Let’s play a game of numbers – 160 canals (more than Venice), 1281 bridges, 7000 historical buildings and more than 60 museums. Amsterdam’s attractions are not so much attractions but part of the patterned fabric of its vibrant life.
For years, visitors flocked to Amsterdam’s famed coffee shops to enjoy more than a cappuccino. Now, though, the Dutch government is moving to ban anyone except Dutch residents from marijuana-selling premises.
But while the city may look slightly more colourful after a spiffing afternoon, you’ve never needed to indulge to appreciate Amsterdam. From the cobbled streets of Jordaan and The Jewish Quarter to the Gothic architecture of Oude Kerk, the best way to experience the city is simply to immerse yourself in its quirky and vibrant culture.
Amsterdam is one of the brightest cities in Europe, and it’s not just the gaudy neon signs of the Red Light District or the ubiquitous romantic candlelight of the canal dinner cruises that make this so. It’s the buzz and throng of a city slightly left of centre that blaze Amsterdam’s energy into your heart, leaving that little light flickering inside you long after you’ve left its shores.
Amsterdam's Top 10
10. Van Altena The best experiences are often the simplest. That is, if you call putting your face to the sky and swallowing one of these fresh, raw herrings ‘simple’.
5. Beginjhof: Another narrow, vaulted passageway? Yes, but this one has a light at the end of the tunnel – a charming, quiet garden surrounded by some of Amsterdam’s oldest houses (and ladies).
9. Madame Tussauds In a city where tacky tourist attractions are not what draw the crowds, Madame Tussauds is the exception.
4. Anne Frankhuis The emotional battering delivered by Anne Frank’s wartime hideout is pretty intense, but the experience is unforgettable.
8. Heineken Experience There’s really no way four levels of interactive beer experiences can be bad.
3. Van Gogh Museum This self-explanatory museum houses some 200 paintings, 550 sketches and hundreds of letters by the troubled visionary.
7. Albert Cuyp Market Amsterdam’s most popular market, and second most popular sensory experience.
2. RijksmuseumIn a city with more than 60 museums, it’s hard to choose a select few. Just make sure one of them is the Rijksmuseum – the largest in the Netherlands.
6. Red Light District Underneath the tacky fake glitter are some of Amsterdam’s most attractive, um, buildings (and interesting museums!).
1. The Canals There’s a difference between a tourist trap and something justifiably popular – this is the best way to see the canals and Golden Age merchants’ houses.
- Old Church – More than 750 years old and the oldest remaining building in Amsterdam.
- New Church in Dam Square – A relative youngster at just 600 years old.
- Royal Palace – Previously City Hall, but upgraded in the early 19th century.
- Anne Frank House – An inspiring visit highlighting her remarkable story from World War II.
- Westerkerk Tower – Stands 85m tall and is the best place to get a view of the city.
Amsterdam Art & Culture
- Van Gogh Museum – Houses the largest collection of the great man's work.
- Rijksmuseum – An imposing building and is the recognized museum of the Netherlands.
- National Monument – A photo opportunity with several other structures of Amsterdam.
- Heineken Experience – Tour the huge brewery, with a few samples along the way.
- Rembrandt Square and Statue – Reminder of the feeling the Dutch have for the 19th-century artist.
- Magna Plaza – A huge shopping mall right in the heart of the city.
- Nine Streets area – Full of diverse designer boutiques and set in a beautiful location.
- Pieter Cornelisz on Hoofstraat – The “5th Avenue” of Amsterdam, with luxury labels everywhere.
- Waterlooplein Square – The home of the city's largest flea market.
- Albert Cuyp Street Market – Amsterdam's most famous market, with many visitors each day.
Gay & Lesbian Amsterdam
- Reguliersdwarsstraat – Without a doubt, the centre of the gay scene in Amsterdam.
- Halvemaansteeg – A small street packed with gay bars, which is lively most nights of the week.
- Club Fuxxx and Club Roque – Hosting weekly and monthly gay dance parties.
- Club Church – Theme parties galore, be it fetish, leather or whatever takes your fancy.
- Amstel (near Rembrandtsplein) – Home to three lesbian bars all within a matter of minutes.
- Red Light District – No trip to Amsterdam would be complete without a walk around the district.
- Canal Tour – Either on a candle light cruise or by regular canal bus.
- Leidseplein – Explore this square full of street performers that can keep you entertained for hours.
- Vondelpark – The largest park in Amsterdam, which seems to be alive with activity all day long.
- Bike Tours – Take a bike ride alongside the canals and Amstel River to take in the tranquillity.
- Amsterdam Arena – Home to the mighty Ajax, a stadium with a 52,000-person capacity.
