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Amsterdam wears two faces. On one, it beckons youth with its notorious Red Light District and liberal views around marijuana use. On the other, it offers discerning travellers some of Europe's finest museums and art galleries. Its house boats, bicycles, cobbled streets, and quaint canals are a visual treat.
For tourists, Amsterdam's compactness is a plus. The old part of town is a story-book setting of narrow lanes, gabled houses and ancient bridges, and a pleasure to explore on foot. Visitors can shop boutiques for souvenirs such as Delft china or wooden clogs, or relax at cosy bars and pavement cafes.
At night even the most conservative visitors are drawn to the Red Light District's lively atmosphere, where prostitutes stand in shop windows and touts encourage passers-by to view raunchy floorshows. For the most part, travellers will find the best bars in the bustling Leidesplein and Rembrandtplein.
This museum is dedicated to the memory of Anne Frank, whose famous diary describes the experiences of a Jewish teenager during World War II. The Franks and others hid in part of the house (today's museum) to escape Nazi persecution. Visitors can explore the concealed attic where eight people lived, and get some sense of the cramped and fearful existence described by Anne Frank. The original diary is on display as part of the permanent exhibition and there is plenty of information on the lives of the people involved. With the exception of Anne Frank's father, Otto, the occupants were discovered and sent to their deaths in concentration camps. Visitors need not have read the diary to appreciate the museum. Admission queues get excruciatingly long, especially in peak tourist season. Booking online will enable visitors to use a separate entrance.
The Van Gogh Museum is a definitive tourist attraction in Amsterdam. Situated in a modern building, the simple architecture subtly underscores the artist's colourful and extraordinary work. The museum houses the largest collection of Van Gogh's work in the world, comprising more than 200 paintings, 437 drawings and 31 prints. Many of his most famous and recognisable paintings are on display. The collection is organised according to three criteria. The first of these is the artist's work, which is divided into five notable periods. Then there is the display of other artists' work, including pieces from his friends and contemporaries. Finally, the third section showcases the museum's history. The written information provided is good and sufficient for many visitors, but the audio guide is definitely worth hiring for Van Gogh fanatics who want a more in-depth analysis. Photography of the art itself is not permitted, though visitors can take pictures in the main hall. Large bags will have to be left in the cloakroom facilities as they are not permitted in the museum.
The Rijksmuseum opened in 1885 and is best known for its collection of 17th-century Dutch Masters, such as Rembrandt, Vermeer, Frans Hals and Jan Steen. The most notable of these paintings is Rembrandt's masterpiece The Night Watch, which has pride of place. The museum contains thousands of other paintings spanning from the Middle Ages to the 20th century, in its Asiatic collection, Print Room, Dutch History, and Applied Arts sections. The collection also includes stunning furniture, jewellery, ceramics and other artefacts, though it is most coveted for its paintings. Visitors should consult a map or purchase an audio tour to help navigate the extensive collection. They should also allow at least a few hours to explore thoroughly.
The Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art closely traces art-world developments that took place in the second half of the 20th century. Art lovers should note that it showcases the most impressive collection of modern art in Amsterdam. The institution's permanent exhibition focuses on De Stijl, Cobra, Nouveau Realisme, Pop Art, Color Field Painting, Zero and Minimalist Art, while temporary exhibitions on design and applied art are housed in the new wing. Many masters of modern art have a presence in the museum, including Cezanne, Chagall, Picasso, Warhol, Pollock and Lichtenstein. The building is cool and artistic and seldom crowded, which makes it a breath of fresh air after some of Amsterdam's packed tourist spaces. Tourists may also want to time their visits to coincide with one of the many workshops, book launches or other events the museum hosts. They will find a shop, library and restaurant on the premises. Audio guides are available in six languages, and free guided tours take place weekly. They're conducted in Dutch and English and cannot be booked in advance.
