City guide: Amsterdam

A cool, colorful and culturally rich capital city.

Amsterdam’s mix of old and new, genteel and seedy, cutting-edge and conservative draws millions of visitors to the city each year. A business hub, as well as an art and history mecca, the city is a delight any time of year. Beautiful tree-lined canals are bordered by streets with rows of narrow, gabled houses and 17th century warehouses — making Amsterdam an architectural treasure.

Amsterdam is much smaller than many European capitals, which makes it especially accessible to visitors. Tourism plays a major role in the local economy, and finance is also important in this city that spawned the world’s first-ever public stock exchange. Major exports include fresh flowers (mainly tulips) and Heineken beer.

Getting to and from the airport

Schiphol International Airport, the fourth-busiest passenger terminal in Europe, is 18 kilometers (11 miles) from central Amsterdam. The easiest way to get to the city is by train direct from Schiphol Plaza, which is within the airport. Trains run 24 hours a day, and the trip takes about 15 minutes. Tickets can be bought at counters (which charge an extra 0.50 euros) or at yellow ticket vending machines. A one-way, second-class ticket from the airport to Amsterdam’s Central Station is 3.80 euros (1 euro is approximately US $1.26).

For 27.50 euros you can reach the city center by pre-booking an Amsterdam City Taxi, which seats up to four passengers. Airport Shuttles depart every 10 minutes and serve more than 100 hotels throughout the city. You can book via the Connexxion desk on Schiphol Plaza for about 16 euros per person one way. A taxi picked up outside the airport for travel to the city center will cost around 42 euros.

Getting around Amsterdam

Once in town, you’ll find that Amsterdam is very much a walking city; you can stroll through the old center in 30 minutes and reach the outskirts in an hour.

Avoid driving in the city center. It’s hard to find parking, which costs up to 5 euros an hour or 26.50 euros for a day. If you do drive, park your car at the Olympia Stadium and buy a park-and-ride ticket to reach the city center by tram. The journey takes 20 minutes and costs 8 euros for 24 hours of parking, including free public transport.Cycling in Amsterdam

PT Smart Cards (OV-chipkaart) are used on public transport run by the GVB, which includes trams, buses and metros. These convenient cards can be topped up with credit or single tickets. One- to seven-day tickets entitle you to unlimited travel by tram, bus and metro; ticket prices start at just 7 euros. If you’d like to plan your trip before you go, the public transport system site has lots of helpful information.

Of course, Amsterdam is also one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the world. Pedal power is cheap, green and the way most locals get around. Many hotels rent bikes, and bike rental companies are scattered throughout the city. A rental averages around 8 euros per day.

Where to stay

If you’re looking for luxury accommodation, then opt for the Intercontinental Amsterdam (Professor Tulpplein 1, Amsterdam 1018; Ph: 31-20-622-6060), Sofitel Legend The Grand Amsterdam (Oudezijds Voorburgwal 197, Amsterdam 1012 EX; Ph: 31-20-555-3111) or the Radisson Blu Hotel, Amsterdam (Rusland 17, Amsterdam 1012 CK Ph: 31-20-623-1231).

For upscale options, consider the Marriott Amsterdam (Stadhouderskade 12, Amsterdam 1054 ES; Ph: 31-20-607-5555), Swissotel Amsterdam (Damrak 96, Amsterdam 1012 LP; Ph: 31-20-522-3000) or the Wyndham Apollo Hotel Amsterdam (Apollolaan 2, Amsterdam 1077 BA, Ph: 31-20-673-5922).

Midscale and budget options include the Mercure Amsterdam Arthur Frommer (Noorderstraat 46, Amsterdam 1017 TV; Ph: 31-20-721-9175), Doubletree by Hilton Amsterdam Centraal Station (Oosterdoksstraat 4, Amsterdam 1011 DK; Ph: 31-20-2079011656), Holiday Inn Express Amsterdam – South (Zwaansvliet 20, Amsterdam 1081AP; Ph: 31-20-820-3040) and the IBIS Styles Amsterdam City (Stadhouderskade 135, Amsterdam 1074 AZ; Ph: 31-20-675-0553).

Things to see and do

The Dutch are museum-mad. Although the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum are the city’s premier art institutions, you will find museums dedicated to everything from tulips and vodka to fluorescent art and 19th century ship engines.

In this city with more canals than Venice, you can cruise Amsterdam’s tranquil maze of waterways and take in the sights along the way. In 2010, Amsterdam’s canal ring was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The Dutch are historically great traders, and shoppers are spoiled by the city’s diversity of merchandise. Department stores, boutiques and souvenirs shops are concentrated around Leidsestraat, Kalverstraat, Nieuwendijk and Damrak. The more exclusive retailers are mainly along Van Baerlestraat, P.C. Hooftstraat and Rokin. Try exploring the narrow streets between the canals, which are crammed with unexpected little shops.

The Albert Cuyp Markt, Waterlooplein flea market and Noordermarkt, where there’s a farmer’s market every Saturday, offer old-world charm, as well as fun souvenirs and gifts. Stop by the colorful floating flower market filled with tulips, narcissus and other bulbs and flowers.

Amsterdam is also a center of the diamond trade. Guided tours of diamond workshops let you see diamonds being cut and polished as they have been for centuries. If you fancy a free tour, check out Gassan.

Take a stroll or picnic in one of Amsterdam’s beautiful parks, such as the Vondel Park in the Oud Zuid quarter. Many of the city’s beloved summer music festivals cost nothing to attend, and some cultural institutions offer free performances, such as the lunchtime concerts at the Concertgebouw.

Where to eat

Street food is plentiful in Amsterdam. Don’t miss a portion of take-away fries at Het Vlaamse Vriethuis. They may be inspired by Belgian frites, but get them Amsterdam-style with mayonnaise, Indonesian peanut sauce and minced onion. You’ll know you’re at the right place from the long line in front of the order window. It’s at Voetboogsteeg 33, 1012 XN Het Vlaamse VriethuisAmsterdam.

Other street favorites include broodjes haring – fresh chopped raw herring on a soft white roll. If that’s not to your taste, look for vans selling fresh stroopwafels – two thin cookies sandwiched together with cinnamon-caramel syrup.

If you fancy a light bite, then head for the quirky café Latei. Here you’ll find healthy juices and snacks served on a daily basis. More than food is for sale in this retro-themed café, including funky wallpaper, furniture, lamps and nic-naks. You’ll find it at Zeedijk 143, 1012 Amsterdam;

Sample the best homemade Dutch food at Moeders, a charming little restaurant in the city center. Order the ricedish. It doesn’t actually contain rice, but is a combination of different local dishes served in small portions. It’s on Rozengracht 251, 1016 SX Amsterdam;

Chinese food fans should head for New King — great for a business lunch or an evening meal. The place is popular and often has a queue. The food is a little pricey, but it’s served in generous portions. The restaurant is at Zeedijk 115-117, 1012 AV, Amsterdam;

Blauw aan de Wal is a little gem tucked away at the end of a narrow passageway in the Red Light District. Immaculate decor, Mediterranean-influenced dishes and an inspired wine list soothe the weary traveler. In summer, opt for a table on the tree-shaded terrace. You’ll find it at Oudezijds Achterburgwal 99, 1012 DD Amsterdam;

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