By: Meghan Aftosmis
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.
Amsterdam's main canals make a series of rings around the city center, while a few more, along with the Amstel River, run out from the center like spokes on a wheel. Knowing where you are – in the Jordaan to the west, the Museum Quarter or De Pijp to the south, or the Plantage District and the Eastern Docklands to the east – in relation to the canals will help orient you in the city.
Depending on where you're going, you can walk most anywhere quickly, but if you want to blend in with the locals, rent a bike (and a lock!) and get a good city map from the tourist office. Rentals are available at MacBike (Central Station; 4.25€ per day for 7 days, rates vary; www.macbike.nl). Be warned: Stay in the red bike lanes, and don't dawdle – the Dutch aren't out for a scenic ride and will speed past you. Otherwise, you can travel by boat – the Canal Bus (Weteringschans 26; 17€; www.canal.nl) makes 14 stops near the major sights on three routes through the city; a day pass allows you to hop on and off the three routes and provides discounts on museums and attractions – buy tickets at one of the stops (all three routes start at Central Station) or through the GVB office (opposite Central station).
As for tours, canal cruises are among the best way to get a general perspective on the city and take in the views. Rederij Lovers (8.50€; www.lovers.nl) offers a variety of guided cruises during the day and at night. The St. Nicolaas Boat Club (Leidseplein 12; departures times vary; www.petermoskos.com/boat) takes smaller groups out on historic boats for more laid-back, personalized tours. For in-depth city walking tours, take the New Amsterdam Free Tour (Stationsplein 10; 11am & 3pm; 3hrs; free; www.newamsterdamtours.com). To explore on wheels, Mike's Bike Tours (Kerkstraat 134; 4hrs; 22€; www.mikesbiketoursamsterdam.com) meets outside the Rijksmuseum and tours the city and nearby countryside.
The Amsterdam Tourist & Convention Board has three tourist offices in the city, each of them marked with a VVV symbol. All of the offices sell the I Amsterdam card (Stationsplein 10, Stationsplein 15 platform 2b, and Leidseplein 1; hours vary; 33€; www.amsterdamtourist.nl) which covers admission to many major attraction and access to public transportation.
The original city center, split down the middle with the old to the east and (relatively) new to the west, is the heart of Amsterdam. Step out of the 1800s neo-Gothic Central train station and you'll walk right into the capital's oldest buildings, which lean after years of shifting on piles driven deep into the earth.
The Gothic Oude Kerk (Oudekerksplein 23; Mon–Sat 11am–5pm, Sun 1-5pm; 5€) dates back to 1306 and is the city's oldest surviving building; inside the church, get a better look at its 16th-century stained glass windows and Müller organ; outside, look up and you'll see an abundance of red lights because, indeed, the church lies within the infamous Red Light District. While it may have been dangerous to walk these streets 20 years ago, the neighborhood is now perfectly safe. Stop into the Prostitute Information Center (Enge Kerksteeg 3; Tues-Sat noon-7pm; fee for lectures and tours; www.pic-amsterdam.com) and get your questions answered by former prostitutes who aim to clear up misconceptions about "the business." Then walk down Oude Kennissteeg to get an eyeful on your own (no pictures) or take a tour with Randy Roy (in front of the Victoria Hotel, across from Central Station; daily 8pm, Fri & Sat 18 pm & 10pm; 12.50€; www.randyroysredlighttours.com). If you want to continue your walk on the wild side, visit the Hash, Marihuana, & Hemp Museum (Oudezijds Achterburgwal 148; daily 10am–10pm; 5.70€; www.hashmuseum.com); you'll learn more about weed here than you ever would in one of the local coffeeshops. If you'd rather repent, the Amstelkring Museum (Oudezijds Voorburgwal 40; Mon–Sat 10am–5pm, Sun 1-5pm; 7€; www.museumamstelkring.nl) houses a hidden Catholic church within three 17th-century canal houses.
If you're looking for a lively place with some of the best people watching, head west to Dam Square, once the central marketplace. Through the obelisk-shaped National Monument and straight ahead is the Royal Palace, but for appearances only. Not to be outdone by this imposing building, Nieuwe Kerk (Dam Square; Fri–Wed 10am–6pm, Thurs 10am–10pm; 8€; www.nieuwekerk.nl), a late-Gothic basilica, was built next door; it's now a cultural center with frequent art exhibits and organ concerts, though remains the scene of royal weddings and coronations.
