walk by the windows as the women move seductively and try to make eye contact to catch customers. I did not see anyone take them up on the offer while I was in Amsterdam, and tried to avert my eyes from the buildings in that area. Early in the day there aren’t many windows filled so you can use that opportunity to look inside the rooms through the window if you are curious. Note that you absolutely cannot take pictures of the women in this area, as most of their family and friends do not know they are prostitutes: there are stories that tourists who have tried to do so have had the women come out of their windows and throw the cameras in the canals!

Read more about human trafficking in The Netherlands and how to combat it here: https://ec.europa.eu/anti-trafficking/member-states-0/Netherlands_en.

13. Rembrandtsplein

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Though many roads in Amsterdam are narrow due to the canals, there are also a few open plazas, throughout the city, called pleins, where residents and tourists alike gather. Rembrandtsplein is one such plaza. The area is pretty chill, attracting a more mature clientele than the nearby Leidseplein. The plaza is surrounded by bars and restaurants open late into the night. This is the perfect place to relax and enjoy a meal or drink outside while watching people wander by after a long day exploring the city.

14. Leidseplein

If Rembrandtsplein sounds too laid back for you, head over to Leidseplein instead. Leidseplein is the plaza with all the young energy. Many students and young travelers take over this area at night participating in pub crawls or looking for a place to dance. As revelers move between establishments, they spend some time in the plaza itself. If you are looking for an exciting night out while in Amsterdam, you definitely want to be in Leidseplein.

15. Shopping in Jordaan or the Nine Streets

You can find typical souvenir shops all over Amsterdam. For more authentic goods, such as real Delft Pottery or maritime antiques, check out the Nine Streets in the Jordaan area of the city. This quiet area is great for wandering around when you want to get away from the excitement of downtown. You can peruse the shops at your leisure and make a few purchases of high-quality items to bring back and remember your trip by.

Find the Best Food and Drink in Amsterdam

16. House of Bols

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Everyone has heard of Amsterdam’s Heineken Brewery, but have you considered visiting the House of Bols? Bols Genever has been made in Amsterdam since 1575. It was the precursor to British gin. You probably have seen its unique bottles filled with colorful liquids at your local bar or liquor store. Visit the House of Bols to learn about the history and current production of the genever, then enjoy two cocktails at the bar at the end of your visit. Even if you’re not a gin fan you should still visit the House of Bols: unlike gin, Bols liqueurs come in over 45 flavors and make delicious cocktails for every taste!

17. Pannenkoeken

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The most traditional Dutch breakfast is the Dutch pancake. A cross between an American pancake and a French crepe, Dutch pancakes are wide and flat with fillings mixed into them. You can try them savory or sweet. I recommend a fruit and Nutella combination. Any pancake house in the city will suffice for trying pannenkoeken, but I am particularly fond of the Carousel Pancake House by the Rijksmuseum.

18. Dinner in De Pijp

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Get away from Amsterdam’s touristy city-center for dinner and pick a restaurant in the trendy De Pijp neighborhood. The restaurants in this area will give you a more authentic experience. They are frequented by locals, not tourists. The atmosphere is very posh and you will get a great meal for your money! The Seafood Bar, in particular, is a beautiful establishment with high-quality seafood where you can take your time eating and enjoying your meal.

19. Coffee or a Drink at a Sidewalk Café

I have a confession: on my first trip to Amsterdam many years ago, I was naive. I thought that you could only buy cannabis at coffee shops. It did not occur to me that you could also get coffee, so I spent three days without caffeine. Last month, I made sure to enjoy at least one cup of coffee per day while in Amsterdam. The best way to enjoy Dutch coffee is sitting at a sidewalk café by a canal. You can order a cappuccino, latte, or espresso inside at the bar and then relax and watch the city’s lively scenery pass by before continuing with your city adventure.

