Amsterdam

book now

Tel: 020 / pop 747,000

If Amsterdam were a staid place it would still be one of Europe's most beautiful and historic cities, right up there with Venice and Paris. But add the qualities that make it Amsterdam: the funky and mellow bars, brown cafes full of characters, pervasive irreverence, whiffs of pot and an open-air marketplace for sleaze and sex and you have a literally intoxicating mix.

Amsterdam has always been a liberal place, ever since the Golden Age, when it led European art and trade. Centuries later, in the 1960s, it again led the pack – this time in the principles of tolerance, with broad-minded views on drugs and same sex relationships taking centre stage.

Wander the 17th-century streets, tour the iconic canals, stop off to enjoy a masterpiece, discover a funky shop and choose from food from around the world. Walk or ride a bike around the concentric rings of the centre and bask in the many worlds-within-worlds where nothing ever seems the same twice. 

From Centraal Station the streets radiateacross the huge network of canals. The Dam is the heart of it all, a 10-minute walk from Centraal Station. Leidseplein is the centre of (mainstream) Amsterdam nightlife, and Nieuwmarkt is a vast cobblestone square with open-air markets and popular pubs.

Discount Card

I Amsterdam Card (per 24/48/72hr €33/43/53) Available at tourist offices (VVV) and some hotels. It gives admission to most museums, canal boat trips, and discounts at shops, attractions and restaurants, and also includes a transit pass.

Internet Access

Most places to stay have internet access for guests. Cafes and coffee shops also often have computers and/or wi-fi. Internet City (Tel 620 12 92; Nieuwendijk 76; per hr €2; 9am-midnight)

Medical Services

Centrale Doktersdienst (Central Doctors Service; Tel 592 34 34; h24hr) Doctor, dentist or pharmacy referrals. Onze Lieve Vrouwe Gasthuis (Tel 599 91 11; Oosterparkstr 1) A 24-hour public hospital.

Money

GWK Travelex (Grenswisselkantoor; Tel 0900 0566; Centraal Station; 8am-10pm Mon-Sat, 9am-10pm Sun) Converts travellers cheques and makes hotel reservations; also at Schiphol.

Tourist Information

Joho (Tel 517 13 57; www.joho.nl; Taksteeg 8; 10am- 6pm Mon-Sat) Sells travel services, guidebooks and offers advice on work and volunteering.

Tourist office (VVV; Tel 0900 400 40 40; http://www.iamsterdam.com/en/visiting) Centraal Track 2 (Centraal Station; 8am- 8pm Mon-Sat, 9am-5pm Sun); Stationsplein 10 (7am- 9pm Mon-Fri, 8am-9pm Sat & Sun)

Rijksmuseum (Tel 674 70 00; http://www.rijksmuseum.nl/;Stadhouderskade 42; admission €10; 9am-6pm Sat-Thu,to 8.30pm Fri) boasts a collection valued in the billions, but until renovations finish in 2013 (or later) there are only a few masterpieces displayed, including a couple of Vermeersand the crowning glory, Rembrandt’s Nightwatch (1650). On most days crowds make the entire experience unpleasant. Some of the rooms have low ceilings and you’ll find the Louvre’s Mona Lisa mobs snapping pics with abandon. Save one queue by buying your ticket online.

The outstanding Van Gogh Museum (Tel 570 52 00; http://www.vangoghmuseum.nl/vgm/index.jsp?lang=nl; Paulus Potterstraat 7; adult/12-21 yr €10/2.50; h10am-6pm Sat-Thu, to 10pm Fri) houses the world’s largest Van Gogh collection. Trace the artist’s life from his tentative start though to his Japanese phase, and on to depression and the black cloud that descended over him and his work.

When open, the Stedelijk Museum (Tel 573 29 11; http://www.stedelijkindestad.nl/; Museumplein; 10am- 6pm) features around 100,000 pieces including Impressionist works from Monet, Picasso and Chagall, and pop art from Warhol and Lichtenstein. Until renovations are complete (possibly early 2010) a few select works are on display around town; check the website for details.

Vondelpark (http://www.zuid.amsterdam.nl/wonen_en/natuur_en_milieu/parken_in_zuid/vondelpark, in Dutch) is an English-style park with free concerts, ponds,lawns, thickets, winding footpaths and three outdoor cafes. It was named after the poet and playwright Joost van den Vondel, the ‘Dutch Shakespeare’, and is popular with joggers, skaters, buskers and lovers.