Stroll along the shop-filled Kalverstraat and browse for a few blocks until you reach the gate of the Amsterdam History Museum (Kalverstraat 92; Mon–Fri 10am–5 pm, Sat & Sun 11am–5pm; 6€; www.ahm.nl) housed in a former monastery and orphanage. Pass through the Civic Guard Gallery, which houses group portraits painted by Dutch masters of the Golden Age on your way to the Beginhof (Begijnensteeg Lane, between Kalverstraat 130 and 132; daily 8am–5pm; free), a peaceful, enclosed courtyard encircled by homes for elderly single women, in keeping with the building's origins as a sanctuary for a Catholic sisterhood – do be respectful. The beautifully restored buildings date back to the 1400s, and include an English (Protestant) and Catholic church.
A walk along the scenic Amstel River will lead you to the Stadhuis/Muziektheater, or Stopera for short, home to the Netherlands Opera and the National Ballet. Originally the building was thought to be ugly, but whatever your opinion, it inarguably does offer lovely views of the Amstel. Downriver, the Skinny Bridge, one of the most photographed sights in the city, is beautifully lit at night, while the nearby Jewish Historical Museum (Nieuwe Amstelstraat 3-5; daily 11am–5pm; 6.50€; www.jhm.nl) documents the lives of Amsterdam's Jews. The partially finished Hermitage Amsterdam (Nieuwe Herengracht 14; 7€; daily 10am–5 pm; www.hermitage.nl) offers exhibits from The State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg until March 2007.
Rembrandthuis, (Jodenbreestraat 4; Mon–Sun 10am–5pm, Friday 10am–9 pm; 7.50€; www.rembrandthuis.nl) is the remains of Dutch Master Rembrandt van Rijn's home and is decorated the same way as when he lived; it showcases not only his studio and collections of worldly objects, but also 250 of his etchings. Cross the Amstel and you'll run into Rembrandtplein, a buzzing and lively square with Rembrandt's statue in the center. If you're a photography fan, walk as far as Keizersgracht, turn right, and head to the FOAM Museum (Keizersgracht 609; Sat–Wed 10am–5pm, Thurs–Fri 10am–9pm; 6.50€; www.foam.nl), which holds exhibits that cut across many genres of photography.
WESTERN CANAL RING/THE JORDAAN
Four grand canals run in a semi-circle around the city's old center; the western side of this ring and the Jordaan neighborhood beyond it are two of the best destinations for meandering. Between the two neighborhoods sits the Anne Frank House (Prinsengracht 267; mid-Mar–mid-Sept 9am–9pm, mid-Sept–mid-Mar 9am–7pm; 7.50€; www.annefrank.org) – plan to go late in the day to avoid the long lines to tour the cramped rooms her family shared for two years. The nearby Dutch Renaissance Westerkerk (Prinsengracht 281; Mon–Fri 11am–3pm; free except for 5€ tower tours; www.westerkerk.nl) is Rembrandt's burial place and is often visited for scenic trips to the top of its tower, the tallest in Amsterdam.
Many of the canals are lined with houseboats, originally anchored as a part of the housing relief effort after World War II; today, about 2,500 are still used as homes. If you're interested in seeing the inside of one, the Houseboat Museum Hendrika Maria (Prinsengracht opposite 296; Mar-Oct, Tues-Sun, 11am–5pm; Nov-Feb, Fri–Sun, 11am–5pm; 3€; www.houseboatmuseum.nl) is a good bet. Back on land you can tour Museum Van Loon (Keizersgracht 672; Wed–Mon 11am–5pm; 6€; www.museumvanloon.nl), an excellent example of a 17th-century canal-side mansion. Inside you'll find some 150 portraits of the van Loon family – founders of the Dutch East India Company, the world's first multinational corporation – along with the original tiled kitchen and a well-kept courtyard garden.
Make a point to spend some time north of the Jordaan – the Brouwersgracht is the prettiest canal in Amsterdam and you can walk along it to Culture Park Westergasfabriek (Haarlemmerweg 8-10, www.westergasfabriek.nl), a complex of renovated brick buildings turned into art galleries, trendy restaurants, and a movie theater.
