Amsterdam, the basics
Surrounded by scenic canals that pass through both the city's historical streets and its infamous Red Light District, Amsterdam at first glance seems to be just a picturesque backdrop for a market of hedonistic pursuits. Walking around the city, while admiring the architecture, one can't help but notice the earthy bouquet of cannabis hanging in the air. And after night falls, the prostitutes begin their hours, as the streets light up with the warm glow that comes from the windows of their shops.
But there's more to Amsterdam's charms than that-the city offers some of Europe's finest museums and most famous sights, along streets and alleys that were designed to make the city easy to explore on foot, or on a bike. A canal-boat tour is also another popular way to see the city, with many stopovers at every attraction it passes along the way.
A good place to start an orientation tour around Amsterdam is the Dam Square . You can see the Royal Palace , and from there the main shopping streets of Kalverstraat and Nieuwendijk. The Leidseplein and Rembrandtplein quarters are nearby, usually busy with street performances and tourist traffic during the day. A lot of popular bars and nightclubs are also located here, as well as a theatre and a cinema where locals like to drop by.
From Leidseplein, the Museum Quarter (Museumplein) is a quick 10-minute walk away. Here you will find Amsterdam 's famous museums. Also nearby is the Jordaan quarter, a district rich with history (it was constructed in 1612) and frequented by young professionals and students.
To the left of the Dam Square and surrounded by the Oudezijds Voorburgwal and Oudezijds Achterburgwal canals is De Wallen- Amsterdam 's notorious Red Light District. Explore Pijp for an exhilarating look at Amsterdam 's cultural diversity, and stop by one of the street corner pubs for a taste of some local brew.
Amsterdam, getting there & around
Fast trains from other cities of the Netherlands and Europe have frequent stops at Amsterdam . From Brussels and Paris , Inter City and International express trains arrive at Centraal Station, as do other trains from Germany and even from farther cities in Spain , Switzerland , Italy , Austria , and eastern Europe. The Amsterdam/Brussels Inter City train connects both cities, via the Trans-Europe Express, the Ooostende-Vienna Express, the North Express, and the Oostende-Moscow Express. From cities and towns around Holland , the Nederlandse Spoorwegen trains also make stops at Amsterdam . For fare and schedule information in Holland the number to call is 0900/9292, while international trains can be contacted at 0900/9296.
The burgundy-hued Thalys train connects Brussels , Cologne , Paris and Amsterdam at top speeds of 300kmph, making Amsterdam only 4.5 hours away from Paris , and 2.25 hours away from Brussels . Once high-speed rail lines in Holland are completed, expect those times to be reduced to 3.25 and 1.75 hours respectively. To contact Thalys for information and for reservations call 08/3635-3536 ( France ), 0800/95-777 ( Belgium ), 0221/19419 ( Germany ) or 0900/9296 ( Holland ). You can also get in touch with a travel agent or go directly to main train stations for tickets. The Thalys website is at http://www.thalys.com .
You can take advantage of the Eurailpass for unlimited first-class travel around many European countries, including the Netherlands . The Eurailpass and the Eurail Youth Pass are more expensive to purchase in Europe , so if you're leaving from the United States , for example, it's best to buy prior to your departure. Contact Rail Europe (http://www.raileurope.com/) at 800/438-7245 or ask your travel agent for more details.
The route between London Victoria Bus Station and Amsterdam Amstel Station is serviced by Eurolines ( http://www.eurolines.com/ ). During the summer there are 4 departures everyday that take about twelve hours to arrive. Eurolines can be contacted for reservations at 0990/808-080 ( Britain ) or 020/560-8788 ( Holland ).
Major European highways cross all over Holland . From Germany to the north and east, and Belgium and France to the south, expressways E231, E22, E35 and E19 all converge at Amsterdam . There are also Dutch designations for each road: E231 is A1, E22 is A7, E35 is A2, and E19 is A4. The ring road of Amsterdam is A10. It's not too far between destinations, and traffic can sometimes build up. The quality of the roads are outstanding however, and all signposts are clearly visible while driving. There are also many service stations along the way.