The Red Light District (aka the Wallen) with its cacophony of sex shops, coffeeshops, souvenir vendors and more retains the power to bewilder, even if near-naked prostitutes propositioning passers-by from black-lit windows is the oldest Amsterdam cliché. The Red Light District is bound by Zeedijk, Nieuwmarkt and Kloveniersburgwalin the east; Damstraat, Oude Doelenstraatand Oude Hoogstraat in the south;and Warmoesstraat in the west.

You almost expect to find the master himself at the Museum Het Rembrandthuis (Rembrandt House Museum; 520 04 00; http://www.amsterdam.info/museums/rembrandthuis/; Jodenbreestraat 4; admission €8; h10am-5pm), the house where Rembrandt van Rijn ran his painting studio, only to lose the lot when profligacy set in, enemies swooped and bankruptcy came knocking. The museum has scores of etchings and sketches. The streets around the Rembrandt House are prime wandering territory; a vibrant mix of old Amsterdam, canals, and quirky shops and cafes.

The Anne Frank Huis (Anne Frank House; 556 71 00; http://www.annefrank.org/; Prinsengracht 267; admission €8.50; h9am-9pm Apr-Aug, to 7pm Sep-Mar), where Anne wrote her diary, lures almost a million visitors annually with its secret annexe, reconstruction of Anne’s melancholy bedroom, and her actual diary, with its optimistic writing tempered by quiet despair. Crowds are lightest in the early morning or evening. Look for the newly added photo of Peter Schiff, her ‘one true love’.

FOAM (Fotografie Museum Amsterdam; 551 65 00; http://www.foam.org/; Keizersgracht 609; admission €7; h10am- 5pm Sat-Wed, to 9pm Thu & Fri) is an airy gallery devoted to painting with light. Two storeys of changing exhibitions feature worldrenowned photographers such as Sir Cecil Beaton, Annie Leibovitz and Henri Cartier-Bresson.

New for 2009, the Heineken Experience (523 94 36; http://www.heinekenexperience.com/AgeCheck; Stadhouderskade 78; admission €15; h11am-7pm) is the much– gussied up reincarnation of the brewer’s old brewery tour. Now there are multimedia displays, rides and plenty of gift shops in the old brewery. It’s Amsterdam’s most popular attraction; acolytes enjoy samples of the beer, which (like Stella Artois et al) is dismissed as an ‘old man’s beer’ at home and sold at a premium abroad.

Amsterdam abounds in food choices. Happy streets for hunting include Utrechtsestraat, Spuistraat and any of the little streets lining and connecting the west canals such as Berenstraat.

Restaurants

Pancakes! (Tel 528 97 97; Berenstraat 38; mains from €3; h10am-7pm) A great place to sample Dutch pancakes in an atmosphere free of clogs and other kitsch – and there are just as many locals here as tourists.

Van Dobben (Tel 624 42 00; Korte Reguliersdwarsstraat 5; mains from €4) Open since the 1940s, the venerable Van Dobben has white-tiled-walls and white-coated counter men who specialise in snappy banter. Trad Dutch fare is the speciality: try the pekelvlees (something close to corned beef) and the best kroketten (croquettes) and pea soup in town.

De Bolhoed (Tel 626 18 03; Prinsengracht 60-62; mains from €8) An old-school vegie eatery, De Bolhoed has been dishing up generous helpings of Italian, Mexican and Middle Eastern dishes to Amsterdammers for decades. Enjoy the tables among plants by the canal.

’Skek (Tel 427 05 51; Zeedijk 4-8; mains from €13; hnoon-1am Sun-Thu, to 3am Fri & Sat) Run by students for students (ID gets you one-third off), this friendly, fun cafe-bar is a nice place to get some tasty Mediterranean fare. Bands occasionally perform at night.

Tempo Doeloe (Tel 625 67 18; http://www.tempodoeloerestaurant.nl/; Utrechtsestraat 75; mains from €18; hdinner) One of the most respected Indonesian restaurants in the city, this tiny place is also more formal than most. It’s the place to go if you’ve never enjoyed a rijsttafel (rice table).

Cafes

Hofje Van Wijs (Tel 624 04 36; Zeedijk 43; mains €4-8) The 200-year-old coffee and tea vendor Wijs & Zonen maintains this oasis of acourtyard cafe. Many of the teas are fromIndonesia and you can get excellent coffees,cakes and meals. The place runs a weeklywalking tour (3pm Sunday), which coversthis once blighted area.

