Everybody knows Amsterdam: whether for its numerous canals adorned with medieval merchant houses, or for its tolerant spirit reflected in ‘coffeeshops’ and the ‘red light district’. Whatever the reason, we are talking about an immensely atmospheric and outstandingly beautiful city. The Capital of the Netherlands, although not the seat of the government is by far the country’s biggest asset. Though annoyingly touristy it showcases brilliantly the perfect relationship between nature and architecture. If you are visiting Amsterdam for the first time this guide is for you!
What is Amsterdam Like
Just like most of the country, Amsterdam lies at sea level. Canals were built all over the country, but nowhere as interesting as here. Most of them go cyclically around the historical center starting and ending at the large IJ Lake. The city is named after the Amstel River, which crosses in the center from north to south. Practically all the streets follow the direction of the canals. The City center coincides with the geographical center and is spread over several islands just south of the IJ Lake. The city’s oldest street Warmoestraat is here.
What to See in Amsterdam
All of the city’s important sights are located inside the four central districts: Old Town, Jordaan, Canal Ring and Plantage. Amsterdam Centraal Train Station marks the beginning of Damrak Street which takes you to several important landmarks. The first one, the Old Stock exchange or Beurs Van Berlage, is a magnificent example of the early modernist movement. The city’s oldest building is behind the exchange, the Oude Kerk (Old Church). Built as a catholic church, in the 16th century it became a Calvinist church. It possesses the largest medieval wooden vault in Europe. Further down Damrak Street on the Dam Square, we find the Royal Palace and the Niewe Kerk (New Church). Built as a City Hall in the 17th century, today the Palace is one of the residences of the Royal family. The New church today serves as an exhibition space. Further down south, where the Amstel River starts, don’t miss the only floating flower market in the world Bloemenmarkt. It’s a great place to see tulips in Amsterdam. Next to it, the Rembrandtplein is the center of the bar culture. Continuing southwest through pedestrian Leidsestraat Street you will get to Amsterdam’s most famous park: Vondelpark. In the same area the Museumplein is home to three world class museums: Stedelijk, Van Gogh’s and Rijksmuseum.
Check out this post if you only have one day in Amsterdam.
And check this one if you have two days in Amsterdam.
Bear in mind that the word ‘budget’ has a totally different meaning in Amsterdam than in Eastern or Southern Europe. The Old Town, and especially the area next to the Train Station is packed with hostels, guesthouses and bed and breakfasts. Most of them are budget options. The area is close to important sites, the red light district and major coffeeshops, thus it’s a bit noisy and convoluted. Other areas like Jordaan, Plantage and to a lesser extent Canal Ring offer less options. The cheapest area is Amsterdam West a bit far of the centre. Perhaps the best location to stay in Amsterdam is South Amsterdam (Amsterdam Zuid) not far from Vandelpark and the Museums. It is a bit more relaxed, little less expensive, yet you are where it all happens.
Amsterdam is a city for bicycles. Virtually everybody has one, and most of the people use it for daily transportation. Rental agencies and bike lanes are spread all around the city. Walking is another great way to discover the city, it will allow you to move even in crowded pedestrian areas. Public transport is not cheap, but is pretty efficient. There are bus, metro and tram lines. Boats are a great way to see another side of Amsterdam. The free ferry operates only across the IJ Lake. Try it if you have time. Taxis are expensive, but reliable. Avoid taking one at the Central Train Station.
Amsterdam has a unique history shaped by its geographical position, surrounded by water. Apart from endless canals, lakes and rivers the landscape is completely flat and uninspiring. In such a monotonous environment the only thing the Dutch could do was to invest all their energy in building architectural marvels. And they made it. No other city in the world has achieved such harmony between buildings, streets, parks and nature. Nowhere else does the urban continuity looks so obvious than here. Just take a long walk from the center to the periphery and you’ll notice different historical layers gradually leaving space for newer ones. Even more: you can enjoy all these architectural beauties with a zip of beer or a drag of a joint. Plus parties are nice. Let’s not exaggerate though, the nightlife in Amsterdam is not close enough to Madrid or even Barcelona.
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Amsterdam Travel Guide
- Stay near Vondelpark. Happy Frog recommends West Side Inn
- Oude Kerk and Niewe Kerk;
- Floating flower market;
- Beurs Van Berlage, Het Schip and Scheepvaarthuis;
- Dam square, Rembrandtplein and Leidseplein;
- Rijksmuseum and Stedelijk.
- Cat boat Amsterdam
- Have breakfast in Omelegg;
- Have beer and a joint in De Dampkring Coffeeshop.
- By bike, on foot, by metro and tram.
- Go on an excursion to Zaanse Schans and Alkmaar (on a Friday morning). Or visit the authentic Old Holland.
- Check out other cool day trips.
DO NOT MISS:
- Wander around the Old Town, exploring its numerous canals;
- Take a free ferry to NDSM;
- Explore new social housing neighborhoods in Zeeburg;
- Have a walk around the Red Light District;
- Spend the afternoon in Vondelpark.