The Le Shuttle auto transporter takes you from Britain to Amsterdam via the Channel Tunnel (from Folkestone to Calais ) in about thirty five minutes and you can drive the rest of the way after disembarking. Usually there are Le Shuttle departures every thirty minutes, and every fifteen minutes during peak hours. In the evening the departures are scheduled every hour. As of 1998, the fares ranged between £120 to £190 ($190-$290) per car, actual price varying according to the time of day and other conditions. Early trips between 2am and 5am are normally the cheapest. For reservations call 0990/353-535 ( Britain ), 03/21-00-61-00 ( France ), or 020/504-0540 ( Holland ). Advance reservations may be advisable during busy times, although given the efficiency of the system you can usually just opt to buy your ticket when you arrive and wait a short while until your trip is ready to depart.
- Generally, the traffic driving into Amsterdam ranges from bad to worse, depending on the time of day. Also, in an effort to alleviate the city's traffic problems, parking fees tend to be high and the authorities are very strict when it comes to parking violations. If you absolutely have to bring a car, park it in a garage when you arrive so you can be free to walk or commute around the city.
- Tailgaters plague the Dutch snelweg or expressway-drivers that have a habit of coming out of nowhere and positioning their vehicles inches away from your rear bumper, sometimes flashing their headlights frantically, all the while expecting you to swerve out of their way. The best thing to do in those situations is to simply ignore them and continue driving, only moving to the side when a safe opening presents itself.
Amsterdam, main attractions
Amsterdam, Anne Frank House
The Anne Frank House is a museum dedicated to the memory of Anne Frank, a Jewish teenager during World War II who described her experiences over two years in a diary that would later become famous.
She and her family, along with other Jews, hid in a part of the house to escape Nazi persecution, but the families were later found and sent to concentration camps to die. Only Otto Frank survived.
Part of the museum's permanent exhibition is the original diary. Other temporary exhibits on related issues are also featured from time to time.
Address: Prinsengracht 267 (Westerkerk)
Telephone: (020) 556 7100
Transport: Tram 13 or 17; or bus 21, 170, 171 or 172 from Central Station to Westermarkt.
Amsterdam, The Rijksmuseum
Open since 1885, the Rijksmuseum is famous for its collection of 17 th century Dutch masters including Rembrandt, Jan Steen, Frans Hals and Vermeer. Rembrandt's masterpiece, the Night Watch is the most notable part of the collection. There are also thousands of other paintings and artwork housed in the Asiatic Collection, Print Room, Applied Arts and Dutch History exhibits.
No visit is complete without stopping by the museum's beautiful garden filled with flowers, sculptures, fountains and summerhouses. A collection showcasing five centuries of Dutch architecture is also located within the garden.
Address: Jan Luijkenstraat 1
Telephone: (020) 674 700
Transport: Tram 2 or 5 from Central Station to Hobbemastraat.
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art
The Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art focuses on the progression of art over the second half of the 20 th century, and is the home of Amsterdam 's most impressive collections of modern art. Included in the permanent exhibit is Nouveau Realisme, Cobra, De Stijl, Zero and Minimalist Art, Colorfield Painting, and Pop Art. Temporary exhibitions in the new wing feature works focused on applied art and design.
Address: Post CS building, Oosterdokskade 5 (temporary location until 2008)
Telephone: (020) 573 2911
Transport: A few minutes walk from Central Station following the signs 'Route Oosterdok'.
Amsterdam, Rembrandt House
The museum houses a permanent collection of Rembrandt's paintings, along with a reconstruction of a 17 th century studio, with paintings done by Pieter Latman (Rembrandt's teacher) and Rembrandt's students. Rembrandt himself lived in the house between 1639 and 1658 during the height of his career.
Address: Jodenbreestraat 4
Telephone: (020) 520 0400
Transport: Five-minute walk from Central Station.