Amsterdam is home to 51 museums, including the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum, the stars of the Museum Quarter. While most tourists fill a day or two just with the main sights here, few venture far beyond into the outlying neighborhoods, Oud Zuid and De Pijp – well worth the trip if you're looking for a more "local" perspective.
Leidseplein, the busiest square in Amsterdam, is situated just next door to Max Euweplein, home to the Holland Casino and a large outdoor chess board, fitting since the square is named for the Dutch world champion chess player. Cross the Singel, and you'll be greeted by the iron gates of Vondelpark, a green haven filled with lounging locals and tourists alike on sunny days. Grab a drink or snack at Blauwe Theehuis (Vondelpark 5; www.blauwetheeuis.nl) or Vertigo Café (Vondelpark 3; www.vertigo.nl), on the terrace of the Amsterdam Film Museum (Vondelpark 3; Mon–Fri 9am–10.15pm, Sat–Sun hours vary; from 2€; www.filmmuseum.nl), more of a theater than a museum with daily screenings of a few of its 46,000 titles.
Nearby is the Museumplein, a grassy square with the Rijksmuseum to the north, the Van Gogh museum to the west, the Concertgebouw to the south, and the kid-friendly "I Amsterdam" statue in the middle. You can spend an art-filled day here, but before you head inside the museums be sure to look for artist Mark Raven's impressionist works for sale near the pond. The Rijksmuseum (Museumstraat 1; Sat–Thurs 9am–6pm, Fri until 10pm; 10€; www.rijksmuseum.com) is the city's largest museum. The Phillips' Wing is filled with the Dutch Masters you came to see though – Rembrandt, Vermeer, Hals, and Steen. Van Gogh has his own two-wing museum across the square (Paulus Potterstraat 7; 10am–6pm Sat–Thurs, Fri until 10 pm for special events; €10; www.vangoghmuseum.nl) to house more than 200 original paintings (including Sunflowers, The Bedroom, and Self Portrait with Felt Hat), 500 drawings, and 700 letters. The main exhibit is divided into five chronological periods, and the exhibition wing of his contemporaries is housed in Kisho Kurokawa's titanium-roofed creation.
For a little post-museum relaxation, make your way over to the Heineken Experience (Stadhouderskade 78; Tues-Sun 10am–6pm; 10€; www.heinekenexperience.com), an interactive brewery/museum tour, and you'll enter De Pijp, an up-and-coming multicultural neighborhood, home to the daily Albert Cuyp market and Sarphati Park; the area has some quirky shops and plenty of affordable ethnic restaurants.
East of the city center lies the garden-green Plantage island, once a rundown district full of gambling dens and prostitution – it now hosts a stylish, but low-key, scene. Trendy restaurants and bars are popping up as tourists make their way into the district, especially on Kadijksplein, but locals still rule here. Three major attractions dominate the area: De Hortus Botanicus (Plantage Middenlaan 2a; Mon–Fri 9am–5pm, Sat–Sun 10am–5pm; 6€; www.dehortus.nl) is one of the oldest botanical gardens in the world, dating back to 1638 as a medicinal herb garden; Artis Zoo (Plantage Kerklaan 38-40; 9am–5 pm daily; in summer, 6pm; 16€; www.artis.nl or www.amsterdamzoo.nl) is the world's third oldest zoo and mainland Europe's first, and while it's not as large and modern as some international zoos, it's a fun destination for kids with a planetarium, butterfly garden, and aquarium in addition to the normal assortment of animals; and finally, the Tropenmuseum, (Linnaeusstraat 2; daily 10am–5pm; 8€; www.tropenmuseum.nl) is part of the Netherlands' Royal Tropical Institute, which researches various cultures and presents interactive cultural exhibits involving dance, music, and art.
Amsterdam's city center is chock full of accommodations, ranging from the posh Grand Hotel (Oudezijds Voorburgwal 197; 020/555-3111; www.thegrand.nl) to the cheap-as-chips student haven, the Flying Pig hostel (Nieuwendijk 100; 020/420-6822; www.flyingpig.nl). If you're only staying for a few days, the convenient downtown location may pay off, but if time is on your side and you want a more authentic experience, head for the Western Canal Ring or Museum Quarter – because of the city's small size, you won't be far from the action. Most hotels have taken over 17th-century buildings, and renovations aside, this means most hotels rooms are on the small side. Many buildings are historical, meaning most can't install elevators even if they wanted to, so be ready to climb tight, winding staircases. Only the top hotels have air conditioning, but unless you hit one of the rare summer heat waves, that shouldn't be a problem. You'll find that most hotels are prepared with loaner umbrellas and bikes – a cultural comment, because in lieu of size, hotels have focused on what makes them unique: chic design, rare antiques, all-inclusiveness, or entertainment. We've outlined our favorites in the luxury, moderate, and budget categories.
