Despite the popularity of the red light district, cafés specializing in something a little stronger than French cigarettes and the flower market, there’s more to Amsterdam than sex, drugs and tulips.
The Rijsmuseum has the best collection of 17th century Dutch art in the world - plus a few million other pieces - and the Van Gogh museum houses an unrivalled collection of Vincent's work.
If you’d rather stay outdoors, there’s also lots to enjoy. Amsterdam has accumulated almost seven thousand 16th, 17th and 18th century buildings, 47 miles of canals, 1281 bridges and six windmills.
And a great way to explore all this is by hiring a bicycle. On a sunny day - even if you’re not particularly fond of bikes - riding around the city for an hour or two is great fun and quite addictive.
Amsterdam is one of the easiest European cities to reach from the UK, and with flying times as short as one hour, one of the closest. Here is a selection of flights; arrival times are in brackets and all times are local.
Schiphol airport is just 20 minutes by rail from Centraal Station in the city centre. Trains leave the terminal every 15 minutes and return tickets cost around €7.
The airport is about nine miles from the centre, and expect to pay around €35 for a taxi to Centraal Station. If you'd like more information on getting to Amsterdam, take a look at our booking and travel planning section.
Amsterdam is perfect for exploring on foot, and it has an excellent public transport network of buses and trams. There’s also a metro, but this has only four stops in the centre.
A one-day travel card valid for all public transport costs €6.40 and is available from tram drivers, tobacconists and tourist offices - there’s one in Schiphol Airport Arrivals 2, another in Centraal Station near platform 2b and one opposite the station.
A good way to see Amsterdam is from the water. Apart from hiring a water taxi or taking a formal canal tour, you could hop on the Museum Boat - a six-stop service for the major museums – or use the extensive Canalbus network.
But if you use one of the glass-topped boats for a canaltour on a sunny day, make sure you sit near a window that opens, because they can get uncomfortably hot. If you fancy something a little more energetic, you could hire a pedalo.
Also consider getting a €33 one-day I amsterdam Card. This gives you free travel on the trams, buses, metro and Canalbus; free or discounted entry to museums and attractions; and a free canal tour and restaurant discounts.
What To Visit
There is a huge variety of things to do and see in Amsterdam, but here are a few of the top attractions.
Rijksmuseum - as befits the treasure trove of almost seven million works of art that it houses, Holland’s largest museum is one of the most imposing buildings in the city. Sadly, most of it is closed for renovation, but a selection of highlights is on display in the Philips Wing. Map
Amsterdams Historisch Museum - once the town
orphanage, this museum traces the city’s history but majors on its 17th century golden age. Map
Museum Amstelkring - the attic of this gorgeous 17th-century building houses a rare and perfectly preserved baroque-style clandestine church. When Catholics were forbidden to worship publicly, they had to use secret churches like this one. Map
Oude Kerk (old church) - this stunning Gothic basilica and the city’s oldest monument lies in the middle of the famous Red Light district.
Highlights include the magnificent Great Organ and the Maria Kapel stained glass windows and, reputedly, the largest wooden vaulted ceiling in Western Europe. Map
Dam Square - five-minutes walk from Centraal Station is the bustling heart of Amsterdam and the site of the Amstel river dam where the city began its life. Map
Dominated by the 70ft World War II memorial obelisk, this vast square is home to the Koninklijk Paleis (Royal Palace),originally built as the town hall; and the striking Nieuwe Kerk (New Church), now a gallery and exhibition centre.
It’s also where you’ll find the monumental five-star Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky, and the city’s best-known department store, De Bijenkorf.
Begijnhof - a complete change of pace, this tranquil and elegant little corner of the city was built as a sanctuary for the Beguines lay Catholic sisterhood. A great place for some quiet contemplation. Map
Anne Frankhuis - it’s hard to imagine Anne Frank and her family hiding out for over two years in the secret annexe of this building. This museum is a fascinating but extremely sombre experience, so do something uplifting afterwards. Map
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Amsterdam is home to over 170 nationalities. So it’s no surprise that a diverse range of cuisine is on offer in its 800 or so cafés, restaurants and lunchrooms.
If you want to book a restaurant, the dialling code is 00 31.
Van Vlaanderen at Weteringschans 175 is a gourmet paradise of French and Mediterranean cooking, and one of around seven Michelin starred restaurants in Amsterdam. Ask for a terrace table - 0206228292. Map
De Gouden Reael - this cosy restaurant and bar in the north of the city - about 20-minutes walk from Centraal Station – serves unique and distinctive food that's a delicious, innovative blend of Dutch and international influences. There’s a standard starters-and-mains menu, as well as a wonderful sampling menu: a series of starter-sized dishes (best shared) that allows you to try a wide range of the chef’s culinary brilliance. It also has one of the most extensive wine lists in the city and starting prices are very reasonable. Map
De Compagnon is a little difficult to find but worth the effort as it offers some of the best French cooking in the city - though not some of the cheapest. It specializes in Bourgondian dishes and accompanied by excellent wines. It's intimate, welcoming and a window table gives you great canal views. Map
The beautiful art deco Café Americain opened its doors in 1902, and is Holland's oldest grand café and a listed monument. It's part of the American Hotel and apparently where the spy Mata Hari held her wedding reception. Map
If you haven't tried Indonesian food yet, short of going to Indonesia, Amsterdam is the place to give it a try. Go for a rijsttafel, a feast of around 18 dishes, which will satisfy most appetites and tastes. Here are two recommendations to get you started.