20. Argentinian Steakhouse

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For no apparent reason, Argentinian steakhouses are a big deal in The Netherlands, particularly in Amsterdam! I must have seen at least five on one road, and they were all over the country. The only satisfactory explanation I received was that the Dutch like high-quality meat and steak-and-potatoes is an easy meal to make. This is the most common meal at the steakhouses. Due to the abundance of Argentinian steakhouses in the city, I had to have dinner here one night. It was one of my favorite meals of the trip! The steak was flavorful and perfectly cooked, the salad was light and refreshing, and I couldn’t say no to a glass of Argentinian Malbec wine. It may seem odd to eat South American food while in Europe, but if you’re looking for a great meal, stop by an Argentinian steakhouse in Amsterdam.

Outside the City

Take a Day Trip!

A weekend in Amsterdam is the ideal length. After that, unless you plan on visiting every single museum available on the I amsterdam City Card, you may run out of exciting things to do. Luckily, The Netherlands is a small country with many cities close together. They are all easily accessible with the cheap Dutch train system. Use your time in Amsterdam to take day trips to places like The Hague, Rotterdam, and Zaanse Schans!

Learn more about what to do in these cities here:

A Day in The Hague

Zaanse Schans

Notes on a couple of Amsterdam's top attractions not on this list: Anne Frank House and Heineken Brewery

If you’re wondering why two of Amsterdam’s most famous attractions, the Anne Frank House and the Heineken Brewery, are not on this list, it is not for lack of trying. I failed to visit these places on both of my trips to Amsterdam, and I do not want to recommend places I haven’t seen for myself.

The Anne Frank House used to have visitors stand outside for hours waiting to gain access. The museum has since updated its method for granting tickets. 80% of the tickets available for each day are released online two months in advance. The remaining 20% of tickets are released online at 9 AM the day of the visit. If you plan a trip to Amsterdam less than two months in advance your only option is to try and buy tickets at 9 AM. However, you will need to log on to the ticketing website around 8 AM. I learned this by the last day and was still unable to obtain a ticket before they were sold out. I have heard it is much easier to get tickets two months in advance. If you want to visit the Anne Frank House, be prepared to be diligent in obtaining tickets online!

The Heineken Brewery is easier to gain access to. The only catch is you must show up more than two hours before it closes. On my last day in the city, I noted the brewery closed at 7:30 PM, so I planned to do some shopping and then visit around 6:30 PM. Unfortunately, I needed to arrive by 5:30 PM in order to gain access. I was disappointed I could not visit the brewery and will put it on my list first-thing the next time I am in Amsterdam.

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Find the top 20 best things to do in Amsterdam, capital city of The Netherlands, in this post!
Find the top 20 best things to do in Amsterdam, capital city of The Netherlands, in this post!
ETIAS: The New European Travel Requirement for Americans

ETIAS: The New European Travel Requirement for Americans

BREAKING NEWS: you will soon need a visa to visit Europe!

Actually, despite all the recent news headlines, this is not quite true.

The truth is the European Union ("EU") is creating a new travel authorization security system for travelers arriving from its sixty visa-waiver countries. The system will be implemented in 2021. It will require proof of pre-approved travel authorization. Though this system is not a new visa, it means there are some immigration changes you'll want to know about.

N.B. While part of this post addresses legal requirements, nothing written here should be construed as legal advice. The information in this post is accurate at the time of publication. For the most up-to-date information, please see the government websites at the bottom of this post.

Current Status of European Travel for Americans

Visa Waiver Program for Americans

The US has agreed to Visa Waiver Programs ("VWPs") with 25 of the 26 Schengen Area member states, with Poland being the exception. It also has a VWP with the UK, Ireland, Andorra, Monaco, and San Marino. This means that citizens of these European countries can enter the US visa-free. American citizens may do the same when arriving in any of these countries.

For more information on VWPs, see the "What is a Visa?" section below.

Travel within the Schengen Area

One of the major commitments of the EU is the free movement of people. The current system almost reflects this ideal. Instead of the free movement within the EU, there is free movement within the Schengen Area. The EU consists of 28 (soon to be 27) European member states, while the Schengen Area has 26 slightly different member states. Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland are not EU members but they are Schengen Area members.

The 26 Schengen Area member states are Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. If you are an American citizen entering Europe through any of these countries you do not need a visa.

