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Amsterdam Travel Guides

 

Amsterdam Travel

In the canals beneath the stag parties and working girls, young Internet entrepreneurs strike deals across Europe from their houseboats and just outside the old core is the RAI, one of the continent's key conference and business hubs. As well as the chugging canal boats, the city's waterways also increasingly play home to massive cruise ships and cargo vessels from all over the world.

The lifeblood of Amsterdam has long been its aquatic locale, close as it is to the North Sea and built on countless canals, which divide the city into easily navigable districts and fill it with a small town ambience. There seems to be a canal around every corner in Amsterdam - not too surprising, considering that the city is home to a staggering 165 of them (more than Venice).
Amsterdam is a haven for many nationalities, various sexualities and people of radically different political and religious beliefs, but cracks are starting to appear and immigration laws have tightened in recent years as some of the city's eclectic communities have become more and more divided. There is still tolerance when it comes to man's vices, with practical solutions on how to deal with one of the world's oldest industries and the controlled use of soft drugs.
During the summer, the city comes together in Vondelpark, where locals and tourists alike relax in the balmy weather. Amsterdam statistically might be one of Europe's wettest capitals, but as soon as the clouds clear and the sun is allowed to shine, its inhabitants spill out onto the streets to sit in the numerous pavement cafes, take a cruise on a canal or even to partake in that most ubiquitous of Amsterdam pastimes, riding bicycles (the city has more than double the number of bikes as it has people).
Amsterdam's winters tend to be cold with plenty of rain but this seldom seems to deter the tourists, who flock to the city. Particularly cold winters also offer the unique chance for visitors to witness Amsterdammers skating across the picturesquely frozen canals. These days, with plenty of rail, bus and air connections to all over Europe and further afield, the Dutch capital is a year-round tourist destination as well as one of the world's key business hubs.

City Statistics

Location: Noord-Holland, The Netherlands.

Dialling code: 31.

Population: 743,027 (city); 1,209,419 (metropolitan area) (2006).

Time zone: GMT + 1 (GMT + 2 from last Sunday in March to Saturday before last Sunday in October).

Electricity: 220 volts AC (moving at the rate of one volt per year towards the European standard of 230 volts), 50Hz; two-pin European-style plugs are in use.

Average January temperatures: 3°C (36°F).

Average July temperatures: 17°C (61°F).

Annual rainfall: 804mm (31.5 inches).

Sightseeing

Amsterdam is perfect for sightseeing as it is flat and compact, making it easy to walk around. The best way for visitors to get a real feel for the city is to head straight out on a canal tour, something that many locals have never done, or enjoy a cycle, though beware cycling here can be a frightening experience if you are not used to city cycling.
Most of the main attractions are located within the historical core, usually within walking distance of each other, although the efficient tram and bus networks are close at hand for attractions further afield.

 

The most visited sites in the city are the many excellent museums, such as the Rijksmuseum, Anne Frank Museum, Amsterdams Historisch Museum, Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art, Van Gogh Museum, the NEMO Museum and the Scheepvaartmuseum.
Away from these busy places, the city is also blessed with quiet canals and leafy parks, which provide an escape all year round, especially Vondelpark, with its open-air, free concerts during summer.
Breaking away from the main tourist throng is the best way for one to discover the ‘real' Amsterdam of grand old canal-side merchants' houses where modern Amsterdammers still live, in an almost rural setting. As well as being the transport hub for the city, Amsterdam's grand Centraal Station is also the gateway to myriad half- and full-day trips, with regular and inexpensive train services all over the Netherlands.

Tourist Information

VVV Amsterdam Tourist Office
Stationsplein 10 (opposite Centraal Station)
Tel: (020) 551 2525.
Opening hours: Daily 0900-1700.
In total there are six VVV offices, including this location, Leidseplein/Leidsestraat and the airport. Services provided include general tourist information, hotel and package reservations, excursions and canal cruises, maps and guidebooks, walking tours, public transport tickets, theatre, concert and museum tickets, souvenirs and posters, telephone cards, VVV gift vouchers and currency exchange.

Passes

The I Amsterdam Card offers tourists the use of public transport (tram, bus and underground), free or reduced admission to many museums, a voucher booklet for 25% discount on several attractions and restaurants, a full-colour pass guide and a free canal boat trip. Attractions offering free entrance to card holders include the Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum, Stedelijk Museum, Rembrandthuis, Amsterdams Historisch Museum and Hortus Botanicus.
Valid for one, two or three days, the card is available for purchase from VVV Amsterdam tourist offices, as well as a number of hotels.

