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Amsterdam Travel Guide - Hotels, Hostels, Coffee Shops, Restaurants, Museums, Airport Hotels, Nightlife & more

Amsterdam is one of the coolest cities in the Netherlands and Europe. Beautiful, hip, and laid back, with lots to do, lots to see, food from all over the world and friendly people. A visit to this very beautiful city is like taking a walk into the 17th century, as the center of Amsterdam has a lot of charming architecture dating from this period. While it may boast a lot of 17th century architecture, that's about all that's old fashioned about Amsterdam.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves!

You'll likely be arriving via the Schiphol (skip-hull) airport. The marvel of Schiphol is that its also a train station and a shopping center.

You have a choice to make: stay near the airport, or in an outlying area, or stay in the center of the city. If you're staying near Schiphol, there are a number of Amsterdam airport hotels, varying in price from high-end to inexpensive. (On the inexpensive side is the Etap chain.) Even the inexpensive have shuttles to Schiphol, so you can catch the train to the Centraal Station in the heart of downtown. Amsterdam hotels in the outlying areas will require a rental car, not a bad choice, though for travelling in the Netherlands.

The far side of the country is only a few hours away. Downtown hotels put you in the center of the action. Downtown has a great tram system and an all-day or multi-day pass is easily obtained at the Information Center steps away from the front doors of the Centraal Station. (A nearby modern hotel is Hotel Sint Nicolaas, and they are great for referring you if they are full. A real unique experience is the Amstel Botel Hotel Amsterdam -- yes a "boat" that is a hotel, right in the central canal near the train station.)

Amsterdam is an excellent city to tour on foot or bicycle. Trams and buses make the touring even easier. You might consider getting the I amsterdam pass at the tourist center in Schiphol, which comes in 24/48/72 hour denominations at varying prices. It gives you free access to several Amsterdam museums, free ticket on public transport within the city, free canal cruise, 50% discount on P+R parking, and several other small gifts and offers including the 25% discount at several Amsterdam restaurants, car and bike rental, gifts, cheese and haring shops and multiple other tourist attractions. When you begin to use the Transport Ticket, you have to stamp it at the first use. This begins the period of time within which you may use it on all municipal trams, buses and metro trains run by GVB – City Transport Company. (The Transport Ticket is not valid on NS (Dutch Railways) trains, thus you may not use it to get to or from the airport by train, nor for other travels by train in the vicinity of Amsterdam. The best option for rail travel is the Eurailpass. To get from one place to another quickly, get on a tram. Lines 1, 2, and 5 go from Centraal Station through the Dam, up the Leidsestraat to the Leidseplein, and this path is a good place to start when learning how to get from here to there.

In summer, one of the best places for a relaxing afternoon is the Vondelpark. It is a great park, right in the center of things and very lively. With a bit of luck you can catch a (free) outdoor concert near the water. There are also a few trendy places in the park where you can sit and have a beer, such as the Blauwe Theehuis. Surrounding the park are museum destinations: the Rijksmuseum with its expansive collection of Dutch art and an impressive gift shop; and the Van Gogh Museum with everything Van Gogh and a large gift shop.

If you like to watch people strolling by, another perfect place is Leidseplein. Leidseplein (square) is bustling with activity and terraces in summertime. Another nice square is Rembrandtplein, with an abundance of nice cafes and terraces. If you like spare ribs - visit De Klos just off the Leidsestraat. Beer is everywhere and it is all good.

Amsterdam was originally built on the shores of the saltwater Zuiderzee, but as a result of centuries of land-reclamation projects Zuiderzee was renamed Ijsselmeer after it was separated from the sea by a dike and became a freshwater lake. Thus the city now borders the freshwater of IJsselmeer.

The center of Amsterdam is shaped like a horseshoe, surrounded by four famous canals called the Singel, Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht. The canals are called 'De Wallen' (the walls) in Dutch, because the canals were once part of the city defenses (walls and moats). To see the city's beautiful gabled houses up close, plan a stroll along one or more of these.

There are lots of interesting small shops for browsing and there are also bigger shopping centers. Clusters of shops can be found in the pedestrian-only side streets and in the old post office, which is right behind the central Dam Square, where you also find the Dam Palace.

And then, of course, there is the world famous (or infamous, depending on how you look at it) Red Light District, which consists of several canals and the side streets between them, south of Centraal Station and east of Damrak. It gets its name from the red lights that mark the places of business -- which often include a preview window. That tapping on the glass you hear is the invitation to "come up and see me sometime!" Despite the area's reputation, prostitution itself is limited to certain streets, mainly side streets and alleys, and while there are some seedy adult shops and peep show bars, the whole area has a heavy police presence, and many security cameras. To "redeem" your "red light" tour, you might want to stop in to the ancient Sint Nicolaaskerk (Church of St. Nicholas), across from the Centraal Station and in front of the "red light" district. Amsterdam was a city of ships and sailors, home to traders and banking. St. Nicholas was patron of sailors.

Amsterdam Centrum (downtown) is still a residential district, with many bars and restaurants as well as historic buildings and museums; this is, after all the oldest part of the city. An example of the old blending in with the new is the gothic Oude Kerk (Old Church) on the Oudezijds Voorburgwal, the oldest in Amsterdam, which is now surrounded by window prostitution. The Old Church is a museum of sorts on the famous Dutch West Indies Trading Company.

Amsterdam is a beautiful, captivating and energetic city sure to delight any type of traveler, as there is something for everyone!

World66 Contributors

Text credits:
February 21, 2007 change by rfujitani (2 points)
November 23, 2006 change by mr. v (1 point)
January 08, 2010 change by sequoia maner
October 05, 2010 change by reverendissimo

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