- Skates – Rent some skates or a skateboard and see the city on foot, only much quicker!
- Amsterdam Admirals – Competing to represent Europe in the NFL world bowl.
- Jaap Eden Ice Rink – Visit to watch some ice hockey.
- Bleekemolen Race Planet – Try go-karting at either of two exciting indoor tracks.
For a city with few tourist attractions, Amsterdam is packed with tourists – and not just bong-hitting backpackers. Amsterdam’s heart might be said to lie in The Dam, but it’s the narrow streets of its smaller neighbourhoods that really give you a taste of the city. Here are five top locales to check out.De Wallen
A visit to Amsterdam’s red-light district is not for everyone, particularly if you’re a little too tempted by a photo op – shoot a storefront prostitute and you’ll be doused in urine by her by-standing pimp. If you’re satisfied with non-corporeal memories and stick to the busy streets, however, this is where you will find some of Amsterdam’s prettiest canals and buildings. Among these is the Gothic church Oude Kerk, and The Spinhuis, where the City Fathers used to dispose of ‘fallen women’. Less historic but still fascinating (how fascinating depends on your activities directly prior to attending) is the nearby Hemp Museum.The IJ Waterfront
Once you’ve figured out how to pronounce the name of this waterfront neighbourhood (yes, it really is spelt with two capitals – just say ‘aye’) head over for a range of interesting and mainly maritime attractions, including the Maritime Museum. A recent makeover has seen the disused docks replaced by cultural institutions and restaurants. Artificial islands such as Java-Eiland and KNSM-Eiland are among the areas seeing development, and are pretty cool ways to get a feel for the Amsterdam of the future.Jordaan
Originally a working-class neighbourhood, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a working-class-priced bottle of Heineken here these days. The Jordaan is now one of the Netherlands’ most upscale neighbourhoods, its narrow streets home to many art galleries and museums such as the Pianola Museum and the enticingly named –and presumably Jimi Hendrix-inspired – Electric Lady Land (which isn’t as dodgy as it sounds). Rembrandt was buried in the Westerkerk church after spending the final years of his life in the Jordaan, and Anne Frank House is located on the neighbourhood’s edge.The Dam
The Dam is not a gaudy slang term for Amsterdam itself, but the monumental main square built around 1200 on the Amstel River. Inside Dam Square is the limestone Nationaal Monument, dedicated in 1956 to honour the World War II dead. The site hosts a memorial ceremony on 4 May and serves as a hangout for teens the rest of the time. The heart of Amsterdam also houses The Royal Palace of Amsterdam, and the beautiful but deceptively named 15th-century Niuewe Kerk (New Church). And even the most retail-weary males will enjoy a trip to De Bijenkorf, the Netherlands’ premiere department store.The Jewish Quarter
To some locals, Amsterdam is known as ‘Mokum’, from the Hebrew word for “Sacred Place”. The area is still a centre of Jewish life and is a place of vibrancy, most evident in the famous Vlooienmarkt flea market. The Jewish Quarter also houses a few interesting museums, including Rembrandt’s House and the Jewish Historical Museum, plus some of the most authentic Dutch food at Greetje. That’s a little off the beaten track – but, hey, this isn’t the red-light district!
Amsterdam Eat & Drink
Scossa You don’t need smoke clouds to have a chilled out, relaxing experience.
Amsterdam Dinner Cruise Scenic canals and romantic candlelight do not an amazing dinner make. Just kidding, of course they do!
The Mansion This aptly named complex incorporates two ritzy Chinese restaurants and an upscale club.
Bridges If eating raw fish from a side-street stall isn’t your cup of tea, splash out on the tuna tartare at Bridges – a raw deal you’ll love.
La Rive Located in one of Amsterdam’s most luxurious hotels (the Amstel), even the pickiest guests can’t fault the food here.
Proeverij 274 The quintessential canal-side Amsterdam dining experience. Not exactly hidden, but a gem nonetheless.
Vertigo International cuisine based on seasonal and film influences. Sounds ridiculous, tastes amazing.
The Grand Amsterdam Sofitel Legend Modesty is clearly not an attribute of The Grand Amsterdam, but they’re forgiven on account of the fare.
The Silver Mirror A gourmet restaurant within a crooked, crumbling old building – don’t worry, it was designed to be on a lean.
De Kas Try a different kind of local green produce at De Kas, an upscale restaurant specialising in the freshest vegetables in Amsterdam.
The end of April marks Queen’s Day – the world’s biggest (and most orange) street party.
Horror, anime, cult and thrillers – April’s Amsterdam Fantastic Film Festival is one you don’t have to pretend to get excited about.