Crea (Tel 525 14 23; Turfdraagsterpad 17; mains €4-10) Walking along Grimburgwal, you can’t help but notice the prime cafe chairs acrossthe canal. They’re part of the University ofAmsterdam’s cultural centre, a laid-backspot that’s a superb urban escape.

Quick Eats

Febo (Tel 620 86 15; Leidsestraat 94) Insert a fewcoins in the machine and live the legend.The bami (noodle) rolls are hot as napalm,the frikadel (skinless sausage) frighteningand the kaassoufflé (cheese snack) utterly unsoufflélike. But plucking a treat fromthe automat windows is a drunken Dutchtradition.

Wil Graanstra Friteshuis (Tel 624 40 71; Westermarkt 11) This little stall near the Anne Frank Huis has been serving up delectably light and crispy fries with mayo since 1956. Nearby stalls offer local staples such as herring on a stick.

Self-Catering

Albert Heijn supermarkets are found all over town. Albert Cuypmarkt (http://albertcuypmarkt.nl/; Albert Cuypstraat; h10am-5pm Mon-Sat) is Amsterdam’s largest, busiest market – it’s 100 years old. Food of every description can be found here, plus flowers, souvenirs, clothing, hardware and household goods.

Drinking

Doelen (Tel 624 90 23; Kloveniersburgwal 125) On a busy crossroad between the Amstel and the Red Light District, this cafe dates back to 1895 and looks it: carved wooden goat’s head, stained-glass lamps, sand on the floor. During fine weather the tables spill across the street for picture-perfect canal views.

Hoppe (Tel 420 44 20; Spuistraat 18) This gritty bruin café (brown cafe) has been luring drinkers for more than 300 years. Journalists, bums, socialites and raconteurs toss back brews amidst the ancient wood panelling. Most months the energetic crowd spews from the dark interior and onto the Spui.

In De Wildeman (Tel 638 23 48; Kolksteeg) An oasis in the otherwise grim tourist ghetto south of the station. There are seats outside on the quiet street and a good selection of beers inside.

In ’t Aepjen (Tel 626 84 01; Zeedijk 1) Candles burn even during the day at this bar in a 15th-century house, one of two remaining wooden buildings in the city. The name allegedly comes from the bar’s role in the 16th and 17th centuries as a crash pad for sailors from the Far East, who often toted aapjes (monkeys) with them.

’t Mandje (Tel 622 53 75; Zeedijk 63) Amsterdam’s – and perhaps the world’s – oldest gay bar opened in 1927, then shut in 1982, when the Zeedijk grew too seedy. But its trinket-covered interior was lovingly dusted every week until it reopened in 2008. There’s live jazz and a retro DJ spinning 78s on a Victrola.

Escape (Tel 622 11 11; http://www.escape.nl/; Rembrandtplein 11) Amsterdam’s biggest, glitziest club has managed to keep the bass pumping since the ’80s; it got a recent major tech revamp. Long lines get longer when a big-name DJ mixes.

Odeon (Tel 521 85 55; http://www.odeontheater.nl/; Singel 460) Set in a skinny canal house, the Odeon has been a creative party spot for decades. Glam but accessible, its club nights cater to a veteran crowd.

Sugar Factory (Tel 626 50 06; http://www.sugarfactory.nl/page=site.home; Lijnbaansgracht 238) One night it’s Balkan beats; another, it’s a 10-piece soul band – the Sugar Factory has all kinds of live entertainment. Equally important, the vibe is always welcoming and creative. It’s an excellent midsize space, with a smoking lounge upstairs.

Live Music

Maloe Melo (Tel 420 45 92; Lijnbaansgracht 163) Home to Amsterdam’s blues scene, this dingy venue is rowdy and casual, and often adds bluegrass and soul to the calendar.

Melkweg (Tel 531 81 81; http://www.melkweg.nl/voorpagina.jsp?language=nederlands&disciplineid=muziek; Lijnbaansgracht 234a) The ‘Milky Way’ – it’s housed in a former dairy – must be Amsterdam’s coolest club-gallery-cinema-cafe-concert hall. Its vibrant program of events is so full and varied that it’s impossible not to find something you want to go to, from international DJ club nights to live Brazilian jazz.

Paradiso (Tel 626 45 21; http://www.paradiso.nl/web/Mobile-home.htm, in Dutch; Weteringschans 6) This converted church has been a premier rock venue since the ’60s. Expect interesting dance music, anything from Finnish DJs spinning jazz to Afro New Wave from New York and tech-hop from Detroit.

