From its canals to its world-famous museums and historical centers, Amsterdam is one of the most romantic and beautiful European cities. There is nothing quite like this small capital and its deep cultural heritage. Not only is Amsterdam colorful, serene, and romantic, it is also exciting and sophisticated.
Amsterdam is a cosmopolitan city and is visited each year by over four million people. Visitors can enjoy Amsterdam's outstanding architecture, musuems, art galleries and other tourist sights.
Amsterdam is just 9.5 miles from
, the fourth largest airport in Europe, is also close to the continental motorway network, and is a major port used by ocean-going liners.
Amsterdam is a cultural, historical, and architectural marvel. The city is laid out in concentric rings of canals around the old center, crosscut by a network of access roads and alley-like connecting streets. Most of the museums are clustered at the edge of the canal district and are among the best in Europe. In addition, visitors will want to see Europe's first stock exchange, which now serves as a grand concert hall and exhibition space, and pause for coffee at one of the first coffee houses in Europe. There is also the
, where the famous diarist’s family hid during World War II. The Museum of the Resistance provides educational and historical information about the Holocaust.
houses over 6,000 animals, most of whom live in outdoor enclosures that provide surroundings representing their natural habitats. The adjoining aquarium boasts one of the world's largest collections. Interactive exhibits at the
provide children and adults with hours of educational fun. Other highlights of Amsterdam are its
. Many of the city's diamond polishers give free demonstrations of diamond cutting and offer sales of set and un-set stones.
Amsterdam's amazing energy, vitality and vibrancy extend throughout. Dam Square is the real heart of the city. The markets and streets are full of organists, peddlers, vendors, and performers of all kinds. Many important buildings overlook this vast and bustling open space, including the
. Primary uses of the square include ceremonies for the royal family, political demonstrations, street performers, remembrance day celebrations, and social gatherings.
is world-famous. Clubs everywhere are open until the wee hours of the morning, as are many coffee houses and bars.
, one of Europe's largest casinos, provides entertainment to guests 18 and over.
Looking at a map of Amsterdam, the city appears too large to explore on foot. It is actually possible to cover the entire flat expanse of the city during a four- hour walk. Trams and water taxis are available when you’re ready for a rest or prefer to travel at a more leisurely pace.
Amsterdam is city of incredible beauty and charm in a land of canals, windmills, dikes, and picturesque countryside. Its museums house some of the world's masterpieces, and its history is an important part of the story of Europe itself. This is a city in which culture, commerce, ambience, and romance combine with a proud and lively sense of humor and vitality. It is not to be missed!
Amsterdam Top Attractions »
There are no straight lines in central Amsterdam, but once understood, it's an easy city to navigate—or purposely get lost in. For starters it is only about 9 square miles. Think of it as an onion whose layers come together at the stem to make a cohesive whole. With Centraal Station as the stem, the Center folds out as layers of the onion, each on a somewhat circular path under the guidance of the Canal Ring. To stay oriented, just follow each onion layer around, which will lead you east/west, while the thoroughfare streets run north/south. Amsterdam is different from most major cities as the center lies north and the suburbs are mainly south. To stay safe, always watch out for bikes and trams. Do not walk on bike paths, which are well-paved and often mistaken for sidewalks. Bikers have the right-of-way, so if you hear a bell, move quickly. Trams function similarly, and will also ring their bell (a much louder one) before they move. Just look both ways, and look both ways again before crossing streets.
Museum het Rembrandthuis
One of Amsterdam's more remarkable relics, this house was bought by Rembrandt, flush with success, for his family and is where he lived and worked between 1639 and 1658. Rembrandt chose this house on what was once the main street of the Jewish Quarter because he thought he could then experience daily and firsthand the faces he would use in his Old Testament religious paintings. Later Rembrandt lost the house to bankruptcy when he fell from popularity after the death of Saskia, his wife. When he showed a quick recovery—and an open taste for servant girls—after her death, his uncle-in-law, once his greatest champion, became his biggest detractor. Rembrandt's downfall was sealed: he came under attack by the Amsterdam burghers, who refused to accept his liaison with his amour, Hendrickje.