The museum provides insight into the life and times of the famous Dutch master, who lived in this house between 1639 and 1658 - which was the pinnacle of his career. Rembrandt went bankrupt in 1656 and a list of his possessions was drawn up to pay his debts. This list has allowed historians to faithfully restore the house with exactly the kinds of furnishings the artist owned. Visitors can view a permanent collection of paintings done by Rembrandt's teacher, Pieter Lastman, as well as some pieces completed by his pupils. The painting studio holds daily demonstrations on how etchings and paintings were made in the 17th century, including an interesting demonstration on Rembrandt's use of colour.
Housed in a lovely 17th-century building and formerly an orphanage, the museum explores Amsterdam's development from a small medieval settlement into a thriving modern city. Its galleries showcase the progress made in each century, particularly Holland's Golden Age. Visitors can enjoy a showpiece of glass, gold, silver, earthenware and other artefacts, as well as Dutch Masters' paintings, and archaeological discoveries. Seeing the large exhibition will take at least two to three hours. The entry fee also covers the glass-roofed Civic Guards Gallery, which is lined with portraits of Amsterdam's Civic Guards dating back to the 17th century. A pleasant museum café sells refreshments.
No trip to Amsterdam would be complete without a stroll around the Red Light District (De Wallen). The area's prostitutes are part of a legal and regulated industry that includes compulsory health checks and taxable income. Tourists also visit the district to admire its attractive architecture, which dates back to the Middle Ages. Waterlooplein, Zeedijk Street and Nieuwmarkt Square are all worth exploring. The modern-day City Hall and Muziek Theatre are both located in Waterlooplein. Nieuwmarkt Square was once home to a thriving community of mainly Portuguese Jews, who had fled from persecution during the Spanish Inquisition. The area's cultural diversity extends to Zeedijk Street, which is often referred to as Chinatown. On a cautionary note, visitors should be respectful and recognise that photography in and around the actual brothels is frowned on, and could lead to confrontation.
Nazi Germany occupied the Netherlands between May 1940 and May 1945. The museum covers how the invasion affected the Dutch population's everyday lives, as well as the resistance movement. Visitors will learn details about the movement's extraordinary espionage activities, and view maps, photographs, weaponry, everyday objects, and false documents used by the resistance. The collection also personalises the history by including individual stories and experiences. The permanent exhibition is bilingual, catering to both Dutch and English visitors, and there are free audio guides available in English, German, French, Spanish and Dutch. Guided tours are available by appointment only and reservations must be made a few weeks in advance.
Although the Royal Palace is the official royal residence, it's mainly used for functions and is but one of the royal family's three palaces. Visitors should check the calendar on the official website to ensure it isn't closed for an event during their time in the Netherlands. It's open most days, though. The building dates back to 1648 and was originally designed for use as Amsterdam's City Hall. A large collection of furniture from this period adorns its magnificent interiors and there is also some valuable art on display. The palace is comparatively small by European standards and only part of it is open to visitors. That said, exploring it is still a fantastic experience, enhanced by an excellent free audio guide. Guided tours are offered to visitors (although they must be booked two weeks in advance) and they are conducted by qualified art historians or art history students in Dutch, English, German, French and Spanish. Official tours take about an hour, but those who are exploring alone with the audio guide may take up to three hours if they linger and listen to all the information provided. Photography is permitted in the palace, but not flash photography.
Keukenhof is one of the country's top attractions and the best reason to visit in the spring. The huge garden is home to millions of tulips, daffodils and hyacinths, and is a sea of colour and fragrance. Visitors will also see many works of art scattered among the blooms in this creatively designed site. They can stop for refreshments at one of the area's many cafes and restaurants, and shop at stalls that sell seeds, bulbs, gardening equipment and a range of other souvenirs. Tourists can view demonstrations around flower arranging and the latest trends in gardening as well. Boat and cycling tours are an option; photographers are in for a treat.
