Difference between revisions of "Amsterdam"
Revision as of 19:06, 15 June 2013
Amsterdam  is the capital of the Netherlands. With more than one million inhabitants in its urban area, it is the country's largest city and its financial, cultural, and creative centre. Amsterdam is colloquially known as Venice of the North, because of its lovely canals that criss-cross the city, its impressive architecture and more than 1,500 bridges. There is something for every traveller's taste here, whether you prefer culture and history, serious partying, or just the relaxing charm of an old European city.
Settled as a small fishing village in the late 12th century, Amsterdam became one of the most important trading centres in the world during the Dutch Golden Age of the 17th century. The city's small mediaeval centre rapidly expanded as the Jordaan and the Canal Belt neighbourhoods were constructed; the latter's cultural significance was acknowledged when it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the city expanded in all directions, with many new neighbourhoods and suburbs designed in modernist styles.
Amsterdam is not the seat of the government, which is in The Hague. It has always been a city that attracted many people from outside it's borders. Nowadays it's the city with the most different nationalities in the world (178 in 2010). The city has an informal atmosphere unlike other capital cities its size. In fact, Amsterdam has a history of non-conformism, tolerance and progressivism, all of which come together in its liberal policies concerning cannabis and prostitution. Other attractions include the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, the Anne Frank House, the Flower Market, Albert Cuyp Market, and the Vondelpark.
The "Amsterdam" that most visitors experience is the city centre, the semi-circle with Central Station at its apex. It corresponds to the city as it was around 1850. Six major concentric canals ring the Old Centre; the Singel, the Herengracht, the Keizersgracht, the Prinsengracht, the Lijnbaansgracht, and the Singelgracht, together forming the Canal Ring. Other districts inside the city centre are the Jordaan, a former working-class area gone upmarket, and Plantage, a leafy and spacious area known for its zoo and botanical gardens. The roads Nassaukade, Stadhouderskade, and Mauritskade surround the centre and mark the location of the former city moat and fortifications. Almost everything outside this line was built after 1870.
The semi-circle is on the south side of the IJ, originally the estuary of the Amstel to the Zuiderzee (South sea), nowadays canalised. Going east from Central Station, the railway passes the artificial islands of the redeveloped Eastern Docklands. North of the IJ is mainly housing, although a major dockland redevelopment has started there too.
The river Amstel flows into the city from the south. Originally, it flowed along the line Rokin-Damrak. The dam in the Amstel, which gives the city its name, was located under the present Bijenkorf department store. The original settlement was on the right bank of the Amstel, on the present Warmoesstraat: it is therefore the oldest street in the city. The city has expanded in all directions, except to the northeast of the ring motorway. That area is a protected rural landscape of open fields and small villages that could be considered a part of the Waterland region.
The radius of the semi-circle is about 2 km. All major tourist destinations, and most hotels, are located inside it or just outside it. As a result, a large swathe of Amsterdam is never visited by tourists: at least 90% of the population lives outside this area. Most economic activity in Amsterdam — the offices of the financial sector, and the port — is near or outside the ring motorway, which is 4-5 km from the centre.
The expansion of Amsterdam outside this beltway, and the expansion of activity outside the old centre, is redefining what locals consider the 'central area' of Amsterdam. Without a doubt the most popular district outside of the city centre is the South for its quality museums and gentrified neighbourhood 'De Pijp'.
Many people choose to visit Amsterdam because of its reputation for tolerance, although part of this reputation is attributable to cultural misunderstandings. Prostitution is legalised and licensed in the Netherlands, and in Amsterdam it is very visible (window prostitution), and there are large numbers of prostitutes. The sale, possession, and consumption of small quantities of cannabis, while technically illegal, is tolerated by authorities (the policy of gedogen). This does not mean that you can get away with anything in Amsterdam. In any case, public attitudes and official policy have hardened in recent years. For more on coffeeshops and drugs, see below in Stay safe.
Depending on your viewpoint some people will consider Amsterdam an unwholesome city whereas other people will find their relaxed attitudes refreshing. If you avoid the red light district, Amsterdam is an excellent family destination.
According to a Eurobarometer report in 2012, 90% of the population speak English as a second language.
Amsterdam is a large city and a major tourist destination, so you can visit it all year round. However, in winter the days are short (8 hours daylight around Christmas), and the weather may be too cold to walk around the city comfortably, let alone cycle. January and February are the coldest months, with lows around -1°C and highs around 5°C. July and August are the warmest months, with an average temperature of 22°C (72°F). Some things are seasonal: the tulip fields flower only in the spring, and as of 2014, after the abdication of Queen Beatrix on 30 April 2013, King's Day (Koningsdag) is, unless it falls on a Sunday, on 27 April, the birthday of King Willem-Alexander.
The national carrier for the Netherlands is KLM , now merged with Air France. With partner Delta Air Lines  they offer worldwide connections. The US, Asia and Europe are particularly well served at Schiphol. British Airways offer up to 15 flights per day to 3 London Airports; Heathrow, Gatwick and London City.
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 2 hrs in advance. If you have time to kill, drop into the Rijksmuseum's Schiphol branch, between E and F Pier (non-Schengen area airside), which is free and open 07:00-20:00 daily.
Coin-operated storage lockers are located along the main hallway through the transit/departure area, across from the start of the E wing. From €6 per 24 hr, maximum one week. 
