There’s far more to Amsterdam than coffeeshops and peep shows: houseboats bob in picturesque canals, narrow 17th-century manses line the streets, and forward-thinking shops and restaurants beckon. Bring your walking shoes; this city is best navigated on foot or by bike.
Forget Paris — midnight in Amsterdam is a real trip back through time. Canals curl through streets lined with centuries-old buildings, exemplary parks and museums serve as blueprints for countless imitators, and the nightlife is so infamous that it's practically irresistible. The biggest challenge is navigating the bike lanes — or avoiding them. Behind the charm of this once small fishing village is an underlying gritty side that is heartily embraced by locals and feverishly sought out by visitors. Amsterdam is a fantasyland, as long as you don't try pronouncing the streets names out loud.
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Amsterdam plays host to more than 300 festivals throughout the year. No matter when you visit, you're sure to encounter something exciting in this compact, vibrant city. Late March through May see spring temperatures creep from the 40s and into the 60s (~2-20C). Those visiting at this time can expect to find tulips in bloom and flowers spilling over balconies, but by summer, hordes of tourists overtake Amsterdam. In late May through August, days are long and temperatures rise from the 50s into the low 70s (~7-30C) and remain there for the duration of the season. Open Garden Days take place in June and viewers are invited into residential garden courtyards usually off limits to the public. Fall is relatively mild (with temperatures similar to those in spring), crowds start to diminish, and hotels are more readily available.
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Cloudy and damp days are common during the cooler months of October all the way through March. Winters are especially frigid, ranging between only 30 and 40F (~0-6C), it's smart to pack proper winter attire, just keep in mind that there is minimal accumulation so no need to go overboard. On the plus side, the city is a sight in the lead up to the holidays. Strings of lights wrap the bridges and public squares, skating rinks open in Leidseplein and Rembrandtplein, and most businesses remain open.
Navigating Amsterdam by bike is basically a rite of passage. A comprehensive infrastructure of bike lanes covers the city as well as a network of fietsenstalling, guarded bike storage garages. The city is small enough to walk but with the volume of must-see sights, renting a bike will ensure you don't miss anything on your itinerary. MacBike has five bike rental locations throughout the city where you can choose from 10 different types of bicycles available. Rent them by the hour, in three-hour increments, or by the day for between € 5,00 and € 25,00. Damage and theft insurance are available and should be purchased. Helmets are not required to ride but common rules still apply, including riding with a bell and lights at night and following traffic rules — running a red light or riding without a light are fineable offenses. And look out for the tram tracks as getting your front tire stuck in them can quickly freeze and flip you over your handle bars!
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There are also sixteen tram routes, five metro routes, and a city bus network run by municipal public transport operator Gemeentelijk Vervoerbedrijf (GVB). Tickets for all GVB transit can be purchased for occasional trips (good for one hour from first use) daily, or multi-day use and for use at night. Prices range from € 3,20 for a one-hour ticket to € 36,50 for a 7-day ticket. They can be purchased at GVB ticketing machines located in all metro stations and stops along the busy tram 2, or at one of several GVB service points throughout the city. Certain tickets are also available directly on busses or trams. Remember to punch your ticket before you ride at Metro stations or directly on the bus or tram. Getting caught without a validated ticket will cost you a fine of over €70. If you forget to chip-in and you are caught for the first time, you may catch a break from the controller and only be issued a warning. They will likely take your information though and it will be noted that you've used your one warning opportunity.
Metro lines operate from around 6am until around 1:30am Monday through Saturday, and from around 7am to 1:30am Sundays and holidays. Trams start running between 5 and 6am and end between 1- 2am Monday through Saturday; and between 7am and 1am Sundays and holidays. Bus schedules are similar but with 12 routes offering night buses that run 24 hours. Ticket prices for night busses are more expensive than their daytime counterparts.
A ferry system is in place for the city's more residential and least tourist-friendly areas. Seven routes crisscross the river IJ, and some of the more heavily trafficked boats operate 24 hours. So while there may be less to to do north of the river, some find it worthwhile just for the free trip. GVB offers a trip planning feature if you're still in need of help navigating the transportation system.