June’s Holland Festival includes conferences, workshops, plus more exciting things like music, theatre, dance and films.
Global music and non-Western culture take over Amsterdam for seven days in June, at the Amsterdam Roots Festival.
Hash brownies not doing it for you? Try Taste of Amsterdam at the end of June, where you can have a glass of wine and meet the city’s top chefs.
The Kwakoe Festival in July is marked by 20 days of pure dancing, eating and everything else in between. Yes, 20 whole days.
Classical music gets a whole lot cooler at the informal Robeco Summer Concerts, held in summer each year.
August’s Uitmarkt is considered to be the largest cultural event in Amsterdam. That’s a pretty hefty tag.
September’s Robodock Arts Festival is rough, industrial, experimental and smoky. It’s can also involve a lot of heavy machinery.
The High Times Cannabis Cup in November is six days of pure hedonism. Hey, you’re on holiday…
When To Go
If you can bear snow and bitterly cold temperatures, winter in Amsterdam allows you to skate the canals.
Spring and autumn are generally pleasant, though the weather can change frequently.
Summer temperatures rarely exceed 22°C (72°F) – although enjoyable weather means more crowded streets.
What To Avoid
Amsterdam is a pretty free-wheeling city, but if you want to go green, stick to the coffee houses.
30 minutes spent at the Holland Experience is 30 minutes you could have spent getting an actual Holland experience.
The red light district is a must-see, but be careful what you snap a picture of – unless you want your camera thrown in a canal.
Transport can actually be fun in Amsterdam – locals favour skates and pushbikes
Central Amsterdam is compact, so walking is often your best bet.
Ferries are good even if you don’t have a particular destination in mind, offering scenic views of the many canals.
Amsterdam, North Holland, The Netherlands
Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands, and famous for its elegant architecture, canals, and night life - and also infamous for its nightlife and red light district. The city is located in North Holland and is the biggest city in the Netherlands, although the Dutch Parliament is located in The Hague. The city centre is the oldest part of Amsterdam and Dam Square is the focal point of activity and is where the canals, coffee shops and shops branch out from. Dutch people are well known for their laid back attitude to life - and Amsterdam has a reputation for tolerance, however things are changing with the government starting to take a stricter line on certain activities in the capital. Despite its 'louche' reputation, Amsterdam has plenty of attractions and activities to keep the family happy.
Anne Frank House has to be high on any itinerary during a trip to Amstersdam. Anne Frank was the Jewish girl who famously kept a diary whilst hiding in the back of the house, and the site is now a museum dedicated not only to her life of persecution but to other forms of discrimination.
The Rijksmuseum is home to an important collection of paintings from the Dutch Golden Age, including Rembrandt, Vermeer, Jan Steen and Frans Hals. Vermeer's 'The Milkmaid' and Rembrandt's 'Night Watch' are just two of the works displayed here.
The Van Gogh Museum features the largest collection of the 20th century impressionist's works including paintings and drawings. There are more than 200 paintings and 500 drawings by Van Gogh, and many of his contemporaries including Gauguin, Toulouse Lautrec and Monet. The museum is located to the South of Amsterdam, easily reached by tram.
The Vodka Museum Amsterdam is an interesting and unusual attraction located in a former townhouse close to the entrance to the city. Visitors can take a personal tour around the museum which is situated over three floors, in order to hear all about the history of vodka, how it is produced, and information about the various types of vodka there are. For visitors who have built up a thirst a free sample is provided at the end of the tour.
The Waag (Weigh) House is worth a look, dating back to 1488, when it helped to fortify the city. Later it became the main weigh house, and upstairs was taken over by the surgeons' guild who commissioned Rembrandt's 'Anatomy Lesson of Dr Tulip'. Public executions also took place here, and the building has also acted as a fire station and vault.
Madame Tussauds Amsterdam is a testament to who's who in Holland at any particular moment in time. Whether you love it or hate it the kids will enjoy viewing these incredibly realistic wax characters, some of whom talk - and at the start you will be introduced to some Dutch history. Like all Tussauds attractions the tickets are somewhat pricey, and it's highly recommended to book tickets ahead to miss the lengthy queues.
The Diamond Museum takes visitors through the history of Amsterdam's role in the diamond trade. A diamond factory tour is also available next door at Coster Diamonds, the company which owns the museum - where you can see diamond cutters working and learn the processes involved in producing the diamonds we wear.
The Rembrandt Museum contains over 250 of the master painter's etchings, as well as a fascinating collection of his possessions including weapons, military helmets and seashells! Tickets can be bought in advance.