Once a traveler arrives in a Schengen country, he or she may travel between the other Schengen countries for up to 90 days without encountering immigration authorities. This is true for both visa-free travelers and travelers with a formal, pre-approved Schengen visa. It is comparable to when a foreign visitor enters the US at New York's Laguardia airport and goes through immigration there but then takes a road trip through Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Illinois to reach Chicago without encountering any additional immigration stops.

This visa-free travel situation and free movement within the Schengen Area will not change with the new EU travel authorization system.

European Travel Information and Authorization System

On September 14, 2016, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker delivered a speech advocating for an increased European security system. He said "We need to know who is crossing in our borders. This way we will know who is travelling to Europe before they even get here". Two months later, the European Commission proposed a new travel authorization system called the European Travel Information and Authorization System ("ETIAS").

Origin of ETIAS

On July 5, 2018, the European Parliament adopted ETIAS in agreement with the European Commission. The adopted law permits the establishment of the ETIAS under the purview of the newly-strengthened eu-LISA security agency. The Parliament has tasked eu-LISA with making ETIAS operational by the end of 2021. Many news outlets are reporting that the system will be in place by January 1, 2021.

What is ETIAS?

The European Commission is emphatic that "the ETIAS authorization is not a visa." After many false news reports this past week about a new EU visa, the EU Ambassador to the US, Stavros Lambrinidis, posted on Twitter that "[n]either the #ESTA nor the future #ETIAS (EU equivalent) are visas. They carry out pre-travel screening for travellers benefiting from visa-free access."

ETIAS is a pre-travel authorization program designed to reduce immigration procedures and wait times, as well as help improve the security of the EU. It pre-screens travelers for security, health, and migration risks. The system will allow the EU to keep track of visitors from countries that otherwise do not need a visa to enter the Schengen Area. The European Commission believes the system will be affordable, simple, and fast. It will allow cross-checking of EU information systems and provide clear rules for refusals with an appeals process.

Potential travelers will have to submit a short online application and pay an application fee of 7 euros. The EU estimates that 95% of applicants will receive an approval by email within minutes of submitting the application. Once a traveler receives an ETIAS travel approval, they can travel freely to and from the Schengen Area using that approval for up to three years. The approval is connected to your passport, so if your passport expires before the three-year authorization expires you will have to re-apply.

What this Means for Americans, Brits, Australians, and Other Visa-Free Country Travelers

The ETIAS travel authorization will be required for visa-free travelers, which will likely include UK citizens post-Brexit. Travelers that are entering Europe visa-free for tourism, business, or just in transit to another region will need an ETIAS authorization. This means if you have a flight from New York to Dubai with a connection in Frankfurt, you will need an ETIAS authorization even if you never intend to leave the Frankfurt airport.

If you are coming from a country that requires a formal Schengen visa, you will not need to apply for an ETIAS travel authorization. If you are a dual citizen with citizenship in a Schengen Area country, you will not need ETIAS authorization if you enter Europe using your European passport.

Using your ETIAS Authorization

When the ETIAS system enters into effect, travelers will need to receive authorization prior to arriving in Europe. When you first use your authorization, you will have to enter the Schengen Area through the country you indicate in your application. If you enter through a different Schengen country the authorization will be invalid and you will be denied entry. Note that most travelers pass through European immigration at their port of arrival. For example, a traveler flying from Boston to Rome with a connection in Madrid usually enters Europe in Spain, not Italy. After your initial use of the authorization, you may enter through any Schengen country you would like using your valid authorization.

N.B. the ETIAS authorization will not be required for travel to UK, Ireland, Romania, Bulgaria, or the former Yugoslav countries (except Slovenia) until they join the Schengen Area.

After receiving your authorization and using it to enter the Schengen Area for the first time, travel to and from the EU will be no different than it is today until your authorization or passport expires, at which time you will need to reapply. This means ETIAS will be a slight inconvenience for those of us traveling from visa-free countries the first time we go to Europe, but otherwise will not change our travels very much.

How to Apply for an ETIAS Authorization

Once the system goes live, citizens of visa-free travel countries will be able to apply online. The application will include questions about basic biographical information, such as your full name, country of residence, date of birth, and similar information about your parents. It will also ask questions related to health, security, and migration, such as drug use, terrorism links, travel to conflict areas, past EU travel, criminal history, and employment history. No biometric data like finger prints will be required, though it will be beneficial to apply with a biometric passport.