Het Scheepvaartmuseum (the National Maritime Museum) gives visitors a glimpse into the country's seafaring past. The exhibit covers four centuries of history and includes paintings, ship models, antiquarian maps and navigation instruments, creating one of the world's most extensive collections of maritime memorabilia. Visitors will learn about fishing and whaling, naval combat, and the maritime trade in the Netherlands, as well as its journeys to places such as modern-day India, South Africa and Indonesia. Visitors can also explore a life-size reconstruction of a Dutch East India Company ship. The exhibition on the slave trade may not be suitable for children, though other displays are dedicated to younger age groups, and include fun, interactive activities.
As one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Netherlands, the Heineken Experience is not to be missed. Housed in the original brewery, guests will learn about the Heineken Company's history and its unique process, visit cutting-edge interactive exhibits and enjoy free beer at two pit stops along the way. Visitors will also take a gift of Heineken memorabilia home with them. The site's layout is impressive and the tour unfolds in a sophisticated manner, meaning its appeal extends beyond the interest of beer lovers. Travellers can avoid queues and potentially pay reduced ticket prices by booking online.
Coffeeshops are one of Amsterdam's most iconic features. They openly sell cannabis and welcome their patrons to smoke it on the premises. 'Cafes', on the other hand, sell cakes, tea and coffee. Coffeeshops range from the laid-back and mellow to the loud and psychedelic. The expectation is that customers will consume a snack or beverage along with whatever they order off the hash menu. Staff can give advice on the different strains and strengths. Regarding regulations, coffeeshops can only carry controlled amounts of marijuana for sale to adults over the age of 18. The substance is also illegal in the Netherlands. Recreational use is simply tolerated if it isn't socially disruptive.
Locally known as the Plantage, the Artis Zoo is something of an oasis in the centre of Amsterdam, and a must for children and animal lovers. Boasting more than 700 species of animals and 200 species of local and exotic trees (many of which are on the verge of extinction), the institution will captivate visitors of all ages. The grounds are huge and can easily keep visitors busy for hours, with the aquarium, butterfly house, planetarium and a handful of museums all featuring as part of the experience. Visitors will also find several restaurants and a shop selling souvenirs such as books, toys and postcards. Tickets can be bought online to avoid queues at the entrance.
Built in the 1950s and still one of Europe's leading theme parks, Efteling is a must for children of all ages. Kids are sure to relish its special attractions, which include a maze, water show, bobsleigh course, creepy ghost castle and swinging-ship ride. They will also find theme-park classics, such as several roller coasters, carousels and playgrounds. Games, activities, restaurants and refreshment stands are also on offer. Queues get very long, particularly in peak tourist season (summer), so it's best to arrive early.
Located around 30 minutes outside of Amsterdam and first opened in 1952, Madurodam is quite literally the smallest city in the Netherlands. The park features hundreds of miniature houses and factories that reflect real Amsterdam architecture, exact replicas of famous Dutch landmarks, and transport systems such as ships, airports and railways. Children and adults alike will enjoy the attraction, and will find many tremendous photo opportunities as they stroll around. Visitors can also activate parts of the park for a small cost, setting trucks moving down highways, or getting planes to land. Otherwise, visitors can buy souvenirs in the park's shop, and purchase refreshments at one of its restaurants.
Amsterdam's canal tours are an essential experience for visitors. The UNESCO-listed features were crucial to the city's transport and defensive strategies in the 17th century but, today, are a pleasing way to appreciate the historic and picturesque destination. Tourists who are interested in tours have two main options. They can go for the large, glass-topped canal boats, which can accommodate hundreds of passengers, and travel along predetermined routes. Or, they can choose the more personal and traditional tuindersvletten boats, which used to carry animals and vegetables around Amsterdam, and hold 10 people per tour. Tuindersvletten boats can navigate the tiniest canals and fit under the city's lowest bridges.
The Concertgebouw (literally, 'concert building') is one of Amsterdam's top-rated tourist attractions. Widely regarded as one of the world's finest concert halls, it is easily comparable to the Vienna Musikverein or the Moscow Conservatory. Classical-music lovers in particular will enjoy the superb resident orchestra and matchless acoustics, though the venue hosts some jazz and pop concerts too. Visitors can enjoy 'behind the scenes' tours of the graceful 19th-century building, and possession of an 'I Amsterdam' card can get them up to 25 percent discount on ticket prices.
