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Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands. With more than one million inhabitants in its urban area, it is the country's largest city and its financial, cultural, and creative centre. Amsterdam is colloquially known as Venice of the North, because of its lovely canals that criss-cross the city, its impressive architecture and more than 1,500 bridges. There is something for every traveller's taste here, whether you prefer culture and history, serious partying, or just the relaxing charm of an old European city.
Settled as a small fishing village in the late 12th century, Amsterdam became one of the most important trading centres in the world during the Dutch Golden Age of the 17th century. The city's small mediaeval centre rapidly expanded as the Jordaan and the Canal Belt neighbourhoods were constructed; the latter's cultural significance was acknowledged when it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the city expanded in all directions, with many new neighbourhoods and suburbs designed in modernist styles.
Amsterdam is not the seat of the government, which is in The Hague. Partly because of this, the city has an informal atmosphere unlike other capital cities its size. In fact, Amsterdam has a history of non-conformism, tolerance and progressivism, all of which come together in its liberal policies concerning cannabis and prostitution. Other attractions include the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, the Anne Frank House, the Flower Market, Albert Cuyp Market, and the Vondelpark.
OrientationThe "Amsterdam" that most visitors experience is the city centre, the semi-circle with Central Station at its apex. It corresponds to the city as it was around 1850. Five major concentric canals ring the Old Centre; the Singel, the Herengracht, the Keizersgracht, the Prinsengracht, and the Singelgracht, together forming the Canal Ring. Other districts inside the city centre are the Jordaan, a former working-class area gone upmarket, and Plantage, a leafy and spacious area known for its zoo and botanical gardens. The roads Nassaukade, Stadhouderskade, and Mauritskade surround the centre and mark the location of the former city moat and fortifications. Almost everything outside this line was built after 1870.
The semi-circle is on the south side of the IJ, often called a river but more exactly is an estuary. Going east from Central Station, the railway passes the artificial islands of the redeveloped Eastern Docklands. North of the IJ is mainly housing, although a major dockland redevelopment has started there too.
The river Amstel flows into the city from the south. Originally, it flowed along the line Rokin-Damrak. The dam in the Amstel, which gives the city its name, was located under the present Bijenkorf department store. The original settlement was on the right bank of the Amstel, on the present Warmoesstraat: it is therefore the oldest street in the city. The city has expanded in all directions, except to the northeast of the ring motorway. That area is a protected rural landscape of open fields and small villages that could be considered a part of the Waterland region.
The radius of the semi-circle is about 2 km. All major tourist destinations, and most hotels, are located inside it or just outside it. As a result, a large swathe of Amsterdam is never visited by tourists: at least 90% of the population lives outside this area. Most economic activity in Amsterdam — the offices of the financial sector, and the port — is near or outside the ring motorway, which is 4-5 km from the centre.
The expansion of Amsterdam outside this beltway, and the expansion of activity outside the old centre, is redefining what locals consider the 'central area' of Amsterdam. Without a doubt the most popular district outside of the city centre is the South for its quality museums and gentrified neighbourhood 'De Pijp'.
AttitudesMany people choose to visit Amsterdam because of its reputation for tolerance, although part of this reputation is attributable to cultural misunderstandings. Prostitution is legalised and licensed in the Netherlands, and in Amsterdam it is very visible (window prostitution), and there are large numbers of prostitutes. The sale, possession, and consumption of small quantities of cannabis, while technically illegal, is tolerated by authorities (the policy of gedogen). This does not mean that you can get away with anything in Amsterdam. In any case, public attitudes and official policy have hardened in recent years. For more on coffeeshops and drugs, see below in Stay safe.
Depending on your viewpoint some people will consider Amsterdam an unwholesome city whereas other people will find their relaxed attitudes refreshing. If you avoid the red light district, Amsterdam is an excellent family destination.
Most people in Amsterdam, young or old, seem to speak at least some conversational English.
ClimateAmsterdam is a large city and a major tourist destination, so you can visit it all year round. However, in winter the days are short (8 hours daylight around Christmas), and the weather may be too cold to walk around the city comfortably, let alone cycle. January and February are the coldest months, with lows around -1°C and highs around 5°C. July and August are the warmest months, with an average temperature of 22°C (72°F). Some things are seasonal: the tulip fields flower only in the spring, and Queen's Day (Koninginnedag) is always on 30 April, unless it falls on a Sunday. Queen Beatrix was actually born on 31 January, but since January is very cold, the celebrations are held on the day she became the queen of the Netherlands, which is also the birthday of her mother, Juliana.
By planeAmsterdam Airport Schiphol () () [☛] is one of the busiest airports in the world, situated 15 km south-west of the city.
The national carrier for the Netherlands is KLM [☛], now merged with Air France. With partner Delta Air Lines [☛] they offer worldwide connections. The US, Asia and Europe are particularly well served at Schiphol. British Airways offer up to 15 flights per day to 3 London Airports; Heathrow, Gatwick and London City.
Transavia [☛], Jet2.com [☛], Easyjet [☛], and other low-cost carriers serve Schiphol, providing a fairly economical way to city-hop to Amsterdam from other spots in Europe.
When leaving Amsterdam, give yourself enough time to get to your plane and through security (especially when flying to the United States)! Schiphol is a large airport — be there at least 2 hrs in advance. If you have time to kill, drop into the Rijksmuseum's Schiphol branch, between E and F Pier (non-Schengen area airside), which is free and open 07:00-20:00 daily.
Coin-operated storage lockers are located along the main hallway through the transit/departure area, across from the start of the E wing. From €5 per 24 hr, maximum one week. [☛]
There are plenty of fast-food chains and restaurants at the airport. It even has the busiest Burger King in the world with 1.3 million visitors a year. It has never closed since its opening in 1993. McDonald's [☛] has three branches in and around the airport.