After completing the online application form you will provide an email address and pay by credit or debit card. When payment is received, your information will automatically be cross-checked against security databases including Interpol and Eurpol. If there are no "hits," you should receive your authorization by email within minutes of applying.

ETIAS; schengen; application; immigration

ETIAS Application Process; graphic source: https://www.schengenvisainfo.com/etias/

How Far in Advance Should You Apply

Though most applications are expected to be approved within minutes, the length of the refusal process means you should apply at least five weeks before your travel will take place. Carriers will not allow a passenger to board their transportation to Europe without proof of authorization. Even if you are certain you will receive travel authorization mistakes and false hits can happen. You may need the full five weeks to clear up any issues and receive valid authorization.

What to do If You're Refused an Authorization

If your information produces a hit on one of the information security databases, you will receive an email stating your application has been refused. At this point, your application will be manually reviewed by ETIAS staff and additional documentation may be requested. You will have 96 hours to provide the requested documentation. The national authority of the Schengen Area country to which you apply then has four weeks to make a decision on your authorization. The European Commission assures travelers that an appeals process will be available for individuals who are refused authorization after the manual review.

How ETIAS Authorization is Different from a Visa

The EU has made it clear that an ETIAS authorization is not a visa. It is the European equivalent to the current ESTA authorization required by the US for travelers taking advantage of a Visa Waiver Program. ETIAS authorizations will facilitate immigration procedures upon arrival in Europe because the cross-checking of individuals against international security databases will have been done ahead of time.

What is a Visa?

A visa is "an endorsement issued by an authorized representative of a country and marked in a passport, permitting the passport holder to enter, travel through, or reside in that country for a specified amount of time for the purpose of tourism, education, employment, etc". Visas may be granted before travel, with a permanent visa stuck to a page in your passport. Others are received upon arrival at a country's border. Some countries have implemented Visa Waiver Programs ("VWPs"). Regardless of the type of visa, foreign travelers must be pre-approved for travel by through one of these three methods.

Formal Pre-Approved Visa

When you think of a visa, you probably think of the fancy certificate stuck to a page in your passport. Maybe you received one when you studied abroad in college. Perhaps you are one of the fortunate travelers to have a ten-year, multi-entry tourism visa for China. You may have opted to obtain a pre-approved visa before traveling to a country like Vietnam.

vietnam visa; etias; immigration; travel authorization

Pre-approved visas require a lengthy and costly application process. Applicants fill out a multi-page application with biographical, financial, and travel information. The applicant then sends a paper copy of the application to the relevant consulate along with passport photos, his or her passport, and the application fee. Application fees range from $20 USD to hundreds of dollars depending on the country and type of visa requested. Sometimes applicants have to appear in-person at the consulate to receive the visa and collect their passport. If you live in a major city this may only require a few hours off work. Alternatively, imagine living in Alaska and having to appear in person at a consulate in San Francisco!

Formal, pre-approved visas are the most difficult to obtain. They are usually required in reciprocity. If the US requires citizens of a country to obtain a formal visa before visiting, US citizens will have to receive a formal visa before traveling to that country as well.

Visa on Arrival

You may have previously received a visa on arrival and not even known it! Visas on arrival look similar to entry stamps received under VWPs. The difference is visa-on-arrival stamps lay out the visa requirements and restrictions for the traveler in the stamp. The stamps are often accompanied by payment of an entry or exit fee. You must also fill out a paper with your travel details and provide it to immigration officials upon arrival. This paper is cross-checked with another similar paper turned over when you leave the country.

ireland visa; etias; immigration; travel authorization

Example of visa requirements included in a visa stamp

Countries implementing visa on arrival programs do not have bilateral treaties with your country of citizenship to provide visa-free travel. They have nevertheless decided not to require the process of applying for a visa before traveling to their country.

Visa Waiver Programs

Visa Waiver Programs ("VWPs") allow citizens of participating countries to enjoy visa-free travel to other participating countries. VWPs are established with bilateral treaties allowing reciprocal treatment for citizens of each country involved. There are thirty-eight countries currently participating in the US VWP, including most EU and Schengen Area member states.