Amsterdam is not known for being fancy, or necessarily for its service, but these luxury hotels buck those trends. The chic College Hotel (Roelof Hartstraat 1; 020/571-1511; www.collegehotelamsterdam.com), a five-minute walk from the Van Gogh museum, is recognized as one of the best-designed hotels in Europe and is staffed by meticulous management. Hotel Seven One Seven (Prinsengracht 717; 020/427-0717; www.717hotel.nl), on the other hand, is just a few canal blocks from the busiest square in Amsterdam, but you'd never know the quiet house was actually a hotel, given the only thing denoting its status is an elegant gold plaque marking the door; inside, expect an old-English country home offering afternoon tea amidst worldly antiques and artworks. Near to Rembrandtsplein, the all-inclusive Banks Mansion (Herengracht 519-525; 020/420-0055; www.banksmansion.nl) is a dream with a complimentary in-room minibar (liquor included) and an open bar (appetizers included) in the Art Deco lounge; breakfast, also gratis, features eggs or French toast cooked to your specifications.
Some of the more moderate hotels offer the best values in the city. The Hotel New Amsterdam (Herengracht 13-19; 020/522-2345; www.hotelnewamsterdam.nl) sits off one of the city's prettiest canals and offers immaculate rooms and a gracious staff. Attend the afternoon "infohour" to get city recommendations and advice. Hotel Estheréa (Singel 303–309; 020/624-5146; www.estherea.nl) has a grandeur not often found in family-run establishments – the antique-style décor creates warm, boutique-y rooms you won't want to leave. Seven Bridges Hotel (Reguliersgracht 31; 020/623-1329; www.sevenbridgeshotel.nl) is one of Ansterdam's most atmospheric hotels – the front windows overlook a row of seven bridges crossing the Reguliersgracht, while inside, proprietors Pierre Keulers and Gunter Glaner make guests feel at home amongst their treasure trove of auction house pieces.
For tight budgets, there are a few no-frills hotels with good service. The hip Hotel Arena ('s-Gravesandestraat 51; 020/850-2400; www.hotelarena.nl) serves as hotel, café, restaurant, and nightclub with an ultra-chic minimalist décor. Singel Hotel (Singel 13-17; 020/626-3108; www.singelhotel.nl) on the Western Canal Ring is small due to its 17th-century house setting, but its location and friendly staff make up for it; expect modern rooms and run-of-the-mill hotel style. Nearby, the Hotel Brouwer (Singel 83; 020/624-6358; www.hotelbrouwer.nl) offers simple décor, Delft tiles, hardwood floors, and early 20th-century furniture along with scenic Singel Canal views from each room.
Ask a local about Dutch cuisine and you'll probably get a laugh, unless you're looking for a stamppot (Dutch stew) or pannekoeken (crepe-like pancakes). International fare dominates restaurant menus, especially Indonesian cuisine due to the large number of immigrants who came after the Dutch colonization. Although the bar for quality food has certainly been raised in the past few years, you're paying for the imported or organic greenhouse-fresh ingredients – so you may want to make sure the restaurant you select takes credit cards. And don't forget to eat like the locals – early. Most kitchens are closed by 9pm.
Reservations are recommended at higher-end restaurants, like Cristophe' (Leliegracht 46; 020/625-0807; www.christophe.nl), the posh French restaurant owned by the Michelin-starred-chef Jean-Christophe Royer. Another top choice is Le Garage (Ruysdaelstraat 54-56; 020/679-7176; www.restaurantlegarage.nl), a funky restaurant that owes its top-notch cooking to Dutch TV celebrity chef Joop Braakhekke and the Amsterdam feel to the VIPs and locals who clamor to get a table – if you aren't successful getting one, check out Braakhekke’s newer establishment, En Pluche instead (Ruysdaelstraat 48; 020/471-4695; www.enpluche.nl). Fresh on the scene, Restaurant de Kroonluchter (Utrechtsestraat 141; 020/428-1074; www.restaurantdekroonluchter.nl) serves a fusion of French, Spanish, Japanese, and Italian dishes, under a fantastic blue Italian glass chandelier in the dining room. For a canal setting, Restaurant de Belhamel (Brouwersgracht 60; 020/622-1095; www.belhamel.nl) is a French-inspired favorite; nearby is another local favorite, Bordewijk (Noordermarkt 7; 020/624-3899, www.bordewijk.nl). Last but not least, Supper Club (Jonge Roelensteeg 21; 020/344-6400; www.supperclub.nl) is an ultra-sleek restaurant/lounge that provides a five-course meal and a night's worth of entertainment.