Schiphol by trainFrom Schiphol there is a direct train [☛] to Amsterdam Central Station, for €3.70 (or €7.40 for same-day return), in 20 min. Buy the ticket from the machine (yellow with blue writing, [☛]); if you purchase your ticket at the counter you will pay €0.50 extra. Not all machines accept credit or debit cards. Don't buy the comfort class ticket, buy an single ticket with 'NS only'.
The train station at Schiphol is located underground, under the main airport hall; trains to Amsterdam Central Station usually run from platform 3.
There are 4 to 5 trains per hour between Schiphol and Amsterdam in peak times. Trains run all night, although between 1am and 5am only once an hour. The price and duration of the journey are the same as during the day.
Watch out for pick-pockets and baggage thieves: a common trick is a knock on your window to distract you, so that an accomplice can steal your luggage or laptop. Another one is to have an accomplice jam the doors and then steal your luggage. The thief jumps out and the door immediately closes, making it impossible to catch them.
However, in recent years, railway police have made a great effort to reduce this sort of crime; nowadays it is at 'normal', big-city like levels.
Schiphol by local transportIf you are desperately trying to save money or are staying near Leidseplein, you could use local transport from Schiphol to central Amsterdam. A trip takes about 30 min and leads directly to the south-west of the centre of Amsterdam (namely Museumplein and Leidseplein). Take local bus 197 which costs you €2.38 to Leidseplein using the OV-chipkaart (see below), or €4.00 on board.
Bus 197 currently runs every 15 min for most of the day, daily from 5:01AM till midnight. From midnight till 5AM, night buses run to and from the airport. If you don't want to change buses, take night bus N97 for €4. This bus runs once an hour.
Schiphol by taxiDo not use a taxi unless there is no alternative; travel to Schiphol by train or by bus, if possible. Taxis from Schiphol are expensive and priced unexpectedly. You pay around €7.50 (as of Oct 08) as a minimum charge and that includes the first 2 km. Then the meter starts racing. The ride costs about €40-50 to go to, say, the Leidseplein. Depending on the time of day and traffic levels, it could take only 25 min. If you're unlucky, it could take twice as long. Choose the nicest cab as that driver is more likely to be reputable. You don't have to pick the first taxi in line. If possible, reserve a cab up-front[☛], this will ensure a fixed price for the ride.
Schiphol, other modes of transportThe Connexxion Hotel Shuttle [☛] serves over 100 city centre hotels, with 8-seater shared van departures about every 30 minutes between 6 AM and 9 PM, cost to most city centre destinations €15.50/25.00 one-way/return -- more convenient than the train if you have heavy luggage and still cheaper than a taxi. Buses depart from platform A7 and can be reserved for the trip back ☎ +31 38 3394741.
If you plan to rent a car for the duration of your stay, Schiphol has several car rental companies on site [☛]. Typical opening hours are 6AM-11PM daily. The car rental desk can be found in Schiphol Plaza, on the same level as the arrival halls. The A4 motorway leads straight from Schiphol to the Amsterdam ring road A10, in about 10 min.
If you decided to bring your bicycle on the plane with you, there is a 15-kilometer sign-posted bike route from the airport to Amsterdam. Turn right as you leave the airport terminal: the cycle path starts about 200 metres down the road. There is a map of the cycle paths around Schiphol available on [☛] (green lines are cycle paths).
Other airportsUsing airports other than Schiphol could prove cheaper in some cases, as some budget airlines fly to Eindhoven and Rotterdam Airports. Then buses and trains can be used to get to Amsterdam. Renting a car is also an option. A taxi is not advisable, from Rotterdam to Amsterdam a taxi would cost €130, and from Eindhoven even more.
From Eindhoven Airport [☛] take a local bus (Hermes bus 401, duration about 25 minutes, frequency about four times per hour, €3.20 on board or €2.05 using a 15 strippenkaart or €1.71 using an OV-chipkaart) to the train station, from there take a train to Amsterdam (duration 1hr 20 min, frequency four times per hour, single €17.20).
Alternatively, take the express bus directly from the airport to Amsterdam central station, which takes 2 hr 15 min. This service goes only 3 to 4 times per day; see their website for a schedule. The ticket price is €25.50 for a single or €42.50 for a return [☛].
From Rotterdam The Hague Airport [☛] ("Zestienhoven") take a city bus (RET "airport shuttle" bus 33, duration 25-30 minutes, frequency every 10-20 minutes, €2.50 on board or €1.39 using the OV-chipkaart) to Rotterdam Centraal train station, from there take a train to Amsterdam (duration about an hour, frequency every 10-20 minutes, single €13.40).
Schiphol airport is 11 km from the centre of Amsterdam in a straight line, Rotterdam is 57 km and Eindhoven is 107 km. Other airports that could possibly be used are:
• Groningen Airport Eelde (142 km) () [☛]
• Maastricht Aachen Airport (173 km) () [☛]
• Weeze Airport in Germany (121 km) () [☛]
• Antwerp International Airport in Belgium (135 km) () [☛]
• Brussels Airport in Belgium (167 km) () [☛]
Sign for Platform 2b at Amsterdam Railway Station
Train stations in Amsterdam (in orange; centre in bright orange). Black lines: railways. Red lines: metro lines. Most trains arrive and depart from Amsterdam Centraal Station (with one extra 'a' in Dutch), located on an island between the Amsterdam/Old Centre and the IJ waterfront. Other important train stations are Duivendrecht and Bijlmer-ArenA in the southeast, Amstel and Muiderpoort in the East, RAI and Zuid-WTC in the South, and Lelylaan and Sloterdijk in the West. Schiphol Airport also has its own train station, which functions as a major interchange station. It has at least seven trains an hour to Amsterdam Centraal, with additional trains going to other stations in Amsterdam.