Amsterdam's Vondelpark allows visitors to experience the city as locals do. The relaxed and beautiful public space dates back to 1865 and features several notable attractions. These include an impressive statue of Joost van den Vondel (the author for whom the park is named), a playground, a film museum, an open-air theatre, and many cafes and snack bars. Travellers can exercise in the park, which has well-kept and extensive pathways for cycling, jogging and walking. The tranquil space also hosts free concerts and performances from time to time, and is an exceedingly charming setting.
Along with a certain fame for legalised prostitution, Amsterdam is also home to the world's oldest sex museum. Open since 1985, the institution has grown from being a shaky idea, to becoming one of the most popular museums in a city full of interesting museums. Exhibits range from bawdy to particularly graphic, with examples of ancient and modern art, historic sex symbols and photographs all featuring. Visitors will also find a walk-through model of the famous Red Light District, and an extensive collection of modern paraphernalia. Displays are a mixture of art and porn, and different aspects of it will appeal to different people. Visitors must be at least 16 years old to enter.
Behind the red lights and coffeeshops, Amsterdam is home to many attractions that will captivate children. Active families will have fun strolling along the canal walkways, admiring the flower-decked houseboats, or cycling in the beautiful Vondelpark. They will also enjoy hiring bicycles and pedalling around the compact city's canals and quaint neighbourhoods.
For a more relaxing day out, parents can pack a picnic and head to one of Amsterdam's fabulous parks, such as the huge Vondelpark. Plenty of other free attractions abound, but the more popular ones involve a bit of money, such as trips to the zoo, farms, museums and theme parks. Younger children will be absolutely enchanted by Efteling and the miniature model city of Madurodam.
Cooking schools and Indoor playgrounds are an option on rainy days, while some of the city's museums will also intrigue children, like Anne Frank House.
The oceanic climate of Amsterdam is temperate, generally mild and damp. Winters (December to February) are fairly mild, though frost can occur, while summers (June to August) are warm but seldom hot. Temperatures average between 68°F (20°C) and 71°F (22°C) in summer, and around 32°F (0°C) in winter. Cloudy, rainy days can be expected at any time of year, and light rainfall is common.
On the whole, the weather in Amsterdam is very changeable, and even mid-summer visitors should be prepared for sudden drops in temperature. Spring and autumn are particularly unpredictable.
Spring (March to May) is the best time to visit, when the beautiful gardens are in bloom. Summer is the peak tourist season. Amsterdam is considered a year-round destination, though, with some travellers preferring to visit in autumn or winter, when the city is at its cheapest and least crowded.
Amsterdam is home to a huge variety of restaurants, with options ranging from French cuisine to Indonesian take-away. Naturally, visitors will find plenty of authentic Dutch dishes, which characteristically use smaller meats such as sausage, and a lot of vegetables. The city also has a very strong tradition of cafeteria dining, including 'brown cafes', so named because of their dark, nicotine-stained walls and wooden fittings. Travellers can sample local beers and staples such as steak and salads in these cosy places. The city's pricey fine-dining establishments contrast sharply with these budget-friendly options.
Visitors should certainly try some local snacks while they're in town, such as savoury pancakes (or pannekoek), pickled herring, frikadel (a snack sausage served with mayonnaise, ketchup and onions), and small windmill-shaped cookies called speculaas.
While breakfast will traditionally be served up until 10am, lunch between 12pm and 2pm, and dinner from around 5pm, the Dutch are flexible in both tastes and preferred eating hours. Indeed, several cafes and restaurants operate into the wee hours of the morning, especially on the city's vibrant Leidseplein and Rembrandtsplein squares, which are dedicated to late night entertainment.
Service is notoriously poor in Amsterdam, as a gratuity is usually included in the bill and waiting staff do not rely on tips. It's polite to round the bill up to the nearest Euro if the service is good, and to leave tips in cash rather than including them on a credit-card payment.
