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Amsterdam featured image
Amsterdam featured image
Amsterdam featured image

Amsterdam

Amsterdam: a cultural cocktail shaken up with one part urban panache, two parts history, and a dash of notoriety. A visit to Amsterdam is no fleeting romance. You’ll fall head-over-heels in love with the city’s striking blend of 17th-century architecture, contemporary cultural flair, scenic canals, and cobblestone alleys.

There are works of art around every turn, from the masterpieces that fill the Rijksmuseum to the captivating canal houses of Grachtengordel. 

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Amsterdam has come a long way from its fishing village origins but still has a compact, quaint feel in the city center. The laneways are ready to ramble and the locals are ready to talk. While away the hours in a traditional brown cafe (named for the wood panelling) and take the scenic route by bike or boat. It won't be hard, as more than 1,500 bridges criss-cross this so-called “Venice of the North.”

Movie buffs should visit:

  • Magere Brug (Diamonds Are Forever);
  • Coffeeshop De Dampkring (Ocean’s Twelve);
  • Delft (Girl With a Pearl Earring).

Top attractions

Amsterdam's attractions are numerous, but it's arguably most famous for its extensive artistic heritage. This tradition is proudly on display in the Rijksmuseum (translates as State Museum). Once you've taken in all that has to offer, artists, history buffs, and families shouldn't pass up the chance to visit the Van Gogh Museum – containing around 700 paintings and drawings by Vincent and his contemporaries, including Gauguin, Monet, and Toulouse-Lautrec.

Amsterdam is also home to the Anne Frank Museum, where Anne hid with her family during the Nazi occupation of The Netherlands. On a lighter note, taking a canal cruise through its extensive waterways is a rewarding way to see the Dutch capital.

Art lovers get their kicks at:

  • The Van Gogh Museum;
  • Rijksmuseum;
  • Museum het Rembrandthuis.
     

Food and drink

Cheese lovers love Amsterdam. You can find an excuse to eat cheese at any time of the day here. Gouda is Holland's favorite, developing a more intense flavor the longer it's aged. Find a selection at the markets, try a cheeseboard at dinner time, or just order cubes with mustard for dipping to accompany a drink (by the way, Belgium isn't the only one around these parts to make fine beer; a host are made in Amsterdam).

When you're hungry for non-cheese food groups, you'll find Michelin-starred restaurants, vegetarian, and organic restaurants that accompany an array of global cuisine. For old-fashioned and modern Dutch food, try these Amsterdam restaurants: Moeders, Haesje Claes, Loetje, Greetje, and De Silveren Spiegel.

Don’t leave without tasting:

  • Patat (hot chips with toppings);
  • Stroopwafel (waffle cookie);
  • Chocomel (chocolate milk).

Where to stay

Looking for an out-of-the-ordinary accommodation in Amsterdam? Try a stay on a houseboat — a floating hotel fully equipped and well located for city exploration. If you're a female traveler and budget accommodation is on your list of things to find, Hostelle is a female-only property 15 minutes from the city center by train.

If you've got a hankering for luxury that's featured in a Hollywood movie, Hotel Pulitzer was in Ocean’s 12 and overlooks one of Amsterdam's prettiest canals. Or check in to the Hilton Amsterdam to be on the scene of former Beatle John Lennon and Yoko Ono's week-long stay in bed to promote world peace. Otherwise, you'll find all the usual budget to luxury hotels in Amsterdam. We recommend you book in advance — it's a popular town.

Shopping

Amsterdam shopping includes the Nine Streets (De Negen Straatjes) — literally nine narrow streets, in the historic canal district — dotted with art galleries, jewelers, vintage stores, and boutiques. The most exclusive shopping street is the P.C. Hooftstraat; art and old wares aficionados should go to the Mirror Quarter (Spiegelkwartier) a collection of more than 70 antique shops and galleries.

If you'd like to take Dutch design home with you, don't miss Frozen Fountain, or, for larger items, try Moooi. Are markets your style? Amsterdam's well-known flea market is on the Waterlooplein six days a week; the Singel flower market is beautiful; and the Sunday market at Westergasfabriek is fun for all.

Amsterdam like a local

Do as the locals do and explore on two wheels, cycling around the Old Centre and through the rural farmland in the north, or see the city from a new perspective on a canal cruise. There were more than 800,000 bicycles in Amsterdam at last count and cyclists here don't stop for pedestrians — two-wheelers have right of way. Bike lanes are normally marked by red or purple tiles, but their colors wear, especially along canals.

When all the cycling or walking has wearied your feet, make like an Amsterdammer and check out the free classical concerts held at the stately Concertgebouw — a beautiful concert hall opened in 1888. Even if you're not into classical music, the architecture is worth admiring.

Raise your glass at:

  • Cafe Belguique;
  • Cafe Luxembourg;
  • Brouwerij ‘t IJ.

A Break in Amsterdam

Want to take a quick trip to Amsterdam? Take a look at Liberty Travel’s EURObreaks – short European getaways tailor-made for you. Best of all, each EURObreak includes a City Insider, an expert who lives in and loves the city you’re exploring. They’ll give you an overview of the city and its history, highlighting what’s trendy, tried and true, or a combination – they’ll even give you a quick lesson in the city’s public transportation! Your City Insider helps ensure that your vacation memories will be unforgettable.