You don't have to empty your wallet for delicious food; more moderately priced restaurants will do the trick as well as their expensive counterparts. Go to Restaurant Kantjil en de Tijger (Spuistraat 291-293; 020/620-0994; www.kantjil.nl) for the best Indonesian rijsttafel and De Bolhoed (Prinsengracht 60; 020/626-1803) for vegetarian and vegan cuisine that crosses international borders. De Groene Olifant (Sarphatistraat 510; 020/620-4904; www.degroeneolifant.nl) is near the zoo and has high-quality café food plus a pleasant terrace to enjoy it on, while the perpetually busy Duende (Lindengracht 62; 020/420-6692; www.cafeduende.nl) serves up Andalusian tapas and has Flamenco dancers on the weekends. Café de Jaren (Nieuwe Doelenstraat 20-22; 020/625-5771; www.cafe-de-jaren.nl) has one of the prettiest canal-side patios in the city and a top-notch restaurant upstairs. Café Restaurant de Reiger (Nieuwe Leliestraat 34; 020/624-7426) is known for serving the best brown café (so named because of decades-old, smoke-stained walls) food in Amsterdam, especially fresh fish.
Amsterdam is full of small eetcafés that serve quick sandwiches and bites, but finding the best budget restaurants isn't always easy. Small World Catering (Binnen Oranjestraat 14; 020/420-2774) will draw you in with its delicious aromas and please your palette with the offerings from the tiny deli. Eetcafe Eufraat (Eerste van der Helstraat 72; 020/672-0579; www.eufraat.nl) offers up excellent Middle Eastern food, including homemade pitas and yogurts, and Arabic coffee. The Pancake Bakery (Prinsengracht 191; 020/625-1333; www.pancake.nl) is a must, if only to say you've tried Dutch pannekoeken.
Anything goes in Amsterdam – whatever your preference, you'll find it somewhere between the Red Light District, the coffeeshops that sell soft drugs, the Holland Casino, the velvet-roped clubs, the gay bars on Reguliersdwarstraat, and the casual local haunts.
"Coffeeshops" don't pull in customers with the aroma of java, and while it is an offense to sell or buy marijuana, the tolerant police turn a blind eye to personal use as long as there are no disturbances. Abraxas (Jonge Roelensteeg 12; 020/625-5763; www.abraxasparadise.nl) has the best space (marijuana-infused) menu in the city with muffins, brownies, shakes, and bon bons. Grey Area Coffeeshop (Oude Leliestraat 2; 020/ 420-4301; www.greyarea.nl) has won numerous Cannabis Cup awards and is run by helpful owners. Homegrown Fantasy (Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal 87a; 020/627-5683; www.homegrownfantasy.com) serves one of the largest selections of marijuana in Amsterdam, including locally grown weed. In the Jordaan the coffeeshops offer a little something extra: Paradox (Eerste Bloemdwarsstraat 2; 020/623-5639; www.paradoxamsterdam.demon.nl) has a delicious health food menu and Siberie (Brouwersgracht 111; 020/623-5909 www.siberie.net) hosts local artists, poets, and DJs.
Just about everywhere you turn in this city you'll see bars serving beer with exactly two fingers' worth of foam on top. Our favorite is In de Wildeman (Kolksteeg 3; 020/638-2348; www.indewildeman.nl), which serves 200 bottled brews from around the world. You can't leave Holland, though, without tasting a traditional jenever (a gin-like spirit made from juniper berries) in a proeflokaal (tasting house) such as Wijnand Fockink (Pijlsteeg 31; 020/639-2695; www.wynand-fockink.nl).