Blauw aan de Wal (Blue on the Quay) is one of Amsterdam's most delightful secrets. Located in the city's Red Light District, this charming establishment occupies a 17th-century former herb warehouse, and serves Mediterranean-inspired dishes. The menu changes seasonally, service is first rate and reservations are necessary.
The 'Five Flies' oozes an old-world charm that befits one of the world's most famous restaurants. Original Rembrandt sketches decorate the walls of its attractive, country-style dining rooms, and brass plagues on its chairs remind guests that the likes of Orson Welles and Walt Disney have patronised this establishment. All dishes are prepared with fresh Dutch products.
Café de Jaren is both stylish and contemporary, with its chief attraction being a waterfront terrace that overlooks the Amstel River. The establishment is a great setting for pre-dinner drinks, sampling a superb bottle of wine, or enjoying a strong coffee. The menu is varied and attractive, with fare ranging from soups and sandwiches to steaks and pastas.
Amsterdam is well supplied with Asian restaurants, particularly in its rejuvenated Chinatown district. Dynasty is one of the more popular institutions, and serves a mix of Thai, Chinese, Malay, Vietnamese, and Filipino cuisine. Its themed interior is exceedingly beautiful. Reservations are essential.
The lively restaurant's waiters and bartenders sing opera arias while they tend tables, creating a jovial atmosphere. Pasta E Basta's excellent wine list and superb Italian fare make it a must for foodies spending time in Amsterdam. Bookings should be made well in advance.
Amsterdam's most popular Mexican-style bar buzzes with warm Latin-American ambience, and serves up notoriously potent margaritas. The menu includes regular Mexican favourites like burritos, nachos and enchiladas. Fillet steak and burgers are also available and are well complimented with Mexican beer. Open daily from 5pm.
The elegant Silveren Spiegel (Silver Mirror) is one of Amsterdam's best-known traditional restaurants. Set in two historic houses and characterised by beautifully decorated, candlelit rooms, its menu includes meat and seafood dishes done in a traditional Dutch manner.
Café Luxembourg is an established eatery and a definite must for foodies looking to experience Amsterdam's famous café culture. Its superb food, affordable prices and traditional atmosphere are appealing in any season. Reviewers have called Café Luxembourg 'spacious, elegant and unhurried', and quite simply 'one of the world's great cafés.'
Located in a district that includes many beautiful old buildings, Greetje is an essential experience for foodies looking to enjoy authentic Dutch cuisine. It's known for having some of the best service in Amsterdam, and offers traditional Dutch recipes with a modern flair. The restaurant is open for dinner only (6pm), seven days a week.
This two-man operation serves up savoury and sweet pancakes at reasonable prices. There are only four tables in this charming eatery, and hundreds of teapots hanging from the ceiling. The service can be slow, but locals swear it's worth the wait.
Keukenhof is regarded as one of the world's largest and most beautiful spring gardens. Millions of tulips, daffodils and hyacinths fill the extensive grounds with colour and fragrance every year, attracting legions of tourists. The site is divided into themed gardens, sculpture routes, and various exhibitions, while numerous pavilions feature flower and plant shows for keen gardeners and flower arrangers. Visitors will find many cafes and restaurants, as well as souvenir stands and flower shops selling bulbs and seeds. They can also take a cycling excursion or a boat trip from Keukenhof to explore the bulb fields surrounding the garden. Visitors should allow at least a few hours to explore the park and enjoy the many events, displays, and performances on offer.
The king's birthday is a very festive occasion in the Netherlands, and Amsterdam goes all out to celebrate. The city stages a street party that starts the night before and keeps going throughout the next day. Traditionally, attendees wear orange (the Dutch royal family is the House of Orange) and ensure they have a beer in hand.
The party also resembles a giant jumble sale. That is, street trade proceeds without regulation for the day, allowing people to display their unused and unwanted goods and potentially sell them to passers-by. Bargain hunters and party seekers will enjoy themselves, especially if the sun shines. The occasion includes live music and many street performances.