Most international trains run directly to Amsterdam Centraal Station:
• Thalys [☛] is a high-speed train that connects Amsterdam with Paris (3h19), Brussels (1h54), and Antwerp (1h12). Thalys trains rup up to ten times a day. The cheapest tickets are sold early, so book in advance if possible. There is a bar coach avalaible; if you're travelling in first class, a snack and drinks are included in the price.
• The Intercity train to Brussels [☛] runs every hour to Antwerp (2h09) and Brussels (2h51). This train is slower, but also cheaper than the Thalys. Seat reservation is not possible, just buy your ticket at the station and hop on the train. Tickets are also sold online. There is a refreshment trolley on board of each train for drinks and snacks.
• ICE International [☛] connects Amsterdam up 7 times each day with Düsseldorf (2h16), Cologne (2h41), and Frankfurt (3h46). One ICE-train runs to Basel (6h43). There is a BordBistro-coach available on each ICE-train.
• The Intercity train to Berlin [☛] runs every two hours and connects Amsterdam with Osnabrück (3h08), Hanover (4h20), and Berlin (6h22). Note that this train doesn't attend the Centraal Station. The train does stop at Amsterdam Zuid, from where you can reach the city centre with tram 5 or metro 51, in the direction Centraal Station. You can also change trains in Hilversum, and get a domestic train to the Centraal Station from there. A BordBistro-coach is available on each train to Berlin.
• CityNightLine/Euronight [☛] runs overnight trains from Amsterdam Centraal Station directly to Copenhagen (1 night), Warsaw (1 night), Minsk (1 night and 1 day), Moscow (2 nights and 1 day), Prague (1 night), Munich (1 night) and Zurich (1 night). Travelling with these trains might save you a hotel night. You can choose to spend the night in ordinary seats, reclining seats (only to Warsaw/Munich/Zürich), 6- or 4-bedded couchettes, or a 3, 2 or 1-bedded private sleeper-compartment with washing bassin or private shower/toilet. A breakfast is included in the sleeper-compartment, other snacks/drinks are also on sale onboard the trains.
• Eurostar [☛] runs a high speed service from London St Pancras Station to Brussels Zuid/Midi Station. From Brussels you can continue to Amsterdam by Thalys or take the Intercity to Amsterdam. Tickets are sold on the Eurostar website and (sometimes cheaper) on the [☛] website.
If you plan to take a train to Amsterdam, it's advisable to check the train times in the international journey planner [☛]. Most tickets are sold online, and often it is cheaper to book tickets in advance. Tickets are also sold at the international ticket offices at Amsterdam Centraal Station and at Schiphol Airport. Or visit the Treinreiswinkel [☛] (Singel 393).
By busMost international bus services are affiliated to Eurolines, which has a terminal at Amstel Station (train station, metro station 51, 53, 54, tram 12). One bus per day is usually the maximum frequency on these routes. There are other international bus services, but they are often aimed at very specific markets, e.g. Polish migrant workers. There are almost no long-distance internal bus services in the Netherlands, and none to Amsterdam.
By carThe western part of the Netherlands has a dense (and congested) road network. Coming from the east (Germany), the A1 motorway leads directly to Amsterdam. On the A12 from Arnhem, change at Utrecht to the A2 northbound. From the south (Belgium), the A2 goes directly to Amsterdam: the A16 /A27 from Antwerp via Breda connects to the A2 south of Utrecht. From The Hague, the A4 leads to Amsterdam. All motorways to Amsterdam connect to the ring motorway, the A10. From this motorway, main roads lead radially into Amsterdam (the roads S101 through S118).
In most cases, you should want to avoid going to the city centre by car: traffic is dense and parking spaces are expensive and nearly impossible to find. Instead, when on the A10, follow the signs to one of the P+R-spots (P+R Zeeburg to the east, P+R ArenA to the southeast, P+R Olympisch Stadion to the south, and P+R Sloterdijk to the west). Here you can park your car and take public transport to the city centre, for a single fare. There is only a flat rate of €8 a day, but public transport to the city centre for up to 5 persons is included. There are also a few places a short walk from outer tram stops to park for free.
The speed limit on Dutch motorways is 120 km/h, except where indicated. On the A10 ring motorway around Amsterdam, the maximum speed is 100 km/h, and 80 km/h on the Western section. These limits are strictly enforced and there are many speed cameras.
By seaThe maritime Passenger Terminal Amsterdam is close to the city centre but is only for cruise ships. The nearest ferry port is IJmuiden (ferry from Newcastle upon Tyne) with DFDS Seaways, who offer a daily overnight ferry services from Newcastle-upon-Tyne (North Shields) in the United Kingdom see [☛] (official site). 125 km away by car there is a ferry terminal at Rotterdam Europoort (ferry from Kingston Upon Hull), and Hook of Holland (ferry from Harwich). it's about 80 km by the road to Amsterdam by the most direct route. Hook of Holland has an train station. Take the train to Schiedam Centrum or Rotterdam Centraal and from there a train to Amsterdam.
Idyllic canals and houses with hoists Amsterdam has one of the largest historic city centres in Europe, with about 7,000 registered historic buildings. The street pattern has been largely unchanged since the 19th century — there was no major bombing during World War II. The center consists of 90 islands linked by 400 bridges, some of them beautifully lit at night.
The inner part of the city centre, the Old Centre, dates from medieval times. The oldest streets are the Warmoesstraat and the Zeedijk located in the Nieuwmarkt area of the Old Centre. As buildings were made of wood in the Middle Ages, not much of this period's buildings have survived. Two medieval wooden houses did survive though, at Begijnhof 34 and Zeedijk 1. Other old houses are Warmoesstraat 83 (built around 1400), Warmoesstraat 5 (around 1500) and Begijnhof 2-3 (around 1425). The Begijnhof is a late-medieval enclosed courtyard with the houses of beguines, Roman Catholic women living in a semi-religious community. Beguines are found in Northern France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and north-western Germany. House number 34 at the Begijnhof is the oldest home in Amsterdam. Entry to the courtyard and surrounding gardens is free, but be careful not to disturb the local community still living here.
