Amsterdam is a compact, instantly likeable city. It's appealing to look at and pleasant to walk around, an intriguing mix of the parochial and the international; it also has a welcoming attitude towards visitors and a uniquely youthful orientation, shaped by the liberal counter-culture that took hold in the 1960s. Also engaging are the buzz of open-air summer events and the intimacy of its clubs and bars, not to mention the Dutch facility with languages: just about everyone you meet in Amsterdam will be able to speak near-perfect English, on top of their own native Dutch, and often French and German too.
The city's layout is determined by a web of canals. The historical centre, which dates from the thirteenth century, is girdled by five concentric canals – the Grachtengordel – dug in the seventeenth century as part of a planned expansion to create a uniquely elegant urban environment. It is here that the city's merchant class built their grand mansions, typified by tall, gracefully decorated gables, whose fine proportions are reflected in the still, olive-green waters below.
The real core of the city is Dam Square with its beautiful Royal Palace . Most visitors arrive by train and the route they follow from Centraal Station takes them along the Damrak and Dam square. This area focuses much on tourism. All kinds of souvenir shops, street performers and restaurants can be found here. The square is used for events and concerts and is famous because of the many pigeons. The two main shopping streets in Amsterdam, Kalverstraat and Nieuwendijk, are located in this area.
Leidseplein & Rembrandtplein
The Leidseplein and Rembrandtplein are very crowded both throughout the day and night. When the sun is shining, the terraces quickly become filled. Street performers entertain the public mainly consisting of tourists, with acrobatic acts and music. At night the crowd changes: Amsterdammers go out here to celebrate, and to visit the theatres, cinemas and clubs. The bars and clubs, such as Escape , close after 5am here.
Built in 1612 during the expansion of the city, the Jordaan neighborhood is well known all over the country for its specific street life, corny songs, sarcastic humor and working-class mentality. But this is mere nostalgia. Most of the Jordanezen (the native inhabitants) left some years ago for improved housing in neighboring cities like Almere and Purmerend. Nowadays, it is a district with many students and young urban professionals. The Jordaan accommodates several bars and cozy restaurants; it's like a small village in a big city. The area is located between Brouwersgracht, Prinsengracht, Raamstraat and Marnixstraat.
The Red-Light District (De Wallen)
The red-light district is the area left of the Damrak, the streets and canals in between Warmoesstraat and a square called Nieuwmarkt . The end of the two canals, Oudezijds Voorburgwal and Oudezijds Achterburgwal, mark the area's borders. Medieval Amsterdam was built here. De Wallen is best known for its window prostitution, sex shops and live shows, concentrated around the Oude Kerk , in alleys and around the canals. The atmosphere is somewhat chaotic most of the time, but also cozy. You'll find numerous places to eat, drink and have a good time, day and night.
On February 1, 1999, the Dutch government decided to qualify the inner city of Amsterdam as a monument, a protected inner city view. The girdle of canals (ranging from the Singel Canal up to the Prinsengracht Canal) is a historically important part of this region, and it is one of the city's most attractive sights. The girdle of canals starts at River Amstel and ends at Brouwersgracht. One third of the houses along the canals (grachtenhuizen) were built before 1850. During the 17th Century the city extended its boundaries, and canals were shaped in a girdle around the oldest part of Amsterdam to accommodate wealthy tradesmen and burghers. First the Singel Canal was dug out, then the Herengracht, Keizersgracht and, last of all, Prinsengracht.
De Pijp was the first modern city development in Amsterdam at the end of the 19th Century. Many houses were built here very quickly for the growing amount of laborers. Nowadays De Pijp is known as the perfect example of a multicultural society. People from all over the world live here: young and old, students and artists. The main streets in De Pijp are Albert Cuypstraat , famous for its market, and Ferdinand Bolstraat. Around these roads you'll find many exotic restaurants and a typical Amsterdam Bruin Huis (Pub) is located at just about every corner.
The Museum Quarter is the area around the Museumplein, just a ten minute-walk from Leidseplein. The main museums are situated here: Rijksmuseum , Van Gogh Museum and The Stedelijk Museum . The Concert Building can be found in this neighborhood as well. The Museum Quarter is also known for its exclusive shops. Many international clothing brands have their shops in P.C. Hooftstraat and Van Baerlestraat. And of course the Museumplein is a great place to sit in the sun, enjoy your lunch or just relax. This cultural area is very crowded during the day, but usually deserted at night.
Banks of the River Ij
The most modern city developments have taken place on the southern banks of the River Ij , on both the west and east sides of Centraal Station . This used to be a desolate area, with dilapidated warehouses, but today, this part of town with its great view of the river, is completely redeveloped. Oostelijke Handelskade is the place to find many theaters and a thriving nightlife. A cruise terminal has also been built here: Passenger Terminal Amsterdam. The buildings have aroused much interest because of their innovative architecture.