Travellers should also look into spending the day on a boat. Amsterdam's canals provide a wonderful vantage point from which to take in the festivities, and allow visitors to avoid some of the crowds and queues on land. That said, boat traffic can become heavy on King's Day.
Amsterdam's Pride is one of Europe's most popular and well-attended gay pride festivals, taking place annually between late July and early August. For many, its highlight is the Canal Parade, in which about 75 decorated craft carry revellers along the Amstel, Stopera, and Prinsengracht canals. The festival includes a full programme of street parties, sporting events, an open-air film festival on the Nieumarkt, and many cultural and theatrical events. The city's club scene also comes alive, with special events and parties held all week long. Parents may want to be selective about where they go, as the festival traditionally involves a lot of crudity and nudity. All of the main events take place in central Amsterdam. Travellers should bear in mind that the city gets very busy over Pride, and book their accommodation well in advance.
Amsterdam's Roots festival started as a celebration of African music in 1983, becoming a major event on the global music calendar. Today, the annual programme draws top artists from the world over. Performances take place at different venues around the city, though the festival always ends with a massive open-air concert in the Oosterpark, which is the highlight in most concert-goers' minds. The Roots Festival is part of the Holland Festival and a wonderful experience for lovers of world music. Music genres are diverse, with main stages including World Stage, Club Stage, Urban Groove and Bass Stage, and a lot of pop and dance music in the mix. Festival-goers can enjoy dance and music workshops, a food fair and lots of craft and clothing markets along with the music. The festival also has an area dedicated to children's entertainment.
The Holland Festival is a yearly trend-setting and innovative presentation of the dramatic arts, and the highlight of the country's cultural season. Dance, music, theatre and opera performances are all on offer, meaning it truly covers the full spectrum of the arts. The festival also caters for a wide range of tastes, as attendees can expect to see everything from pop to high-drama. A street café on Leidseplein serves as the festival's centre.
Famous actors, authors and musicians mingle with the crowds, and Amsterdam's museums, theatres and galleries come alive with exciting exhibitions and performances. Travellers should check the festival's official website for details. Culture lovers could not pick a better time of year to visit the Netherlands. That said, they will need to book tickets and accommodation far in advance, as the festival is extremely popular.
Locals and tourists pack into central Amsterdam on New Year's Eve, then head to the city's many bars and clubs to continue celebrating. Dam Square and the Leidseplein draw most of the revelry and, as midnight approaches, fireworks light the sky.
The Oosterdok area usually hosts the biggest event, with the VOC Ship, Science Centre NEMO, and Scheepvaartmuseum forming a backdrop for festivities, free of charge. These open-air celebrations are a treat for the whole family, and are the occasion's main highlight.
Visitors can expect a festive, friendly mood in the city's bars, and a seedier atmosphere in the Red Light District. Many nightclubs offer New Year specials with top DJs, music concerts, and performances, and there are also a number of quirky parties for those who like to dress up.
Travellers who visit Amsterdam with kids in November should catch the annual appearance of Santa Claus. He usually arrives on a ship three weeks before the celebration begins, and rides a white horse to Dam Square. His coming is a festive occasion, when musical bands liven up the atmosphere, and are accompanied by animals, clowns and acrobats - much to the delight of children.
The true story of Santa Claus dates back to the 3rd century, when the Bishop of Myra, St Nicholas, dedicated his life to helping the poor and needy. The passing centuries gave rise to many legends and stories about St Nicholas, though he remains best known for giving presents to children. Visitors can see many puppet shows, arts and crafts stalls and theatrical performances in honour of his visit.
Every year, Uitmarkt heralds the official beginning of the country's cultural season. Essentially, it introduces and celebrates to the upcoming activities. Visitors will encounter stages all over Amsterdam, and can enjoy a wide variety of free performances, which include dance, music, film and theatre. They can also attend numerous workshops around Leidseplein and Musuemplein.
Hundreds of cultural institutions are on hand to provide information about their events. The festival's large book market is a must, and children will relish the junior programme.