There are plenty of fast-food chains and restaurants at the airport. It even has the busiest Burger King in the world with 1.3 million visitors a year. It has never closed since its opening in 1993. McDonald's  has three branches in and around the airport.
Schiphol by train
From Schiphol there is a direct train to Amsterdam Central Station, for €3.90 (or €7.80 for same-day return), in 20 min. Buy the ticket from the machine (yellow with blue writing, pictured here); if you purchase your ticket at the counter you will pay €0.50 extra. Not all machines accept credit or debit cards. 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 seperate railwaylines to Amsterdam; one goes to Amsterdam Centraal station and the other goes to Amsterdam Zuid (Amsterdam South). There will be a lighted sign boad on the yellow train. The train for Ceantraal will say either: AMSTERDAM CENTRAAL or AMSTERDAM CS. These lines are not connected with eacho ther so check if the train you board goes to the Amsterdam you want.
There are 4 to 5 trains per hour between Schiphol and Amsterdam in peak times. Trains run all night, although between 1am and 5am only once an hour during week days. 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.
Watch out for pick-pockets and baggage thieves: a common trick is a knock on your window to distract you, so that an accomplice can steal your luggage or laptop. Another one is to have an accomplice jam the doors and then steal your luggage. The thief jumps out and the door immediately closes, making it impossible to catch them. However, in recent years, railway police have made a great effort to reduce this sort of crime; nowadays it is at 'normal', big-city like levels.
Schiphol by local transport
If you are desperately trying to save money or are staying near Leidseplein, you could use local transport from Schiphol to central Amsterdam. A trip takes about 30 min and leads directly to the south-west of the centre of Amsterdam (namely Museumplein and Leidseplein). Take local bus 197 which costs you €2.38 to Leidseplein using the OV-chipkaart (see below), or €4.00 on board.
Bus 197 currently runs every 15 min for most of the day, daily from 5:01AM till midnight. From midnight till 5AM, night buses run to and from the airport. If you don't want to change buses, take night bus N97 for €4. This bus runs once an hour.
Schiphol by taxi
Do not use a taxi unless there is no alternative; travel to Schiphol by train or by bus, if possible. Taxis from Schiphol are expensive and priced unexpectedly. You pay a start rate of € 2.65 plus € 1.95 per km and € 0.32 per minute. (dec 2012) The ride costs about €40-50 to go to, say, the Leidseplein. Depending on the time of day and traffic levels, it could take only 25 min. If you're unlucky, it could take twice as long. Choose the nicest cab as that driver is more likely to be reputable. You don't have to pick the first taxi in line. If possible, reserve a taxi schiphol up-front , this will ensure a lower and fixed price for the ride.
Schiphol, other modes of transport
The Connexxion Hotel Shuttle  serves over 100 city centre hotels, with 8-seater shared van departures about every 30 minutes between 6 AM and 9 PM, cost to most city centre destinations €15.50/25.00 one-way/return -- more convenient than the train if you have heavy luggage and still cheaper than a taxi. Buses depart from platform A7 and can be reserved for the trip back ☎ +31 38 3394741.
As an alternative, if you prefer not to share a car with other people and have a comfortable trip you can book a private transfer upfront. There is a couple of companies, which offer this service, such as:
If you plan to rent a car for the duration of your stay, Schiphol has several car rental companies on site . Typical opening hours are 6AM-11PM daily. The car rental desk can be found in Schiphol Plaza, on the same level as the arrival halls. The A4 motorway leads straight from Schiphol to the Amsterdam ring road A10, in about 10 min.
If you decided to bring your bicycle on the plane with you, there is a 15-kilometer sign-posted bike route from the airport to Amsterdam. Turn right as you leave the airport terminal: the cycle path starts about 200 metres down the road. There is a map of the cycle paths around Schiphol available on this PDF (green lines are cycle paths).
Using airports other than Schiphol could prove cheaper in some cases, as some budget airlines fly to Eindhoven and Rotterdam Airports. Then buses and trains can be used to get to Amsterdam. Renting a car is also an option. A taxi is not advisable, from Rotterdam to Amsterdam a taxi would cost €130, and from Eindhoven even more.
From Eindhoven Airport (IATA: EIN, ICAO: EHEH)  take a local bus (Hermes bus 401, duration about 25 minutes, frequency about four times per hour, €3.20 on board or €1.71 using an OV-chipkaart) to the train station, from there take a train to Amsterdam (duration 1hr 20 min, frequency four times per hour, single €17.20). Alternatively, take the express bus directly from the airport to Amsterdam central station, which takes 2 hr 15 min. This service goes only 3 to 4 times per day; see their website for a schedule. The ticket price is €25.50 for a single or €42.50 for a return .
From Rotterdam The Hague Airport (IATA: RTM, ICAO: EHRD)  ("Zestienhoven") take a city bus (RET "airport shuttle" bus 33, duration 25-30 minutes, frequency every 10-20 minutes, €2.50 on board or €1.39 using the OV-chipkaart) to Rotterdam Centraal train station, from there take a train to Amsterdam (duration about an hour, frequency every 10-20 minutes, single €13.40).
Schiphol airport is 11 km from the centre of Amsterdam in a straight line, Rotterdam is 57 km and Eindhoven is 107 km. Other airports that could possibly be used are:
Most trains arrive and depart from Amsterdam Centraal Station (with one extra 'a' in Dutch), located on an island between the Amsterdam/Old Centre and the IJ waterfront. Other important train stations are Duivendrecht and Bijlmer-ArenA in the southeast, Amstel and Muiderpoort in the East, RAI and Zuid-WTC in the South, and Lelylaan and Sloterdijk in the West. Schiphol Airport also has its own train station, which functions as a major interchange station. It has at least seven trains an hour to Amsterdam Centraal, with additional trains going to other stations in Amsterdam.