While the hot spots are always changing, the lively neighborhoods that come alive at night rarely do. Leidseplein and Rembrandtplein draw tourists 24 hours a day with the greatest clustering of restaurants and nightlife, while Rain (Rembrandtplein 44; 020/626-7078; www.rain-amsterdam.com), a hip club-bar-restaurant, has a lounge feel with a pulsating dance floor. Closer to Leidseplein, Lux (Marnixstraat 403; 042/422-1412) offers DJs every night and a trendy crowd, but if that's not your scene, try the quieter Weber (Marnixstraat 397; 020/622-9910). A little closer into the city center, you'll find bars clustered on either side of the Red Light District around Nieuwmarkt and Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal. Café 't Loosje (Nieuwmarkt 32-34; 020/627-2635) is an old brown café with lots of character, while Bep (Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal 260; 020/626-5649) offers a newer, hipper scene. For a neighborhood bar feel, head to the residential Jordaan or De Pijp areas, often compared to New York's West and East Villages respectively. In the Jordaan, Café de Tuin (2e Tuindwarsstraat 13; 020/624-4559) and De Blaffende Vis (Westerstraat 118; 020/625-1721) are typical brown café settings, while Finch (Noordermarkt 5; 020/626-2461) is more modern, and De Kat in 't Wijngaert (Lindengracht 160; 020/ 622-4554) is a true locals hangout. In De Pijp, a winning trio on the same street should do the trick; there's the traditional De Duvel (Eerste van der Helststraat 59-61; 020/675-7517; www.deduvel.nl); funky Chocolate Bar (Eerste van der Helststraat 62A; 020/675-7672; www.chocolate-bar.nl); or trendy Madame Jeanette (Eerste van der Helststraat 42; 020/673-3332).
Amsterdam has, over the past few years, developed a major club scene with strict dress code policies. Escape (Rembrandtplein 11; 020/622-1111; www.escape.nl) is one of biggest with frequent parties and current music, but one of the newest, Jimmy Woo (Korte Leidsedwarsstraat 18; 020/626-3150; www.jimmywoo.nl) has become popular quickly for its modern style and large lounge and dance floor. Celeb-hangout Mansion (Hobbemastraat 2; 020/676-6664; www.the-mansion.nl) is a must-see club/restaurant just because of the décor – ostrich leather, gold leaf on the walls, and Sistine Chapel-inspired ceilings – while Tonight, Hotel Arena's nightclub ('s Gravesandestraat 51; 020/850-2451; www.hotelarena.nl) has authentic religious murals, as it is located in a former church – a bit far from the center, but the local and international DJs make the trip worth it.
Besides the city's large concert halls, Amsterdam has a few venues that offer almost nightly live music or DJs. Paradiso (Weteringschans 6-8; 020/626-4521; www.paradiso.nl) draws big name acts, but even when the former neo-gothic church isn't hosting the likes of the Rolling Stones, it's packed with crowds there for live DJs or dance parties. Melkweg (Lijnbaansgracht 234A; 020/531-8181; www.melkweg.nl) is the place to go for local musicians and cutting-edge international talent, dance events on weekends, and the Cannabis Cup each November. A little less mainstream, the Bimhuis (Piet Heinkade 3; 020/788-2150; www.bimhuis.nl) and De Badcuyp (Eerste Sweelinckstraat 10; 020/675-9669; www.badcuyp.nl) offer more jazz, international, and improvisational music acts.
Shopping might not be the first activity you think of when you think of Amsterdam, but you'll enjoy window shopping the city's boutiques. Besides looking for souvenirs (wooden clogs, anyone?), Amsterdam's best bets are in unique design pieces, antiques, and diamonds. Visitors looking to take a home a piece of Amsterdam might consider a piece of traditional pottery called Delft. Though many places sell it, Delftshop (Spiegelgracht 13; 020/421-8360; www.delftshop.com) is an official dealer of Royal Delft and Makkum pottery.
Most stores close at 6pm except on Thursdays when they stay open a few hours later, and many are closed on Sundays. Below we've rounded up some of the not-to-miss neighborhoods and shops to get you started.
You won't be able to avoid Leidsestraat, Nieuwendijk, and Kalverstraat, the go-to streets for souvenir shops, clothing chain stores, and a few of the cities biggest department stores: Hema (Kalverstraat 212; 020/626-8720), a Dutch institution that sells just about everything, and Metz & Co (Leidsestraat 34-36; 020/520-7020), which is as upscale as Barney's New York are two of the best.