Renting a car is not recommended, due to the volume of people and vehicles, as well as shortage of convenient parking spaces. Major ride hailing services like Uber are available here. As always, Uber provides a fixed price depending on distance and demand. Other ride hailing apps including TCA, Talixo are also available, or Blacklane if you're looking for something a little more luxurious.
Euros are the official currency of Holland. Major credit cards are accepted almost everywhere but it's not a bad idea to keep some bills on hand for small transactions and for picking up the tab at the rare cash-only establishment. It's also a good idea to have small bills on hand for taxi trips in case your driver cannot make change with larger bills.
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Traveling to Amsterdam to indulge in the permissive culture of sex and drugs is not uncommon, but there are a few things to note. Contrary to popular belief, drugs are not legal here but the Netherlands has chosen to look the other way on recreational use. An official policy of tolerance adopted in 1976 by the Dutch parliament decriminalized possession of less than 5 grams of cannabis — anything beyond that, is treated as drug possession and use much the same as everywhere else. You may not be confronted by an officer unless you have done something to draw their attention like disturbing the peace.
If you are over 18 years of age, marijuana can be purchased and smoked within one of the 175 coffeeshops in Amsterdam. Don't buy from street dealers, as they do not fall under the same umbrella of tolerance. Most coffeeshops have developed weed menus, breaking down the various strains they have available. These are usually in English as well as Dutch. Pre-rolled joints are for sale if you don’t want to roll your own, as well as soft drinks, hot beverages, snacks, and sometimes coffee.
Prostitution has been legal in Amsterdam since 2000. Workers are generally expected to maintain work permits and enjoy the protections of the country's labor laws. Police patrol the Red Light District regularly though, and the country is vigilant in combating human trafficking and other forms of criminal activity.
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The Dutch are big on simple, traditional northern European foods, but you'll find much of the dining in Amsterdam contains fun and eclectic elements as well. Fish (herring specifically) is definitely a dietary and cultural staple given the city's proximity to ports and the water. But there's also massive cheese wheels, sweet treats, and an international cuisine befitting one of the worlds most diverse population centers.
Amsterdam seems to have a heightened preference for food in pancake form. For breakfast, lunch and dinner you're likely to find menu offerings shaped round and flat, and you might just wind up eating stroopwafel (essentially the pancake of cookies) for all three. If pancakes is what you're pining for, then we know just the places. Head for one of the massive open markets to try foods in all the other shapes. Albert Cuyp Market is one of the biggest in Europe and its popularity in Amsterdam is unrivaled. Over 260 market stalls sell everything from fresh fruits and vegetables to clothing, flowers, and fabrics. If there's anywhere you'll fall in love with the combined flavors of herring and stroopwafel, it's here. Foodhallen in the hip Oud-West neighborhood is a newer addition that specializes in multicultural fare. The large central bar area is flanked by tables and street food vendors serving up everything from wood-fired pizzas to Vietnamese summer rolls and Greek meze to artisanal burgers.
Those looking for luxury dining can head to Michelin-standouts Restaurant Aan de Poel in Amstelveen or Restaurant The White Room in De Wallen; for a breathtaking view of the city, choose Ciel Bleu Restaurant for dinner atop the Okura Hotel. But it's the playful, innovative restaurants that will stay with you: Tijger & de Vis offers a well-portioned seafood menu with vibes in Jordaan; The Dirty Chicken Club in De Wallen riffs on the manifold ways there are to prepare chicken. And of course there are the French fries or frietjes. Amsterdam is famous for them, doling out funnel cones of crispy goodness almost everywhere as fuel for revelers and gourmands alike. By many accounts, the best in the city come from Frietboutique. Sauce varieties are infinite, from peanut sauce to curry sauce to a specialty mayonnaise. Sorry ketchup lovers, a drizzle of the traditional condiment may never totally satisfy you again.
