Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands, is a city of more than a million people. It’s the country's largest city and its financial, cultural and creative center. It's often called the “Venice of the North” because of the network of ancient canals that snake through the city; there are 1,500 bridges. If nothing else, stroll the streets when you’re at the Cup and take in the Old World architecture. It’s a city of rich history with a well-deserved reputation for tolerance of other human beings and their different attitudes.
You’ll arrive at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS), one of the busiest airports in the world, situated 15 km southwest of the city. From Schiphol, there is a direct train to Amsterdam Central Station, for €3.90 (or €7.80 for same-day return), in 20 min. You can buy the ticket from the yellow machine with blue writing. If you purchase your ticket at the counter you’ll pay €0.50 extra. There are many machines. Most machines accept credit or debit cards, but sometimes they don’t accept cash. Don't buy the comfort class ticket; buy a single ticket for second class. This ticket is valid on Sprinter, Intercity and night trains to Amsterdam – but not on Thalys.
The train station at Schiphol is located underground, under the main airport hall; trains to Amsterdam Central Station usually run from platform 3. Keep in mind that there are two separate railway lines to Amsterdam; one goes to Amsterdam Centraal station and the other goes to Amsterdam Zuid (Amsterdam South). There will be a lighted signboard on the yellow train. The train for Centraal will say either: AMSTERDAM CENTRAAL or AMSTERDAM CS. These lines are not connected with each other so check if the train you board goes to the Amsterdam you want.
There are about five trains per hour between Schiphol and Amsterdam at peak times. Trains run all night, although between 1am and 5am only once an hour during weekdays. The airport is connected with Amsterdam twice an hour in weekends (Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights). The price and duration of the journey are the same as during the day. A taxi will cost you about €40-50. Depending on the time of day and traffic levels, it could take only 25 minutes. If you're unlucky, it could take twice as long
The medieval center and most visited area of Amsterdam. It is known for its traditional architecture, canals, shopping and many coffeeshops. Dam Square is considered its ultimate center, but just as interesting are the areas around Nieuwmarkt and Spui. The Red Light District is also a part of the Old Centre.
The Canal Ring
The Canal Ring was excavated in the 17th century to attract wealthy homeowners. A posh neighborhood, it’s home to the Leidseplein and Rembrandtplein, the city's prime nightlife spots.
A traditional working class area that’s gone upscale, loaded with art galleries, hip boutiques and good restaurants.
Intended to be an extension of the Canal Ring, lack of demand made this into a leafy area with lots of greenery, botanical gardens and Artis Zoo.
Your Cup trip won’t be complete without a visit to the Museum Quarter. You can chill in the Vondelpark with a bottle of wine, or go hunt for bargains at the Albert Cuyp Market. Lodging is considerably cheaper than in the city center.
A vast suburban area that can be divided in Old and New West. The Old West is a charming area built in the late 19th century. The New West was built after World War II; urban renewal is underway to improve living conditions in this area.
The North is mainly a residential suburb with a rapidly developing hub of cultural activity. Many visitors are attracted to the area east of the motorway A10, a protected area. Explore this traditional Dutch countryside by bicycle.
The East is a large and diverse residential area. The Eastern Docklands and IJburg stand out as relatively affluent neighborhoods known for their modern architecture.
An exclave of Amsterdam, the Bijlmer was foreseen as a neighborhood of the future with large apartment blocks separated by tracts of green. It turned into a lower-class residential district home to people of over 150 nationalities. Mostly visited by adventurous travelers -- and soccer fans.
In 2010, a contactless card called “OV-chipkaart” (or “public transport chip card’) was introduced. The chipkaart is the only valid way of traveling in Amsterdam. To travel with a card, one has to check in at the start of the journey and check out at the end by holding the card in front of the card reader. Three types of OV-chipkaart are available: A personal card on which you can load weekly/monthly/yearly subscriptions; an anonymous card on which you can load money which can be spent on public transport; or a disposable card which can be used for a limited number of hours only.
The first two types carry a fee of €7.50 for the card itself, and you have to have at least €4 on it to be able to travel. The OV-chipkaart can be obtained from GVB vending machines in all metro stations, from the desks at some bigger stations (including Centraal Station) and some shops.
For visitors, the most useful type of travel pass is probably the 1/24/48/72/96/120/144/168-hour ticket, issued as a disposable OV-card without extra cost. This allows the holder to travel on an unlimited number of journeys on tram, metro and GVB bus services throughout the validity period of the pass. On a tram, only the one- and 24-hour tickets can be purchased on board. These passes are also available at tourist offices (located at Schiphol airport and just outside Centraal Station), AKO bookstores in Schiphol Airport and Centraal Station, many hotels and GVB Tickets and Info.
