Amsterdam’s mix of old and new, genteel and seedy, cutting-edge and conservative draws millions of visitors 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—all 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. Buy tickets at counters (which charge an extra €0.50) or at yellow ticket vending machines. A one-way, second-class ticket from the airport to Amsterdam’s Central Station is €4.10 (US$4.50, using the exchange rate US$ to €0.91).
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 €17 (US$18.67) per person one way. A taxi picked up outside the airport for travel to the city center will cost around €45 and can be reserved through Dutch Business Limousine.
Getting around Amsterdam
Amsterdam is a walkable 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 (US$5.49) an hour or €26.50 ($US29.11) 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 (US$8.79) for 24 hours of parking, including free public transport.
PT Smart Cards (OV-chipkaart) are used on public transport run by the GVB, which includes trams, buses and metros. The 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 €7.50. Use the GVB public transport site for trip-planning 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 per day.
Where to stay
For luxury accommodation, try Andaz Amsterdam Prinsengracht (Prinsengracht 587, Amsterdam 1016 HT; Ph: 020 423 1234); Softitel Legend The Grand Amsterdam (Oudezijds Voorburgwal 197, Amsterdam 1012 EX; Ph: 020 555 3111); or the W Amsterdam (Spuistraat 175, Amsterdam 1012 VN; Ph: 020 811 2500). Upscale hotels include Radisson Blu Hotel Amsterdam (Rusland 17, Amsterdam 1012 CK; Ph: 020 623 1231); NH Carlton Amsterdam, Vijzelstraat 4, Amsterdam 1017 HK; Ph: 020 622 2266); Courtyard Amsterdam Arena Atlas (Hoogoorddreef 1, Amsterdam 1101; Ph: 020 241 5000); and Swissotel Amsterdam, Damrak 96, Amsterdam 1012 LP; Ph: 020 522 3000).
If you’re looking for a mid-scale stay, try NH Amsterdam City Centre (Spuistraat 288-292, Amsterdam 1012 VX; Ph: 020 420 4545); Best Western Apollo Museumhotel Amsterdam City Centre (P.C. Hooftstraat 2, Amsterdam 1071 BX; Ph: 020 662 1402); or Mercure Hotel Amsterdam City (Joan Muyskenweg 10, Amsterdam 1096 CJ; Ph: 020 721 9176). If you’re on a budget, try the economy-oriented Ibis Amsterdam Centre (Stationsplein 49, Amsterdam 1012 AB; Ph: 020 721 9172).
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. The Van Gogh Museum is open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and admission is €17 (US$18.66) The Rijksmuseum is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and admission is €17.50 (US$19.20). You’ll also 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 take in the sights while cruising Amsterdam’s tranquil maze of waterways. 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 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 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 Vlaams Friethuis. 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. Find it at Voetboogstraat 33, 1012 XK, Amsterdam, Ph: 020 624 6075.
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 waffle “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, and funky wallpaper, furniture, lamps and knick-knacks—many for sale alongside the food. It’s at Zeedijk 143, 1012 Amsterdam, Ph: 020 625 7485.
Sample the best homemade Dutch food at Moeders, a charming little restaurant in the city center. Order what the restaurant describes as a “Dutchified rijsttafel,” no rice but a combination of different local dishes served in small portions. It’s at Rozengracht 251, 1016 SX Amsterdam, Ph: 020 626 7957.
Chinese food fans should head to New King—great for a business lunch or an evening meal. The place is popular and often has a line. The food is a little pricey, but it’s served in generous portions. The restaurant is at Zeedijk 115-117, 1012 AV, Amsterdam, Ph: 020 625 2180.
Located in a 75-year-old greenhouse that once belonged to Amsterdam’s municipal nursery, De Kas has a unique Mediterranean menu to complement its unique setting. Sparkling lights shine through the glass structure, which is surrounded by a garden where the restaurant grows its own greens and herbs. De Kas is located at Kamerlingh Onneslaan 3, 1097 DE, Amsterdam, Ph: 020 462 4562. It’s next to the beautiful Park Frankendael, a former 17th century country estate.