A Basic Amsterdam Travel Guide - Tips for Travel to Amsterdam
This short Amsterdam travel guide gives you a quick overview of Amsterdam's main attractions, the best time to visit, getting there and getting around.
With 750,000 inhabitants, Amsterdam is one of the smallest European capitals.
On the one hand, Amsterdam is quiet and relaxed compared to other big European cities. The small canal streets in the old city center have little traffic and they're perfect for walking tours, and Amsterdammers preferably use bycicles to get around.
At the same time, Amsterdam is an international party capital with a vibrant club scene and some of the most liberal drugs policies in the world.
Tip! Get the I amsterdam City Card.
- Pay a one time fee
- Free public transport
- Free entrance to top attractions such as the Van Gogh Museum and Rembrandt's House
- Many discounts within the city
- The pass is valid for up to 3 days
Get the I amsterdam City Card here!
- Old City Center And Canals: Built from the 13th century on, the city centre is an attraction by itself. The center is crisscrossed by 165 canals (more than Venice!) and over 1,200 small bridges and the canal streets have beautiful architecture dating from the 'Golden Age' (1650-1750 AD), when Amsterdam was the center of world trade. Take a canal cruise from the Damrak (just outside the Central Station) and explore the city from a wonderful perspective, or walk the canal area and discover the typical Amsterdam 'brown cafés' and small restaurants.
- Art And History Museums: There are some excellent Amsterdam museums. The most visited are the Van Gogh Museum, featuring the work of famous Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh and contemporaries, the Rijksmuseum which specializes in 'Dutch Masters' from the 17th century like Rembrandt and Vermeer, and the Anne Frank House, which is the former hiding house of this famous Jewish girl during the Second World War. But there are many hidden gems as well: see my overview of all museums in Amsterdam elsewhere in this Amsterdam travel guide.
- Going Out & Nightlife: Due to its international character - Amsterdam inhabitants are from no less than 175 nationalities - any type of restaurant or bar can be found in Amsterdam. Especially check the Zeedijk street or the popular Leidseplein and Rembrandtplein squares. Typical of Amsterdam are the folksy 'brown cafés' (pubs). Every night, there are pop and classical concerts in Amsterdam's music halls. Amsterdam has a killer nightlife with a varied club scene as well.
- Sex, Drugs & Rock'n'roll: As any Amsterdam travel guide will confirm, the city is known for it's liberal culture. While some excesses have been restricted a little, the basics are still there. In the "coffee shops", anyone can legally buy and smoke small quantities of "soft drugs" (marihuana and hash). The Amsterdam Red Light District, where window prostitution is more out in the open than anywhere else, also draws millions of visitors each year. Amsterdam is also one of the gay capitals in the world: in 2001, the world's first gay couples were married here and the annual Gay Pride turns the city into one big party for gay men.
The Amsterdam people are seen as laid-back and open-minded, and quite Anglophile - almost every Amsterdammer speaks English, and they're proud to show it. Foreigners are often surprised how easily Amsterdammers get into conversations with perfect strangers. Among the Dutch, original Amsterdammers are well-known for their 'big mouths' and folksy dry humour.
Best Time To Visit
While Amsterdam is an all-year round destination, the city is at its best in the summer months. Walking the canal streets lined with green trees is great then. However, this is also high season for Amsterdam, and the city can be packed with tourists then.
If you want to have the best of both worlds - nice weather and few tourists - then try either the end of April to the end of May, or mid August to mid September. The author of this Amsterdam travel guide loves the month of October in Amsterdam, too.
- By airplane: Since Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is one of the major European hubs, it's easy to find low-cost flights to Amsterdam. See our other pages on how to find cheap flights to Amsterdam, which airlines to check for cheap tickets to Amsterdam and an overview how flights to Amsterdam from various parts of the globe work.
- By Train: If you're coming from another European country, consider trains too. Since the opening of the Eurotunnel between the UK and France, there's a direct train connection from London to Brussels, where you change trains for Amsterdam. And when the hi-speed train connection from Amsterdam to Brussels is finalized (probably in 2010), the Amsterdam-Paris track will be reduced from 4 to 3 hours. Here's an overview of international train travel to Amsterdam.
- By Car: Traveling to Amsterdam by car is possible, of course, but inside Amsterdam a car has large disadvantages, as any Amsterdam travel guide will admit (see below).
- Bicycle: Why not do like the Dutch and rent a bike? It's not expensive (around 10 euro/day) and since the old city center (where all attractions most hotels are concentrated) is small, biking is often even faster than public transportation.
- Public Transportation: Amsterdam has an excellent network of cheap trams, buses and subways. You can only travel in them with a PT smart card (OV chipkaart) - the blue and pink paper tickets (strippenkaarten) are no longer valid. Buy a disposable smart card valid for 1 hour inside the bus or tram (but not inside the subway), or buy a disposable smart card for time slots ranging from 1 hour to 168 hours (e.g. a full week) on any Amsterdam train or subway station.
- Taxis: They are plenty available but rather expensive, and traffic is often stuck in the city, also because of notorious infrastructural projects like the construction of the North South subway line. Call the largest taxi hotline at 020-7777777.
- Cars: be aware that a car in Amsterdam is pretty inconvenient due to high parking tariffs (up to 4 euros per hour) and lots of traffic jams. The only exception is some of Amsterdam's outskirts, like the South-East, North and Far Western burroughs.
- Special Options: The Museum Line is a hop-on-hop-off canal cruise taking you past some of the best visited museums and other highlights - almost any point in the city centre is reachable by boat. Buy day tickets at the Damrak, just outside the Central Station. On the Dam Square and elsewhere, there are bicycle taxis (a kind of riksha's) too.
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