Canals, houseboats, cosy cafes, designer bars, Gothic churches, Palaces, Old Masters, bicycles and flower markets – there are few places that combine all the excitement of a major city with quieter, calmer, outdoor pursuits. Amsterdam is such a place.
If you’ve never been before top of the tick list is a boat ride along the canals. This really is the best way to get an instant overview of this beautiful city. For extra impact, do so at dusk when the fading light makes the historic, old, buildings appear even more magical.
Amsterdam also has many cultural attractions. If you’re an art lover, you can take your pick of art galleries, including the famous Van Gogh Museum. There are also over fifty museums, including the Stedelijk and Rijksmuseum.
You’ll have no problem finding a good hotel. What’s more you don’t have to break your budget, as many hotels are very reasonably priced.
Getting there, getting around Amsterdam
A number of airlines fly to Amsterdam’s Schipol airport from the UK. These include: KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, British Airways, Aer Lingus, BMI. Bmibaby, Easyjet, Flybe and Jet2.com. From the airport you can take a train – the journey takes 15 minutes – to Amsterdam Centraal Station. Or, take a 197 or 370 bus.
You can also take the Eurostar from London St. Pancras to Brussels (I hour 50 minutes). From here you can take either the InterCity train, or high speed Thalys train direct to Amsterdam (about 3 hours journey time).
The easiest way to get around the city is by bus or tram. Or, go Dutch, and hire a bicycle. To go farther out, take the train.
Sightseeing in Amsterdam
The beauty of Amsterdam is that it’s such an easy city to navigate as most major attractions are within walking distance. A good starting point is the area around Dam Square, which houses the Royal Palace of Amsterdam. This impressive 17th century building is open to the public daily (between 11.00 – 17.00). There are also exhibitions held here every summer. Next to the Palace is the Nieuwe Kerk, a 14th century Gothic church where you can see the elaborate altar, arched nave, sepulchral monuments and stained-glass windows.
Amsterdam is an art lovers delight. Top of the list is the Van Gogh Museum that contains the largest collection of Van Gogh paintings in the world. These include over 200 paintings and 550 sketches. The museum also exhibits selected works by other 19th century artists. Also, not to be missed is The Rijksmuseum, the largest museum in the Netherlands, where you can see Dutch art throughout the ages – including works by greats such as Rembrandt, Franz Hals and Vermeer.
A visit to the Anne Frank House is a must. Here you can see where Anne and her family hid from the Nazis throughout the war, until they were eventually captured and sent to their death in Nazi concentration camps. An original of the diary is still on display – together with many other Frank family possessions. You can also watch a short film about Anne’s life.
Family attractions in Amsterdam
For hours of fun, hire bikes and explore the city. Cycle along the canals and cross Amsterdam’s oldest bridge the Torensluis, over the Singel canal. The Singel used to run right round the city in the Middle Ages and was used as a moat. These days, it’s a lively area with lots of canal side cafes – the perfect spot for lunch. You can also see beautiful buildings from the Dutch Golden era here – including the narrowest house in the world. The Bloemenmarkt, or Flower Market is also located in houseboats along the Singel.
Take a cruise – and see the city at a leisurely pace – in an open top boat along Amsterdam’s canals. Afterwards, visit the Houseboat Museum where you can climb aboard a houseboat and get a feel for what it’s like to live on the canals. The kids will also enjoy a trip to the Tulip Museum where they can learn about the history of the tulip. It’s also a good chance to buy some bulbs of rare tulips to take home with you.
Day trips from Amsterdam
Jump on a train and visit The Hague, Holland’s royal city. See the majestic Palace Noordeinde, home to the Royal Family. Walk around the green, wide open spaces and admire the exquisite buildings, landscape gardens, courtyards and pretty, little bridges. In the centre there are lots of cafes, bars and restaurants, including the Goode Hoofte, or the Golden Head, the oldest inn in The Hague.
Treat yourself to traditional afternoon tea at the plush Le Meridien Des Indes – a favourite with Dutch Celebrities. Afterwards, walk off the tea and cakes with a stroll, round the Binnenhof, or Inner Court – the huge 13th century courtyard, and seat to the present Government. If it’s warm, head for the beach at Scheveningen.
Make a day of it and take a tour to the coastal region between Harleem and Leiden. It’s only a couple of hours by train. See the famous Tulip fields at Keukenhof. Look out too for acres of daffodils and hyacinths.
Eating out in Amsterdam
Feeling peckish? You’ll find restaurants galore in Amsterdam – Dutch, Indonesian, African, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean. Traditional Dutch cooking centres round potatoes, meat, cold meats, cheese and vegetables such as asparagus, beans and peas. Also, delicious bread and pastries.
One of the best restaurants to try classic Dutch dishes is D’Vijff Vliegen – an atmospheric old style, Dutch restaurant, located in a number of old, 17th century houseboats. For Indonesian food – try Puri Mas.
Nightlife in Amsterdam
Amsterdam is famous for its nightlife. You’ll find everything here to suit all moods – canalside bars, dark, cosy pubs, lively clubs, intimate little bars, live music venues and dance clubs. So, you won’t have to search far to find great places to hang out in the evening. Look out for the Bamboo Bar, the stylish, recently opened 18Twintig, Club 11, Café Wildschut and Zebra Lounge.
If you visit Amsterdam, it’s hard to ignore the fact there’s also a darker – some would say seedy side. Namely, the notorious Red Light district – a third of which has been shut down recently. Many tourists come here just to look at the girls in the windows. There are also the famous ‘coffee shops’ – where marijuana is served. Although, with the pending smoking ban, soon to be implemented in Holland – the future of these is unclear.
Shopping in Amsterdam
For an eclectic mix of shops – everything from designer boutiques, vintage stores, bakeries and antique shops – head to De Negen Straatjes, or The Nine Little Streets which span Herengracht, Keizergracht and Prisengracht in the Central Canal Ring.
For mainstream shops and department stores, go to the area around Kalverstraat. There is also a big shopping mall, Magna Plaza, off Dam Square. For quirky, original finds, have a wander round De Jordaan, a lively, bohemian neighbourhood. For designer shops go shopping in Hoofstraat. Utrechtsestraat, along the Eastern Canal Belt is another good shopping area. Look out too for local weekly markets along the canals.