One of the most prominent features is the Canal Ring, a concentric ring of canals built in the 17th century. The merchant-based oligarchy that ruled the trading city of Amsterdam built canal houses and mansions in the most prestigious locations here, especially along the main canals. Typical for the country are its traditional white draw bridges. The best example has to be the Magere Brug in the Canal Ring, which is over 300 years old and nearly in its original capacity. It is a beautiful place to overlook the river and take in some traditional Dutch architecture.
The Jordaan was built around 1650 along with the Canal Ring, but not for the wealthy merchants. For a long time it was considered the typical working-class area of Amsterdam, and included some notorious slums. The name probably derives from the nickname 'Jordan' for the Prinsengracht. Apart from a few wider canals, the streets are narrow, in an incomplete grid pattern (as the grid followed the lines of the former polders located here in medieval times). This district is the best example of "gentrification" in the Netherlands, as recently it turned into a hip boutique district.
There are several large warehouses for more specific uses. The biggest is the Admirality Arsenal (1656-1657), now the Maritime Museum (Scheepvaartmuseum) at Kattenburgerplein. Others include the former turf warehouses (1550) along the Nes, now the municipal pawn office; a similar warehouse at Waterlooplein 69-75 (Arsenaal, 1610), now an architectural academy, and the warehouse of the West India Company (1642) at the corner of Prins Hendrikkade and 's-Gravenhekje. The city office for architectural heritage BMA [☛] has an excellent online introduction to the architectural history and the types of historical buildings available. The website includes a cycle route along important examples.
Windmills were not built in urban areas, since the buildings obstructed the wind. The Amsterdam windmills were all originally outside its city walls. There are a total of eight windmills in Amsterdam, and most of them are in West. However, the best one to visit is De Gooyer, which is not far from the city centre, and is being used as a brewery for you to enjoy. The only windmill fully open to the public is the Molen van Sloten in Sloten, a former village now part of West.
Churches and synagoguesSince the Middle Ages and throughout the 17th century, the Netherlands was a country with a relatively high degree of freedom and tolerance towards other religions and cultures, especially compared to other countries in Europe. Between 1590 and 1800, the estimated foreign-born population was never less than 5 percent, many of them settling in Amsterdam. This led to a large diaspora of Jews, Huguenots (French protestants), Flemish, Poles and other peoples in the city. Especially the Jewish have always had a large presence in Amsterdam, notably in the Old Jewish Quarter (though this quarter has been in a status of decay since World War II). The most prominent synagogue is The Esnoga [☛] (or The Portuguese Synagogue) , built in 1675 in an austere Classicist style.
As the Netherlands was a protestant nation, most of the churches are from this branch of Christianity. Some of the most notable churches:
•Oude Kerk (1306) [☛] Located on the Oudezijds Voorburgwal, in the red-light district. The oldest of the five main churches in the historic centre. You can climb the tower from April to September on Saturday & Sunday, every half-hour. Also open in the winter by group appointment (maximum 10 people) cost €70 per hour. (mailto:[email protected]) for more information.
•Nieuwe Kerk (15th century) [☛] Located on Dam Square. Used for royal coronations, most recently the crowning of Queen Beatrix in 1980, and royal weddings, most recently the wedding of crown prince Willem-Alexander to princess Máxima in 2002. Today, the church is no longer used for services but is now a popular exhibition space.
•Zuiderkerk (built 1603-1611) [☛] Located on Zuiderkerkhof ("Southern Graveyard") square. Now an information centre on housing and planning. You can visit the tower from April to September Monday to Saturday (with guide only) every half-hour, cost €6. Also open in the winter by group appointment (maximum 15 people) cost €70 per hr. (mailto:[email protected]) for more information.
•Noorderkerk (built 1620-1623) [☛] Located on Noordermarkt on the Prinsengracht.
•Westerkerk (built 1620-1631) [☛] Located on Westermarkt near the Anne Frank House. The church is open (free) for visitors from Monday to Friday, 11AM-3PM, from April to September. You can also climb the tower (with guide only) every half-hour, Mon to Saturday €6. The tower is also open in the winter by group appointment (maximum 10 people) cost €70 per hr. (mailto:[email protected]) for more information. In good weather you can see all of Amsterdam, and as far as the coast.
The late-medieval city also had smaller chapels such as the Sint Olofskapel (circa 1440) on Zeedijk, and convent chapels such as the Agnietenkapel on the Oudezijds Voorburgwal 231 (originally 1470), now the University of Amsterdam museum. Later churches included the Oosterkerk (1669) in the eastern islands, and the heavily restored Lutheran Church on the Singel (1671), now used by a hotel as a conference centre. Catholic churches were long forbidden, and built again only in the 19th-century: the most prominent is the Neo-Baroque Church of St. Nicholas (1887) opposite Central Station.
Also, investigate some of the "hidden churches" found in Amsterdam, mainly Catholic churches that remained in activity following the Reformation. A prominent hidden church is Amstelkring Museum (Our Lord in the Attic Chapel)[☛] Well worth the visit.
MuseumsAmsterdam has an amazing collection of museums, ranging from masterpieces of art to porn, vodka and cannabis. The most popular ones can get very crowded in the summer peak season, so it's worth exploring advance tickets or getting there off-peak (eg. very early in the morning). Some of the quality museums that you can't miss:
• Anne Frank House — dedicated to Anne Frank, a Jewish girl who kept a diary while hiding from Nazi persecution in hidden rooms at the rear of the building (known as the Achterhuis). It's an exhibition on the life of Anne Frank, but also highlights other forms of persecution and discrimination.