More Info On Events
April 30 is Queensday, a national holiday in celebration of the Queen's birthday, when the entire city turns orange. All the inhabitants of Amsterdam,plus up to one million from elsewhere in the country dress in orange, and the city is packed with impromptu flea markets, street parties, live music and renowned DJs.
In May there is a modern art fair which takes place in the RAI Exhibition and Conference Centre.
In June the famous Holland Festival attracts world class performers in the area of opera, music, dance and theatre. In the same month 'A Taste of Amsterdam' showcases the cuisine of local chefs, and also, 'The Open Garden Days' allows visitors a glimpse behind the entrances to Amsterdam's canal houses, and canal boats are laid on to take you from one participating canal house garden to another.
July sees Amsterdam International Fashion Week which allows up and coming fashion designers to show off their designs.
Canal Pride takes place in August, one of Amsterdam's biggest festivals, with workshops, performances, plus a boat parade at the Prinsengracht which is highly recommended.
In October the Amsterdam Dance Event takes place, featuring electronic music, attracting fans of the house and techno scene. Not for the fainthearted this event involves four nights of hard partying.
Leisure And Recreation
A canal cruise is a must during a vacation in Amsterdam - and you can choose from a wide selection including the 'Lovers Canal Cruise' which starts opposite the Rijksmuseum, and an Amsterdam Jewel Cruise, an evening cruise which includes a three course meal. Even if you don't opt for a specialist cruise, make sure to take the Canal Bus which drops visitors at the main attractions. Or, if you are feeling particularly adventurous why not hire a Gondola or a two-seater canal bike.
There are 55 cinemas in Amsterdam so film buffs are well catered for, and for shopping facilities head for the main shopping streets which are located near Central Station. The most up market shopping area in Amsterdam is on P.C. Hoofstraat, close to the Rijksmuseum. Some fascinating antiquarian shops can be found on the streets branching off the main canals, including Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht and the Herengracht.
Amsterdam can be a rainy place to holiday in, being the 4th wettest place in Europe. Summer temperatures get as high, on average, as 21 o C during the day, and drop down to 11 o C to 13 o C in the night. July and August are the warmest months, and temps can get up to the 30s at times. Winters in Amsterdam rarely see temperatures dropping below freezing for sustained periods of time, with December to February averaging at around 5 o C.
Getting There And Around
Amsterdam's Schipol airport is one of the busiest airports in the world and it is situated 10 miles southwest of the city centre. There is a direct train service from Amsterdam Central Station to the airport which takes around 20 minutes, and there are around four or five trains an hour all day and throughout the night. Taxis are also available from the airport but are quite expensive, with a journey time of up to an hour depending on traffic.
Getting around Amsterdam is a breeze and the best way is by bike or on foot - most tourist attractions are less than a half an hour's walk from the central railway station. The city is extremely bike-friendly with most streets having bike lanes, and there are plenty of places to rent a bicycle.
Otherwise the tramway system is the main public transport in the city, and a metro which has a short underground section, or there is the option to hire a 'tuk tuk' which is a fairly economical way to get around the city.
Top 6 Free Things To Do
1. New Amsterdam Tours are guided tours of the city centre which are free, plus the Amsterdam Tourist Office run some free guided walking tours.
2. Amsterdam's Public Library is a great place to head for on a wet afternoon. Europe's biggest public library offers visitors international newspapers, free internet access, as well as a café which features spectacular panoramic views over the city.
3. NEMO Panorama Terrace is situated in the NEMO Science Museum - the terrace is located on the roof and visitors can sit on the deckchairs provided and enjoy the views over the Museum Haven and surroundings.
4. Vondelpark Open Air Theatre is free and visitors can watch performances and catch a concert here during the summer, on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings.
5. The Rijksmuseum Garden features a fascinating collection of architecture and is free to the public when the museum is open.
6. Amsterdam Diamond Centre is home to shops full of sparkling jewels, and is as much of an attraction to tourists as the many museums and coffee shops. Located in the Jodenburt area, the centre is open from 10am until 6pm.
Money And Costs
Amsterdam uses the Euro as currency in denominations of up to 500 Euros - however many restaurants and shops will not accept notes as high as 500, and some reluctant to accept even 100 or 200 Euro notes.
As in many European cities it is optional to leave a tip in a restaurant in Amsterdam, but tips are always appreciated. Unless a service charge is included a 10-15% gratuity would be about the norm.
ATMs are widely available in the capital, which dispense up to 50 Euro notes. Money can be exchanged at banks with the 'GWK' Bank near Central Station having good exchange rates, plus this is open 24 hours. When using your credit card at the ATMs look out for any charges which may be applied.
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