Traveling to a VWP country requires nothing beyond speaking with an immigration officer upon arrival. By virtue of being a citizen of a participating country, you may enter another participant country without a visa as a tourist or business person. If you plan to study or work in a foreign country then you will probably need to apply for a visa.

When you arrive at a visa-free country, you will likely receive a stamp in your passport showing port of entry into the country. This stamp is not a visa. It is proof that you entered the country legally. Most immigration authorities will check for this stamp when you leave the country.

german visa; etias; immigration; travel authorization

Port of Entry/Exit Stamp

The ETIAS Difference

ETIAS does not provide automatic immigration authorization as a visa does. It also does not lay out requirements and restrictions for travelers to follow as visas do. It is merely a first-step authorization for traveling to or through Europe. Visitors with a valid authorization may still be denied entry by immigration officials for other immigration-related reasons. ETIAS authorization merely proves to carriers like airlines and to European immigration officials that you do not pose a security, health, or migration threat to Europe. This is only the first step in being allowed to enter Europe, which is currently done when you arrive at the border. Starting in 2021, this check will be completed ahead of time. I'm hopeful this will mean shorter immigration lines at European airports once the program is in place!

For more information, see the following websites used to write this article:

http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-18-4367_en.htm

https://www.schengenvisainfo.com/etias/

https://www.cbp.gov/travel/international-visitors/visa-waiver-program

https://www.etiasvisa.com

12 March 2019: This post has been updated for clarity, and to add information about travelers transiting through Europe.

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Do Americans need a visa to visit Europe or the EU? No! Find out the truth about the new ETIAS authorization and how to get one in this article.
Do Americans need a visa to visit Europe or the EU? No! Find out the truth about the new ETIAS authorization and how to get one in this article.
My Favorite Way to Spend A Day in The Hague

My Favorite Way to Spend A Day in The Hague

On a recent trip to Amsterdam, my friend Erin and I spent a day in The Hague (Den Haag). I had only wanted to see the Peace Palace in the city before continuing on to Rotterdam for the afternoon. However, after spending most of the day in The Hague there I completely fell in love with the city and cannot wait to return!

Looking for more day trip ideas from Amsterdam? Check out this Day Trip to Zaanse Schans!

Getting to The Hague via Public Transportation

Train

spend a day in the hague; den haag; the hague; netherlands; amsterdam; train station

The most common way to get to The Hague is by train. The trip from Amsterdam's southern station, Amsterdam Zuid, is only about 40 minutes and costs 12 €. Traveling from the Amsterdam Centraal station takes longer and is slightly more expensive. The Hague is one of the main cities in The Netherlands, so there are also trains from Rotterdam, Utrecht, and other small Dutch towns. All trains arrive at the main station Den Haag Centraal, from which you can easily hop on a tram to city center.

Plane

The Hague is easily accessible from Amsterdam's Schipol Airport. The Schipol train station connected to the airport has trains heading South away from Amsterdam. You can reach the Den Haag Centraal station in about 30 minutes from Schipol Airport.

There is also a smaller airport servicing The Hague and Rotterdam (airport code RTM). It is accessible by either train or subway from the Den Haag Centraal train station. It has direct flights from cities including Salzburg, Pisa, Geneva, London City, and Alicante, but you should be able to find a flight with one connection from anywhere in Europe to reach the RTM airport. If you are traveling from outside Europe, your cheapest and easiest option is probably to fly into Schipol Airport and take the train.

Subway

I was surprised to see Den Haag Centraal as a stop on Rotterdam's metro. The northern line on Rotterdam's subway system runs through its central train station, continues north through RTM airport and terminates at The Hague's central station. If you plan to spend a day in The Hague coming from Rotterdam this transportation method is also an option.

The Peace Palace

spend a day in the hague; den haag; the hague; netherlands; peace palace

As a scholar of International Law I have always dreamed of visiting The Hague. It is home to some of the most important international legal institutions in the world. Its city nickname is The City of Peace and Justice.

