What should you do in Amsterdam? Well, for one (semi-) private tours are a great option. And if you are you looking for tours in Amsterdam and a review on Context Travel tours in Amsterdam, then you will like this article.
Amsterdam is a city that has plenty of things to offer. Thus there are many different perspectives that you can discover in Amsterdam. Whether you’re travelling to Amsterdam for your first time, or if you have visited Amsterdam before, there is something new to discover around every corner. That’s why I personally am a huge fan of taking tours in every new city that I visit. And, you’re in luck, because there are many tours that you can take in Amsterdam. From private tours, an Amsterdam history tour to ones where you can discover the local perspective.
The best Amsterdam private and group tours
Amsterdam is filled with tour groups. Small groups, but the overwhelming majority of tour groups are large. Think of free walking tours that are incredibly large. Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea behind free walking tours in Amsterdam or any other city. But it’s gotten out of hand.
Amsterdam is a beautiful city, that you’d want to enjoy from a more local and smaller perspective. It’s about emerging in a small part of the local culture. While at the same time learning about the history and people who live or have lived here. You’re in their neighbourhood and city. So what is a better way to understand Dutch people and Amsterdam than by getting an in-depth tour through Amsterdam with a small group of people? Exactly. There is no better way. Context Travel is one of the companies that offer great guided and informative tours in Amsterdam that are led by a local. Whether going on a tour with Context Travel or other companies is worth it, can be found in the rest of this article.
You’ll discover some very interesting facts about Amsterdam. Even facts that you cannot find in this article I wrote about fun facts of Amsterdam.
Do I recommend free walking tours in Amsterdam?
I wouldn’t recommend you to go on a free walking tour through Amsterdam. Not even when you’re a budget traveller. They all tell you the same story, the huge crowds of those tours are disrupting locals and it doesn’t bring anything good to the city. Please choose another option to see the city. I know it’s an easy way of seeing some highlights really quick. But honestly, you can walk to the Dam square and the Red Light District and you will see almost everything that they visit.
IMPORTANT INFORMATION:Red Light district tours will be forbidden starting from January 2020. If someone offers you to tour through the area by that time period, know that he or she offers an illegal activity in Amsterdam.
I received an invitation by Context Travel to take part in one of their tours in Amsterdam and to write a review about the tour. I’m being compensated for this article, however, this doesn’t make my opinion of less value. As most of you know, I’m born and raised in The Netherlands. Dutch people are known to be upfront and honest about many things. And that is exactly what I am. You will hear it all. The good, the bad and anything between.
There might be affiliate links in this article. Click here for the full disclaimer.
About Context Travel & my tour
Context Travel is a company that offers custom, private or semi-private tours in Amsterdam and 49 other cities around the world. During the tour, you will get information and learn from a local expert. Think of architects, art historians, ecologists, chefs, and more. Yes, they are all specialists in their fields. What is interesting is that the tours aren’t scripted but structured instead. So you will discover the city of your choice through dialogue.
The semi-private tours with Context Travel do not exceed the number of six other people. This way you will get the best in-depth, intimate and hands-on experience of the city. The conversations that you will have with your tour guide will decide the information you will get. The tours follow the same routes except for the custom tours of course. But different people make different conversations and ask other questions. Thus the information differs greatly with every tour.
At Context Travel their aim is to help travellers engage with local experts. This way you will discover places and learn about cultures that remain out of sight to most visitors of a certain city. With these private and semi-private tours, you will discover Amsterdam, and 49 other cities around the world. You will go off the tourist track and into the real life of the people, history, and culture.
My tour with Context Travel was the Jewish in Amsterdam semi-private tour. I was able to discover how the Jewish community has impacted Amsterdam and The Netherlands throughout 500 years.
I’m born and raised in The Netherlands. And even I was surprised how little I knew about the history of this community in The Netherlands. Below you will find my review and summary of the Jewish tour in Amsterdam. Do I recommend the tour? Or is it a waste of time or money? More can be found below.
Quick & small summary Jewish in Amsterdam tour
The meeting point of the tour was on the bridge near Espressobar Puccini. This is located just in front of the Jewish neighbourhood of Amsterdam. My tour took place on a Sunday and we were with only five people (including myself) on the tour. I was pleasantly surprised that the groups were small in real life. Because after my research about Context Travel I figured that they only offer tours with small groups. But you only know whether that’s true or not when you experience it.
At first, the guide asked whether everyone was Jewish, or not. I was the only one who wasn’t Jewish, but the guide explained everything I needed to know during the tour. When the tour started the guide immediately explained that he won’t be talking about the Holocaust for the entire tour, except for a few parts.
The reason for that is because there are more than 500 years of Jewish history to be found in Amsterdam. It would’ve been a shame to the only talk about such a small part of history. Not that it isn’t important, but there is so much more to be told.
