Amsterdam's largest green space is named after the city's best-known poet, Joost van den Vondel (1587-1679), whose controversial play Lucifer caused the religious powers of the time to crack down hard on those who engaged in what was termed 'notorious living'. The campaign helped bring about the end of Rembrandt and Vondel; the latter ended his days as a pawnshop doorman.
Vondelpark is the most central of the city's major parks, its construction inspired by the large development of the Plantage, which had formerly provided the green background for the leisurely walks of the rich. It was designed in the 'English style' by Zocher, with the emphasis on natural landscaping; the original ten acres opened in 1865. The park has actually sunk some two to three metres (seven to ten feet) since it was first built - some larger trees are in fact 'floating' on blocks of styrofoam or reinforced with underground poles.
There are several ponds and lakes in the park - no boating, though - plus a number of play areas and cafés; try 't Het Blauwe Theehuis (Round Blue Teahouse; and the always charming Café Vertigo at the Nederlands Filmmuseum. The NFM is less of a museum and more a cinema with a café attached and a library nearby. Keep your eye out for a huge Picasso sculpture in the middle of the park, and the wild parakeets who were mistakenly released in 1976. Around the corner - and providing a unique place for coffee - is the epic Hollandsche Manege (Vondelstraat 140, 618 0942), a wooden version
of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna.
Vondelpark gets fantastically busy on sunny days and Sundays, when bongos abound, dope is toked and football games take up any space that happens to be left over. The dicky-tickered would do well to look out for rollerbladers, who meet here weekly for the Friday Night Skate. Films, plays and concerts are also put on, with a festival of free open-air performances in summer.