Amsterdam, Red Light District (De Wallen)
Make sure to complete your stay at the city by at least taking a walk through the infamous De Wallen- Amsterdam 's Red Light District. The place can sometimes be a whirlwind of activity, with endless crowds of tourists making their way past the locals and other assorted denizens of the city (i.e. drug dealers and pimps).
De Wallen's prostitutes are all part of a regulated legal industry, so health checks are enforced and everyone pays an income tax. However, there's more to De Wallen than the prostitutes.
The area's distinct architecture has a rich history, and some of the buildings were constructed in the Middle Ages. The district also offers Zeedijk, Waterlooplein and Nieuwmarkt Square . Amsterdam 's Muzeik Theatre and City Hall can be found in Waterlooplein which was built in 1880 by filling in two canals. Jewish traders back then eventually took over the area for their sidewalk shops.
A community of mostly Portuguese Jews used to thrive at Nieuwmarkt Square , after escaping the Spanish Inquisition. Cultural diversity continues to this day, and nearby Zeedijk Street (which extends from Saint Olof Chapel to De Waag) is also called Chinatown .
Amsterdam, The Royal Palace (Koninklijk Paleis)
While the Royal family actually lives in The Hague , the Royal Palace is recognised as the official Royal residence. Built in 1648, it was originally used as the location for City Hall. King Louis Napoleon had the City Hall turned into a palace in 1808, and to this day many pieces of furniture from that period are kept within its walls.
For guided tours, make sure to book your reservations two weeks in advance.
Address: Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal 147, Dam Square
Telephone: (0)20 620 4060
Transport: 10-minute walk from Central Station, or any tram leaving from Central Station.
Tours Around Amsterdam
Right on the banks of the Maas River is Maastricht , the oldest city in the Netherlands . Since it is right on Holland 's southernmost point (between the borders of Germany and Belgium ), it is also one of the sunniest spots in the country. Paths through the ancient fortifications allow visitors to explore the western areas of the city. For a wonderful overview of the city's history, make sure to visit the Bonnefantenmuseum. Also a worthy stopover, the Basilica of St. Servatius dates back to medieval times. It houses an impressive collection of religious artefacts and is also the burial place of the first bishop of Holland .
Maastricht 's old city centre offers a nice shopping area. It also features places that serve the sublime cuisine that the city is famous for. Wines from local vineyards complement the wonderful food.
Maastricht is 215km (133 miles) from Amsterdam .
International Court of Justice
The International Court of Justice is located at the Peace Palace at The Hague . The first session was held in 1946, and it continues its role today as a place of arbitration in the interest of world peace.
The building is also the home of the Permanent Court of Arbitration and The Hague Academy of International Law. There are four guided tours everyday.
Hague is 57km (35 miles) from Amsterdam .
Address: Carnegieplein 2; Telephone: (0)70 302 4242
Transport: Tram 10 from Hague Central to Vredespaleis stop
Waterland Neeltje Jans
The Waterland Neeltje Jans is an impressive water park that showcases many delightful attractions for visitors of all ages. Start with a tour of the famous Delta Works, see the Delta Expo storm surge barrier, a hurricane simulator, and then visit the whale world exhibition. There is also a water playground that features a spectacular waterslide.
Address: Eiland Neeltje Jans, Faelweg 5
Telephone: (0)111 655655
Transport: Bus 133
Royal Delftware Factory
The trademark of Royal Delftware is its distinct blue and white pottery, influenced by Chinese porcelain brought back by merchants of the Dutch East India Company. Koninklijke Porceleyne Fles (the Royal Delftware Factory) is the only one of its kind still operating in Delft , and was first built in the 17 th century. The factory has a showroom and a museum, and offers painting workshops as well as demonstrations.
Delft is 47km (30 miles) south of Amsterdam , near The Hague .
One Day in Amsterdam
To make the most of one day in Amsterdam-if that's really all the time you have-it's best to make a plan and stick to it. That way, you can possibly have a more meaningful experience with a few good memories, instead of the chaotic blur that usually results if you try to squeeze too many things into a single day.