Most international trains run directly to Amsterdam Centraal Station:
If you plan to take a train to Amsterdam, it's advisable to check the train times in the international journey planner . Most tickets are sold online, and often it is cheaper to book tickets in advance. Tickets are also sold at the international ticket offices at Amsterdam Centraal Station and at Schiphol Airport. Or visit the Treinreiswinkel  (Singel 393).
Most international bus services are affiliated to Eurolines , which has a terminal at Amstel Station (train station, metro station 51, 53, 54, tram 12). One bus per day is usually the maximum frequency on these routes.
The British low-budget bus company Megabus  operates bus services twice-daily from both London and Paris to Amsterdam via Brussels, terminating at the Zeeburg Park and Ride Coach Park/Zuiderzeeweg tram stop in the east of the city. From there, there are frequent tram and bus services into the city, although the driver will usually advise you to take a tram.
There are other international bus services, but they are often aimed at very specific markets, e.g. Polish migrant workers. There are almost no long-distance internal bus services in the Netherlands, and none to Amsterdam.
The western part of the Netherlands has a dense (and congested) road network. Coming from the east (Germany), the A1 motorway leads directly to Amsterdam. On the A12 from Arnhem, change at Utrecht to the A2 northbound. From the south (Belgium), the A2 goes directly to Amsterdam: the A16 /A27 from Antwerp via Breda connects to the A2 south of Utrecht. From The Hague, the A4 leads to Amsterdam. All motorways to Amsterdam connect to the ring motorway, the A10. From this motorway, main roads lead radially into Amsterdam (the roads S101 through S118).
In most cases, you should want to avoid going to the city centre by car: traffic is dense and parking spaces are expensive and nearly impossible to find. Instead, when on the A10, follow the signs to one of the P+R-spots (P+R Zeeburg to the east, P+R ArenA to the southeast, P+R Olympisch Stadion to the south, and P+R Sloterdijk to the west). Here you can park your car and take public transport to the city centre, for a single fare. There is only a flat rate of €8 a day, but public transport to the city centre for up to 5 persons is included. There are also a few places a short walk from outer tram stops to park for free.
The speed limit on Dutch motorways is 120 km/h, except where indicated. On the A10 ring motorway around Amsterdam, the maximum speed is 100 km/h, and 80 km/h on the Western section. These limits are strictly enforced and there are many speed cameras.
The maritime Passenger Terminal Amsterdam is close to the city centre but is only for cruise ships. The nearest ferry port is IJmuiden which is served by DFDS Seaways, who offer a daily overnight ferry services from Newcastle-upon-Tyne (North Shields) in the United Kingdom see  (official site). 125 km away by car there is a ferry terminal at Rotterdam Europoort (ferry from Kingston Upon Hull), and Hook of Holland (ferry from Harwich). Hook of Holland has a train station. Take the train to Schiedam Centrum or Rotterdam Centraal and from there a train to Amsterdam.
Amsterdam's centre is fairly small, and almost abnormally flat, so you can easily get to most tourist destinations on foot - from the train station, within half an hour.
By public transit
In June 2010, a contactless card called OV-chipkaart ("public transport chip card") was introduced. Since 3 June 2010, the old 'strippenkaart' system has been abandoned on all forms of public transport in Amsterdam, making the chipkaart the only valid way of travelling 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:
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 (see this map).
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 1 and 24 hr 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 & Info. Day passes are not valid on buses operated by Connexxion and Arriva.
Prices as of Jan 2012: €7.50/24 hours, €12/48 hours, €16.50/72 hours, €21/96 hours, €26/120 hours, €29.50/144 hours and €32/168 hours. If you stay longer in Amsterdam, you can buy discounted weekly or monthly tickets from most post offices or other ticket sale points which are cheaper. GVB tickets are not valid on trains to Schiphol airport. You can use them on buses to Schiphol but it's usually quicker to get there by train. For current information on the Dutch Public Transportation-system ('Openbaar Vervoer' or O.V. in Dutch/NL) check online Openbaar Vervoer (O.V.).
The website www.9292.nl provides routs that include tram, ferry, train, bus and metro. There is also a phone app by the same name.
Public transport within the city is operated by the GVB (Gemeentevervoerbedrijf ). The tram (16 lines) 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 & Info offices (just outside Centraal Station) or in the tram.
Most trams have conductors, near the rear of the tram. 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 1 hr and 24 hr tickets on board the tram.
When boarding and alighting a tram, 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 alighting the tram) are also in English.
There is a four line metro, including a short underground section in the city centre, that serves the neighbourhoods of the South East. It takes 15-20 min from Centraal Station or Waterlooplein to the Bijlmer (Amsterdam Arena stadium, Heineken Music Hall and Pathe Arena cinema and IMAX).
A fifth metro line, the north/south line, is currently under construction and is due to be opened in 2017. This big project started in 2003 to build a new underground metro line to connect the north of Amsterdam with the south (the Noord/Zuidlijn or North/Southline). The project has proved somewhat of a disaster for the city government with big budget overruns and delays. Building in the wet underground of Amsterdam is difficult and some buildings along the line have sustained damage due to subsidence. For the visitor to Amsterdam, the only thing to note are the ongoing roadworks along the route of the metro line. Underground metro stations are still being built or finished often causing parts of roads to be blocked off to cars, buses and trams for an extended time. Usually you can pass on foot or bicycle.