Things to do

Anne Frank House

Anne Frank House (Anne Frankhuis) displays the heart-rending existence of a German-Jewish girl on the precipice of womanhood living in Amsterdam and hiding from the Nazis during World War II — a girl we all know from her famous diary. Bringing her pages to life, a visit to Anne Frank House Museum is a sobering and must-see experience.

Sadly, for those not aware of the Anne Frank story, the Gestapo raided the annex and all the occupants were sent to camps. Anne's father Otto Frank was the only survivor of those hiding in the Secret Annex. Anne's wish was for her diary to be published after the war, which Otto honored, and then devoted himself post-war to working for human rights and mutual respect among people.

Visitors should be aware that Anne Frank House is a popular attraction with long queues and a waiting period of up to 45 minutes. It's recommended to purchase tickets online for a reserved time to avoid the lines.

Canals of Amsterdam

Known as the 'Venice of the North' for its lace-like web of concentric canals, this unique and picturesque attribute of Amsterdam lends a romantic sensibility to the progressive city and is a popular draw for visitors. For Amsterdammers who aren't traversing the city on a bicycle, it's simply a way to get around.

To explore the canals, you can go by boat, the hop-on, hop-off Canal Bus, on a designated canal cruise, or simply stroll around to soak up the ambience and marvel at the architecture of the houses and bridges. A unique feature of the canal houses is their size. In the 17th-century, homeowners were taxed on a building's width and not height, which accounts for the varying heights of the edifices and narrowness of some of the houses.

Amsterdam Museum

You'd expect an interesting city like Amsterdam to have a rich and varied past. The Amsterdam Museum (formerly known as the Amsterdam Historical Museum) offers lively and interactive insight into this multi-layered international city. From medieval times to soccer-crazed fans, a varied collection of art, objects, and archaeological finds brings Amsterdam to life.

Housed in a former convent, walk past the huge portraits in the Civil Guards Gallery to access the Amsterdam Museum's current exhibitions. The Amsterdam DNA exhibition is an opportunity to get under the skin of the local Amsterdammers and see how the values of enterprise, freedom of thought, creativity, and civic tenets underpin and helped to shape the modern-day city.

The Golden Age exhibition is a celebration of Holland's Golden Age of the 17th century — an era of great adventure, world trade, the United Dutch East India Company, economic wealth and growth, cultural and religious diversity, monarchy, artistic endeavors, and the construction of the Amsterdam canals. However it was also a dark time of slavery and war. This historical period, considered to be the blueprint for the modern incarnation of the Netherlands, comes to life in multimedia displays and stunning pieces by Golden Age contemporaries such as Rembrandt.

Heineken Experience

Amsterdam is home to one of the world's most famous and popular beers, Heineken, and its old, now-defunct brewery. While it is now brewed on the outskirts of the city, you may occasionally still spy the Heineken horse-drawn cart transporting kegs around town.

Whether you worship at the altar of the Dutch pilsner, or are simply interested in the ins and outs of a brewery, the Heineken Experience caters to all and is a popular draw for visitors to Amsterdam. Founded by Gerard Heineken in 1864, the original brewery has been transformed into the interactive Heineken Experience with tours of the facilities including an over-18 visit, which involves imbibing the product, naturally.

Rijksmuseum

Home to such iconic works as Rembrandt's The Night Watch, Vermeer’s The Milkmaid, and treasured masterpieces by the likes of Steen, Brouwers, and Hals, the newly reopened Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum houses an exhaustive collection of Dutch art, including paintings, sculpture, ceramics, textiles, paper works, as well as historical furniture and interiors, fashion, weapons, and ship models. The entire Rijkmuseum collection consists of around 1 million historical items and objets d'art displayed in 80 galleries.

Van Gogh Museum

Think of suffering for your art, and the quintessential tortured artist and 19th-century painter Vincent Van Gogh immediately springs to mind. Opened in 1973, The Van Gogh Museum showcases the largest collection of the prolific Dutch artist's works in the world, including over 200 authentic paintings, 437 drawings, and 31 prints spanning five distinct periods over a decade.

And that infamous ear-lopping episode? During his stay in Arles in France, Van Gogh suffered a psychotic episode where he threatened fellow artist Paul Gaugin with a razor before severing a piece of his own left ear. After his discharge from an asylum, Van Gogh struggled to get back on track, but, despite recurrent lapses, he managed to produce 150 paintings, including masterpieces such as Irises, during his voluntary admission at Saint-Remy psychiatric hospital. Eventually he succumbed to depression and shot himself after completing his iconic work, Wheatfield with Crows, dying two days later in Auvers-sur-Oise, near Paris, on July, 29 1890. Art aficionados, however, remember Vincent Van Gogh as a post-impressionist renowned for his signature brushstroke style, saturation of color, and honest beauty.

 

Amsterdam Fast Facts

Approximate flight times

  • NYC/Newark 7 hours, 20 minutes
  • Philadelphia 8 hours
  • Boston 7 hours
  • Miami 9 hours, 45 minutes
  • Los Angeles 10 hours, 15 minutes

Flight time estimates are based on non-stop airfares.

Entry requirements

Passport must be valid for at least 3 months beyond your planned departure from the Schengen area and have 2 blank pages for entry stamp.

Climate

Both winter and summer in Amsterdam are considered mild, though sometimes quite cool. Rain is more common in the cooler months, from October through March.

Official language

Dutch

Official currency

Euro