A good way to start your day is with a ride in a canal-boat. The tour should take about an hour. It's the best view the city has to offer, and you can get around more easily and see more places on a boat than you will on your feet.
With the ride done, you should have time for a quick bite to eat. This is a great way to experience the local flavour, so to speak. If you're feeling particularly adventurous, traditional raw herring with onions is offered at many roadside stalls. Or you could go to a broodjeswinkel and pick up a tasty broodje.
A walking tour should be next. The Golden Age Canals tour takes you along Keizersgracht, Herengracht and Prinsengracht where you'll see colourfully decorated canal houses and beautiful houseboats anchored to the banks.
Because the main canals would have been covered on your boat tour, you'll want to go with the Jordaan tour, or the Old Center tour. After that's done, it's time to visit one of the major museums.
If the Rijksmuseum or the Stedelijk Museum are still closed for renovations, take a tram to either the Anne Frank House or the Van Gogh Museum .
It will likely be late afternoon by the time you're done exploring the museum. That's just enough time to head back to your hotel for a quick nap before dinner, or maybe a drink.
After a day of Dutch cuisine, complete it by going for an Indonesian rijsttafel at dinner.
And to cap off your one day at Amsterdam , drop by a brown café for a drink or refreshments. It will be worth your trip so make sure you don't miss the experience.
Where to Stay in Amsterdam
Whether it's a homey family-run hotel or a contemporary hotel with every conceivable amenity, Amsterdam offers a wide variety of accommodations to suit your preferences. The most popular type of place is actually a combination of both worlds: you can choose to stay at a hotel that has the charm of a picturesque canal house while offering many modern luxuries inside.
An ideal hotel embodies the Dutch quality of gezelligheid-a warm and inviting atmosphere of comfort. Gezelligheid can be found at any budget, particularly at moderately priced hotels run by local families.
With around 30,000 beds available (counting both hotels and hostels), 40% are in 4 and 5 star hotels, although the ratio is slowly shifting to correct the imbalance. If the hotel you had in mind turns out to cost more than you can afford, try asking around for special packages for off-season stays. Even weekend or particular weekday stays may cost less, depending on what's available.
Even if you really plan on staying at a low-cost hotel, whether out of financial necessity or to fulfil some romantic notion, it can be worth your time to pay attention to the hotel and hostel touts that haunt Centraal Station. By going over what they have to offer, you might just stumble upon a deal that suits your needs better. Just make sure to see the actual place for yourself first before making any reservations.
The first thing most people consider when deciding on a hotel is the cost. But even if you have to stick to a particular budget, most hotels in Amsterdam are clean and neatly furnished, regardless of the cost. Many hotels being offered are actually newly renovated. That said, if you end up at an unsavoury place with an indifferent staff, look elsewhere or go to a VVV tourist information desk to check on your other options.
Hotels are classified according to how much they charge during peak seasons. Breakfast is sometimes included in the rate, but if not it can cost from 5€ to 15€ extra depending on what's served and the designation of the hotel. Single rates are generally available, though the cost is not always that much lower than the double occupancy rate. The price categories are only for rooms with their own bathrooms. Rates usually increase an average of 5% every year.
Special rates are sometimes offered for guests with children. Usually you can have your child share your room for free, or there might be a nominal extra charge.
Between November 1 and March 31, room rates for all price categories go down drastically, except during the New Year and Christmas. Amsterdam is worth visiting during those months, just as it is during the summer when tourists come in droves. There are cultural events all-year round, and you can enjoy the wonderful Dutch dishes that are not usually served in summer. Plus, there will obviously be more locals than tourists at the places you will be visiting during your stay.
Another important consideration is your hotel's location. You need to know how near your hotel will be to the places you plan to visit. It also makes a difference to know what kind of neighbourhood it's in. Some areas are notorious for their high ratio of drug dealers and pimps, so you probably want to avoid that.