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Key Attractions

Rijksmuseum
The largest and most popular museum in the Netherlands was opened in 1885 and has grown steadily ever since. Today, it is in the midst of the biggest rebuilding programme in its history. Much of its most famous work by ‘The Masters', though, is still on show in the impressively designed Phillips Wing and as many of the other collections are being put on display as possible. The 'New' Rijksmuseum is scheduled for completion in 2012/13.
Jan Luijenstraat 1
Tel: (020) 674 7047.
Opening hours: Sat-Thur 0900-1800; Fri 0900-2200.
Admission charge.
Anne Frankhuis (Anne Frank House)
The queues can be horrendous at the small but very popular Anne Frank House, which annually attracts up to a million people. It is the historic home where Anne Frank, her family and four other Jewish people hid from the occupying Germans during WWII, after fleeing their native Germany. Finally caught by the Nazis, after two years in hiding, they were taken off to concentration camps, where Anne died. However, her father survived and published her diary, which has been translated into 50 languages. The story of how they were saved by local people for so long sometimes masks the reality that the city's Jewish population was all but wiped out during the war.
Prinsengracht 263, Westerkerk
Tel: (020) 556 7105.
Opening hours: Daily 0900-1900 (Sep-Mar); daily 0900-2100 (Apr-Aug).
Admission charge.
Van Gogh Museum
This spacious museum houses a permanent display of 200 paintings, 500 drawings and 700 letters by Van Gogh (making it easily the largest Van Gogh collection in the world), as well as works by Toulouse- Lautrec and Gauguin. They also stage a variety of temporary exhibitions.
Paulus Potterstraat 7
Tel: (020) 570 5200.
Opening hours: Sat-Thur 1000-1800; Fri 1000-2200.
Admission charge.
Scheepvaartmuseum (Netherlands Maritime Museum)
The highlight of the maritime museum is the reconstruction of an old Dutch East Indiaman, The Amsterdam, which is moored just offshore. The ship may have no engine but it looks impressive and its confined interior is authentic. The museum helps open up the reality of the country's rich maritime past when the Dutch were major global players and their fleet ventured as far as modern day Indonesia, Goa and Macau.
Katterburgerplein 1
Tel: (020) 523 2222.
Opening hours: Tues-Sun 1000-1700.
Admission charge.
Museum Het Rembrandthuis
This museum, a charming three-storey house, built in the early 17th century, is where Rembrandt lived for nearly 20 years. Recently, a museum wing has been added, with more space for a permanent collection of his work. It is home to a comprehensive collection of 250 of the artist's etchings and self- portraits. Many visitors find the odds and ends that he accumulated during his lifetime, such as Roman busts and turtle shells, every bit as colourful and illuminating as his paintings. The work of Rembrandt's teachers and students is also on display, which adds depth and dialogue to Rembrandt's own work. Jodenbreestraat 4 Tel: (020) 520 0400.
Opening hours: Sat-Thur 1000-1700; Fri 1000-2100.
Admission charge.
Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art
The best collection of modern art in Amsterdam is currently located in a temporary home whilst work continues on Museumplein. The renovation work is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2009. The collection includes Dutch and international art from the second half of the 19th century onwards, with works by Picasso, Cezanne, Chagall and Monet, as well as photography, video, film and industrial design.
Recent Dutch artists on display include Mondrian, De Kooning and Lichtenstein.
Oosterdokskade 5
Tel: (020) 573 2911.
Opening hours: Daily 1000-1800.
Admission charge.
Amsterdams Historisch Museum (Amsterdam Historical Museum)
The Amsterdam Historical Museum shows how this city grew from a small medieval town into a modern city. Housed in a former orphanage that dates back to 1524, the museum is filled with paintings, prints and archaeological finds. One of the most interesting exhibits is an 18th-century coach without wheels. According to council regulations (and to reduce the noise of wheels on the cobbled streets) wealthy Amsterdammers had to travel by sleigh, even in summer. The entrance fee to the museum includes free entry to the Civic Guards Gallery, a glass-roofed ‘street' between Kalverstraat and the Begijnhof, which is lined with 15 massive portraits of the Amsterdam Civic Guards, dating from the 17th century. However, the Rijksmuseum has the most famous painting of the Civic Guard - Rembrandt's Nightwatch. The museum's courtyards are a relaxing place to be on a warm summer's day with the restaurant offering outside tables. Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal 357
Tel: (020) 523 1822.
Opening hours: Mon-Fri 1000-1700; Sat-Sun 1100-1700.
Admission charge.
Heineken Experience
The award-winning Heineken Experience is a self-guided, multimedia delve into the workings of the world's largest beer exporter. There is plenty of information on the company's rich history and also the chance to bottle your own beer. At the end of the tour, there is, of course, the chance to sample the brew.
Stadhouderskade 78
Tel: (020) 523 9666.
Opening hours: Daily 1100-1900.
Admission charge.
Sub-Culture Museums
Amsterdam is infamous for its Sex Museum, but it also boasts the dubious charms of the Hash Museum and the Torture Museum. The extremely tacky Sex Museum is full of erotica (objets d'art, photos, prints, paintings and videos) dating from the Roman era to about 1960, although somehow manages to be totally devoid of eroticism. The Hash Museum is of interest to those visitors who come to Amsterdam in search of coffee shops and would like to learn a little more about the hallowed weed, while the Torture Museum caters to another sub-group of society altogether. Nevertheless, it is tongue-in-cheek enough to be of interest to all. The three museums are all within walking distance of each other in the city centre.
Hash Museum
Oudezijds Achterburgwal 148
Tel: (020) 623 5961.
Website:
Opening hours: Daily 1100-2200.
Admission charge.

