Amsterdam City Guide

| Friday, 05 Mar. 2010

Amsterdam is one of Europe's most beautiful, appealing and intriguing cities

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From its canals lined with towering brick homes, to its museums for the Dutch masters from Vermeer to Van Gogh, to the floating flower market bursting with bouquets and bulbs, Amsterdam is one of Europe's most appealing cities. It reflects the glory and adundance of Holland's Golden Age as well as its contemporary freedom and tolerance.

First-time visitors usually find getting around Amsterdam is fairly easy but involves plenty of walking. Repeat visitors seek new things to see and do, in town or in the nearby countryside.

 

PASSENGER TERMINAL AMSTERDAM:

The glass cruise terminal offers an array of services for passengers including tourist information, Internet access, shopping, a café, and taxi stand. From the terminal it's a 15-minute walk to Central Train Station, where you can pick up trams or consult the main tourist office. Bus 32 also goes to the Central Station; look for the yellow sign in front of the terminal. It's a mere 20-minute walk to Dam Square, the heart of Amsterdam. www.ptamsterdam.com

Take note that about 30 percent of Amsterdam's traffic is by bicycle, meaning There are well over 600,000 bicycles in the city, and the riders will not stop for the tourist who forgets to look before crossing a bike path.

TOP SIGHTS:

Rijksmuseum: A treasure of Dutch art, highlighting the renowned 17th-century Dutch masters such as Vermeer, Frans Hals, and Jan Steen. Rembrandt, who has 20 works here, includes his masterpiece "The Night Watch." www.rijksmuseum.nl

Van Gogh Museum: Impressionist lovers mustn't miss the world's largest collection of Vincent Van Gogh's paintings, from the "Potato Eaters" to "Wheatfields with Crows." www.vangoghmuseum.nl

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The Canals: Stroll along the canals past 17th-century gabled buildings that once housed wealthy merchants. Trees shade the walkways between brick homes and houseboats. Ramble over bridges, stopping at cafés whose tables spill onto the sloping sidewalks. Look for Jordaan, a colorful canal neighborhood of small homes, most of them restored, boutiques, small galleries, cafés and interesting houseboats. The 17th century's wealthiest merchants reveled along Herengracht's "Golden Bend," as well as the many fine buildings along Keizersgracht. Two former canal homes are museums recreating the elegant lifestyle of the 17th-century: The Van Loon Museum at Keizersgracht 672; and the Willet-Holthuysen Museum at Herengracht 605. www.ahm.nl

Stop at Bloemenmarkt, the floating flower market on the Singel, to buy a bouquet of tulips for your stateroom. Or better yet, bulbs for your garden.

Canal cruises: A leisurely way to see some of Amsterdam's 165 canals and 1,281 bridges. (Details in the "Getting Around" section).

Anne Frank House: Where the young Jewish teenager, hiding from the Germans with her family, wrote her diary during World War II. The line for tours is usually long and moves quite slowly. www.annefrank.nl

The Royal Palace: Queen Beatrix may not live in the Royal Palace, but she does receive important guests there. The Palace is now open during summers so visitors can see it between royal receptions.

ON YOUR OWN VERSUS SHORE EXCURSIONS:

If you are an able walker and can follow a map, there's no need to book a shore excursion, thoug to see all you want to see will take an entire day. The tram system is easy and convenient, and canal boats and cruises are a delightful way to get around town.

The ships' shore excursions will offer the convenience of leaving right from the cruise terminal and are more comfortable for people who have trouble with extensive walking.

A one-hour canal cruise in town should cost $7.50 to $12.50, so consider convenience and price before signing up for the ship's canal cruise. One can find bike rentals offered throughout the city.

GETTING AROUND:

The trick to getting your bearings is to understand how five concentric canals encircle the central city: Singel, Herengracht, Keizersgracht, Prinsengracht, Singelgracht.

The Tourist Information Office (VVV) sells Amsterdam Passes, canal boat tickets, Strippenkaarten (tickets) for the buses and trams, and tickets for various excursions. It sells tours of audio walking guides (including through the Red Light District). The VVV's largest facility is across from the Central Station, with other VVV offices inside Central Station (Platform 2), on Leidseplein and in the Passenger Terminal Amsterdam.

Trams and Buses: A one-day public transportation ticket is about $10 (with discounts for those over 65). Strippenkaart, tickets valid for several rides over any number of days, offer savings over individual tram or bus tickets. Purchase them onboard or, for pay less at the VVV. Circle Tram 20 passes by most of the major tourist attractions and hotels.

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Canal Boats: There are landing spots for canal cruises throughout Amsterdam, including within a few blocks of the Central Station and another one a block from the Rijksmuseum. One-hour canal cruises in glass-topped boats cost under $10. Join an evening cruise for slightly more to see the lovely sights of the illuminated bridges and landmarks.