The interesting facts were found all throughout the tour. Did you know that the Red Light District was originally built for pilgrims? They arrived en masse in Amsterdam after the so-called ‘miracle of Amsterdam’.
I didn’t know that there were several important Jewish communities in Amsterdam, the Ashkenazi Jews and the Sephardic Jews. At first, the Sephardic Jews arrived in Amsterdam. And this Jewish community in Amsterdam was the only community in Europe that wasn’t a ghetto. They were actually very rich and weren’t refugees like many people think. The Ashkenazi Jews that arrived in Amsterdam after wars, were refugees.
You might’ve heard of a certain man named Spinoza. Well, he was Jewish as well. But they actually don’t know what he really looks like. So the statue of Spinoza that you will see on this tour is not actually him. They created him with a little imagination.
Another fun fact that I learned on this semi-guided tour in Amsterdam, is that Spinoza is actually banned from the city by the Jewish community. Reason being that Spinoza said that you don’t need a synagogue or a priest to come close to god. So he was banned and eventually died in Den Haag (The Hague).
For anyone who is curious. Yes, Spinoza is still banned from Amsterdam. My walking encyclopedia tour guide told us that there was voting about cancelling the ban. But in the end, Spinoza is still banned because they were afraid of uproar.
You won’t find a lot of remnants of the original Jewish neighbourhood. The reason for the is, unfortunately, the second world war. During one of the final years of the war in The Netherlands, we had what we call the ‘hongerwinter’ or hunger winter.
There was no food, no coals, nothing. More people died during this winter than all the previous years of the war combined in The Netherlands. The houses of the Jewish people and other people that got deported were broken down. Everything was used in order to keep houses a little bit warm during one of the toughest times of war.
The Zuiderzee, that is now closed off by the Afsluitdijk and divided into the Ijsselmeer and Markermeer, started at the building Huyswacht. The tower that you see in the distance is the first synagogue of the Ashkenazi Jews in Amsterdam. After a while, the Ashkenazi gave it to the Sephardic. And when they eventually left the building got an extra tower. Synagogues cannot be removed nor destroyed, but they can get recycled. That means that the tower is a few hundred years younger than the rest of the building.
The camp of Westerbork in the province of Drenthe was originally built as a refugee camp. And actually paid for by Jewish people, for the German Jewish refugees. When the Germans entered The Netherlands during the Second World War they took the camp and transformed it into a transit camp.
An interesting fact about Amsterdam is also that you cannot find a tram with the number 8 anymore. This tram number went through Jewish neighbourhoods and areas of Amsterdam to pick up the Jews. They would take them to a communal place and put them into trains towards camps.
The final stop of the Jewish in Amsterdam tour was the Portuguese synagogue. Before you walk into the complex of the synagogue you will spot olive trees. These trees are as old as the synagogue itself and are usually covered in plastic during winters to prevent the trees from dying.
At first, we walked through the treasure rooms and other rooms that were in the complex. The tour guide definitely saved the best for last. He already mentioned that visiting the Portuguese synagogue would be the highlight of this tour. And he wasn’t wrong. Even though I’m not religious, I like to visit mosques, temples, churches, synagogues etc. All of them are different, but all have the same purpose.
The Portuguese synagogue has been in constant use since the building was finished in 1675. It was even used during the Second World War. Firefighters that were working in the building let Jewish people into the attic for the services. The Portuguese Synagogue was visited by 4300 Jews before the Second World War and only 300 people returned after the war.
One interesting thing about the Portuguese synagogue in Amsterdam is that it doesn’t have any heating, electricity or sprinkler system. To protect the synagogue from a fire they have a bucket with water next to the bima. It’s a plastic bucket. I was searching for an old wooden bucket, but the only modern thing in this whole synagogue is the bucket. And they built the synagogue in this way that when a candle falls, the building doesn’t burn immediately. The wood in the building is very dense, thus burns not easily.
Did you know that every synagogue has something that is broken? In this Portuguese synagogue in Amsterdam, you have to look at a little piece of wood at the ceiling below the first floor that has the seatings for women. The reason for that is because ‘only god is perfect’.
This Jewish tour in Amsterdam has been eyeopening, surprising and very informative. I had no idea of the impact the Jewish community had and still has in Amsterdam and the rest of The Netherlands.
My point of view: Would I recommend you to take a tour with Context Travel?
To answer that question I have to ask you one.
Are you’re interested in an in-depth, semi-private guided tour through Amsterdam that only allows a small number of participants? Or are you interested in a private tour through Amsterdam with a local guide?
If you answer either of these questions with yes, then Context Travel offers the best semi-private guided tours in Amsterdam for you.