Just like the tram and metro, local buses are operated by the GVB. There are also suburban buses to nearby towns such as Haarlem and Uithoorn; these are operated by Connexxion or EBS (the company name and house style is prominent on the bus side) and can be used within Amsterdam if you travel with an OV-chipkaart. Disposable cards are only valid on the GVB buses.
There are several free ferry services across the IJ river, to Amsterdam North, the most frequent runs every 7 min. They all leave from a new jetty on the northern (rear) side of Centraal Station. The nicest one is the 15 min service to NDSM Werf, a funky up and coming industrial neighbourhood with a nice cafe-bar (IJkantine), restaurant (Noorderlicht) and indoor skateboard park (Skatepark Amsterdam). In addition, the Pancake Boat (Pannekoekenboot)  sails many times each week from the NDSM Werf. Ferries leave every 30 min from Centraal Station and from NDSM Werf. Double frequencies during rush hours.
By rental boat
There are several rental boat companies in Amsterdam. Here you can rent your own boat for max. 6 people. Sloepdelen Amsterdam  is one of them. You will get a personal instruction and a good map before you leave. The boats are electric and easy to drive yourself. Another boat rental company you might like to try is Boat Amsterdam , which offers a large selection of large and small rental boats.
By rental scooter
There are several scooter rent shops in the city centre of Amsterdam. Gilex scooter rental, Scooter Rent Amsterdam , AmsterBike , and Boka Scooter Rentals  Left Bank Scooters Rentals & Tours  are just a few examples.
A pleasant way to cover a lot of ground is to rent a bicycle. There are approximately 750,000 people living in Amsterdam and they own about 800,000 bicycles. The city is very, very bike-friendly, and there are separate bike lanes on most major streets. In the city centre, however, there is often not enough space for a bike lane, so cars and cyclists share narrow streets. Cyclists do not have the right of way even though it might appear so when observing the typical Amsterdammer's cycling behaviour (see Extra legal protection). Be very careful watch out for other cyclists. Always show other traffic where you're going (e.g., by holding out your hand) in order 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. They have a rather ruthless driving style. Let none of the above deter you from doing it the Amsterdam way. Be adviced, however, that cycling the Amsterdam way takes a significant amount of skill: the locals have been riding bikes from the moment they could walk and this informs their behavior. If you don't feel entirely comfortable on a bike, it may be a stressful affair rather than the smooth ride you may imagine it to be. On top of that, if your lack of confidence makes you block pathways used by other people who can skilfully maneuver along them (e.g. groups of people, between stationary vans and the rows of bollards dividing street and sidewalk), who have appointments to make and jobs to attend, it can create tensions between you and locals. If you don't feel entirely comfortable on a bike, walk! It's less stressful, and Amsterdam is so small the entire city centre can be navigated on foot within half an hour. If you are 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 centre. Bikes cost about €9 to €20 per day. (Bring wet gear.)
A good map for cycling (routes, repairs, rentals + also public transport) is Amsterdam op de fiets (a Cito-plan). When preparing a route, there's a digital bicycle route-planner for Amsterdam, see Routecraft.com 
Bicycles can be taken on all metros and tram 26 using the bike supplement fee (€1.60 in 2012) on the OV chipcard. Use the special bike racks, locations indicated by a bicycle sign on the outside of the carriage.
Bicycles (and scooters) can be taken for free on all ferries across the IJ.
Make sure to get a good lock (or two), and to use it. Amsterdam has one of the highest bicycle theft rates in the world, see the Netherlands page. Note also that if buying a bike, prices that seem too good to be true are stolen bikes. Any bike offered for sale to passers-by, on the street, is certainly stolen. There's an old Amsterdam joke; When calling out to a large group cyclists passing by; "Hey, that's my bike!" about five people will jump off "their" bikes and start running.
The bicycle is ideal for exploring the surrounding countryside. Within half an hour you're out of town. Go North, take the ferry across the IJ to Waterland. Or go South, into the Amsterdamse Bos (a giant park), or follow the river Amstel where Rembrandt worked. You can also take your bike on the metro (with a reduced fare ticket, see public transport gvb.nl ) to end of line Gaasperplas, and cycle along rivers and windmills to old fortified towns like Weesp , Muiden and Naarden.
Tourists are advised to stick to public transport if at all possible. Get into a taxi only if you know the route yourself and are able to give directions to the taxi driver and if you know roughly how much the journey ought to cost so you don't get cheated. Taxis in Amsterdam are plentiful but expensive. Hailing taxis on the street is generally not to be recommended unless you are going to a big landmark (e.g., Central Station or Schiphol). The recent liberalisation of the taxi service in Amsterdam has meant an influx of taxi drivers who have little or no clue of where they are going and who drive erratically and dangerously (e.g., driving on bicycle lanes instead of the main road or ignoring red lights). There is a free smartphone app  for ordering taxis in Amsterdam that gets you a responsible driver, and helps you keep track of the route and price.
Some drivers, traditionally at Centraal Station or Leidseplein, will refuse short trips or will quote outrageously high fares, even though all taxis are metered. Even if you convince the driver to use the meter, he will often take a circuitous route that racks up €15 or more on the meter. For reference, no trip within the historic centre should cost more than €10 or so.