Runners from all over the world enjoy Amsterdam's flat terrain, sparse traffic and stunning architecture. The race dates back to 1975, and is widely recognised as one of the most professionally organised races on the international athletics calendar.
Besides the main marathon, athletes can choose from a half marathon, a kid's marathon, a mini marathon and an 8km run. DJs, singers and samba bands line the course, egging runners on and entertaining spectators. Runners can carbo-load and socialise at a Pasta Party on the night before the race. Along with the public, they can also attend the free and popular marathon expo, which is home to stalls promoting all things related to athletics. The route traditionally starts and finishes at the Olympic Stadium.
Famed for its wild nightlife, Amsterdam offers visitors something quite unique when the sun goes down. Pubs, clubs, soft drugs and the sex trade feature among the options.
The Red Light District is a major drawcard, with many tourists choosing to simply wander through and see women posing in shop windows, and hear insistent touts push sex shows. Safety is not an issue, though visitors should be wary of pickpockets and other petty criminals. Travellers should also understand that De Wallen (as locals call the Red Light District) is a nightlife hub aside from the sex trade.
Amsterdam is famously tolerant of marijuana use. Visitors can purchase a variety of strains in some coffeeshops, and smoke at these establishments. Tourists should note that while marijuana use is tolerated, it's not strictly speaking legal. Some caution is necessary.
The city's mainstream nightlife centres around Leidseplein, where visitors will find the most popular bars, clubs and restaurants. Amsterdam also has a fondness for live music, particularly jazz, as many of the world's jazz legends have settled here. Music lovers can enjoy performances at fun jazz clubs, or catch world-class rock and pop acts at many venues. Bigger concerts take place at the Koninklijk Theater Carré, Heineken Music Hall, and the huge Amsterdam Arena.
For a more cultured night out, visitors can purchase tickets to a number of highly-regarded orchestras. Or, they can watch the National Ballet and Netherlands Opera. Many theatres produce shows in both Dutch and English, including De Balie, Felix Meritis, Theater Frascati, and the Vondelpark Open-Air Theater.
Being the bustling epicentre of Netherlands' trade, Amsterdam is a cosmopolitan city hosting all of the world's leading brands at shopping malls spread across the city. There is an especially impressive variety of fashion and jewellery stores at these centres. What is distinctive about shopping in Amsterdam is the opportunity for informal shopping on a large scale. The main shopping streets are between Central Station and the Leidseplein, including Nieuwendijk, Kalverstraat, Heiligeweg, and Leidsestraat. Some of these areas can be rather seedy, however, so for a more upmarket experience shoppers can head to PC Hooftstraat Street. The Nine Streets area near the main canals hosts a plethora of market stalls selling curios, second-hand clothing, antiques and other miscellany. There are also a number of unique shops in the Jordaan where you can buy popular Amsterdam souvenirs such as wooden clogs or tulips, blue and white Delft china, and Dutch football paraphernalia.
There are a number of street markets in Amsterdam, and while most concentrate on food and fresh produce there are a few with interesting curios for tourists. The largest is Albert Cuyp, while the Dappermarkt behind the zoo has been voted the best in the Netherlands. Another highlight of shopping in Amsterdam is the floating Bloemenmarkt or 'flower market', in which permanently docked barges market exotic flowers from around the world in the Singel Canal.
Most stores in Amsterdam are open until 6pm, with extended hours on Thursdays and reduced hours on Saturdays.
The central area of Amsterdam is fairly compact and easy to get around on foot. The GVB public transport office at Central Station has route maps and a guide to the ticketing system, which is based on zones, with the same ticket valid on trams, buses and metros. After midnight, night buses run from Central Station to most parts of the city. Taxis are among the most expensive in Europe and renting a car is not recommended. Streets in the city centre are narrow and awkward to navigate, and parking is limited and expensive. The ideal way to get around is by bicycle. Visitors will find several rental agencies around town.
Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands, and one of the most historic cities in Europe. Flat and blessed with a clear, crisp atmosphere, most of its attractions lie within easy walking distance. The city is perfectly navigable by foot or bicycle.