Sumo offers good quality food that's excellent value for money: lunch is €19.95 per person. There’s a small supplement for things such as the moreish salmon sashimi, but most dishes fall into the all-you-can-eat category. The format is ideal for trying new things and there are plenty of dishes we’d not come across before. It’s part of chain and, of the three in Amsterdam, we've tried the ones at Vijzelstraat 26, near Rembrandtplein, Map and Kleine Gartmanplantsoen 17. Map
Bazar - whether you’re in the Albert Cuypstraat area for the market and want an inexpensive meal somewhere nearby, or you’re just in the mood for something a bit different, Bazar fits the bill on every count. It’s set in a vast converted church and decorated, Arabian nights style, with giant lanterns, chandeliers and murals. The seating arrangements are basic but comfortable enough, the service is brisk, and the middle-eastern and Mediterranean food is excellent value for money - Albert Cuypstraat 182. Map
Utrechtsestraat - south of Rembrandtplein - is a bit of a trek from Centraal Station, but it's a target-rich environment for food lovers of all tastes.
Amsterdam is teeming with cafés and bars, and traditional Dutch local pubs know as brown cafés because of their nicotine stained interiors.
For something a little less fancy try the comfy sofas and armchairs in De Admiraal a proeflokaal or tasting house - Herengracht 319. Map
Or why not visit one of Amsterdam’s oldest taverns, De Drie Fleschjes, which was opened in 1650. Gravenstraat 18 behind Nieuwe Kerk. Map
For a complete contrast try the designer chairs and flavoured vodkas in Moko at Amstelveld 12 near the corner of Prinsengracht and Utrechtsestr. Map Or head for Getto at Warmoesstraat 51 and sink a few cocktails during the 5 to 7pm happy hour. Map
Bagels & Beans - if you'd rather avoid anything to do with alcohol, this café chain does a good selection of coffees, teas and soft drinks. It has about 18 outlets around the city and serves great bagels. Map
There are special events throughout the year, but here are a few highlights.
30 April - Queen’s Day - the national celebration of the Queen Mother’s birthday turns the city into Holland’s biggest street party and car-boot sale.
People dress in the royal colours (orange), and there's a fair in Dam Square, live music and street theatre, as well as parties and parades, flea markets and fireworks.
June - Holland Festival - an extensive programme of art, music, ballet, opera and theatre, which attracts national and international performers.
August - Grachten Festival - Amsterdam plays host to a wide range of classical concerts given by top performers from Holland and around the world.
September - National Heritage Days - every year, over the second weekend of September, 35 of Amsterdam’s most historic monuments are open to the public free of charge.
September - Bloemencorso - on the first Saturday in September, a magnificent procession of flower floats starts out Aarlsmeer, home of the flower industry, and ends up in the Dam Square. But don’t expect to see tulips because they’re out of season.
September - Jordaan Festival - the charming Jordaan area is host to a loosely organised festival of music, street parties, fairs, drink and food.
South of the centre in the De Pijp district is the Albert Cuypmarkt, Amsterdam’s largest general market and supposedly the busiest market in Europe. Over 300 stalls
sell everything from fruit and vegetables, to shoes and cosmetics. Closed on Sundays. Map
A short walk from Centraal Station brings you to Noordermarkt where there has been a market since 1627. It’s open on Mondays and Saturdays and sells a variety of local delicacies, second-hand clothes and general bric-a-brac. Map
Waterlooplein is a vast Monday-to-Saturday flea market and one of the four metro stops in the city centre. Map
If you’re looking for upmarket shopping, try the De Bijenkorf department store in Dam Square, frequently referred to as the Dutch Harrods. Map
Magna Plaza is a smart shopping centre housed in a stunningly beautiful building on Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal that was originally designed as the city’s head post office. Worth a visit just to look at the building inside and out. Map
Bloemenmarkt - Amsterdam’s famous floating flower market, near Rembrandtplein, is the only one of its kind in the world. Even if you don't like flowers, it's worth visiting for the riot of colour. The market runs the length of Singel between Konnigsplein and Vijzelstraat. Map
Amsterdam is generally a safe capital, but you have to be careful about petty crime such as pickpocketing in crowded places. And don’t flash cash around in public or leave handbags, baggage or cameras unattended or exposed.
Bicycle theft is almost endemic in Amsterdam, so if you hire one and plan to leave it unattended, make sure it comes with a lock (they usually do) and secure it to something substantial.
This is a great city for cyclists but you still have to watch out for tram tracks and traffic and show consideration for pedestrians.
However, it’s customary to round up the bill to the nearest euro, plus 10% if you really enjoyed your food or the service was good. Leave the tip in cash; don’t put it on your credit card.
All major credit cards are widely accepted throughout the city, but it’s always wise to check if you’re not sure.
Cash dispensers are called Pin Automaats, are normally multi-lingual, and there are plenty of them.
In the summer the canals attract mosquitoes, so don’t forget to bring some kind of repellent or bite cream. The currency is the Euro; to find out how many you get to the pound, click here.
Local time and other useful information.
Learning the language - although most Dutch people speak English, you might still like to learn a few basic phrases.
BBC Languages - some basic phrases together with audio pronunciation.
Ielanguages - basic to more advanced Dutch with pronunciation guides.
Languages for Travellers - a good introduction to the basics.
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