Even vegans can indulge: at Vegan Junk Food Bar you'll find over-the-top comfort foods; Instagram your grain bowl at the bright and airy Rainbowls in De Pijp; or take a date to the heavily awarded Mr. & Mrs. Watson. They'll make you wonder why sustainable eating is taking so long to become the norm. Amsterdam is as much an international food scene as its European contemporaries. Asian, Turkish pizza, and gyros are yours for the taking. But look out for Indonesian rijsttafel, rice served with spiced meats, vegetables, and fish. They can be found throughout the city at small independent storefronts with buffet-style customizable toppings.
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For splurges try de Bijenkorf Amsterdam in De Wallen or Droog Amsterdam in Nieuwmarkt en Lastage. Both conveniently located within the central canal ring, you can fill your bags at these chic retailers with designer denim, couture coats, and the all the latest svelte Northern European trends. Branch out for something a little more niche to the west of the canal ring where the neighborhood known as De Negen Straatjes (the Nine Streets) has been drawing attention in recent years. You'll find cute boutiques, cutting-edge galleries, quaint cafes and antique shops so cool you might need to pick up an extra suitcase.
Find something a little more eclectic at the Albert Cuyp Market in De Pijp or Dappermarkt in Oost, both daily open air street markets. The markets are actually part of a wide tradition of trade markets popular throughout European cultural centers. Dutch ones feature clothing and accessories alongside souvenirs, food and drink in centuries-old open plazas. One of these would be a good place to find your perfect set of clogs. Sneakerheads should feel right at home in Amsterdam as well, as it's long been a streetwear mecca. Get sneaker exclusive releases and clothing collections from the likes of Baskèts Stores in De Pijp, locally founded Oqium in Centrum, or the female-specialized Maha in Grachtengordel .
Check out the The Frozen Fountain in Grachtengordel if walking amongst the distinct Dutch people, art, and architecture puts you in the mood to change your whole aesthetic. Sukha Amsterdam sells sustainably sourced and eco-chic items in Centrum. And the mother-daughter run All the Luck in the World in De Pijp will make sure that you find something to bring home thats cool and one-of-a-kind.
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A list of top attractions in Amsterdam reads like an art historians bucket list, and you can hit them all in the city's Museumkwartier. The Rijksmuseum is home to the worlds best collection of Dutch Master paintings (including Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Haals). The Van Gogh Museum explores the life and work of the prolific native painter's works. And the Stedelijk Museum is an innovative modern art and design-focused institution constantly experimenting within the boundaries of its display space.
The city has recently added a must-see for street art lovers as well. The Moco Museum (Museumkwartier) contains a permanent Banksy collection: 50 works include rarely seen indoor paintings and drawings, plus transplanted street murals like the beloved "Girl With Balloon." Check out Foam in Grachtengordel along the canal if you prefer to look at photographs. Classical and contemporary artists' works are presented in a space that offers lecture series and discussions throughout the year.
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There are also quiet green spaces to enjoy throughout the city and many of them are steeped in history. Hortus Botanicus, right in Centrum, is one of the world's oldest botanical gardens. Originally serving as an herb garden for physicians and apothecaries during the 1600s, today it is one of the most highly visited attractions in Amsterdam. Vondelpark is the largest within the city, but many find the hundred-year-old Oosterpark (Oost) to be quirkier and more distinct. In addition to English gardens and a contingent of ducks and wildlife (including parrots), the 100 acre park contains monuments and an annual celebration of the Dutch abolition of slavery. On Sundays the park invites anyone with an opinion to voice it from the Spreeksteen or speakers stone, a monument to free speech erected in honor of a Dutch journalist, Theo Van Gogh, who was murdered in 2005.
In the suburbs just outside Amsterdam and Amstelveen is the Amsterdamse Bos (Amsterdam Forest), the largest park Amsterdam. At 1,000 hectares it is approximately three times the size of Central Park and entirely man-made. Swimming, hiking, camping, rowing, theater and even a small petting zoo are available to enjoy here. Over 200 events are held annually, including a magnificent Cherry Blossom Festival in April in the Kersenbloesempark section.