Museum Boat: Six stops on a set schedule to a large number of museums and attractions for an all-day fare which includes discounts on the included museum admissions. Central Station is the best place to pick up this cruise.

 

Canal Bus: There are three routes with 11 stops near the main museums, attractions and shopping areas plus the Central Station. The one-day ticket includes discounts at several museums and attractions.

Canal Bus All Amsterdam Transport Pass: One reasonable price for a day's unlimited travel by tram, (night) bus, metro and Canal Bus.

Bicycling: Go local and pedal your way around town. Amsterdam is flat and compact, but crowded and busy. While there are bike routes, guided cycle tours and plenty of bike rental firms, be sure you are a decent rider before you commit. The Amsterdam Tourist Office offers a city cycling map with recommended routes and lists of rental companies. Bicycle Route #1 is sign-posted, beginning at the Central Station and including the scenic Herengracht.

Guided bicycle excursions: Groups of friends may unite for a guided excursion through the Jordaan quarter with a stop at a local pub. Yellow Bike, Nieuwezijds Kolk 29; tel. +31 (0) 20 6206940.

Bicycle rentals: Here are a few of the several bicycle rental companies. Rentals run around $10.00 per day.

Bike City: Bloemgracht 68-70, 1015 TL Amsterdam; tel. +31 (0)20 6263721.

Holland Rent-a-Bike Beursstalling: Damrak 247, 1012 ZJ Amsterdam; tel. +31 (0)20 6223207

Koenders take-a-bike: Stationsplein 12, 1012 AB Amsterdam; tel. +31 (0)20 6248391.

Pedal boats: a bit like bicycling and canal cruising at the same time, set your own route and pedal-push through the canals.

Canal Bike: allows you to finish at a different place from which you started. Hop aboard at Rijksmuseum, Westerkerk, Keizer sgracht/Leidsestraat, Leidsplein. Four-person canal bikes are also available. Tel. +31 (0)20 6265574.

Aan de Wind Watersportbedrijf also rents pedal boats: Mauritskade 1, 1091 EW Amsterdam; tel. +31 (0)20 6929124.

EXCURSIONS OUTSIDE THE CITY:

If you've been to Amsterdam before or have extra days in the city to explore the countryside you can visit some of these places on your own by bus, or buy an excursion at The Tourist Information Office (VVV), or opt for the convenience of a ship provided shore excursion. Tours offered through the VVV include time for pickups at various hotels.

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The VVV offers several half-day excursions, including Marken-Volendam, or "windmills and Edam". The Grand Holland tour is 8-1/2 hours to Aalsmeer, Delft, Rotterdam, the seaside resort of Scheveningen and the miniature town of Madurodam.

Keukenhof: An absolute must for those on a spring river cruise, is a 79-acre floral expanse planted annually with seven million bulbs. The aroma of hyacinth fills the air, vibrant tulips and daffodils bloom along paths andthe shore of a lake. www.keukenhof.nl

TAKING A BREAK:

Amsterdam's "Brown Cafés," are the Dutch version of British local pubs. The name derives from the color of the walls and ceilings, darkened by decades of age and cigarette smoke. Most of them date back to the 17th century. Local's favorites: Papeneiland (Prinsengracht 2, on the corner of Brouwersgracht); De Drie Fleschjes (Gravenstraat 18); Café Hoppe (Spui 18-20); Wijinand Fockink (Pijlsteeg 31).

SHOPPING:

The most appealing shopping is along the streets Hartenstraat, Wolvenstraat and Huidenstraat which run between Prinsengracht and the Singel canal. There are many little boutiques scattered about Jordaan, and Rokin has designer labels and pricey antiques. Spielgelkwartier, the center of Amsterdam's art and antique trade, is the neighborhood directly across the bridge from the Rijksmuseum. You'll find Delft tiles, porcelains, paintings, furniture and icons. Staetshuys Antiquairs specializes in maritime instruments, antique globes, clocks and even some model trains. www.staetshuys.nl. De Bijenkorf, on Kalverstraat, is Amsterdam's finest department store.

INTERNET CAFÉS:

easyEverything: At Damrak 33, near the Central Station, and at Reguliersbreestraat 22 as well as other locations.

La Bastille, a combination cybercafé and "brown café;" Lijnbaansgracht 246.

USEFUL LINKS:

Amsterdam Travel Information:

www.visitamsterdam.nl www.amsterdamtourist.nl www.amsterdamhotspots.nl

Amsterdam's Museums:

www.amsterdammuseums.nl

City and countryside sightseeing excursions:

Lindbergh Excursions, http://www.lindbergh.nl

For information on Amsterdam and all of the Netherlands: 1-888-GOHOLLAND; www.goholland.com

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