The house interior has been restored to its original form—complete with one of Rembrandt's printing presses, his rarities collection, and fully stocked studio (which is occasionally used by guest artists). The new gallery wing, complete with shop, café, and information center, is the only place in the world where his graphic work is on permanent display—with 250 of the 290 prints that are known to have come from his hand, including the magisterial Hundred Guilder
and the Three Crosses
prints. Rembrandt was almost more revolutionary in his prints than in his paintings, so this collection deserves respectful homage, if not downright devotion, by printmakers today.
One of the most photographed spots in town, this pretty, tree-lined canal at the northern border of the Jordaan district is bordered by residences and former warehouses of the brewers who traded here in the 17th century when Amsterdam was the "warehouse of the world." Without sacrificing the ancient vibe, most of the buildings have been converted into luxury apartments. Of particular note are the houses at Nos. 188 to 194. The canal is blessed with long views down the main canals and plenty of sunlight, perfect for photo-ops. Also, The Brouwersgracht runs westward from the end of the Singel (a short walk along Prins Hendrikkade from Centraal Station) and forms a cap to the western end of the Grachtengordel. On top of the old canal mansions dotting the Brouwersgracht are symbols referring to the old breweries that used this waterway to transport their goods to thirsty drinks hundreds of years ago.
Few houses are open to the public along the Herengracht, so make a beeline to this mansion to see Grachtengordel (Canal Ring) luxury at its best. In 1895, the widow Sandrina Louisa Willet-Holthuysen donated the house and contents—which included her husband's extensive art collection—to the city of Amsterdam. You can wander through this 17th-century canal house, now under the management of Amsterdam's Historisch Museum, and discover all its original 18th-century interiors, complete with that era's mod cons from ballroom to cabinet des merveilles
(rarities cabinet). You can air out the aura of Dutch luxury by lounging in the French-style garden in the back.
Het Koninklijk Paleis
From the outside, it is somewhat hard to believe that this gray-stained building was once called the "Eighth Wonder of the World." It was built between 1648 and 1665 as the largest nonreligious building on the planet. From the inside, its magnificent interior inspires another brand of disbelief: this palace was actually built as a mere city hall. Golden age artistic greats such as Ferdinand Bol, Govert Flinck (Rembrandt's sketches were rejected), and Jan Lievens were called in for the decorating. In the building's public entrance hall, the Burgerzaal,
the world was placed quite literally at one's feet: two maps inlaid in the marble floor show Amsterdam as the center of the world, and as the center of the universe.
The building has remained the Royal Palace ever since Napoléon's brother squatted there in 1808. Today Queen Beatrix stays here occasionally. She required a few years to warm back up to Amsterdam after her wedding in 1966 was disrupted by a radical student group throwing smoke bombs at her carriage and in 1980, her coronation was derailed by riots on the Dam.
Amsterdam Nightlife »
Amsterdam's nightlife can have you careening between smoky coffee shops, chic wine bars, mellow jazz joints, laid-back lounges, and clubs either intimate or raucous. The bona fide local flavor can perhaps best be tasted in one of the city's ubiquitous brown café-bars—called "brown" because of their woody walls and nicotine-stained ceilings. Here, both young and old, the mohawked and the merely balding, come to relax, rave, and revel in every variety of coffee and alcohol. The Dutch are very sociable people who enjoy going out. Don't hesitate to join the revelry. It will definitely make for a memorable trip.
The best-known jazz place in town left its classic digs in 2005 in favor of the brand-spanking-new—and utterly awesome—Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ. Everyone, from old legends to the latest avant-gardist, agrees: it's close to perfect. Views of the city are breathtaking and the music you'll hear inside has been known to leave listeners panting for more.
For over a decade, this coffee shop has managed to maintain a magical-grotto feel that, ironically enough, requires no extra indulgences to induce a state of giddy transcendence. Dim lights, Indian-inspired murals, and low-to-the-ground seating keep the ambience chill regardless of how busy the Leidseplein headquarters can get. De Rokerij's other branches may inspire smaller-scale out-of-body experiences.
Not only is this highly popular bar-café a new kid on the block, but its block is rather off the beaten queer path, which was intended by its founding gay couple as a means to be as all-inclusive as possible. The staff and clientele are as effervescent as the venue's name—prik means bubbles in Dutch and (among other things) refers to the Prosecco on tap. Tuesdays are movie nights and weekend brunch is served until 8 PM.
