Amsterdam has always been a well-known name in world history. In the 17th century the city was the centre of world economy, and in more recent times it has been known for its tolerant character.
Amsterdam’s prosperity declined during the 18th and early-19th centuries, as the Netherland’s became embroiled in wars with England and France. However, the country managed to rise from the ashes and inspired by the characteristics of its progressive European counterparts, including the architecture of Paris, Amsterdam slowly grew into a vibrant and productive city once more.
Today Amsterdam has two distinct faces: as one of Europe’s most culturally alive and aesthetically pleasant cities, and as a hotbed of nocturnal hedonism. Perhaps Amsterdam’s most appealing trait is that it has all the benefits of a big city – culture, history, food, entertainment, and good transport – but with few of the disadvantages. It is compact, beautiful, relatively quiet, and thanks to the canals and tram system, enjoys little traffic.
The quickest and cheapest way to get to Amsterdam is to book with one of the budget airlines that fly into Schiphol Airport.
Schiphol Airport is a 10-15 minute ride from Amsterdam centre. A reputable taxi service is Amsterdam Taxis, which provides fast and reliable airport transfers.
Other popular alternatives is for visitors to fly into Eindhoven or the German city of Dusseldorf, before making their way to Amsterdam, with several budget airlines serving these airports. If you are arriving this way, you may want to consider using the AirExpressBus transfer service, which connects to Amsterdam from Eindhoven's main airport as well as Airport Weeze in Dusseldorf.
If you have more time on your hands, you may consider getting a
ferry connection to one of the various Nertherlands ports: Hook of
Holland, IJmuiden or Rotterdam. You can then drive via motorway to
Amsterdam, or catch a train connection to Central Station.
The weather in Amsterdam ranges from around freezing in the depths of winter, though usually with little snow, to typically pleasant sunny days of 20 to 25 degrees in the summer. Spring and autumn are pleasant, but can be wet.
Amsterdam is a popular stag party destination all-year-round (owing partly to its various indoor attractions) so there’s no particular month that you’re able to avoid them. However, the city is generally more crowded during the peak season, so if you fancy having more of it to yourself, you may want to consider avoiding these busy months.
Amsterdam is home to several iconic landmarks and none as historically poignant as the Anne Frank House. Located near the de Jordaan district, east of Central Station, the wartime hiding place of the young Jewish girl and her family, finally caught by the Nazis, is not to be missed.
Other cultural activities in Amsterdam can be found in the area of Museumplein, which boasts three world class museums - the Rijksmuseum, the Stedelijk (modern art) and the Van Gogh.
If you’re a family travelling with children, the Artis Zoo houses a fine aquarium, as well as a planetarium, a greenhouse and a zoological museum. Located east of Central Station, Artis is easily accessible by public transport (trams 9, 10 and 14 and Waterlooplein metro station).
Beer monsters will absolutely love the Heineken Brewery (now a museum and visitors’ centre), and particularly the free sample glasses they hand out at various intervals along the tour. Watch out for those trams and cyclists when you leave!
Amsterdam’s canals can be experienced as a spectator or a participant. If you have the time, it's worth taking one of the canal boat tours to see them from the water. They last about 90 minutes, and take you around the city and through the harbour.
If you're feeling energetic, you can hire a Canal Bike from several points through the city (Westerkerk, Leidseplein, Leidsestraat, Rijksmuseum), and choose your own route.
And then there is the Red Light District. From murky bars to brothels to sex shops, this notorious part of town leaves nothing to the imagination. Yet if you can take your eyes off the red-tinted windows, you may notice that this is in fact one of the oldest and most beautiful parts of the city with its narrow, cobbled streets and charming 14th century architecture, such as the gothic Old Church.
The one day of the year not to miss in Amsterdam is 30 April. Queen’s Day sees the whole city fill the streets for 24 hours partying. Despite some overcrowding (approximately 700,000 normally come out for the event) the atmosphere is traditionally relaxed and jovial.