Amsterdam Insider Travel Guide
Amsterdam, the capital city of the Netherlands, once had an established reputation as a den of iniquity. But today there are so many more aspects of Amsterdam that appeal to every type of traveller: wonderful museums and galleries, up-and-coming cuisine, and quirky bars and cafes. It is a city full of nooks and crannies to be explored; and it has long earned its well-deserved status as a world capital.
Places to See
The first stop for most will be the infamous red light district. Full of bars, prostitutes, and sex cinemas, people watching here is as interesting as the goods on display. The area is also full of pickpockets and drug dealers so caution is advised.
Dam Square lies in the historical center of Amsterdam; the name is derived from its original function as a dam on the Amstel River. Many of the busier pedestrian and traffic streets connect at the Dam.
Another popular square, Rembrandtplein, used to be a butter market but is now a nightlife hot-spot, home to the biggest LCD-screen in Europe. There are hundreds of outdoor seats on the open terraces, making this one of the busiest parts of town during the summer. Nearby on the Amstel River is the beautiful Magere Brug (‘Skinny Bridge’), which gracefully crosses the Amstel. It is beautifully lit at night.
The Spui was originally the southern limit of the city until 1882 when the Spui was filled in, now a charming square hosting a book market on Fridays and an art market on Sundays. Just off the Spui is a beautiful enclosed courtyard, the Begijnhof. Built during medieval times, the Begijnhof offers visitors a calming respite from the busy city centre. Observing the request for silence will only enhance your experience.
The Anne Frank House is a poignant reminder of the travesties of World War II. This is the actual house where Anne penned her famous diary.
The Van Gogh Museum on Museumplein hosts the world’s best collection of Van Gogh classics, as well as rotating galleries of other important artwork.
Another Museumplein stalwart, the impressive Rijksmuseum, is under construction until 2013. The most important pieces of art are still available for viewing in a small wing just off the main building.
FOAM is a Dutch acronym for the Photography Museum Amsterdam, which is a very modern gallery in an old canal house focusing on unique and interesting photographers from across the globe.
Other Great Sights
Run, cycle, rollerblade, walk, or people-watch in Amsterdam’s largest and most popular city park. A must-see regardless of the weather.
Canal tours are also a great way to get a new perspective on the city. Most tours leave from either Centraal Station or just beside the Hotel De L’Europe.
Boom Chicago hosts some of the best English-language comedy on the continent; this is a Leidesplein hot-spot. Book ahead.
Amsterdam is a shopper’s paradise with a varied amount of options:
• Kalverstraat: This pedestrian-only street, running from Dam Square to Muntplein, is the biggest shopping avenue in the city and full of major brands, bakeries, and department stores.
• P.C. Hoofdstraat: Just off the lush Vondelpark, this is Amsterdam’s luxury lane. The shops here are dazzling with their window displays.
• Leidsestraat: Another pedestrian-only street, running from Koningsplein to Leidseplein, is full of boutiques and cheap eateries. Watch out for trams crossing the relatively narrow areas.
• Negen Straatjes: Dutch for the ‘nine alleys’, these are small streets in the Jordaan neighborhood full of amazing shops full of antiques, kitchenwares, clothing, and art.
• Magna Plaza: Built in 1899 as Amsterdam’s Central Post Office, it was converted to the first shopping mall in the city centre in 1990.
• Albert Cuyp Market: This market is rumored to be the largest daytime market in Europe. It sells everything from fruit, vegetables, cheese, fish, spices, clothes, cosmetics, and bedding.
• Bloemenmarkt: The world’s only floating flower market: over 15 florists provide a plethora of choices–not just tulips, but narcissus, amaryllis, orchids, and cactus too.
Where To Stay
NH Hotels has a number of locations throughout the city with varying costs. Most hotels are conveniently located near central places, such as Centraal Station or Leidseplein. The Barbizon Palace is a favorite
The Eden Amsterdam American in Leidseplein is an excellent luxury hotel, complete with a fantastic old-world café/restaurant.
For more hotel recommendations, see our article Where To Stay In Amsterdam
Where To Eat
A great place for Thai is Song Kwae , just off the main square in Nieuwmarkt. No reservations, so you may have to queue.
The best Indian food in town can be found hidden off the Damrak (number 54); Gandhi serves up authentic curries and great service.
There are a number of tasty outlets of Wok to Walk throughout the city. You can choose rice or noodles, vegetables, meat, and a sauce and watch your cheap treat grilled in front of you.
The finest scones in Amsterdam can be found at the charming Bakkerswinkel café/bistro in the red light district. With several choices of teas and coffee; everything is freshly prepared on-site.
Amsterdam Up Close
Try a beer tasting at the cosy ‘t Arendsnest (Dutch for Eagles nest). Ask the staff for a recommendation, and enjoy a rotating schedule of brews on draught which are all made in the Netherlands.
Wijnand Focking is the city’s premier purveyor of Dutch gin. With hundreds of flavors and varieties, this is a classic Amsterdam experience. Watch other guests to know how to drink out of the full-to-the-brim glasses.
Pijlsteeg 31 – (just behind the hotel Kransapolsky on the Dam Square)
For warm summer days, walk west along the Ij river and see if you can find the Amsterdam Plage, a quirky and retro city beach.
Rent a bike and head out to the Amsterdamse Bos (Dutch for Amsterdam Forest). With its 137km (85mi) of footpaths, 51km (35mi) of cycle paths and 50 bridges, this is one of the largest city parks in Europe.
Frequent train service can take you to Delft, a fantastic and old-fashioned Dutch village and home to the famous Delft pottery. Otherwise take a train to Zandvoort Beach which will surprise you as to how nice the Dutch coast can be, regardless of the weather.
Most of the public holidays in Amsterdam occur early in the year. Most shops and banks are closed on public holidays.
New Year’s Day – January 1
Good Friday – Friday before Easter
Easter Monday – Monday after Easter
Queen’s Day – April 29th or 30th
This is an event in itself – the city swells full of revellers in celebration of the Queen’s birthday. Public transport is shut due to the number of visitors and every spare spot of sidewalk is turned into a flea market.
National Liberation Day – May 5
Ascension Day – June 1
White Sunday – 7th Sunday after Easter
Santa Day – December 5
Christmas – December 25
Second Christmas Day – December 26
New Year’s Eve – December 31
Written by Andy Hayes for EuropeUpClose.com