• Rijksmuseum — absolutely top-class museum that has a large collection of paintings from the Dutch Golden Age. Some artists you can't overlook are Rembrandt van Rijn, Johannes Vermeer, Frans Hals and Jan Steen. The must-sees are Rembrandt's Night Watch and Vermeer's Milkmaid. The museum also boasts a substantial collection of Asian art. The Rijksmuseum is under heavy construction until at least late 2012. Until then, there is a limited collection on display called 'the Masterpieces', showing all the highlights that are absolutely worth a visit.
• Van Gogh Museum — even someone with little knowledge of art must have heard about Vincent van Gogh, the Dutch Post-Impressionist painter whose work had a far-reaching influence on 20th century art for its vivid colors and emotional impact. This museum has the largest collection of Van Gogh's paintings and drawings in the world.
The other museums are described in the district articles.
The Museum Card (Museum Jaarkaart) [☛] costs €39.95 (or €22.45 for those under 18 years old). It covers the cost of admission to over 400 museums across the Netherlands and you can buy it at most major museums. It is valid for an entire year, and you will need to write your name, birthday, and gender on it. If you are going to the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum, those are €12.50 and €14 each respectively, so this card can quickly pay for itself. The tickets to the major museums, including the audio guide, can be bought early from the tourist information desk at no extra cost.
Alternatively, for short stays, you can consider buying the I amsterdam card [☛], starting at €38 per day, which includes "free" access to Amsterdam museums, public transport and discount on many tourist attractions.
ParksThe locals spend their summer days in Amsterdam opening a red wine in the Vondelpark — and so should you. Every district in Amsterdam has at least one park, but the Vondelpark in South stands out for its size and convivial atmosphere. The neighbourhood best known for its greenery is the Plantage. Besides its leafy boulevards and grand mansions, it also features the botanical gardens of the Hortus Botanicus. Finally, Artis Zoo is a good attraction for the kids.
A more recent tradition is the opening of so-called city beaches. Yes, it's now possible to lay in the sand far from any natural coastline! Amsterdam counts three of these beaches, which are located in West, East and South. The one in East is probably the best one, and you get the fine architecture and atmosphere of the IJburg neighbourhood included for free.
Red Light DistrictThe Red Light District consists of several canals, and the side streets between them, south of Central Station and east of Damrak. Known as 'De Wallen' (the quays) in Dutch, because the canals were once part of the city defences (walls and moats). Prostitution itself is limited to certain streets, mainly side streets and alleys, but the district is considered to include the canals, and some adjoining streets (such as Warmoesstraat and Zeedijk). The whole area has a heavy police presence, and many security cameras. Nevertheless it is still a residential district and has many bars and restaurants, and also includes historic buildings and museums — this is the oldest part of the city. The oldest church in Amsterdam, the Netherlands-gothic Oude Kerk on the Oudezijds Voorburgwal at Oudekerksplein, is now surrounded by window prostitution. The area has many sex shops and peep show bars.This section of town is a common attraction for bachelors celebrating a stag night, if you ever get hassled, a firm and loud "Leave me alone" will work most of the time.
Modern architectureModern architecture is under-represented in Amsterdam (as opposed to Rotterdam), but as the outer districts were built in the 19th and 20th centuries, there is definitely some to be found. Immediately outside the Singelgracht (the former city moat) is a ring of 19th-century housing. The most prominent buildings from this period are the Central Station (1889) and the Rijksmuseum (1885), both by P. J. H. Cuypers. Amsterdam West, especially the neighborhood De Baarsjes, was built in the Amsterdam School and New Objectivity architectural styles from the 19th century. A completely different approach to architecture has been the Bijlmer, built in the 1970s and forseen as a town of the future for upper-middle class families. Large apartment buildings and relatively large rooms were combined with common grass fields and a separation of pedestrian and car traffic. It has been a revolutionary way of thinking in the architectural world, but eventually the neighborhood turned into a lower-class residential district home to people of over 150 nationalities, and it is often associated with crime and robberies. It has improved remarkably the last years though, and adventurous travelers might be interested to know more about the history of this bizarre district.
Since there was little large-scale demolition in the historic centre, most 20th-century and recent architecture is outside it. The most prominent in architectural history are the residential complexes by architects of the Amsterdam School, for instance at Zaanstraat / Oostzaanstraat.
• Museum of the Amsterdam School [☛]. The best-known example of their architecture. Open Tuesday to Sunday 11AM to 5PM, entrance €7.50, includes 20 min. guided tour.
• Eastern Docklands. The largest concentration of new residential buildings. The zone includes three artificial islands: Borneo, Sporenburg, and KNSM/Java-island. The latter has been built as a postmodern interpretation of the old canal belt. Across from it, is the brand new Piet Heinkade, and some adjoining projects. Accessible by tram 10, tram 26 to Rietlandpark, or best of all by bicycle.
• The largest concentration of box-like office buildings is in Amsterdam Zuid-Oost (South-East) around Bijlmer station (train and metro), but the area does have some spectacular buildings, such as the Amsterdam ArenA stadium and the new Bijlmer ArenA station.
• Amsterdam is replacing older sewage plants by a single modern plant, in the port zone. Connecting existing sewers to the new plant requires long main sewers, and the use of sewage booster pumps - a new technique at this scale. The new booster pump stations are a unique type of building, designed by separate architects. The three complete pumps are located at Klaprozenweg in the north, on Spaklerweg (just east of the A10 motorway), and beside and under Postjesweg, in the Rembrandtpark.
•Several companies offer canal cruises, usually lasting from one to two hours. Departures from: Prins Hendrikkade opposite Centraal Station; quayside Damrak; Rokin near Spui; Stadhouderskade 25 near Leidseplein.