Though there are many peace-oriented buildings in The Hague, the most beautiful is the Peace Palace. Built in 1913 after two peace conferences in the city led by Russia's Czar Nicholas II, the Peace Palace is the current meeting place of the International Court of Justice ("ICJ," the legal body of the United Nations) and the Permanent Court of Arbitration. It also houses a library of international law.

Visitors to the Peace Palace can explore its visitor's center and museum any day of the week. As the Palace itself hosts an active court and learning center guided tours are only available on certain weekends. The visitor's center has a free guided audio tour that lasts for about a half hour that is worth listening to. If you are determined to go in the building itself and wander the gardens on the grounds, check its opening days before planning your travel.

spend a day in the hague; den haag; the hague; netherlands; peace palace

A map of the world outside the visitor's center: the map is made of the world "welcome" written in each country's native language!

Alternatively, if you are interested in listening to a session of the ICJ, you may arrive at the building 30 minutes before proceedings begin to be let in to watch. Note that this admission does not include a tour of the building or access to the gardens, just the opportunity to watch the Court in session.

Lunch at Zee Op Tafel

After leaving the Peace Palace, Erin and I wandered through Archipelbuurt neighborhood making our way North. We were not hungry, but the sidewalk cafes looked so cute and the smells wafting from each one smelled amazing! We returned to this area later for lunch.

Any of the restaurants would have been great, but Zee Op Tafel had the best smells so we opted to eat there. Zee Op Tafel features a fish market in the front of the store with a small restaurant in back. Being in a seaside town we had to try the fish! I ordered fried mackerel and Erin had fried cod (or more correctly, the Lekkerbek and the Kibbeling).

spend a day in the hague; den haag; the hague; netherlands; zee op tafel

This meal contained some of the freshest fish I've had in my life! It was all crisp, clean, well-cooked, and with a pleasing distinct flavor that was not overly fishy. The side salad I ordered with it was refreshing. The waitstaff was friendly and attentive, rounding out the positive experience. I'm sure any restaurant in the neighborhood would have been equally pleasing, but Zee Op Tafel is one to which I would gladly return.

Madurodam

spend a day in the hague; den haag; the hague; netherlands; madurodam

One attraction often noted in connection with The Hague is Madurodam. Madurodam is a miniature version of buildings and highlights in The Netherlands. It features most of the major cities and their landmarks like Dam Square in Amsterdam, the Erasmus Bridge in Rotterdam, and The Hague's own Peace Palace. It also portrays a port with container ships and Schipol Airport with model planes from various airlines.

Origin of Madurodam

Madurodam is named after George Maduro. Born in Curaçao in 1916, George was a Dutch law student who was conscripted into the Dutch army at the start of World War II. When the Nazis arrived in The Netherlands in 1940, George helped prevent them from completely occupying The Hague. He was later captured by the Nazis, held as a prisoner of war, and ultimately died in a concentration camp. He is a decorated Dutch war hero. His parents created Madurodam in his honor. It is intended to be the happiest war memorial in the world.

Visiting Madurodam

spend a day in the hague; den haag; the hague; netherlands; madurodam

Madurodam is open every day of the year. Opening times are season-dependent. The entrance fee is 19,50 € for adults. Most of the park is outside, so I would pick a nice day to visit.

Madurodam has many interactive activities. You can use a miniature crane to load containers onto a ship or practice your soccer skills alongside the national team of The Netherlands. You can learn about The Netherlands' history with a 4D video experience. Did you know The Netherlands only became independent in the 1500s, and got its freedom from the Spanish with a Revolution? I didn't until I visited Madurodam!

Other Attractions for Spending Your Day in The Hague

There were so many things in the city I was unable to see and do during my  visit! As you are planning your visit to The Hague I recommend looking into the following things as well:

How do you plan to spend your day in The Hague?

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How to Spend a Day in The Hague, Netherlands.
How to Spend a Day in The Hague, Netherlands.
How to Spend a Day in The Hague, Netherlands.
Meeting French President Nicholas Sarkozy

Meeting French President Nicholas Sarkozy

I met French President Nicholas Sarkozy in Nice, France, in May 2010.