USING THE TRAM
The tram is the main form of public transport system in the central area, and there are also dozens of night bus routes which run in place of the trams between midnight and 5am. All tram stops have a detailed map of the system and the surrounding area. You can also get a free public transport map at the GVB Tickets and Info offices (just outside Centraal Station) or in the tram.
Most trams have conductors, near the rear. You board (and obtain tickets if necessary) by the driver or the conductor. If you have questions, the conductor or driver will be sure to respond to your query. Remember that you can only buy one-hour and 24-hour tickets on board the tram.
When boarding and getting off, you must check in and out by placing your ticket/OV-chipkaart on one of the abundant round-shaped readers, even if you have just bought a ticket on board. All trams have pre-recorded audio announcements indicating the next stop, with most also having visual indication. All announcements on board are in Dutch, however some announcements (such as those indicating termini and important stops (such as Dam Square) and reminders to check out when getting off) are also in English.
There are approximately 750,000 people living in Amsterdam and they own about 800,000 bicycles. The city is very, very bike-friendly, with separate bike lanes on most major streets. In the city center, however, there is often not enough space for a bike lane, so cars and cyclists share narrow streets. Watch out for other cyclists. Always show other traffic where you're going (e.g., by holding out your hand) in order to avoid accidents and smoothen the traffic flow.
If not indicated otherwise by signs, the right-before-left rule applies. Avoid getting your tire in the tram rails; it's a nasty fall. Always cross tram rails at an angle. When crossing tram lanes, watch out for fast approaching taxis. Cycling in Amsterdam takes a significant amount of skill. If you don't feel entirely comfortable on a bike, avoid it. If you’re as good a biker as the locals, rent a bike!
There are bike rental shops at stations, and several others in and around the city center. Bikes cost about €9 to €20 per Make sure to get a good lock and use it. Amsterdam has one of the highest bicycle theft rates in the world. Bikes are great for exploring the surrounding countryside. Within half an hour you're out of town.
Amsterdam has one of the largest historic city centers in Europe, with about 7,000 registered historic buildings. The street pattern has been largely unchanged since the 19th century -- there was no major bombing during World War II. The center consists of 90 islands linked by 400 bridges, some of them beautifully lit at night.
The inner part of the city centre, the Old Centre, dates from medieval times. The oldest streets are the Warmoesstraat and the Zeedijk located in the Nieuwmarkt area of the Old Centre. As buildings were made of wood in the Middle Ages, not much of this period's buildings have survived. Two medieval wooden houses did survive though, at Begijnhof 34 and Zeedijk 1. Other old houses are Warmoesstraat 83 (built around 1400), Warmoesstraat 5 (around 1500) and Begijnhof 2-3 (around 1425). The Begijnhof is a late-medieval enclosed courtyard with the houses of beguines, Roman Catholic women living in a semi-religious community. Beguines are found in Northern France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and northwestern Germany. House number 34 at the Begijnhof is the oldest home in Amsterdam. Entry to the courtyard and surrounding gardens is free, but be careful not to disturb the local community still living here.
One of the most prominent features is the Canal Ring, a concentric ring of canals built in the 17th century. The merchant-based oligarchy that ruled the trading city of Amsterdam built canal houses and mansions in the most prestigious locations here, especially along the main canals.
Incidentally, windmills were not built in urban areas, since the buildings obstructed the wind. The Amsterdam windmills were all originally outside its city walls. There are a total of eight windmills in Amsterdam, and most of them are in West. However, the best one to visit is De Gooyer, which is not far from the city centre, and is being used as a brewery for you to enjoy.
Amsterdam has an amazing collection of museums, ranging from masterpieces of art to porn, vodka and cannabis. The most popular ones can get very crowded in the summer peak season, so it's worth exploring advance tickets or getting there off-peak (e.g. very early in the morning). Some of the quality museums that you can't miss:
The Anne Frank House is dedicated to Anne Frank, a Jewish girl who kept a diary while hiding from Nazi persecution in hidden rooms at the rear of the building. It's an exhibition on the life of Anne Frank, but also highlights other forms of persecution and discrimination.
Rijksmuseum is a top-class museum that has a large collection of paintings from the Dutch Golden Age. Some artists you can't overlook are Rembrandt van Rijn, Johannes Vermeer, Frans Hals and Jan Steen. The must-sees are Rembrandt's Night Watch and Vermeer's Milkmaid. The museum also boasts a substantial collection of Asian art.