:•The Canal Bus [☛]. Runs three fixed routes, stopping near major attractions (Rijksmuseum, Anne Frank's House, etc.). You can get on or off as often as you like, but it is expensive, €20 per person per 24 hr. The first boats start between 9.15AM. and 10.45AM. depending on which stop you get on. The last boats start dropping off at around 7 p.m.
:•Lovers Canal Cruise [☛] start opposite the Rijksmuseum. It is €12 per person, but you cannot get on and off. The cruise is about 1 hr 30 min.
:•Amsterdam Boat Guide [☛] Local company offering private boat tours in classic boats. Canal cruises, dinner cruises etc.
:•Amsterdam Jewel Cruises [☛] offers an evening dinner cruise. It is the only classic boat offering a private table for a romantic dinner cruise. A la carte dining, but not cheap! The cruise starts at 7.30 pm and lasts just under three hours.
• You can cruise the canals yourself, without the commentary with a canal bike (pedal boat) or rented boat.
:•Boaty Rental Boats [☛]. Boaty offers rental boats (max. 6 persons) for your own private tour: decide where to go yourself or choose one of Boaty's free canal routes. These rental boats are electrically driven which means they are silent and free of exhaust fumes. They are charged with renewable energy every night so you can enjoy your time on the water as long as you like. The boats are very stable, unsinkable and of course the rental is accompanied by free life vests in different sizes.
:• Canal Company [☛]. Has four rental locations; two-seater canal bikes cost €8 per person per hour.
:• Rent a boat Amsterdam [☛].
:• Venetian Gondola [☛]. You can also rent a gondola, hand made by an Amsterdam girl who traveled to Venice to learn the craft and build her own Gondola which she brought back to Amsterdam.
• Watch a movie at one of the over 55 cinemas.
:•The Tuschinski [☛] theater is worth a visit if only for it's Jugendstil interior. With the exception of some animated movies (and even those are usually available in the original language as well), all movies are subtitled and not dubbed, so you should be able to enjoy all the standard Hollywood fare in the original English.
:•Rialto Cinema [☛]. For all arthouse cinema freaks. All films are shown in their original language with Dutch subtitles. They have late night and classic showings too. Just a short walk from the Albert Cuyp-Market/Heineken Brouwery, in a nice non-touristy neighbourhood.
• Brouwerij 't IJ [☛] offers a guided tour through the brewery and beer museum on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 15.30 and 16.00. Ticket: €4,50 (includes 1 beer). There is also a group tour on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 15h. This tour costs €60 for a group (max 25 pers.) and has to be booked in advance. To book a guided tour on another day, please e-mail your request to: [email protected]
•Boom Chicago [☛]. Amsterdam comedy institution since 1993. English language sketch and improv comedy show with extensive use of video, music and the internet. The troupe is sharp and skewers current events, trends and life and local events in Amsterdam. Perhaps the best comedy show in any city. Good food is served before the show and drink service continues all night
•Play Futsal [☛]. Football tour organisers Eurofives stage special tournament weekends in Amsterdam at which you can enjoy some Dutch-style five-a-sides.
•De Poezenboot [☛]. You really like cats? The poezenboot (cat boat) is an refuge for cats awaiting adoption. Located in the centre of the city.
•Wynand Fockink [☛]. Pijlsteeg 31 - 1012 HH Amsterdam ☎ +31 20 639 26 95 (mailto:[email protected]) Wynand Fockink is a distillery started in 1679. Right near Dam Place, they offer distillery tours (must reserve at least a week in advance as they fill up quickly), great liquors, and a great time in the back alleys of Amsterdam. They have numerous liquors, brandies, and jenevers and encourage you to try them all. It is traditional to stoop and sip the first drink and not spill.
Several companies offer private tours by car, van, or mini bus for groups of up to 8 people. Bike tours are also available at a more affordable price, and offer a more authentic dutch experience.
Coffeshoppes .If you are above the age of 18 you can enter a cannabis shop. It is only legal to purchase your buds at the coffeshoppes not on the streets however. Yes,even tourists that are 18 years of age have access to these shops.
Amsterdam for free•A day in Amsterdam without spending a penny: stroll along the canals, see the Begijnhof, smell the flowers at the Bloemenmarket, visit the Albert Cuypstraat market, see the Magere Brug and relax in the Vondelpark.
• Diamond factories in Amsterdam offer free guided tours, such as at [☛] and [☛].
• Ferry over the River IJ The GVB ferries that run on the north side of central station are free of charge and provide nice views of the harbor and skyline, as described above.
• Free lunch concerts are held at the:
•• Concertgebouw [☛] Holds a free classical concert every Wednesday at 1230. This theatre is located near Museumplein and worth a visit if only for it's architecture.
•• Het muziektheater [☛] Holds a free lunch concert at Tuesdays.
•• MuziekGebouw aan't IJ [☛] This is a theatre on the IJ waterfront (not far from central station) with striking modern design. It holds a free lunchtime concert once a month (every second Tuesday at 12:30PM) to showcase young classical music talent.
•• Ignatiushuis Every Tuesday at 12:30. Entrance at Beulingstraat 11 . [☛]
•• Westerkerk [☛] Church at Prinsengracht 281 (near the Anne Frank House) which holds free organ concerts every Friday at 1PM.
• Friday night skate [☛] Put on your skates, and join the popular weekly skate tour (since 1997), a different route every week.
• Guided tours: [☛] offers multiple free guided tours in the city centre. Additionally, the [☛] offers some paid and some free self-guided walking tours, and GVB (the public transport company) offers some entertaining downloadable podcast tours [☛].
•Hollandsche Schouwburg [☛] Striking building on Plantage Middenlaan (number 24) which used to be a theatre between 1892 and 1942. During WW2 it was used as a deportation centre for Jews. It is now a war memorial - the upper floor houses an exhibition on the persecution of the Jews in Netherlands. Entrance is free, open daily 11AM-4PM.
