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Amsterdam is one of Europe's most beautiful capitol cities. A unique capitol city within the plethora of beautiful European cities, Amsterdam should be on the list of must see's on any European vacation. Most European capitols boast grand cathedrals, historic castles, and other beautifully historic buildings, and although Amsterdam does have some of these typically European features, the city's main attraction is the city itself.
Netherland's capitol is characterized by small windy streets spilling into wide squares, tiny streets lined with shops, and canals surrounding a city center connected by hundreds of bridges. The architecture and street layout is something rather peculiar, with a series of canals circulating out around the city center like the spokes of a wheel. Depending on how much time you have for the city, I would highly recommend just wandering around the city, exploring its unique nooks and crannies and hidden treasures. Below are some of Amsterdam's most famous sights, and while they're all worth checking out I feel the best way to experience Amsterdam is just an aimless wander.
Amsterdam is quite small and compact, so getting around is a breeze.
Bikes, trams, and walking are the preferred means of transportation for most locals and visitors.
Tram- Trams run throughout the city and run very regular hours. The tram lines are apart of the road system so run contiguously with traffic. Tickets can be purchased right on the trams, usually you will just buy a day pass which will allow you to get on and off at your leisure.
Bikes- If I'm not mistaken Amsterdam has the most bikes per capita than any other European city. Whether true or not the city really does have an over abundance of bikes. You can rent bikes at a number of local shops, which are all reasonably priced. Interesting facts about bikes in Amsterdam as given by Wikipedia: "38% of all journeys in the city are made by bicycle. Most main streets have bike paths. Bike racks are ubiquitous throughout the city. There are about 1,000,000 bicycles in the city. Each year, about 100,000 of them are stolen and 25,000 end up in the canals."
Walking- Pretty self explanatory, but here is some useful information if you decide to walk. The main train station into the city, Centraal station, is on the north side of the city center and coming out of the station one just needs to walk straight to get into the heart of Amsterdam. Walking into the city center you'll find small streets lined with various shops and coffee shops spilling into wide open square’s, like Amsterdam's main gathering area; Dam Square. Most of Amsterdam's attractions radiate around Dam Square, so you will never really find yourself too far from this central point. If you ever get lost just ask for directions to either Dam Square or Centraal Station.
Dam Square- Historically Dam Square served as the city's fish market, and for over four hundred years this space would be occupied by buyers and traders, and a stomping ground for storks looking to score some left over fish. Today the square serves as the city's central open space, with millions of visitors and locals passing through every year. Dam Square is a great place to hang out and further explore the city. Also a great meeting point for travelers and friends, and a bit of people watching.
By Tram: 1, 2, 4, 5, 9, 14, 16, 24 or 25 stop Dam
Royal Palace of Amsterdam- Located in Dam Square, this 17th century palace was built during the Dutch Golden age, and is now one of three official residences of Queen Beatrix. The building's beautiful classical facade, timeless sculptures and paintings glorified the city during its golden age; actually serving as Europe's largest secular building until the 18th century.
By tram: 1, 2, 4, 5, 9, 14, 16, 24 or 25 stop Dam
Van Gogh Museum- The Museum is the world's largest holder of Van Gogh works, with over 200 paintings, 500 drawings, and 700 letters, as well as hosting several other famous works from various artists. A visit to the Museum is a must, not only because of its close relationship between the city and wider culture, but because it really is a unique museum experience. Unlike most contemporary art museums, the Van Gogh museum displays its artwork in a purposeful way, highlighting moments in the artist's life. The galleries are arranged in order to reflect the progression of Van Gogh's artistic work, with accompanying information about his life at the moment of a particular work. It's interesting to see the progression, or digression, of Van Gogh's work, as he battles a terrible mental disease that ultimately claims his life. Many people believe it is this disease that led to his more eccentric works of art such as the famous 'The Starry Night.'
By tram: 2, 3, 5 or 12 stop Van Baerlestraat
Heineken Brewery- Although no longer a brewery, the two hundred year old complex now houses a museum and attraction which highlights the history and making of the world's most famous beer. Highlights include a bottle ride, where you follow the path of a bottled beer through the assembly line, and your very own personalized bottle of Heineken beer.
By tram: 16, 24, 25 stop Marie Heinekenplein
Old Church- As the oldest church of Amsterdam, the Old Church was built in the late 13th century and serves as the burial place for many famous Amsterdammers. Funny enough, the church is located in the heart of the Red Light District, offering a place of refuge for those feeling a bit filthy from a nights activity. The church houses an exhibition and is open for visitors during the afternoon.
By tram: 4, 9, 16, 24 or 25 stop Dam
Vondelpark- Extending over several hundred acres, Vondelpark is Amsterdam's largest and most visited park. Popular with visitors and locals alike, the park offers great bike paths, green spaces for sporting or lounging on sunny days, an open air concert venue, and three outdoor cafes. If you are in Amsterdam during a warm month, definitely save some time to hang in Vondelpark, it's a great place to hang out and get away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Right next to Rijksmuseum, By tram: 2 or 5 stop Hobbemastraat; 6, 7 or 10 stop Spiegelgracht
Anne Frank House- This is the house where Anne Frank went into hiding during the second World War, and in which she wrote her famous diary. The secret room which held Anne is preserved in its original state, and available for tours all year long.