Visitors will find that a culture of art appreciation pervades Amsterdam. Indeed, two of the city's museums are dedicated to world-famous Dutch painters, namely the Van Gogh Museum and Rembrandt House. The Rijksmuseum holds a collection of 17th-century Dutch artists, including Frans Hals, Rembrandt and Vermeer. These museums, along with the Diamond Museum and the Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art, are located around Museum Square (Museumplein) - which is also home to the US Consulate and the famous Concertgebouw symphonic hall.
In keeping with the city's rich history, the very home in which Anne Frank and her family hid from the Nazis during the 1942 occupation is open to visitors. Her famous diary is preserved and on display. Other popular sites include the Hermitage Amsterdam, The Jewish Historical Museum, The Resistance Museum, and the Museum of the Tropics.
Amsterdam's reputation as a liberal party city attracts many tourists as well. Visitors tend to explore the Red Light District (De Wallen), where legalised prostitution and the sale of marijuana draw revellers from across the globe. The Amsterdam Sex Museum is not for the squeamish or easily offended.
Travellers can make the most of their time in Amsterdam by purchasing an I Amsterdam card, which will give them free access to public transport, as well as discounts on museums, attractions and restaurants. The card is available at several tourist offices in the city, at some museums and online.
Maastricht is one of the oldest cities in the Netherlands. Perched peacefully on the banks of the Maas River, it's among the sunnier spots on the country's southern-most point. The once humble Roman settlement now boasts a high number of national heritage sites. It's also the birthplace of the European Union and the single European currency, the Euro. Regarding attractions, ancient fortifications provide pleasant walking routes, and the Bonnefantenmuseum allows visitors to trace the city's historical origins. The Basilica of Saint Servatius is a medieval cruciform basilica that houses a significant collection of religious artefacts. Visitors will find a selection of old shops and department stores in the old centre of Maastricht, where they can savour the destination's fine food and wine. The university town's large and vibrant student community gives it a sense of energy.
The deliberately named Peace Palace is a significant place for arbitration, and for the maintenance and promotion of world peace. Situated in The Hague, the building houses the International Court of Justice, the Permanent Court of Justice and The Hague Academy of International Law. The International Court of Justice's first session took place here in 1946. Regular guided tours reveal the palace's wonderful gardens and impressive interiors. Visitors will also see a beautiful art collection, which various countries gifted to the Peace Palace. Tour dates appear on the official website, and must be booked in advance online. Visitors are not allowed to take photographs inside the palace, and cannot enter with luggage - including handbags. Lockers are provided, though. The Visitor's Centre (which is more of a museum) does a free audio guide and is a good option for anyone who can't go a tour.
Visiting the Hoge Veluwe National Park is a fantastic way to enjoy the Netherlands' (somewhat limited) great outdoors. The site's topography features heathland, peat bogs, woodland and even sand dunes. Its wildlife population includes badgers, foxes, red deer, roe deer, wild boar and mouflon (a kind of wild sheep), and provides ample cycling and walking opportunities. The area also houses the beautiful St. Hubertus Hunting Lodge, and the Kroller-Muller Museum, which contains artwork by luminaries such as Van Gogh, Picasso and Mondrian. Site visitors can walk through a Sculpture Garden as well.
The quaint city of Haarlem lies 15-minutes away from Amsterdam by train, and has the distinction of boasting more museums per capita than any other city in the Netherlands. Its cosy, small-town feel and cheaper accommodation rates mean that many tourists are choosing to make it their base while vacationing in the Netherlands. A bustling market and a wide array of bars, cafes, restaurants, and live music venues means that Haarlem is an attractive choice for a variety of travellers. Its mix of historic sights and youthful energy is tremendously appealing. Haarlem's list of must-see attractions includes the Grote Markt (Market Square), where 10 streets converge around the town's 700-year-old centre, and the Saint Bavo Church, which contains an organ that dates back to 1738 and was once played by the great composer, George Frederic Handel.
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