Sport

Four-times European champion Ajax is the Netherlands’ most famous football team. Ajax plays in the Amsterdam ArenA (Tel 311 13 33; http://www.amsterdamarena.nl/; Arena Blvd 11), usually on Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons August to May. Enjoy a ‘World of Ajax’ tour.

Theatre

Boom Chicago (Tel 423 01 01; http://www.boomchicago.nl/index.php?lang=en&page=7; Leidseplein 12) Hosting English-language stand-up and improv comedy year-round. See it over dinner and a few drinks. Inspiration is culled from Chicago’s legendary Second City.

Felix Meritis (Tel 626 13 11; http://www.felixmeritis.nl/nl/, in Dutch; Keizersgracht 324) This wonderful arts and culture space, established in 1777, occasionally hosts experimental European theatre, along with innovative music, dance, lectures and readings. The cafe here, with its huge open windows, is great.

The real pleasure of shopping in Amsterdam is finding some tiny shop selling something you’d find nowhere else.

The big department stores cluster around the Dam. Chains line the pedestrian (in more ways than one) Kalverstraat.

The Red Light District buzzes with vibrating latex creations. Condomerie (Tel 627 41 74; Warmoesstraat 141) puts the ‘pro’ back in prophylactic: rarely can you shop for a condom in such a tasteful setting and grapple with so many choices.

Nieuwmarkt has several good streets for typically eccentric local stores. Puccini (Tel 626 54 74; Staalstr 17) will have you singing arias about the amazing range of housemade chocolates.

Just as the stores themselves brim with surprises, several streets along the western canals brim with surprising little shops. You can easily lose a day wandering Reestraat and Hartenstraat and the blocks south to Runstraat and Huidenstraat. For example, Mendo (Tel 612 12 16; Berenstraat 11) has a striking combination of visually stunning books, art, candy and even umbrellas. Nearby, Boekie Woekie (Tel 639 05 07; Berenstraat 16) sells books by artists, whether that means a self-published monograph or an illustrated story that’s handcrafted right down to the paper. Buy a ‘Two Lips from Amsterdam’ T-shirt.

Markets

Bloemenmarkt (Singel; h9am-5pm, closed Sun Dec- Feb) ‘Floating’ flower market that’s actually on pilings. Traders can advise on import regulations. Notorious for pickpockets. Oudemanhuis Book Market (Oudemanhuispoort; h11am-4pm Mon-Fri) A favourite with academics, this moody old covered alleyway connecting two streets is lined with secondhand booksellers.

Bicycle

For bicycle rental, try Bike City (Tel 626 37 21; http://www.bikecity.nl/; Bloemgracht 68-70; per day/week €15/62), where there’s no advertising on the bikes so you might pass for a local. You’ll need a passport or other ID and a credit card or cash deposit.

Boat

Amsterdam’s canal boats are, understandably, popular ways to tour the town but most are actually a bit claustrophobic, with steamed-up glass windows surrounding the passengers. Look for a boat with an open seating area.

Canal Bus

(Tel 623 98 86; http://www.canal.nl/bus/en/; day pass €18) does several circuits between CentraalStation and the Rijksmuseum between10am and 8pm. The day pass is valid untilnoon the next day. The same companyrents canal bikes (pedal boats) for €10 perperson per hour (€7 per person if there aremore than two people per canal bike). They can be found at docks by Leidseplein andnear the Anne Frank Huis.

Rederij Lovers

(Tel 530 10 90; http://www.lovers.nl/nl/; Prins Hendrikkade 25-27; 1hr tour per person €11) offers a variety of night-time cruises.

Public Transport

Public Transport Services – including the iconic trams – are run by the local transit authority, the GVB; national railway (NS) tickets are not valid on local transport. The GVB has a highly useful information office (Tel 0900 80 11; http://www.gvb.nl/Pages/default.aspx; Stationsplein 10; h7am-9pm Mon-Fri, 8am-9pm Sat & Sun) across the tram tracks from the CentraalStation main entrance.

Public transport in Amsterdam, like the rest of the Netherlands, has switched to the OV-chipkaart. You can buy one-ride cards for €2.50 from machines at major transit points or on trams and buses. A better deal are the unlimited-ride tickets sold by the GVB (from machines and the office), which are good for 24/48/72/96 hours and cost €7/11.50/14.50/17.50.

Night buses take over shortly after midnight when the trams and regular buses stop running.

Taxi

Amsterdam taxis are expensive, even over short journeys. Try Taxicentrale Amsterdam (Tel 677 77 77).