The Netherlands (and Amsterdam) is in the middle of a huge taxi liberalization scheme which has been jarring to all involved. After many missteps, the government has introduced an unusual pricing scheme. First you feel sticker shock as the initial fare is now €7.50. Luckily, that includes the first two kilometres of travel and there is no charge for waiting in traffic. If you need to run in somewhere, you need to negotiate a waiting fee with the driver. €0.50 per minute is customary.
Unlicensed, illegal, cabbies operate mainly in Amsterdam Zuidoost. These aren't easily recognized as such, and most certainly don't drive Mercedes cars. They are known as snorders and most easily reached by mobile phone. Rides within Amsterdam Zuidoost (the Bijlmer) range from €2.50 to €5, whereas Zuidoost-Centre can run up to €12.50. Snorders have a shady reputation, so consider their services only if you are adventurous.
A Thai-influenced transportation service using three-wheeled, open-air (but covered) motorized vehicles was introduced in August 2007 and may be a more economical and fast way to get around the city centre compared to taxis. Tuk-tuk pricing is based on a zone system. Within a zone, a ride is €3.50 per person, €5 for 2 persons and €6.50 for 3. If you go to another zone, €3.50 is added (irrespective of number of persons). This service is handy if it is past the regular tram/bus/metro service hours (approximately half past midnight). They take reservations 24 hr /day 0900 99 333 99 and there is a fee of €0.55 per call.
It is practical to use a car only outside of the historic centre; within the historic centre, the traveller is advised to stay with public transport. In Amsterdam, a car is generally a liability and not an asset. Use a car only if you are going to an obscure location many miles out that is not served by public transport.
Driving around Amsterdam is a pain: many of the streets are narrow, the traffic (and parking) signs are baroque and obscure, and cyclists and pedestrians may get in your way. Plus, petrol is about 1.54€ to 1.7€ per litre. You can try parking at one of the secured parking garages, for example under Museumplein, or near the Central Station, and then walk around the city centre, or use a tram. Car parking is very expensive in Amsterdam and it's often hard to find a place to park. You can choose to pay by the hour or for the whole day. Parking is free outside the centre on Sunday. There is always a spot available on the Albert Cuypstraat (which is a market during the rest of the week). From there, it is a 5 minute tram ride or 15 min walk downtown.
Another option is to park your car further outside the city-centre. For 8€,- you get a full day (24 hr) of parking and a return ticket downtown. The ride takes about 15 minutes. Look for the P+R (Park and Ride) signs. 
You can also park for free in some parts of Amsterdam outside the city centre though this may be slowly changing. Parking is still free everywhere in Amsterdam-Noord, and you can just take the bus from the Mosplein stop to the city centre easily. Plenty of buses run through here.
Popular car rental chains operate in a smaller capacity in Amsterdam, including Avis and Budget Rent a Car. Most recently 'Car 2 Go' has all-electric Smart cars availible within and around the city.
Amsterdam has one of the largest historic city centres 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 north-western 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. Typical for the country are its traditional white draw bridges. The best example has to be the Magere Brug in the Canal Ring, which is over 300 years old and nearly in its original capacity. It is a beautiful place to overlook the river and take in some traditional Dutch architecture.
The Jordaan was built around 1650 along with the Canal Ring, but not for the wealthy merchants. For a long time it was considered the typical working-class area of Amsterdam, and included some notorious slums. The name probably derives from the nickname 'Jordan' for the Prinsengracht. Apart from a few wider canals, the streets are narrow, in an incomplete grid pattern (as the grid followed the lines of the former polders located here in medieval times). This district is the best example of "gentrification" in the Netherlands, as recently it turned into a hip boutique district.
There are several large warehouses for more specific uses. The biggest is the Admirality Arsenal (1656-1657), now the Maritime Museum (Scheepvaartmuseum) at Kattenburgerplein. Others include the former turf warehouses (1550) along the Nes, now the municipal pawn office; a similar warehouse at Waterlooplein 69-75 (Arsenaal, 1610), now an architectural academy, and the warehouse of the West India Company (1642) at the corner of Prins Hendrikkade and 's-Gravenhekje. The city office for architectural heritage BMA  has an excellent online introduction to the architectural history and the types of historical buildings available. The website includes a cycle route along important examples.
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. The only windmill fully open to the public is the Molen van Sloten in Sloten, a former village now part of West.
Churches and synagogues
Since the Middle Ages and throughout the 17th century, the Netherlands was a country with a relatively high degree of freedom and tolerance towards other religions and cultures, especially compared to other countries in Europe. Between 1590 and 1800, the estimated foreign-born population was never less than 5 percent, many of them settling in Amsterdam. This led to a large diaspora of Jews, Huguenots (French protestants), Flemish, Poles and other peoples in the city. Especially the Jewish have always had a large presence in Amsterdam, notably in the Old Jewish Quarter (though this quarter has been in a status of decay since World War II). The most prominent synagogue is The Esnoga  (or The Portuguese Synagogue) , built in 1675 in an austere Classicist style.
As the Netherlands was a protestant nation, most of the churches are from this branch of Christianity. Some of the most notable churches:
The late-medieval city also had smaller chapels such as the Sint Olofskapel (circa 1440) on Zeedijk, and convent chapels such as the Agnietenkapel on the Oudezijds Voorburgwal 231 (originally 1470), now the University of Amsterdam museum. Later churches included the Oosterkerk (1669) in the eastern islands, and the heavily restored Lutheran Church on the Singel (1671), now used by a hotel as a conference centre. Catholic churches were long forbidden, and built again only in the 19th-century: the most prominent is the Neo-Baroque Church of St. Nicholas (1887) opposite Central Station.
