Amsterdam is a delightful blend of architecture, canals and culture. Its laid back personality is the perfect antidote to stress and biking and boating are the transport types of choice. More than 1,500 bridges criss-cross the 'Venice of the North'. Though it's the capital of the Netherlands, the parliament sits in the Hague, making the city even more informal. Amsterdam has come a long way from its 12th-century fishing village origins but still has a compact, quaint feel in the city centre. The laneways are ready to ramble and the locals are ready to talk. While away the hours in a traditional brown cafe (named for the wood panelling) and enjoy a fine collection of masterpieces at its galleries. Whatever you need, it's probably waiting in Amsterdam.
Amsterdam's attractions are numerous but it's famous for its extensive artistic heritage. This tradition is proudly on display in the Rijksmuseum (translates as State Museum). Once you've taken in all that has to offer, artists, history buffs and families shouldn't pass up the chance to visit the Van Gogh Museum – it contains about 700 paintings and drawings by Vincent and his contemporaries, including Gauguin, Monet and Toulouse-Lautrec. Amsterdam also has the Anne Frank Museum, where together with her family, Anne hid during the Nazi occupation of The Netherlands. On a lighter note, taking a canal cruise through its extensive waterways is a rewarding way to see the Dutch capital.
Cheese lovers love Amsterdam. You can find an excuse to eat cheese at any time of the day here. Gouda is Holland's favourite, developing a more intense flavour the longer it's aged. Find a selection at the markets, try a cheeseboard at dinner time, or just order cubes with mustard for dipping to accompany a drink. (By the way, Belgium isn't the only local here to make fine beer; a host are made in Amsterdam.) When you're hungry for non-cheese food groups, you'll find Michelin-starred restaurants, vegetarian and organic restaurants that accompany an array of global cuisine. For old-fashioned and modern Dutch food, try these Amsterdam restaurants: Moeders, Haesje Claes, Loetje, Greetje and De Silveren Spiegel.
Where to Stay
Looking for out-of-the-ordinary accommodation in Amsterdam? Try a stay on a houseboat – it's a floating hotel, fully equipped and well located for city exploration. If you're a female traveller and budget accommodation is on your list of things to find, Hostelle is a woman-only property, 15 minutes from the city centre by train. If you've got a hankering for luxury that's featured in a Hollywood movie, Hotel Pulitzer was in Oceans 12 and overlooks one of Amsterdam's prettiest canals. Or check in to the Hilton Amsterdam to be on the scene of former Beatle John Lennon and Yoko Ono's week-long stay in bed to promote world peace. Otherwise, you'll find all the usual budget to luxury hotels in Amsterdam, it's just recommended you book in advance. It's a popular town.
Amsterdam shopping includes the Nine Streets (De Negen Straatjes) – literally 9 narrow streets, in the historic canal district – dotted with art galleries, jewellers, vintage stores and boutiques. The most exclusive shopping street is the P.C. Hooftstraat; art and old wares aficionados should go to the Mirror Quarter (Spiegelkwartier) a collection of more than 70 antique shops and galleries. If you'd like to take Dutch design home with you, don't miss Frozen Fountain or for larger items, try Moooi. Are markets your style? Amsterdam's well-known flea market is on the Waterlooplein 6 days/week; the Singel flower market is beautiful; and the Sunday market at Westergasfabriek is funky and fun for all.
Amsterdam like a Local
There were more than 800,000 bicycles in Amsterdam at last count and cyclists here don't stop for pedestrians – assume the bikes will always have right of way and you'll be safest. Bike lanes are normally marked by red or purple tiles their colours wear, especially along canals. When all the cycling or walking has wearied your feet, make like an Amsterdammer and check out the free classical concerts held at the stately Concertgebouw – a beautiful concert hall opened in 1888. Even if you're not into classical music, the architecture is worth admiring.