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You won't have trouble finding a place to party in Amsterdam. You're probably well aware that this is what many visitors come to do exclusively, and you might even be one of them. So cool is Amsterdam's nightlife scene that the city has an official "Night Mayor,"while a number of venues are licensed to stay open 24 hours.
This is hardly a modern condition here (well, maybe the 24 hour part): amongst a constantly evolving slate of new dance clubs and music venues, there are a number of bars occupying buildings that have been catering to public vice for hundreds of years. The petite Café De Dokter has been in operation since the 1700s. Wynand Fockink Proeflokaal and Spirits and Hoppe in De Wallen date back even earlier; and the old-fashioned De Drie Fleschjes in Grachtengordel has barely changed since 1650.
If you prefer to imbibe in more up-to-date environs you can rent a private room for large groups, belly up to the bar, or hang out on a terrace overlooking the River IJ at Delirium Cafe Amsterdam in Centrum, which opened in 2014. Vesper in Jordaan has been around for a decade but is a leader in the creative cocktail community. With an emphasis on sustainable practices they crafted a new meaning for the phrase "drinking responsibly." And the crowds are stacked at night. For something a little more cerebral, head south to Oud-Zuid where nightly spoken word poetry and performances are held at Labyrinth Cocktail, Food & Poetry Bar.
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The history of Amsterdam has been cherished and preserved vigilantly. Rows of canal houses, industrial buildings, parks, and museums remain just as they were when erected centuries ago. The oldest building still standing is the Oude Kerk (Old Church), at the heart of De Wallen, and dates back to 1306. Nearby Het Houten Huys at the Begijnhof (a group of historic, mostly private buildings) was constructed in 1425 entirely out of wood.
Take a tour of the Frankendael House of Frankendale Park in Oost. This 17th century mansion is seated within the cascading gardens of a romantic country estate. Tours are offered, as well as music, theatrical performances, and exhibitions. Do not miss the world famous Anne Frank House in Grachtengordel, preserved intact as it was when the young author was in hiding there.
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Despite its reputation as a party city, Amsterdam's rich history and heart-warming aesthetic make it a lovely destination for those looking to experience something a little quaint. Its compact scale makes it possible to stay a little outside the city proper while maintaining close proximity to prime attractions. For an experience unlike any, try Intelhotels Amsterdam Zandaam. Twelve minutes from Central Station by train, the hotel is designed to resemble traditional Dutch Zaan houses, stacked atop each other. You can also book bright and simple accommodations within the city at Hotel2Stay in Westpoort or the romantic Breitner House (Oost). From there it is a short walk to Oosterpark, perfect for summer afternoon walks. Canal tours are also popular and many private companies offer them in a variety of historical vessels. If you prefer to stay indoors, Ons' Lieve Heer op Solder is a fascinating historic attraction right in the middle in De Wallen. Part relic, part museum, part restaurant, the bright pink interior was once a secret Catholic church. Make sure to stop in and grab some souvenir chocolates at Chocolátl in Jordaan, too. The sleek chocolate shop could easily be mistaken for an art gallery, offering exotic flavors of house-made bon bons, roasted coffee, tea, and single-origin drinking chocolate.
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Despite its age the city is definitely still young at heart so kid will find more than enough to keep them occupied. Right in Centrum you'll find the oldest zoo in the Netherlands and one of the oldest zoos of mainland Europe. Natura Artis Magistra (Latin for "nature is the teacher of the arts") contains around 700 animal species and 200 tree varieties. The complex also contains several historic buildings including a museum dating to 1855, a library erected in 1867, and an aquarium built in 1882. For kids who enjoy something a little more hands-on, the NEMO Science Museum is also nearby. The museum features four floors of interactive theme areas, including exhibits about the human body and science theory. The sprawling roof deck is a great vantage point from which to view the city, with a cascading fountain, dynamic metal sculptures, and a restaurant to boot. For a treat don't forget to stop off for some canal-side poffertjes (fried, sugar-dusted pancakes) at De Vier Pilaren in Oud-West.
Over the past 30 years, Amsterdam has become a hub for truly-delicious Asian food. Here are eight of the best spots.
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