• NEMO Panorama terrace [☛] In the summer months the Nemo Science museum has a panorama terrace on its roof with deckchairs. Access is free - you just need to climb up the steps. It's a good spot to lounge around and enjoy the view of the Museum Haven and surrounds.
• OBA Amsterdam’s Public Library [☛] - A great place to hang out on a rainy day. Europe’s biggest public library has international newspapers and magazines to read, free internet terminals and a cafe / panorama terrace with fine views overlooking Amsterdam.
• Rijksmuseum garden [☛] a curious collection of architecture, free entrance during museum opening times.
• Stadsarchief [☛] The city archive at Vijzelstraat 32 is open to the public and often holds free exhibitions in its main hall. The building dates from the 1920s but was recently renovated - have a look at the impressive glass roof. Open Tue-Fri 10AM-5PM, weekends 11AM-5PM.
•The Schuttersgallerij (Civic Guards Gallery) is a hidden passageway filled with 15 enormous 17th-century paintings; entrance is free to the public during museum hours. Known as the Schuttersgalerij (Civic Guards' Gallery), the collection features massive and meticulously realistic portraits of wealthy citizens from the Dutch Golden Age, the same class of subjects Rembrandt depicted in the most famous of Civic Guard paintings, "Nightwatch". You can find it just inside the arched gateway to the Amsterdam Museum at Kalverstraat 92.
• Vondelpark open-air theatre [☛] Holds free concerts and performances at its open-air theatre podium. The program runs during the summer months (June to August) on Friday evenings, Saturdays and Sundays. Additionally, there are several other festivals in Amsterdam, many of them free, as listed below.
FestivalsAmsterdam is a cultural haven with year-round festivals for every pocket.
••Chinese New Year: Festival through Zeedijk and China town.
••Queensday April 30: The national holiday, nominally in celebration of the Queen's birthday (in fact the previous Queen's birthday) is hard to describe to anyone who's never been there. The city turns into one giant mass of orange-dressed people (all Amsterdam locals, and another 1 million or so from throughout the country visit the parties in the city) with flea markets, bands playing, and many on-street parties, ranging from small cafes placing a few kegs of beer outside to huge open-air stages hosting world-famous DJ's. The Vondelpark is the place for children selling and performing. An experience you'll never forget. Normally held on April 30th, but if that is a Sunday, it is celebrated one day earlier (to avoid offence to orthodox Protestants).
••Art Amsterdam: a modern art fair in the RAI exhibition and conference centre. If you want to know what the latest developments are in Dutch galleries, this is where to find them all in one place.
••Holland Festival: famous around the world, this Netherlands performing arts festival brings events from all over the world on the fields of music, opera, theatre and dance.
••Taste of Amsterdam: A culinary festival where you can explore the food of famous Amsterdam restaurants and their chefs.
••The Open Garden Days: Normally you can see only the front of the canal houses, but during the Open Garden Days you get to go past the entrance and see the green world behind them, many times bigger than you would have expected. You can buy one ticket that gives you entry to all participating gardens, and there is a special canal boat to take you from one location to another.
••Amsterdam Roots Festival: an open-air (free) festival with music from non-western countries accompanied by paid film and theatre performances in the surrounding area theaters.
••Julidans (July Dance): International Contemporary Dance Festival, always showing the latest developments in modern dance.
••Vondelpark Open Air Theater: This free festival offers many different performances every day. Go to the open air theatre just by the fountain and let the entertainment do the work. From cabaret to drama to concerts to dance, there is something here for everyone and of all ages.
••Amsterdam International Fashion Week: Twice a year, this event presents young and upcoming fashion in Europe and with a focus on Dutch design.
••Robeco Summer Concerts: affordable classical music concerts taking place at the prestigious Amsterdam Concertgebouw.
••De Parade: Martin Luther King Park. Circus turns vintage, on an old-fashioned fairground with many different tents, the performers are each trying to attract their public, featuring spectacles of dance, theatre, magic, art, animation and music.
••Canal Pride: [☛]. Amsterdam gay pride on the first weekend in August. One of the biggest festivals in Amsterdam with parties, performances, workshops and a boat parade on the Prinsengracht on Saturday afternoon which is always well worth seeing.
••Prinsengracht concert: third weekend of August each year. A free open-air classical music concert is held every year on a stage in the middle of the Prinsengracht canal. If you have a little boat, join the crowds and make sure to bring your rose wine or prosecco for full enjoyment.
••Sail Amsterdam: tall-ships from all over the world come to visit the Amsterdam harbour every 5 years, the next time in 2015.
••Uitmarkt: The opening of the cultural season in the last weekend of August, it offers a taste of the year to come with 30 min performances at different theaters, an extensive book market and many open-air concerts. All free.
•• Jordaan Festival: A big inner city street festival celebrating the diversity of this former working class district. Features can include drum bands, a children's festival, opera and cabaret, a boules competition, a flea market and an auction.
••Robodock arts festival: A unique festival presenting contemporary art shows in the huge, old NDSM shipyard depot, in the Amsterdam North. The atmosphere is rough, industrial, experimental. A lot of loud music, fire, smoke, noise and heavy machinery are usually elements of these performances.
••National Restaurant Week: Two times a year, participating restaurants offer a full 3 course dinner for a mere €25 (excl drinks), allowing you to experiment a different restaurant for a change or a chance to eat affordably at one of the famous 5-star restaurants.
••Amsterdam Dance Event (ADE): Usually held during the second last weekend in October, this electronic music annual festival gathers cream of the crop faces from the house and techno scenes. Buy your tickets in advance to avoid paying more at the door and queueing for hours on. Besides partying for four nights in a row, the conference offers workshops, seminars, presentations etc.
••Museum Night – Museumnacht: Long before the film came out, this night at the museum attracts new crowds at the traditional Amsterdam museums with special performances at unusual locations. Do as the locals do and hire a bike to go from one place to the other.