By Tram: 13, 14, 17 stop Westermarkt
Rijksmuseum- As Amsterdam's National Museum for Art and History, you will find all the major highlights from the Dutch Golden age with paintings from famous Dutchmen, such as Rembrandt.
By tram: 2 or 5 stop Hobbemastraat; 6, 7 or 10 stop Spiegelgracht
ARTIS Amsterdam Zoo- The biggest and oldest zoon in the Netherlands, and one of the most beautiful in Europe, the ARTIS is stock full of exotic animals and interesting exhibits, great for any age or demographic.
By tram: 9, 10 or 14 stop Plantage Kerklaan
St. Nicholas Church- Standing oppoiste Centraal station, St. Nicholas is Amsterdam's most famous revival church. The great neo-baroque and neo-classical church was built between 1884 and 1887, boasting a beautiful dome, stained glass windows, and the Netherlands most famous organ.
By tram: 1, 2, 5, 9, 13, 14, 17, 24 or 25 stop Centraal Station
Muiderslot Castle- Located about 15 km southeast of Amsterdam, Muiderslot castle dates back to 1280, and now serves as a museum. The castle became famous as a refuge for poets, artists, and scholars of all sorts. Well worth a visit if you've seen enough of the city center.
By Ferry: From Amsterdam IJburg you can take the Amsterdam Tourist Ferry to Muiderslot Castle .
Canal Cruise- There are over 100 km of canals separating Amsterdam city center into smaller islands, granting the city the name of 'Venice of the North'. These canals serve as a great opportunity to experience the city in a different light. There are several different staging points offering daytime cruises all year around, with tickets starting at 13 euro. Many cruises also offer a more intimate luxurious dinner experience for 140 euro. A romantic date for any couples looking for a special night.
Visit at Least One Coffeeshop- I’m not going to delve too much into Amsterdam’s famous past time, because we already all know. Basically the substance is technically illegal, but the local government and populace take a blind eye to one of Amsterdam's highest grossing attractions. There are literally hundreds of coffeeshops around the city, so finding one will not be a problem. Every coffeeshop has its own theme and feel, so take the time to browse the available options. The entire system is extremely casual and easy to adapt to. Just walk in, ask to see a menu of the goods, and purchase your product. Every coffeeshop has some place to hang out and try your new goodies. Some of these lounge areas are elaborate, offering all kinds of little toys and gadgets for you to play with. An important note to keep in mind: Amsterdam locals see millions of tourists each year, most of which are American, Australian or British coming to partake in Amsterdam's famous pastime, so many of the locals are quite short with tourists As long as you keep yourself from acting too obnoxious you won’t be hassled. Not that I've partaken in such frivolities myself, but I did hear things. A little bird told me the absolute best coffeeshop in Amsterdam is the Bulldog. Supposedly the city's first coffeeshop, the Bulldog is located in the heart of the Red Light District, boasting some of the best product in the city and a lot of neat gadgets to play with.
Take a Stroll Through the Red Light District- One of Amsterdam's most famous areas, the area called 'De Wallen' is the city's largest and most notorious red light district. During daylight hours these couple of blocks see little activity, but the night displays a very different story. Beginning around 11pm, Amsterdam's De Wallen comes alive with sex shops, peep shows, half naked women in windows tapping on the glass at passerby's and a large number of coffeeshops offering premium cannabis. Whether you're looking for a raunchy time, the company of a woman, or just a good laugh, no visit to Amsterdam is complete without a stroll through the Red Light District.
Visit One of Amsterdam's 'Brown Cafe's- Make sure not to miss a chance to experience an authentic dutch pub, known as 'Brown Cafe's'. With over 500 cafés in the city center there's ample opportunity to enjoy some genuine Dutch culture. The name 'Brown Cafe' name refers to the cafe's dark wood interiors and walls stained by decades of cigarette smoke. These pubs can be described as an extended living room combined with a bar and cafe. Many of the cafes host local bands, showcasing a variety of music from folk to rock.
As with any European capitol, Amsterdam has a wide range of accommodation available, ranging from the upscale Grand Amsterdam to the many backpackers Hostel scattered about the city.
Hotels- A visitor can find a wide range of hotels located both in and out of the city center. If you are looking for the ritzy five star experience Amsterdam has to offer, then look no further then the Grand Amsterdam, located in the historic city center. The hotel made the list of World's Best Hotels in 2007, and expands over two canals served as a 15th-century convent, the headquarters of the Dutch Admiralty in Amsterdam's Golden Age, the Town Hall and even the site of the current Queen Beatrix's wedding reception in 1966.
Hostels- If you are a Hostel-Goer I would highly recommend a placed called The Flying Pig, both with an an uptown and downtown location. The uptown location is nicer and clearer, but outside the center, only about 15 minute walk. The downtown location is more fun and centrally located, but dirtier and noisier.