For the final weekend of my semester abroad, I took a short trip to the French Riviera. I had not planned on meeting President Sarkozy. I did not anticipate that my final European vacation that year would bring me face-to-face with the French president. My dad and I were unaware that we would be in the same city as Sarkozy. We did not have any intention of attempting to meet him. Nevertheless, as the city of Nice got ready to celebrate its 150th anniversary of uniting with France we found ourselves shaking hands with President Sarkozy himself.

Want to read about another one of my crazy adventures? Click here to learn about The Time I Tried to Go to Nicaragua!

A Weekend in the French Riviera

I studied abroad in Strasbourg, France, in the Spring of 2010. At the end of the term I had about a week of free time before flying back to the States. My dad flew over to France to help me carry back the extra items that I had picked up during my semester. Because of his help, he got to pick the destination of my final vacation. Though I had already been to the French Riviera twice that year, my dad really wanted to return to Nice, France, so we flew down for one last weekend.

Nice

The weekend began in downtown Nice. We rented bikes and rode along the shoreline on the Promenade des Anglais. It was a beautiful beach day, but the beaches in Nice are made of small rocks rather than sand! I tried to lay out in the sun, but it was too uncomfortable having just a towel between me and the rocks.

nice; france; french riviera

For dinner, my dad and I found the best outdoor restaurant area I've ever been to. Tucked away in the Old Town on Place Charles Félix were dozens of outdoor seating venues. Awnings, tables, and chairs available for patrons to sit at once they had selected their restaurant for the evening lined the pedestrian road. The menus all looked so good; we knew we wouldn't go wrong whichever place we picked. The fresh seafood from the Mediterranean Sea and  produce from the fields of Provence did not disappoint.

nice; france; french riviera

Cannes

During this trip to the French Riviera, I was determined to visit Nice's neighboring city Cannes for the first time. The train ride down the coast took less than an hour. We saw gorgeous views of the sea the entire way. Once in Cannes, the open air buses were a great way to see the city quickly. After my dad and I took our tour, we walked down a few side streets with stores offering everything from cheap souvenirs to luxury products, like tiny earrings for over 5,000 euros! We ended our excursion with a drink at a seaside resort lounge before taking the train back to Nice.

nice; france; french riviera; cannes

Typical side street in Cannes

Eze

In the opposite direction from Nice is the medieval city of Eze. Perched high on a hill overlooking the water, visitors can hike up to the castle and enjoy the views along the way, or take the less strenuous route to the top with public buses or taxis. My dad and I chose to hike up. Once we reached the fortress we meandered through the tiny streets that were home to the Romans, Moors, Greeks, Italians, and French over the past 4000 years (though the current fortress was built in 1388). There were many shops, restaurants, and hotels available for tourists mixed in with the houses residents still live in today.

 

nice; france; french riviera; eze

The hike up to Eze!

nice; france; french riviera; eze

Views from a resting spot on the hike

nice; france; french riviera; eze

Medieval City of Eze

Official Happenings in the City

All weekend my dad and I noticed an excitement that had not been present on previous trips to the French Riviera. Official-looking cars drove around town with the flags of various Francophone African nations sticking out from them. We also noticed a giant structure covered in a cloth and a giant French flag in the Parc Esplanade George Pompidou that was not there before.

A few inquiries to shop owners told us the official-looking cars held African leaders attending the 25th Africa-France Summit that weekend. As a scholar of international studies, I hoped to see some history in action or at least a famous African president after hearing this.

nice; france; french riviera

Gathering of official-looking African leaders on the Promenade des Anglais

The new structure covered in cloth was a monument constructed for the 150th anniversary of the unification of the country of Nice with the rest of France. It would be unveiled the following day. My dad and I made note of this, but had no affirmative plans to attend the unveiling ceremony.

nice; france; french riviera

Covered structure

Meeting President Sarkozy

Little did I know we would be both meeting a famous president - though not an African one - and attending the unification celebration.

Preparing for the President's Arrival

Around 3:00 PM in the afternoon on May 31, 2010, my dad and I were walking along the Promenade des Anglais in search of some gelato. It was a beautiful day with many tourists in town, with all the shops and restaurants open for business. Or so we thought. As we walked, I realized that all the storefronts on the Promenade des Anglais were suddenly closing in the middle of this beautiful day.