My tour lasted 3 hours. And I’m not going to lie, at first I was a little bit nervous that I would get bored with all the information. Especially since my concentration span isn’t the longest. Usually, I get distracted by cats, birds, people and so on.
But I was also nervous about another thing. Because I’m not Jewish nor religious, I thought that I might feel like an outsider in a tour about the Jewish community in Amsterdam. I was pleasantly surprised that I for one, didn’t get bored and two, that I didn’t feel like an outsider. The guide took into consideration that I wasn’t Jewish, so he explained everything to me. And when I was talking to one of the other participants, she mentioned also how she thought that the guide did a tremendous job with explaining items and words to me that I hadn’t heard before, while not boring the others on the tour.
All the other participants had taken a tour with Context Travel before in another country and told me that their experiences have always been amazing. They loved the in-depth and interesting tours, that are all guided by a local. And my first tour with Context Travel was better than I could’ve imagined. There were pictures and maps of areas shown to help our small group of people understand the information better and this way we could let our imagination run in the right direction.
As I’ve mentioned before, I absolutely loved the in-depth information. The guide was very knowledgeable and would answer everyone’s questions, but also keeps in mind whether an attendee knows the religion or not. He definitely took its time to explain everything and the highlight was definitely the Portuguese synagogue in Amsterdam. I liked it that the groups were very small, which makes it not distracting. And I definitely recommend you to take any of the many Context Travel tours that they offer in Amsterdam. Especially if you want to explore a city in a local way, from another perspective and have the money for it.
Because it is worth the money. I only included a short summary of the tour, because honestly, I could still be writing ten days after publishing this article. There was a lot of information given from this local tour guide in Amsterdam. And I would definitely recommend you to take this tour or any of the other Amsterdam private or group tours. Context Travel also offers an Amsterdam history tour, brews & bites Amsterdam pub tour and plenty of other private and semi-private guided tours through Amsterdam.
Would I recommend taking the Jewish in Amsterdam tour by Context Travel?
Definitely. Even though I’m born and raised in a small village in the Northern part of The Netherlands, I learned so many new things on this tour from Context Travel. Things that weren’t mentioned in most of our history books.
The impact of the Jewish community on the entire country of The Netherlands. Companies that wouldn’t exist without the Jewish community, as well as some of my favourite Dutch food such as Kibbeling. The Netherlands has always been a place that is formed by immigration and by different cultures. That’s what makes the country unique. Culture is always moving and it’s very interesting to hear how the Jewish as ‘newcomers’ have found their place in Dutch society.
My tour was in total 3 hours and the price included the admission fee for the Jewish district of Amsterdam: Portuguese Synagogue, Jewish Historical Museum and the National Holocaust museum. The guide will show you around the Portuguese synagogue, but the ticket is valid for those other museums as well when you visit those on the same day.
Context Travel tours for the budget traveller?
It is possible that you don’t have the budget to go on a tour with Context Travel. Although I recommend going on tours with Context Travel for an in-depth experience of the city that you’re visiting, if you’re a budget traveller it’s completely understandable that a tour of Context (no matter how good they are) is out of your budget.
I would create a place in my budget for following a great guided walking tour in Amsterdam, but I know not everyone has their priorities in the same place as I have. Which is totally understandable.
If you’re a budget traveller visiting Amsterdam that doesn’t want to set money aside for a tour, then I would opt for following other tours. In that case, I would say have a look at the tours below from Get Your Guide. The tours I’ve linked to below are great tours and are more in-depth than most general tours from Get Your Guide. Although for the most in-depth and interesting tours in Amsterdam, the price is always a bit higher.
Book a tour with Get Your Guide right now
I hope this review of the Context Travel Jewish in Amsterdam tour was helpful to you. If you have any questions, I’m always happy to help. It is one of the best private tours of Amsterdam, Noord- Holland. So if you were still searching for a local guide in Amsterdam, then definitely have a look at Context Travel for the perfect Amsterdam tour guide.
If you’re looking for a free self-guided walking tour through Amsterdam and other fun or unusual things to do in Amsterdam, then I can recommend you to read this 2 day itinerary for Amsterdam, written by a local. When you’re planning on visiting The Netherlands for the first time, I would always recommend you to read into the Dutch culture that we have. But there are also other things you should know about The Netherlands before you travel here, discover that here.
And when you’re done with exploring the local part of Amsterdam, please visit other beautiful Dutch towns and cities as well. Think of Bergen op Zoom, or the stunning Dutch Hansa town of Elburg and the city of Amersfoort is incredibly cute as well.
Are you visiting Amsterdam or The Netherlands during summer? Then have a look at the perfect article on the fun and interesting things you have to do during summer in Amsterdam and The Netherlands. Share this article!!