There are two auditoriums, large and small, under one roof at the Netherlands' premier concert hall, famous for having one of the finest sound systems the world over. With its Viennese Classicist facade surmounted by a golden lyre, this building opposite the Rijksmuseum draws 800,000 visitors to 800 concerts per year. In the larger of the two theaters, the Grote Zaal, Amsterdam's critically acclaimed Koninklijk Concertgebouworkest (Royal Concert Orchestra), whose recordings are in the collections of most self-respecting lovers of classical music, is often joined by international soloists. Their reputation has only grown in the last decade under the baton twirling of conductor Riccardo Chailly, who has just passed the honor to the highly regarded Latvian Mariss Jansons. Guest conductors read like a list from the musical heavens: Mstislav Rostropovich, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, and Bernard Haitink. Visiting maestros like these naturally push the prices up, but the range remains wide: expect to pay anything between EUR 5 and EUR 100. But throughout July and August, tickets for the Robeco Summer Concerts, which involve high-profile artists and orchestras, are an excellent bargain. The Koorzaal, (the "Choir Hall"), is a smaller venue for chamber music and up-and-coming musicians, and is the usual setting for the free lunchtime concerts on Wednesdays at 12:30, that take place from September through June.
Amsterdam Restaurant Reviews »
Until a decade or two ago, it seemed that eating in Amsterdam was tinged more with the flavor of Calvinism than with any culinary influence. All too often the filling yet unenlightened fare of charred fish or meat, overboiled potatoes, and limp vegetables remained the standard.
Today, happily, things have changed. Many of the city's former industrial- and harbor-related buildings are being transformed into distinctive dining establishments. The term "New Dutch Cuisine," thanks to the emergence of young chefs who are finding their inspiration from around the globe, means exotic foamy-textured pea soup with chanterelles and pancetta, cod smothered in a sauce based on chorizo and fennel, or turbot and truffle wrapped in potato spaghetti, stewed chard, and veal sauce. And international urban eating trends make it highly probable that you'll encounter sushi shacks, soup shops, noodle joints, and organic bakeries selling hearty Mediterranean breads.
Although traditionally hearty Dutch food really shines only in the winter months, there are two imported-but-typically-Dutch culinary trips that cannot be missed: the Indonesian rijsttafel
("rice table"), where dozens of differently spiced vegetables, meats, and fish dishes are served with rice; and cheese fondue, which the Dutch appropriated from the Swiss probably because it appealed to their "one pot, many forks" sense of the democratic. The many cheap Suri/Indo/Chin (or some such combination) snack bars serve a combination of Suriname, Indonesian, and Chinese dishes, and although they are remarkably consistent, it is perhaps advisable to choose a dish that matches the cook's apparent roots.
If you're the type who likes to make your own discoveries, here are a few tips to keep in mind. In general, avoid the tourist traps around Leidseplein, Rembrandtplein, the Damrak, and the Red Light District. Cheap global eats are concentrated in the De Pijp district. A broad selection of middle-range eateries can be found around Nieuwmarkt, the Jordaan, and Utrechtsestraat. To find posher purveyors for a true blowout, head to Reguliersdwarsstraat or the Nine Streets (the interconnecting streets of the canal girdle between Raadhuisstraat and Leidsestraat) areas. Befitting a casual town, children are pretty much universally welcomed in Amsterdam.
This genteel yet unpretentious bakery/tearoom evokes an English country kitchen, one that lovingly prepares and serves breakfasts, high tea, hearty-breaded sandwiches, soups, and divine (almost manly) slabs of quiche. The closely clustered wooden tables don't make for much privacy, but this place is a true oasis if you want to indulge in a healthful breakfast or lunch. It opens at 8 AM daily. There's a second location, complete with garden patio, in the Museum District.
D' Vijff Vlieghen
The "Five Flies" is a rambling dining institution that takes up five adjoining Golden Age houses. Yet the densely evocative Golden Age vibe—complete with bona fide Rembrandt etchings, wooden jenever (Dutch gin) barrels, crystal and armor collections, and an endless array of old-school bric-a-brac—came into being only in 1939. You'll find business folk clinching deals in private nooks here, but also busloads of tourists who have dibs on entire sections of the restaurant: book accordingly. The overpriced menu of new Dutch cuisine emphasizes local, fresh, and often organic ingredients in everything from wild boar to purely vegetarian dishes. Lack of choice is not an issue here: the menus, the wine list, and the flavored jenever are—like the decor—all of epic proportions.
