If you want to take a trip to a small city that packs a big punch, Amsterdam is the perfect choice. With all of the city's history, attractions, and charm, Amsterdam offers enough to keep anyone busy! However, if you want to take in some sunshine without spending the afternoon in a museum, make sure to walk or bike across the city. Amsterdam's streets are full of sculptures, paintings, and even graffiti that will strike a chord in your creative side. As well as a host of artistic and cultural attractions, Amsterdam's cobbled streets and pleasant neighbourhoods make it the perfect place for simply mooching around. Amsterdam's café society is legendary (not just for the smoking!) too, as are its flower markets and generally relaxed and tolerant attitude towards life. Shop, eat, drink and enjoy -- this is a city designed for life and living.
Amsterdam is divided into 15 official districts, but the main places to stay are concentrated around the city centre. Dam Square is the unofficial heart of the centre, surrounded by shopping streets and the Red Light District as well as Chinatown. Looping round the centre are Amsterdam's main canals, which include Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht. Within the canal loop are some gorgeous tree-lined squares brimming with cafes and shops, and the famous Bloemenmarkt flower market. Southwest of the centre is the Museum Quarter, which contains some of Amsterdam's most well-known art galleries and museums, and beyond there to the west is the lovely Vondelpark, a beautiful green space beloved by locals within this chic area. Nearby De Pijp is arty and bohemian, and The Jordaan -- west of the centre and perhaps the district that most epitomizes old Amsterdam -- with its elegant 17th century townhouses in the classic Dutch style, has been gentrified into a charming area packed with hip bars and places to eat and shop. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Top Things to do in Amsterdam
One of the most popular attractions is Amsterdam's canal cruises. They might not be as famous as the canals in Venice, but Amsterdam has 165 canals that crisscross through the city. All of those canals provide nice waterfront views for lots of Amsterdam hotels. Whether you are looking for 5-star accommodation or cheap Amsterdam hotels, you can find a view of the water you like - without breaking your budget. Herengracht is a World Heritage site where stunning Dutch houses and cobbled streets line the canal-side, providing an exceptionally pretty spot. Brouwersgracht (Brewers' Canal) has been voted Amsterdam's most beautiful street; once full of warehouses, this canal is now lined with refurbished warehouses converted into swanky apartments.
Do not forget to visit the city's main attraction, the Anne Frank House, the house where the Jewish girl Anne Frank wrote her diary while hiding with her family from the Nazis. A sobering and reflective experience, the house is beautifully maintained and contains a perfect mock-up of Anne's bedroom complete with her actual diary.
Or view some masterpieces by the Dutch masters Rembrandt and Vermeer at the Rijksmuseum - the Museum of Art and History. With an impressive collection of miniatures and still life, this is a world-class collection of art and an absolute must-see.
One of the Netherland's most famous sons has a collection of art devoted to him in the Van Gogh Museum. Housing some of Van Gogh's famous works, such as The Potato Eaters, the museum also includes artefacts from the artist's life and works by contemporary painters such as Gauguin and Toulouse-Lautrec.
Copy the locals and pay a morning visit to the wonderful flea market at Waterlooplein to nab a bargain, or indulge your senses at the Bloemenmarkt, and maybe even buy a fresh bunch of tulips.
Amsterdam offers a famously liberal and vibrant evening and nightlife scene, packed with cafes, bars and clubs. Start your night by brushing up on your drinking history and enjoy a cocktail mixed at the fascinating House of Bols Cocktail & Genever Experience (situated opposite the Van Gogh Museum). For a classic café experience, try the Brown Cafes in Jordaan -- so called for their nicotine stained colour -- then head to Rembrandtplein for lively non-stop nightclubs and noisy bars. Leidseplein is also a buzzy late night square with cabaret and clubs galore, and the Reguliersdwarsstraat has some gay-friendly venues, or visit the Red Light District for more unique adult entertainment. For classical music, you cannot go wrong with the fabulous Concertgebouw concert venue located in the Museum district, while Café Cuba is a classy venue for a caipirinha in trendy Nieuwmarkt, the same district that houses Chinatown and a now hip and happening area. For a truly special Amsterdam experience, visit Tipsy Amsterdam, an innovative café-cum-bar-cum-art gallery near Jordaan that offers performance art, films and even a library, all accompanied by coffee and home-made cake.
Parks and the Great Outdoors
Amsterdam's pleasures are not just urban; if you want to get away from the water, you can get lost in a secret garden. When you are in Begijnhof, a secluded garden in the middle of the city, you cannot hear any of the sounds of the bustling city. Begijnhof used to be a convent; today it is just as quiet. Other wonderful green spaces in the city include elegant Vondelpark in the west, a haven of family life with picnic areas, lakes and landscaped grounds. Built in the 19th century, the park is a popular hangout for sporting types and one of the nicest places in the city to simply kick back and relax in. Alternatively, visit the Hortus Botanicus, a splendid botanical garden packed with rare and exotic plants brought back from the tropics that also contains a lovely butterfly house. Museumplein is a square in the Oud-Zuid (Old South) district that was built to house the World Exhibition of 1883, but is now a popular hangout for skaters in summer and ice skaters in winter. If you have young children, a day at the zoo is always a crowd-pleaser, and Amsterdam's Artis Zoo is a small but good example, with plenty of exotic animals, a reptile house and an aquarium. South of the city is Amstelpark, which contains a children's playground, pony rides, an orangery and a statue of Rembrandt.
When it comes to hotels, you are genuinely spoilt for choice in Amsterdam, which offers a multitude of accommodation to suit all budgets, from youth hostel-style dormitories to elegant canal-side luxury. Standards throughout the city are high and even basic accommodation is clean and well serviced. Romantic and luxurious historic properties are well catered to, and in keeping with the city's forward thinking mentality, there are many good design and boutique hotels to choose from. Centrum, around Centraal Station, is a cheap district for the budget conscious, while staying in and around the Jordaan will probably guarantee you a stylish, but more expensive stay. It is worth noting that many historic canal houses may offer luxury, but not necessarily spacious rooms. For the ultimate experience, you could follow in the footsteps of John and Yoko and book the suite at the Amsterdam Hilton where they enjoyed their famous 'Bed-in for peace', but it will cost you.