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Amsterdam Spotlight

A city built on tolerance, cafés, and bicycling...what's not to love?

By Meghan Aftosmis

September 26th, 2006

If you know anything about Amsterdam, you know it's progressive. But spend a day walking the 17th-century European capital that Rembrandt called home and you'll know that life is good here – and tolerance is the key to that happiness. Locals, made up of at least 170 different nationalities, have each brought their cultures and cuisines with them forming a true cosmopolitan melting pot, where world-class museums, luxury hotels, churches, and schools share the same streets as red-light windows and "coffeeshops," a euphemism for cafes selling cannabis. Isn't that cozy, or should we say, gezellig, like a true Amsterdam native?

The city has a split personality – stately capital rich with culture and full-blown party town – but Amsterdam pulls it off. Despite the often-gloomy weather, the city can please just about everyone with its artsy nature, rich history, and romantic canals (the city claims more than Venice) or its velvet-roped clubs, sanctioned prostitution, and drug acceptance. And talk about tolerant – the Dutch are even happy to speak English with you. It may only take a day or two before you decide to hop on a bicycle and take up their lifestyle.

With about 200 museums and art galleries, 28 parks, over 10,000 shops and markets, and some 1,500 bars and cafés to cover, there's no way to really know Amsterdam in just a short trip. But its compact center and walkability do allow you to feel like you've seen most of it. With just three days, pack in two or three of the major museums, such as the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, and the Anne Frank House; take a canal cruise; stop into the Concertgebouw for a free music performance; stroll the Jordaan neighborhood; and shop the Nine Streets. With five days, you can take the time to rent a bike and dig a little deeper, maybe tour the Heineken Experience, see Rembrandt's house, visit the FOAM museum, the Stedelijk Museum CS, or the Tropenmuseum, linger in either the Vondelpark or de Hortus botanical gardens, and check out the Albert Cuypmarkt. With seven days, you'll want to venture a little further outside Amsterdam proper, maybe to Haarlem or the Eastern Docklands, spend time antiquing in the Spiegelkwartier, or catch an art-house flick at Culture Park Westergasfabriek.

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