We approached a gelato shop as the owner was wheeling his sidewalk freezer filed with ice cream inside. I asked him in French "what is going on?" and he urgently replied "Le Président!" Uncertain to what he meant, and suddenly questioning my ability to understand French, I asked "what do you mean the President?" to which he replied "Le Président vient!" ("The President is coming!"). Still confused, thinking maybe he meant one of the African presidents, I asked whether we could still get two cones of gelato.

Though the owner did not look pleased at our request, he served us two large cones of gelato. We took our ice cream cones and walked back down the Promenade. A large crowd had formed in the area by the Parc Esplanade George Pompidou.

Entering the Secure, Ticketed Area

Traffic on the promenade was halted and a large enclosed area set up on the road facing away from the Mediterranean Sea. Two policemen stood at the entrance to the area checking bags. As my dad and I approached, I handed my dad my gelato cone and opened my bag for the bag check. Seeing I had no restricted items, the police waved us through into the gated area.

We made our way up to the front of the crowd awaiting the arrival of some president. We could see the large covered structure in the park and the road in front of the structure from our vantage point in the second row. As I looked around to get a sense of what was going on and when it might begin, I noticed that everyone else around was very well dressed. Though it was a hot spring day, the women around us were wearing dresses and the men all had pants. In contrast, I had a tank top on over my bathing suit and my dad was in a t-shirt and shorts. We also were not holding the pamphlets or tickets everyone else had.

We clearly did not belong in that area. It was also clear that something important and exciting was happening, so we were not about to leave. In any event, the policemen had let us into the area despite our dress and lack of tickets. We waited in anticipation for whatever was going to happen next.

nice; france; french riviera

Media photo from Nice Cote Azur showing the crowds along the Promenade awaiting the ceremony

Arrival of French Ministers, including President Sarkozy

We waited a while before anything happened. After about 30 minutes of standing around an official-looking car drove down the Promenade des Anglais. It stopped right in front of us and a few French ministers got out, including then-Minister of Finance and current head of the International Monetary Fund Christine Lagarde! The officials walked towards the crowd right where we were standing. They shook hands and took pictures with the attendees in our area! I used my best French accent to say Bonjour to Christine Lagarde as I shook her hand, for fear of being found out and ejected before the event began.

A few more cars arrived with French officials who also greeted the crowds upon their arrivals. About fifteen minutes later, an even nicer car drove down the Promenade des Anglais with a large police escort around it. The crowd roared. The anticipation for the guest was high. The car stopped right in front of where I was standing, and out stepped President Nicholas Sarkozy!

As the other officials had done, President Sarkozy came over to the crowd in the gated area, walking directly towards my dad and me. I scrambled forward to shake his hand. Though he will never know my name, who I am, or even that I had been there, I was still very excited for my first meeting with a foreign leader. In my haste to get through the crowd to the front row I got some beautiful pictures of the trees in front of us instead of the President himself. I will never forget this memory.

Anniversary Celebration for Nice's Unification with France

When Sarkozy joined the celebration, the French national anthem played and the local children's choir sang. Local dance troupes performed traditional dances. A few prominent officials, including the Mayor of Nice, gave speeches. Finally, the cloth was removed from the giant structure to reveal nine giant rust-colored columns. Neuf Lignes Obliques or "nine leaning lines" symbolizes the nine valleys of the Country of Nice, which united with the rest of France in 1860.

nice; france; french riviera; neuf lignes obliques

Media photo from Nice Cote Azur showing President Sarkozy, the Mayor of France, and other officials at the ceremony

The celebration was an interesting diversion during my third trip to Nice in as many months. Though I had wanted to experience a new country on my final trip in France, nothing could have topped being part of French history with Nice's celebration and my meeting President Sarkozy!

If you're planning a trip to Nice and wondering where to stay, I highly recommend the Hotel Suisse right on the water!

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I accidentally met then-French President Nicholas Sarkozy during my last trip to Nice! Find out how, as well as other details about the French Riviera, in my blog post.
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