Also, investigate some of the "hidden churches" found in Amsterdam, mainly Catholic churches that remained in activity following the Reformation. A prominent hidden church is Amstelkring Museum (Our Lord in the Attic Chapel) Well worth the visit. Two hidden churches still in use are the Begijnhofchapel  near the Spui, and the Papegaaikerk  in the Kalverstreet (both Catholic).
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 (eg. very early in the morning). Some of the quality museums that you can't miss:
The other museums are described in the district articles.
The Museum Card (Museum Jaarkaart)  costs €39.95 (or €22.45 for those under 18 years old). It covers the cost of admission to over 400 museums across the Netherlands and you can buy it at most major museums. It is valid for an entire year, and you will need to write your name, birthday, and gender on it. If you are going to the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum, those are €12.50 and €14 each respectively, so this card can quickly pay for itself. The tickets to the major museums, including the audio guide, can be bought early from the tourist information desk at no extra cost. Alternatively, for short stays, you can consider buying the I amsterdam card , starting at €42 per day, which includes "free" access to Amsterdam museums, public transport and discount on many tourist attractions.
The locals spend their summer days in Amsterdam opening a red wine in the Vondelpark — and so should you. Every district in Amsterdam has at least one park, but the Vondelpark in South stands out for its size and convivial atmosphere. The neighbourhood best known for its greenery is the Plantage. Besides its leafy boulevards and grand mansions, it also features the botanical gardens of the Hortus Botanicus. Finally, Artis Zoo is a good attraction for the kids.
A more recent tradition is the opening of so-called city beaches. Yes, it's now possible to lay in the sand far from any natural coastline! Amsterdam counts three of these beaches, which are located in West, East and South. The one in East is probably the best one, and you get the fine architecture and atmosphere of the IJburg neighbourhood included for free.
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. Known as 'De Wallen' (the quays) in Dutch, because the canals were once part of the city defences (walls and moats). 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 whole 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 — this is the oldest part of the city. The oldest church in Amsterdam, the Netherlands-gothic Oude Kerk on the Oudezijds Voorburgwal at Oudekerksplein, is now surrounded by window prostitution. The area has many sex shops and peep show bars.This section of town is a common attraction for bachelors celebrating a stag night, if you ever get hassled, a firm and loud "Leave me alone" will work most of the time.
Modern architecture is under-represented in Amsterdam (as opposed to Rotterdam), but as the outer districts were built in the 19th and 20th centuries, there is definitely some to be found. Immediately outside the Singelgracht (the former city moat) is a ring of 19th-century housing. The most prominent buildings from this period are the Central Station (1889) and the Rijksmuseum (1885), both by P. J. H. Cuypers. Amsterdam West, especially the neighborhood De Baarsjes, was built in the Amsterdam School and New Objectivity architectural styles from the 19th century. A completely different approach to architecture has been the Bijlmer, built in the 1970s and forseen as a town of the future for upper-middle class families. Large apartment buildings and relatively large rooms were combined with common grass fields and a separation of pedestrian and car traffic. It has been a revolutionary way of thinking in the architectural world, but eventually the neighborhood turned into a lower-class residential district home to people of over 150 nationalities, and it is often associated with crime and robberies. It has improved remarkably the last years though, and adventurous travelers might be interested to know more about the history of this bizarre district.
Since there was little large-scale demolition in the historic centre, most 20th-century and recent architecture is outside it. The most prominent in architectural history are the residential complexes by architects of the Amsterdam School, for instance at Zaanstraat / Oostzaanstraat.
Amsterdam for free
Amsterdam is a cultural haven with year-round festivals for every pocket.
Amsterdam is home to two universities, both offer summer courses and other short courses (with academic credits).
The Volksuniversiteit . Despite the name, it is not a university, but a venerable institute for public education. Among the many courses are Dutch language courses for foreigners.
Many people plan to move to Amsterdam for a year to relax before "settling down". This plan often falls apart at the job phase. Many people will find it difficult to get a suitable job, if they do not speak Dutch. However, hostels and hotels in Amsterdam may need bar staff, night porters etc, who speak English and other languages. There are also specialist websites for English and non-Dutch speakers looking to work in Amsterdam and they are a often a good place to start; Blue Lynx - Employment by Language , Undutchables , Unique  and Xpat Jobs are all useful resources.
Immigration matters are dealt with by the Immigration Service IND . Registration is done by both police and municipalities. Immigration policy is restrictive and deliberately bureaucratic. That is especially true for non-EU citizens.
European Union citizens do not require a work permit. Australians, New Zealanders and Canadians are afforded a one year working-holiday visa. In general the employer must apply for work permits. Immigration is easier for "knowledge migrants" earning a gross annual salary of over €45,000 (over €33,000 for those under 30).
Other concentrations of shops in the centre are Haarlemmerstraat / Haarlemmerdijk, Utrechtsestraat, Spiegelstraat (art/antiques), and around Nieuwmarkt. There is a concentration of Chinese shops at Zeedijk / Nieuwmarkt, but it is not a real Chinatown.