••pAn Amsterdam – Art and Antique Fair: Third week of November. The biggest national art and antiques fair in the Netherlands.
••IDFA - International Documentary Filmfestival of Amsterdam: Leidseplein, (various times). International documentary festival screening some 200 documentary films and videos.
The main central shopping streets run in a line from near Central Station to the Leidseplein: Nieuwendijk, Kalverstraat, Heiligeweg, Leidsestraat. The emphasis is on clothes/fashion, but there are plenty of other shops. They are not upmarket shopping streets, and the north end of Nieuwendijk is seedy. Amsterdam’s only upmarket shopping street is the P.C. Hooftstraat (near the Rijksmuseum).
Other concentrations of shops in the centre are Haarlemmerstraat / Haarlemmerdijk, Utrechtsestraat, Spiegelstraat (art/antiques), and around Nieuwmarkt. There is a concentration of Chinese shops at Zeedijk / Nieuwmarkt, but it is not a real Chinatown.
The ‘interesting little shops’ are located in the side streets of the main canals (Prinsengracht / Keizersgracht / Herengracht), and especially in the Jordaan - bounded by Prinsengracht, Elandsgracht, Marnixstraat and Brouwersgracht. The partly gentrified neighbourhood of De Pijp - around Ferdinand Bolstraat and Sarphatipark - is often seen as a 'second Jordaan'.
For general shop info and their openings hours you can visit 'Openingstijden Amsterdam' [☛] it shows an overview of the most popular shops and their location on the map.
•The Nine Streets, (De Negen Straatjes), [☛]). Nine narrow streets enclosed between the main canals from the Prinsengracht to the Singel, south-west of Dam Square. The northernmost street is Reestraat and to the south is the Runstraat. The streetnames are marked with a sign of the Nine Streets, and some shops have a flyer of this area. You can find a lot of boutiques, specialist shops, galleries and restaurants here.
•Santa Jet, Prinsenstraat 7, ☎ +31 20 427 2070. This little boutique specializes in hand-made imports from Latin America. You can find everything from mini shrines made of tin, to lamps, to kitschy postcards.
•De Beeldenwinkel Sculpture Gallery. This is a gallery for sculpture lovers, with bronze statues, pottery, abstract sculpture, raku-fired statues and marble figures sculpture to suit every budget and taste.
•Jordaan [☛]. One of the most picturesque 'village' areas of Amsterdam, the Jordaan has always been a centre for artisans, artists and creatives, today, this area has a wonderful selection of goldsmiths and jewellers, fashion boutiques, galleries, designer florists, and specialist shops.
•Fashion & Museum District [☛]. Located in Amsterdam Zuid, this is considered the chic area for shopping in Amsterdam, close to the Museum district, the PC Hooftstraat and the Cornelis Schuytstraat have some of the finest designer shops in the city, including designer shoes, health and well-being specialists, massage, fashion boutiques, designer interiors, designer florists and specialist shops.
In the older areas surrounding the centre, the main shopping streets are the Kinkerstraat, the Ferdinand Bolstraat, the Van Woustraat, and the Javastraat. The most 'ethnic' shopping street in Amsterdam is the Javastraat. There are toy stores and clothing shops for kids in the centre, but most are in the shopping streets further out, because that's where families with children live.
You can find plus size clothing in the centre of Amsterdam. C&A, and H&M are both on the main shopping streets from the Central station. A bit further from the city centre you can find Mateloos, Promiss, Ulla Popken as well as several stores by chain M&S mode.
A give-away shop can be found at Singel 267, open Tuesdays and Thursdays 5PM-17PM and Saturdays 12 noon-5PM.
English-language books can mostly be found in the Old Centre. Large Dutch bookstores also carry a selection of foreign language books.
•Cracked Kettle [☛]. Located at Raamsteeg 3, 1012VZ Amsterdam, this beer, wine, and spirits shop carries independent, unique, and rare bottles. The staff are friendly, but the space is quite confined and obtaining bottles from the very top shelves requires assistance and a dust rag. 12 noon-10PM everyday
Street marketsStreet markets originally sold mainly food, and most still sell food and clothing, but they have become more specialised. A complete list of Amsterdam markets (with opening times and the number of stalls) can be found at online at Hollandse Markten [☛] and Amsterdam.info [☛] in English.
Albert Cuyp Market
Bloemenmarkt •Ten Cate Market. 3rd Largest in Amsterdam. Monday to Saturday from about 8AM until around 5PM. Food, households, flowers and clothing.
•Albert Cuyp. Largest in Amsterdam, best-known street market in the country. Can get very crowded, so watch out for pickpockets. Monday to Saturday from about 9AM until around 5PM.
•Dappermarkt. In the east, behind the zoo, and was voted best market in the Netherlands. Monday to Saturday from about 8AM until around 5PM.
•Lindengracht. In the Jordaan, selling a wide range of goods, fruit and vegetables, fish and various household items. Saturday only. 9AM to 4PM. Tram 3 or 10 to Marnixplein, and a short walk along the Lijnbaansgracht.
•Lapjesmarkt. Westerstraat, in the Jordaan. A specialist market concentrating on selling cloth and material for making clothes, curtains etc. Mondays only. 9AM to 1PM. Tram 3 or 10 to Marnixplein.
•Noordermarkt. In the historical Jordaan area of the city. On Monday morning (9AM to 1PM) the Noordermarkt is a flea market selling fabrics, records, second-hand clothing etc, and forms part of the Lapjesmarkt mentioned above. On Saturday (9AM to 4PM), the Noordermarkt is a biological food market, selling a wide range of ecological products like organic fruits and vegetables, herbs, cheese, mushrooms etc, there is also a small flea market. Tram 3 or 10 to Marnixplein, and a short walk down the Westerstraat.
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