This funky neighborhood eatery always draws a crowd despite its slightly off-the-beaten-path location. A nicely executed menu features such dishes as lamb tajine (stew), roasted trout, and entrecote from the neighborhood butcher. The waitstaff, ever ready with a toothy grin, is among the most attractive and friendly in the city. In the summer you can wine and dine on the sunny terrace.
At the end of 2007, celebrity chef Sergi Arola—Ferran Adrià's most popular disciple—left La Broche, the restaurant where he vaulted to the top of the Madrid dining scene, to go solo. The result is a smaller, less minimalist though equally modern bistro space crafted to enhance the dining experience, just 30 customers at a time. At the height of his career and surrounded by an impeccable team—which now also includes a talented and talkative bartender in the lounge—Arola offers only three sampler menus (a short one, a long one, and one entirely made up of cheeses), which include some of his classic surf-and-turf dishes (such as the rabbit filled with giant scarlet shrimp), nods to its Catalonian roots (the sautéed broad beans and peas with blood sausage), and more than 600 different wines mostly from small producers, all available by the glass.
One of the city's top grand cafés, Luxembourg has a stately interior and a view of a bustling square, both of which are maximized for people-watching. Famous for its brunch, its classic café menu includes a terrific goat cheese salad, dim sum, and excellent Holtkamp krokets (croquettes, these with a shrimp or meat and potato filling). The "reading table" is democratically packed with both Dutch and international newspapers and mags.
Amsterdam Shopping »
The Dutch, famous for their savvy business skills and wily ways with trade, are considered either frugal or cheap (hence the phrase "going Dutch"). And while it's true that Lowlanders monitor their wallets they do have a very
healthy consumer culture. What does this mean for you? First, there is ample shopping to be had—a bit of something for everyone; and second, you won't have to take out a second home mortgage for that dandy trinket you like so much.
Most of the city's major shopping districts are hard to miss. Just down the road from Centrale Station is Nieuwendijk.
Besides the national chains, this street has a busy pedestrian mall catering to bargain hunters and a younger crowd of urbanites. To the south of the Dam is the city's principal shopping strip, Kalverstraat
(one of the only areas open on Sundays). Here you'll find the international chains and favorite Dutch franchises. (Avoid this area on the weekend if you don't like crowds.) Leidsestraat
offers a scaled-down version of Kalverstraat with an escape-route of canal-side cafés. Here you'll find some one-of-a-kinds, including the grand Madam of high-end department store shopping, Metz & Co. Just east is the Spiegelkwartier,
one of Europe's most fabled agglomerations of antiques shops.
If these main drags excite you about as much as the mall back home—minus the food court—go where the locals go. Explore the unique clothing and jewelry boutiques, crafts ateliers, and funky consignment stores dotted along the Nine Streets,
which radiate from behind the Royal Palace to the periphery of the Jordaan.
Take time to browse this neighborhood's art galleries, jewelry shops, and purchasable homages to interior design. If you head all the way north on Prinsengracht, you're sure to pass the Noordermarkt and eventually reach the trendy trappings of Haarlemerstraat,
with its gamut of high-end specialty stores.
Not far from the Museum District is Van Baerlestraat.
This street is lined with bookstores specializing in art, music, and language and clothing shops that are smart—but not quite smart enough to have made it to the adjoining P. C. Hooftstraat.
This is the Madison Avenue of Amsterdam: all the main fashion houses are here, from Armani to Vuitton. Continue farther south, through to the other side of the Vondelpark, and you'll come upon Amsterdam South,
and a burgeoning cluster of small clothing and shoe boutiques, sleek home furnishers, and pricey delicatessens.
To get back to Amsterdam's democratic roots, stop in the neighborhood of The Pijp.
Skip the clothing and shoe chains more and more branded with "Made-in-China" tags to peruse the working-class shops hidden behind the stands of the Albert Cuypmarkt. Finally, if you need a decent yet still slightly decadent foray into Amsterdam shopping, have yourself a stroll along Utrechtsestraat,
perhaps one of the city's most underrated avenues. You may well find just what you were always looking for, from that high-quality Japanese pressing of a Blue Note record to baby-blue ballerina flats made of antique goat's leather.