Amsterdam is one of Europe’s most unique cities with its intricate network of canals. The canals form a crescent surrounding the city’s center and within that network of canals, 17th-century engineers built 90 islands and hundreds of bridges. Along those canals, the wealthy merchants of Holland’s Golden Age built fine shops and homes that still define the city’s architecture and style.

Amsterdam canals are part of what visitors love most about exploring Amsterdam. While on vacation, be sure to book a canal cruise to see the city.

Canals in Amsterdam. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

Today, Amsterdam—with more canals than Venice and more bridges than Paris—is one of the most popular European tourist destinations with nearly 13 million visitors in 2014. It’s time to explore the magic of this modern metropolis, often called Venice of the North, that is still alive with Old World Charm.

Amsterdam’s Culture

The city center is so compact that you can walk almost anywhere. And that’s the best way to explore the art culture that has made Amsterdam what it is today. As you stroll along the streets, you’ll quickly feel the magic of this Old World city. Street musician will captivate you with their melodies. Sit in one of the sidewalk cafés and soak up the friendly banter of the locals. Stroll through one of the more than 40 museums. Enjoy exquisite examples of sculptures and statues by artisans of yesterday and today that line many of the streets.

Amsterdam was Rembrandt’s home and the unofficial headquarters for the Dutch Masters in the 17th century. One of the premier examples of Amsterdam’s art is The Rijksmuseum. You can experience the wealth of the Golden Age under its roof: beautiful dolls’ houses, fine silverware, exquisite examples of Delftware, and famous paintings by Jan Steen Frans Hals, Vermeer, and Rembrandt. A multimillion-dollar renovation was completed in 2008. The museum is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm and is free to anyone 18 and under. Admission €17.50 for adults.

Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum is a must-see museum when you visit Amsterdam

Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum. Photo by Rob Lee via Creative Commons.

Another intriguing don’t-miss museum is The Rembrandt House located in the city’s center just off Damstraat. Inside the home Rembrandt purchased in 1639, you’ll discover a little of the artist’s life. The house contains an almost complete collection of Rembrandt’s etchings. The house is open year round except for April 27 and December 25 from 10 am to 6 pm (with late opening on January 1 and early closing on December 24 and December 31). Admission is €13 for adults.

Rembrandt's Materials at The Rembrandt House in Amsterdam

Rembrandt’s Materials at The Rembrandt House in Amsterdam. Photo by Casey and Sonja via Creative Commons

As you meander through town, you’ll not want to miss the Town Hall (Royal Palace) on the Dam. The original building burned in 1652. It was rebuilt on nearly 14,000 wooden poles buried over 30 feet in the ground. The “new” building opened in 1655. Today, the Dutch Royal House officially entertains visiting dignitaries here. When not being used for official duties, guests are invited to visit the Royal Palace. It is open from 10 am to 5 pm daily. Admission is €10 and includes a free mobile guide available in English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Chinese or Russian.

Visit the Amsterdam Royal Palace during a trip to Amsterdam in the Netherlands.

Amsterdam Royal Palace. Photo by Rhys Asplundh via Creative Commons

One unforgettable spot in Amsterdam is the Anne Frank House. It was here, in a small home not far from Dam Square, that the young Jewish girl lived and wrote her famous diaries during the Nazi occupation of Holland. The house is now a museum, open daily from 9 am to 7 pm from November to March and 9 am to 10 pm from April through October. There is a new entry process being introduced on May 1, 2016. Only those who purchase an online ticket will be able to enter the museum from 9 am to 3:30 pm. If you wish to purchase a ticket at the museum, you will only be able to visit from 3:30 pm until closing. Officials hope this will cut down on the notoriously long lines. Check online for any additional closing times. Admission is €9 for adults.

Two other world-renowned museums are the Vincent van Gogh Museum and the Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art. The Vincent van Gogh houses the world’s largest collection of van Gogh’s art—200 paintings and 400 drawings. The Stedelijk is known for its trend-setting permanent collection and phenomenal temporary exhibits of modern art. Both are open 10 am to 6 pm daily, with extended hours until 10 pm on Fridays.

Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam

Van Gogh Museum. Photo by Jan Kees Steenman

Getting Around Amsterdam

With so many sites to see in Amsterdam, being able to get from one place to the next is essential. Everything in the city’s center is easy walking. You can wander across bridges, wind your way up narrow side streets, and stroll along the canals between museums, galleries, and restaurants. If you choose to explore further, you’ll find the public transportation clean, efficient, and easy to use.

One of the best buys for visitors to Amsterdam is the I amsterdam City Card. The tourist card features dozens of free offers and discounts, including free entry to many museums and attractions. In addition, you also get free transportation by tram, bus, and subway, a free canal cruise, and discounts at various restaurants and clubs. You can purchase a card for 24 hours (€55), 48 hours (€65), 72 hours (€75), or 96 hours (€85). The cards are available at any tourist office or for advance purchase online.

I amsterdam Store is a great first stop to pick up your I amsterdam City Card when visiting Amsterdam. You get free entry to many museums, free rides on public transportation and other discounts.

I amsterdam Store is the place to pick up great Amsterdam keepsakes and your I amsterdam City Card. Photo by Koen Smilde courtesy I amsterdam

You’ll find bicycles everywhere in Amsterdam. Although officially a mode of transportation, the bicycle has become part of the city’s culture as well. There are just under 750,000 people living in the city of Amsterdam and officials estimate there are more than 881,000 bikes in the city. Bikes are ideal for navigating the city’s streets, which are barely more than a network of pedestrian paths.

Bikes along an Amsterdam canal. Bikes are part of the culture in Amsterdam. Remember when you visit that bikes have the right-of-way on the streets. Rent one and see the streets like a local.

Bikes along an Amsterdam canal. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

There are numerous spots where you can rent bikes and the shops will help you map out a route that will let you take in the city. Remember when you’re walking that bicycles have the right of way in Amsterdam.

While the canals were once the primary means of transportation in the city, you won’t find yourself hopping on a boat to get uptown. However, you should take a canal cruise to experience the charm of what was once Europe’s richest city. There are 90 minute trips offered throughout the day. They start from Damrak at Centraal Station. Check on times and pricing there.

Shopping in Amsterdam

With more than 10,000 shops, 141 galleries, 165 antique shops, and 25 markets, Amsterdam offers endless shopping possibilities. From department stores to specialty shops to fashionable boutiques, you’ll find something for everyone.

Amsterdam is especially famous for its specialty shops—each selling items as unique as kites, toothbrushes, or chocolate. The best place to explore the small shops and galleries is among the narrow streets meandering off from the main canals.

For those who prefer to visit more upscale shops, be sure to catch the Bijenkorf on the Damrak, the Magna Plaza shopping gallery in the restored main post office just behind the Royal Palace, and Metz & Co. on the Leidsestraat.

De Bijenkorf Amsterdam is a great spot for shopping during your visit to Amsterdam.

De Bijenkorf Amsterdam. Photo courtesy DIEDERIK VAN DER LAAN

Amsterdam’s diamond dealers are some of the world’s most prestigious. Diamond merchants from around the world bring valuable stones to Amsterdam, where the stones become dazzling jewels. You’ll find impressive deals on diamonds and other precious stones throughout the city.

Amsterdam is also a goldmine for those searching for art and antiques. Explore some of Europe’s finest art and antiques dealers along the Spiegelkwartier leading to the Rijksmuseum.

If you prefer bargain shopping, you’ll find bargains galore in Amsterdam. The largest market, Waterlooplein Market, is a world famous flea market known as much for entertainment as bargain hunting.

Amsterdam Waterlooplein Flea Market is not just a great spot to get deals on souvenirs when visiting Amsterdam, it is also wonderfully entertaining and gives you a chance to experience the real Amsterdam.