Sex Museum
Damrak 18
Tel: (020) 622 8376.
Opening hours: Daily 1000-2330.
Admission charge.
Torture Museum
Singel 449
Tel: (020) 320 6642.
Opening hours: Daily 1000-2200.
Admission charge.
Koninklijk Paleis (Royal Palace)
The Royal Palace, designed by Jacob van Campen, was built in 1648, as Amsterdam's city hall. When King Louis Napoleon arrived in Amsterdam, in 1808, he had the city hall turned into a palace. The large collection of Empire-style furniture, chandeliers and clocks date from this period. Although the palace is still the official royal residence, the royal family lives in The Hague. However, Queen Beatrix does host official functions here. Note that the interior is off limits to visitors until 2009 due to a major refurbishment.
Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal 147
Tel: (020) 620 4060.
Opening hours: Tues-Thur and Sat-Sun 1230-1700; guided tours need to be booked two weeks in
advance.
Admission charge.
NEMO Museum
The funky and modern NEMO Museum is an unmistakable sight on the banks of the IJ. Just a short stroll away from Centraal Station, this museum attempts to defy the crusty image of some traditional museums by offering plenty of hands-on exhibits to stimulate young minds and keep them occupied, as well as provide more information on science and technology for older visitors. This bright, relaxed venue is a good antidote to Amsterdam's other, perhaps stuffier museums, especially for younger visitors. The rooftop has a beach area, a surreal place to take in the rays on a sunny day.
Oosterdok 2
Tel: (020) 531 3233.
Opening hours: Tues-Sun 1000-1700.
Admission charge.

Shopping

Amsterdam has much to offer the avid shopper with more than 10,000 shops. On the one hand, there are international fashion labels, books, arts and antiques, while on the other, there are local specialities to buy, such as tulip bulbs, chocolates, cumin cheese, stoneware bottles of jenever (Dutch gin), blue Delft china and diamonds.
The main shopping areas are Leidsestraat, between the Leidseplein and Spui, Kalverstraat and Nieuwendijk, leading from the Munt Tower via the Dam to near Centraal Station. Pedestrianised Leidsestraat, with its fashion boutiques, large fashion store (Metz & Co), souvenir shops and newsagents, is Amsterdam's answer to Oxford Street and the perfect place for tourists to combine a spot of shopping with canal views and cafe stops. At the northern end of Leidsestraat is Singel, the floating flower market. Kalverstraat offers a combination of classy department stores, fashion boutiques and the luxurious shopping centre of Kalvertoren, while Nieuwendijk, one of Amsterdam's oldest shopping streets, is home to moderately priced fashion, shoe and CD stores.
Amsterdam has gained a reputation for cool clubbing clobber, with Clubwear House, Spuistraat 242, and ZX Fashion, Kerkstraat 113, two of the funkiest outlets, with the latter also boasting a hair salon that specialises in outlandish styles. Both shops also provide insider information on the city's coolest parties, which few tourists ever get to hear about. DKNY is located on PC Hoofstraat 60, while Armani is at number 39-41 in the same upmarket shopping street. Maison de Bonneterie, Rokin 140-2, is the Harrods of Amsterdam - here you can find top quality men's and women's clothing and fine household goods. Miaow, Hartenstraat 36, is perfect for savvy and moneyed shoppers looking for unique fashion from one of the city's most talented designers, Analik.
The Dam offers a couple of options, including Bijenkorf, Dam 1, the premier department store in Amsterdam, which sells a good range of clothing, accessories, cosmetics and household items. Magna Plaza, Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal 182, is located in a fairy-tale, neo-gothic pile that was once the General Post Office. Inside are 40 shops ranging from Virgin Megastore to Shu Uemura Cosmetics. Emerging shopping areas include KNSM island, with its designer outlets, and Haarlemmerdijk and Tussen de Bogen, with their speciality and niche shops. Wini, Haarlemstraat 29, is a favourite of the local clubbing set with hip clothes and retro fashion.
Amsterdam has 25 markets for those seeking a bargain; they are open during normal shopping hours (see below), weather permitting. There is an interesting flea market around the City Hall and Opera. The busy, cosmopolitan food and clothes market is in Albert Cuypstraat. The colourful bloemenmarkt (flower market) on the Singel is not to be missed, while the organic food boerenmarkt (farmers' market) is in Noordermarkt, which is open Saturday 0900-1600 (in winter until 1500). The vogelmarkt (bird market), also at Noordermarkt, is open Saturday 0800-1300.
Traditional shopping hours are Tuesday to Friday 0900 or 1000-1800 and Saturday 0900-1700. However, some shops now stay open later, particularly on Thursday. Generally, shops are closed all day on Sunday and on Monday morning. There is a 20% sales tax on luxury goods and 5% on other items.

Amsterdam Travel Guides

Amsterdam is a city like Venice founded on and still today focused around water and waterways.
However, unlike Venice, Holland's largest city is not only a museum piece.