The ‘interesting little shops’ are located in the side streets of the main canals (Prinsengracht / Keizersgracht / Herengracht), and especially in the Jordaan - bounded by Prinsengracht, Elandsgracht, Marnixstraat and Brouwersgracht. The partly gentrified neighbourhood of De Pijp - around Ferdinand Bolstraat and Sarphatipark - is often seen as a 'second Jordaan'.
In the older areas surrounding the centre, the main shopping streets are the Kinkerstraat, the Ferdinand Bolstraat, the Van Woustraat, and the Javastraat. The most ethnic shopping street in Amsterdam is the Javastraat. There are toy stores and clothing shops for kids in the centre, but most are in the shopping streets further out, because that's where families with children live.
You can find plus size clothing in the centre of Amsterdam. C&A, and H&M are both on the main shopping streets from the Central station. A bit further from the city centre you can find Mateloos, Promiss, Ulla Popken as well as several stores by chain M&S mode.
A give-away shop can be found at Singel 267, open Tuesdays and Thursdays 5PM-17PM and Saturdays 12 noon-5PM.
English-language books can mostly be found in the Old Centre. Large Dutch bookstores also carry a selection of foreign language books.
Street markets originally sold mainly food, and most still sell food and clothing, but they have become more specialised. A complete list of Amsterdam markets (with opening times and the number of stalls) can be found at online at Hollandse Markten  and Amsterdam.info  in English.
Places to eat
There is a large diversity of restaurants in Amsterdam, especially if you are looking for Asian cuisine, although much of it is tailored to the fairly bland local tastes and might not have the fire you would expect. The influence of the Dutch colonial past is apparent, as can be seen in the wide array of Indonesian restaurants.
Nieuwmarkt Most Asian restaurants are clustered at the Zeedijk in Nieuwmarkt, for this reason often dubbed as Amsterdam's Chinatown. It's also home to many tokos, small Asian grocery stores that sell Eastern food and spices. Indonesian restaurants are usually of excellent quality, but Indian ones can be expensive. Chinatown also offers plenty of Chinese, Thai and Japanese restaurants.
Damstraat Is a fairly busy road filled with small and cheap Chinese and Middle Eastern restaurants - expect sticky tables, but it's definitely a good place for budget travelers. The numerous falafel bars have a good value, often sporting a "all you can pile" salad bar.
Nieuwezijds kolk This street goes from the dam square to the central station. It has multiple narrow streets crossing it and in the Nieuwendijk street you can find the best ice-cream of Amsterdam. There are two shops: One is called 'Zomer ijs en winter kost' (summer ice and winterfood) and is located on number 6. They have all the flavors you can think of and even make a flavor on demand, but you have to tell the owner 1 or 2 days in advance. All the ice is homemade with natural ingredients and he asks a very reasonable price. In the winter he serves typical dutch winterfood, like mashed potatoes with cabbage and sausage. The other is called Bakkerij van der Linde. Its officially a bakery, but they dont sell bread, but amsterdam`s most famous whipped cream ice, lovely almond cookies and cakes. The tecture is really creamy and soft, it melts easy and they put it in a cone with a soup spoon. A small icecream costs 1 euro, a big one 2.
Surinamese food is widely available and worth a try. The highest concentration of Surinamese restaurants can be found in the South, especially in the Albert Cuypstraat. A good example can be found in Surinaams-Chinees Afhaalcentrum Albina at Albert Cuypstraat 69. It`s cheap (around €6), and very good. If you arrive around dinnertime you probably have to wait for a table. The surroundings are depressing but the food is so good you will come back anyway.Locals recommend the roti with bone, the moksi meti, petjil and Bojo as dessert. Try the Dawet as well; this typical drink is made from milk, coconut milk and rose sirup and has sago balls in it (tastes like cough syrup). Most kids like it.
Eetcafe's are pubs serve evening and night time meals.
Many restaurants of all kinds can be found in the Haarlemmer Neighborhood (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.
Local cheese Buy some at the Albert Cuyp market, Dappermarket or at specialist cheese shops found around central Amsterdam. Dutch cheese is traditionally firm, and is made in large wax-covered wheels, and falls into two main categories - Young and Old. Within those categories, there exists a rich variety. Among the more unusual young cheeses is cumin (Komijn) cheese, which is particular to the Netherlands. Sheep (Schapen) and goat (Geiten) cheeses are also common. Old (Oud) cheese can be made of any sort of milk, and is often reminiscent of Italian parmesan in consistency and sharpness of flavour.
Ossenworst A raw beef sausage with nice spices. Originally from Amsterdam.
Amsterdam has several small local beer breweries, like Brouwerij 't IJ and De Prael. They make very good beers. At Herengracht 90 you'll find Proeflokaal Arendsnest, serving a large collection of Dutch beers, including those from Amsterdam.
Also check out bitterballen, a kind of fried meatball, and the kroketten (the same, but shaped like a cylinder). Last but not least, don't forget to try a traditional herring or a broodje haring (herring sandwich), available from fish stalls around the city. Herring in Amsterdam is usually with served onions and pickles. A good try is the fish stand on the Koningsplein near the Flower Market. If you're visiting in late November or December, you can enjoy oliebollen, which are round blobs of sweet fried dough embedded with raisins (sultanas) and dusted with powdered sugar.
Places to avoid
Avoid at all costs any steak house or fast food shop in the centre - they are well known tourist traps. It's typical Dutch to eat fast food snacks from coin operated wall, but the quality is horrible!