Amsterdam Waterlooplein Flea Market. Photo by By Incase Designs from Los Angeles, via Wikimedia Commons

Be sure to visit the world’s only floating flower market along the Singel canal. You might also want to catch the Philatelist Market on Wednesdays and Saturdays and the Amsterdam Book Market every Friday.

visit the Amsterdam Bloemenmarkt, the world's only floating flower market. Seeing all the flowers in bloom is definitely a wow moment for visitors to Amsterdam.

Amsterdam Bloemenmarkt is the world’s only floating flower market. Photo by Bo&Ko via Creative Commons

Shops in the city center are open Tuesday and Wednesday through Saturday from 9 am to 6 pm, Thursday from 9 am to 9 pm and Sundays from noon to 7 pm. Most shops don’t open until 1 pm on Mondays.

Nights in Amsterdam

After a day of shopping and wandering through museums, you can sit, relax, and enjoy dinner at one of Amsterdam’s many restaurants.

Amsterdam Avond Bridge

Amsterdam Avond Bridge. Photo by Koen Smilde courtesy I amsterdam

Easting is steeped in tradition in Amsterdam. After a breakfast and lunch of breads and cold meats, you’ll want to kick off the evening with the Borrel (a social drink with a group of friends). At 5 pm, locals gather to enjoy a glass of beer, a nip of Dutch jenever (Dutch gin), or a glass of wine with cheeses, nuts, and crackers.

Dinnertime meals are varied and you can find almost anything in Amsterdam’s restaurants. Be sure to try a bowl of traditional Dutch pea soup (erwtensoep). For classic Dutch fare, check out Tomaz in the Medieval quarter. An interesting twist on Dutch cooking is the influence of the Spice Islands of Indonesia on the local cuisine. A classic example is the “rijsttafel” (rice table)—a beautiful array of about 20 tangy little dishes served with rice and Dutch beer. For the best marriage of Dutch and Indonesian cuisine, check out Café Kadijk.

Perhaps you’d prefer to grab a quick bite to eat and spend the evening in one of Amsterdam’s “brown cafés” (bruine café). It’s definitely one way to discover the heart of the city. These traditional pubs with their dark interiors are world-renowned. They can be large taverns serving thousands each year or tiny bars that survive with the patronage of a few locals. Whatever the size or location, brown cafés share several common traits—the walls and ceilings have turned brown from age and cigarette smoke, there are usually some historic claims to fame, and there is never any music.

When you step inside, just sit back, down a couple of beers with the locals, and let them regale you with stories. You might try Café Karpershoek, which opened in the early 1600’s and still sports sand floors. Or perhaps you should try Café Chris, reportedly opened in 1624 and said to be the city’s oldest Brown café. Whether you choose one of these or the dozens of others throughout the city, remember that Dutch beer should have a modest layer of froth on top—two fingers thick to be precise.

Staying in Amsterdam

Amsterdam has an abundance of small hotels and rooms for rent. If you prefer something more luxurious, book a room at Sofitel Legend The Grand Amsterdam.

The Grand is a historic hotel located just off Dam Square, bordered by two canals. The hotel has 177 rooms, including 52 suites. Although the hotel only opened in 1992, the building has a colorful history. It was a convent founded in 1411, served as home to the Dutch Admiralty, and was later Town Hall.

The Grand Amsterdam is a legendary hotel by Sofitel. The hotel, opened in 1992 on the site of an old convent, is steeped in history, but offers every modern luxury.

The Grand Amsterdam. Photo courtesy The Grand Amsterdam

Amsterdam has inspired artists for centuries. Somehow, the city has managed to preserve its Old World charm and picturesque qualities. today, you’ll find that charm of yesteryear blended perfectly with the industrious and modern Amsterdam of the 21st century.

One of the best ways to book your entire trip to Amsterdam, including flight arrangements and hotel, is to visit Travelocity.

Wander Wisely

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