Going out in Amsterdam is something that's embedded in the culture; restaurants and bars are brimming with customers the whole week through. If you're planning to eat out in Amsterdam, the one problem you'll be faced with is making a decision. The cultural diversity which typifies the city is best reflected in all its dining options.
What makes eating out in Amsterdam all the more enjoyable is the large range of inexpensive restaurants serving great food. Walking along the Zeedijk you'll find thrifty local favorites. These restaurants aren't famed for their looks or even their service, but if you want a good meal you really can't go wrong. Around the center you'll find a lot of restaurants targeted mainly to tourists. However, for a true culinary experience you mustn't be afraid to branch out.
For an enjoyable evening, head to Bubbles & Wines , a wine bar that also serves champagne, with over 50 labels and types to choose from. Bep is a hip restaurant with a retro 70s decor that serves Thai food, while Indian Restaurant Vijaya has plenty of tandoori and curries to keep you satisfied. La Pampa specializes in nicely-seasoned steaks and flavors from South America, with exotic seafood dishes and drinks galore. For classic Middle Eastern cuisines, Shibli Bedouin is a good bet. There is even a belly dancer accompanied by live music to keep things interesting.
Leidseplein & Rembrandtplein
Don't be afraid to stray from the Leidseplein and Rembrandt Square as there is a whole city out there to explore. Musical accompaniment can be found at Mulligans , while the bustling l'Opera in Rembrandtplein is always a good choice for a nice meal.
Another trendy place with a "look-at-me" atmosphere is The Palladium . After you have lined your stomach with a good meal, be ready to discover the extensive bar and pub culture that is such an integral part of Amsterdam. Some of the most popular places to spend an evening are the Leidseplein and Rembrandt Square. Bars like Heeren van Aemstel are highlights in these bustling areas filled with a mostly young crowd.
Jordaan & De Pijp
Neighborhoods like De Pijp and Jordaan are stuffed to the brim with restaurants and cafes. De Pijp is a favorite among Amsterdam's large student population, so expect to find a young, trendy crowd in the bars and restaurants. Jordaan was originally a real working-class neighborhood, but has evolved into an absolute center of trendy activity. Restaurants like Bordewijk show the city at its most natural; laid-back, with not a care in the world, and shying away from the hustle and bustle of the busy city center.
As with restaurants, branching out in Amsterdam to different bars and cafes is a definite must. Walking through Jordaan and De Pijp you'll find a large selection of quality bars. Check out places like Cafe Nol or De Twee Zwaantjes . These places show off the qualities that typify Jordaan; they are brash, noisy and crowded. Expect to hear Dutch music blared out at a disturbingly high volume and be aware of the inevitable sing-along.
Amsterdam is a main attraction in Europe for a few good reasons: the city is beautiful and the streets are not crowded with cars--watch out for the bikes though! The locals are kind, generous and typically speak English well and with a smile, and, like most European capitals, there's TONS to do! Below you'll find recommended tours around some of the city's most-visited attractions so you'll not only hit the Anne Frank House and the Red Light District, but also discover all of the gems in between.
In Amsterdam, the main art museums are clustered around the Museumplein, which lies between the old city center and Oud Zuid (Old South) neighborhood (home of the Vondelpark ). An entire day can be spent around the Museum Square, or more than a whole day if you're big on art and classical music. Visit the biggest collection of Van Gogh paintings in the world at the Van Gogh Museum on the west side of the square (opposite the American Embassy). The Rijksmuseum , occupying the northern end of the rectangular square as the largest museum in Amsterdam, has a delightful collection of Dutch paintings as well as furniture, pastels and many other sections. Between these two museums is the reflecting pool where many tourists and locals flock in the summer to eat ice cream or browse for art souvenirs at the Museum Shop or from independent vendors on the square.
On the south side of the square you can follow signs underground for the Albert Heijn, the most popular national supermarket to purchase a baguette and cheese, sushi or salad for a laid-back lunch on the square; bumping carts with the locals has never been so much fun! Catch a concert at the Concertgebouw (Royal Concert Hall) either at lunchtime or just after 8p nightly. Check their website, as the variety of musical offerings is wide! An excellent place for lunch or dinner is Le Garage at Ruysdaelstraat 54 (fourth street on your left, walking east on the Van Baerlestraat) if you're digging an excellent gourmet meal. En Pluche has the same address as Le Garage but is more affordable, and every bit as trendy.