The Van Gogh Museum has the largest collection of Van Gogh's paintings and drawings in the world. The Dutch post-Impressionist painter’s work had a far-reaching influence on 20th century art for its vivid colors and emotional impact.
Nieuw Dakota is a relatively new exhibition space in Amsterdam Noord. It sums up the city's exciting contemporary art scene. The warehouse space exhibits established artists as well as supporting emerging artists from Amsterdam and beyond.
THE RED LIGHT DISTRICT
The Red Light District consists of several canals, and the side streets between them, south of Central Station and east of Damrak. Prostitution itself is limited to certain streets, mainly side streets and alleys, but the district is considered to include the canals, and some adjoining streets (such as Warmoesstraat and Zeedijk). The area has a heavy police presence, and many security cameras. Nevertheless, it is still a residential district and has many bars and restaurants, and also includes historic buildings and museums. The area has many sex shops and peep show bars. Caution: Take pictures at your own risk; you may lose your camera!
SHOPPING & DINING
The main central shopping streets run in a line from near Central Station to the Leidseplein: Nieuwendijk, Kalverstraat, Heiligeweg, Leidsestraat. The emphasis is on clothes/fashion, but there are plenty of other shops. For quick dining try Eetcafes that serve evening and nighttime meals.
Most Asian restaurants are clustered at the Zeedijk in Nieuwmarkt, for this reason often dubbed as Amsterdam's Chinatown. Chinatown also offers plenty of Chinese, Thai and Japanese restaurants.
A fairly busy road filled with small and cheap Chinese and Middle Eastern restaurants. Definitely a good place for budget travelers. The numerous falafel bars have a good value, often with an "all you can pile" salad bar.
This street goes from the Dam Square to the central station. It has multiple narrow streets crossing it and here you can find the best ice cream in Amsterdam. There are two shops: One is called “Zomer ijs en winter kost” (summer ice and winter food) and is located on number 6. They have all the flavors you can think of. All the ice is homemade with natural ingredients. In the winter, typical Dutch winter food is served, like mashed potatoes with cabbage and sausage. The other is called Bakkerij van der Linde. It’s officially a bakery, but they don’t sell bread. They do sell Amsterdam’s most famous whipped cream ice, almond cookies and cakes. The texture is creamy and soft; it melts easy and they put it in a cone with a soupspoon. A small ice cream costs 1 euro; a big one, 2.
Many restaurants of all kinds can be found here (north of Jordaan), and in the narrow streets crossing the two. Also worth trying is the Van Woustraat in the Pijp, or continue to the Rijnstraat in the Rivierenbuurt. Exquisite but expensive restaurants can be found in the Utrechtse Straat.
Situated on the crossroads of the Weteringschans, the Marnixstraat, and the Leidsestraat., the Leidseplein is one of the busiest centers for nightlife in the city. It’s packed with restaurants, nightclubs and coffeeshops
BARS & PUBS
The archetypical Amsterdam watering hole is the bruine ("brown bar" or "brown café"), a neighborhood pub of sorts with gorgeous dark wood paneling. Hence, the name. These don’t sell pot.
Many nightclubs are grouped at Leidse Square and Rembrandt Square in the Canal Ring. Prices are relatively high. You can't go wrong at Melkweg, Sugarfactory and Paradiso, three live music venues that usually have a large queue in weekends. Paradiso has the best interior, as it used to be a church, while Melkweg feels more like a nightclub. Sugarfactory is a little more intimate and is a multidisciplinary platform for young talent.
Coffeeshops, not to be confused with coffeehouses or cafes, are allowed to sell cannabis and hash for personal use (not more than five grams). While technically still illegal, mostly to comply to international treaties, personal use of (soft) drugs are regulated by the Ministry of Justice under an official policy of gedogen; literally this means to accept or tolerate, legally it is a doctrine of non-prosecution on the basis that action taken would be so highly irregular as to constitute selective prosecution. The city council of Amsterdam allows coffeeshops to operate only with the provision of set, non-transferable licenses as shown by an official green and white sticker on the window of a coffeeshop. Coffeeshops are to sell only soft drugs (such as cannabis), selling of other drugs is not allowed.
There are about 250 coffeeshops in Amsterdam, most of them in the Old Centre. Prices hover around €7.50 for one gram, with the average joint holding around 0.33g and a five-gram per person sales limit. Some offer vaporizers/inhalators. Toking up is not allowed in public places, though in reality it will never be an issue. Just stay away from children's playgrounds and schools.
When leaving Amsterdam, give yourself enough time to get to your plane and through security (especially when flying to the United States)! Schiphol is a large airport. Be there at least two hours in advance. Plenty of fast-food chains and restaurants are available before getting on your return flight