If you're tired of the big stores and long for a quirky neighborhood of specialty shops, check out 9 Straatjes, or the Nine Streets. Look out for Analik (Hartenstraat 36; 020/420-6938; www.analik.com), an up-and-coming women's fashion designer, De Beeldenwinkel (Berenstraat 29; 020/676-4903) for funky sculpture, Famous (Huidenstraat 17; 020/528-6706; www.famous.nl ) a unique celebrity culture shop, and Laura Dols (Wolvenstraat 7; 020/624-9066; www.lauradols.nl) for second-hand clothing bargains.
As if there weren't enough shopping streets in Amsterdam, there are also a number of outdoor markets worth scouting, open Monday through Saturday. Waterlooplein, behind the Stadhuis/Muziektheater, is the oldest market in the city, full of clothes, jewelry, and food stalls; however, Albert Cuypmarkt, in the culturally diverse De Pijp neighborhood, is the city's largest market and has good, affordable ethnic restaurants nearby. If you're looking for tulip bulbs or fresh flowers, the Bloemenmarkt along the southern side of the Singel is the place for you, but check to make sure bulbs are packaged with a certificate saying it's been hermetically sealed so you can get them through U.S. customs.
When To Go
Amsterdam draws tourists year-round, but more so during its temperate summer when there is a plethora of weekend festivals, long daylight hours, and a greater chance of sun. June is especially busy because of the month-long Holland Festival, which brings in acclaimed artists from all over the world.
High season starts in late March when tourists rush the tulip fields and runs through the end of August, peaking for Queen's Day on April 30. Amsterdam residents are more likely to be outside in the park or at outdoor cafés during high season, making the city feel alive and friendly, but rare heat waves (which can make non-air-conditioned hotel rooms unbearable) and the oft-rainy weather can make planning your trip a little like a game of roulette. A fall trip brings the best bang for your buck with lower hotel rates, fewer crowds, and some mild days remaining. It is also when the city stages many free music performances in the Boekmanzaal at the Stadhuis/Muziektheater. The cold and rainy low season, from late November to March, is marked with the arrival of Sinterklaas, Museum Night, the Cannabis Cup, Zeedijk Jazz & Blues Festival, all in November, and Carnaval in February. Bottom line: You'll almost always find something going on in Amsterdam, just pack an umbrella.
Best bang for your buck: September–October
Flying into Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport (AMS), the Netherland's main international airport and the hub of KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, is convenient on most major US carriers. Continental (www.continental.com), Delta (www.delta.com), Northwest (www.nwa.com), United (www.united.com), and US Airways (www.usairways.com) all serve the airport. Numerous international airlines, like British Airways (www.ba.com), Air France (www.airfrance.com), Lufthansa (www.lufthansa.com), and Icelandair (www.icelandair.com) also offer frequent flights. From New York, a non-stop flight is about 7.5 hours; from Los Angeles, expect about 11.5 hours.
If you're flying into Amsterdam from another European country, bargain fares on KLM (www.klm.com), easyJet (www.easyjet.com), Transavia (www.transavia.com), and bmibaby (www.bmibaby.com) can be found. Trains from Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland, England, and the Czech Republic serve Amsterdam Central Station directly. Check the Nederlandse Spoorwegen site (www.ns.nl) for schedules and fares or try Rail Europe (www.raileurope.com) and Eurostar (www.eurostar.com).
Getting into Amsterdam
A few easy options make traveling from Schiphol Airport into the city center a breeze. Almost as soon as you exit customs, you'll walk into Schiphol Plaza. Trains (www.ns.nl) run from platforms below the plaza into Amsterdam Central Station (every 10-15 minutes; 4€) and take about 20 minutes. Be sure to buy your ticket from the service window before heading down to a platform. You can also find the Connexxion desk in the plaza. These shuttle buses travel to almost any hotel in the city from the A7 platform outside the arrivals hall (every 30 minutes; 6am–9pm; 033/339-4741; 12€). Another choice, the Schiphol Travel Taxi 038/339-4768; www.schiphol.nl) is a shared minivan service that you can book online 48 hours in advance and will take you to your hotel (reservations required; open 24 hours; 21€). Taking a regular taxi is by far the most expensive route at 40€ for the 30-minute ride from Schiphol Plaza (www.Schipholtaxi.nl).