Anne Frank House
The Anne Frank House is in a neighborhood called the Jordaan, west of the Dam Square and the old city center. Plan to arrive at the house early in the day to avoid the catastrophically long lines. Located on the Prinsengracht, the Anne Frank House takes an hour or two to experience. After your visit, you can spend the rest of the day wandering through the canals and popping into unique shops. Enjoy a cup of coffee at the cafe on the corner and the many souvenir stands that line Westerkerk (West Church) Square. Two monuments are located on this square: the Anne Frank statue on the southern side of the church, and the Homomonument on the Eastern edge of the square (on the other side of the taxis) pointing into the Keizersgracht Canal.
An idyllic afternoon can be spent shopping in the Negen Straatjes (the Nine Streets) by crossing over the Rozengracht (south of the Westerkerk) and wandering through the streets that run perpendicular to the canals on the inner side of the old city. In addition to the shops in the Negen Straatjes, there are a few gems on the Elandsgracht perpendicular to the Prinsengracht and the outside continuation of the Berenstraat (one of the Nine Streets). Visit La Savonnerie on the corner of the Elandsgracht and Prinsengracht for delicious soaps and beauty products that make excellent gifts or souvenirs. Many excellent restaurants and cafes line the Negen Straatjes; one of Amsterdam's favorites is Van Harte on the Hartenstraat in the Nine Streets.
Red Light District
A visit to Amsterdam would not be complete without saying one has seen the Red Light District. Located just east of the Dam Square and the Central Station, the Red Light District is not as shocking as one might think; still, it warrants a visit. Starting at the National Monument in the Dam Square, head east on the Damstraat for one block, then take a left onto the Oudezijds Achterburgwal. Walking down this canal gives a great impression of the Red Light District. Finish your walk of this canal at the scenic Oude Kerk —once there, cross the canal and go two blocks to take a right on the Zeedijk, which leads right to the Nieuwmarkt . The Nieuwmarkt offers an occasional market on the square with many cafes lining the street. Head down the Kloveniersburgwal to visit Jacob Hooij , an old Amsterdam establishment that features a breathtaking selection of teas and Dutch "drop" candies in a centuries-old building. As you approach the end of the Kloveniersburgwal, one good choice for dinner, dessert or drinks is Puccini (take a left onto Staalstraat, and it's on your left) which offers amazing chocolates and a wider selection of dinners, salads and desserts. Another excellent option is Cafe de Jaren (simply continue down the Kloveniersburgwal and bear right onto Nieuwe Doelenstraat, and the cafe is on your left) which offers a cafe with desserts and snacks downstairs and a full dinner menu upstairs, complete with a salad bar.
The flower market in Amsterdam is on many tourists' to-do list. Whether you want to bring bulbs home or simply buy a bouquet of tulips for your hotel room, the Flower Market offers it all, even magnets and other Dutch souvenirs. From the Flower Market, head west, cross the Koningsplein and walk along the canal one block to the Spui (a square). On this square you'll find two excellent bookshops: the Athenaeum and the American Book Center . Take a minute to step into the Begijnhof a few doors up from the American Book Center; you'll never know that you're still right in the middle of the busy city of Amsterdam once you've ventured inside. After exiting the Begijnhof, go up the Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal to the Amsterdam Historical Museum on your right. The perfect way to end this day in Amsterdam is to go to Kantjil & De Tijger for dinner, a very popular Indonesian restaurant. If you're feeling adventurous, order a Rijsttafel (rice table) which is a selection of many different dishes brought to your table to share, family style. To visit this restaurant, take the Spuistraat north from the Spui; the restaurant is on the right side of the street.
Every tourist entering Amsterdam comes through the Dam Square, but what are the secrets to enjoying this tourist-ridden place? A few things are a must: visit the best souvenir shop in town located on the south side of the National Monument on the corner of the Damstraat; this shop is brighter, less crowded and offers more friendly service than the average souvenir shop in Amsterdam. Visit the beautiful Nieuwe Kerk next to the Royal Palace and enjoy the various entertainment options on the square itself. There are plenty of carnivals on the square and if you have children, a horse and carriage ride leaving from the square is sure to please! For drinks and eating, head west of the square to avoid all the tourist traps on the square itself and on the Damstraat. A trip to Amsterdam isn't complete without having real Dutch pancakes (pannenkoeken); visit Meneer Pannekoek on the corner of the Singel Canal and the Raadhuisstraat for excellent pancakes and traditional pea soup. For a truly luxurious dinner, head west from the Dam Square on the Raadhuistraat and take the second canal to the right, the Herengracht. Walk two blocks along this canal and you'll find the restaurant Lieve on the corner of the Herengracht and the Herenstraat offering delectable Belgian food in a fine dining atmosphere.