All the bigger supermarkets are cheap and have all kinds of meals ready-to-eat. Don't expect any quality though. You'll find good food for a low price at the day markets, especially when they're almost closing at the end of the afternoon.
For budget meal, check out also the various Falafel and Shoarma restaurants around the Damstraat and Muntplein. They usually include in the dish a large amount of salad. Lange Leidsedwarsstraat (just off Leidseplein) has about five Italian restaurants that sell pasta or pizza for €5.
Bars and pubs
The archetypical Amsterdam watering hole is the bruine ("brown bar" or "brown café"), a neighborhood pub of sorts with gorgeous dark wood panelling — hence the name — and booths. These do not sell cannabis, see coffeeshops below for that. Popular entertainment areas with lots of bars are the Leidseplein and Rembrandtplein.
The nightclubs in Amsterdam are not as rough as one might think. Many nightclubs are grouped at Leidse Square and Rembrandt Square in the Canal Ring. As these two squares are also the typical tourist traps of Amsterdam, prices are relatively high and there are lots of scams. 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. Jimmy Woo is an impressive VIP-room, but their dress code is very strict. There are also some nightclubs in Eastern Amsterdam (notably Panama) and near Westerpark. Techno/minimal lovers go to Trouw in the Wibautstraat, named after the newspaper that used to be printed there.
Amsterdam's gay nightlife is not what it used to be, but there is still an active community at the Reguliersdwarsstraat in the Canal Ring. The annual gay pride in August is a fun event that can be attended by gays and straights alike.
Amsterdam is renowned for its liberal drug policy. Coffeeshops, not to be confused with coffeehouses or cafes, are allowed to sell cannabis and hash for personal use (not more than 5 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. Also selling of dried hallucinogenic mushrooms is not allowed.
That said, drug usage is increasingly being strictly controlled by the Dutch government. Garish advertising is not allowed (look for red-yellow-green rasta colors and the English word "coffeeshop"); no alcohol or edible cannabis products may be sold inside a coffeeshop; customers who want to smoke their weed mixed with tobacco are limited to special sealed 'smoking areas'; the amount of coffeeshops has decreased significantly since 1995; coffeeshops within a '250 meter school zone' have been closed down; and the usage of magic mushrooms has been forbidden since December 2008 (after two fatal incidents with foreign tourists).
Still there are about 250 coffeeshops in Amsterdam, most of them in the Old Centre. Prices hover around €7.50 for 1 gram, with the average joint holding around 0.33g and a 5g/person sales limit. Most coffeeshops are happy to recommend varieties and prepare your joint for you. Some offer vaporizers/inhalators for people who don't want to smoke.
Using (soft) drugs is not allowed in public places, though in reality it will never be an issue. Just stay away from children's playgrounds and schools. Many coffeeshops offer a 'smoking lounge' where soft drugs may be used. Also note that despite the confusion on the subject, the Netherlands-wide smoking ban applies only to tobacco. However, since the Dutch commonly smoke tobacco mixed with their marijuana or hash, many coffeeshops, especially those unaccustomed to tourists, may require all smoking to be done in a separated smoking section or outdoors (this is far more common in coffeeshops outside of Amsterdam). Most central coffeeshops with large tourist clienteles will allow marijuana or hash smoking in their entire space, requiring you to smoke in the separated section only if your joint contains tobacco. Many coffeeshops also provide a non-tobacco herbal filler for those who find pure joints too strong. You may usually smoke joints containing this herbal filler anywhere within the coffeeshop although individual house rules may vary. If in doubt, always ask the staff.
Amsterdam has over 400 registered hotels of varying standards from budget facilities to some of the most expensive hotels in Europe. Advance booking is recommended, especially for weekends and holidays. Don't expect you'll find an affordable bed once you're here. Most hotels and hostels can be found in the Old Centre, notably south of central station, and in the South around the Museum Quarter. Charming boutique accommodation can be found in the wealthy residential Canal Ring, home to the rich and famous and its squares are the prime nightlife spots of the city. The Jordaan is another area for hip boutique accommodations, slightly upmarket, but still for mid-range prices. Some cheaper hostels can also be found in the Red Light District.
A simple bed in a hostel starts around €15 on weekdays in the winter and up to €90 on a weekend in the summer. Hostels often expect you to book at least 2 nights in a weekend. A twin room in a budget hotel, 1-2 stars, might cost around €40 on weekdays in the winter and up to €100 on summer weekends. In a three and four star hotel, the prices would range from €100 to €200, depending on season, and five stars hotels can cost between €150 and €400 a night.
Do not expect a wide amount of services from cheaper end hostels and hotels. Most of these do not have elevators and have the usual steep staircases; if you suffer from vertigo, do get an assurance that you will be getting a first or second floor room or book a hotel that has an elevator.
Since the internet business started many Amsterdam visitors prefer book some hotels alternative such as holiday apartments and houseboats. There are several sites offering short term apartments. Here you can book your own apartment Amsterdam Stay . A company specialized on accommodation offered by private owners (rooms, apartments and houseboats) is CityMundo 
You should take normal precautions against pickpockets and baggage theft, especially in the main shopping streets, in trams and trains, at stations, and anywhere where tourists congregate. Street begging is no longer common in Amsterdam, since the police take a harder line. Some beggars are addicts, some are homeless, and some are both.
What looks like a footpath, especially along a canal bank, may be a bike lane. Bike lanes are normally marked by red/purple tiles or asphalt, and a bike icon on the ground. However, the colour fades over time, so you might miss the difference. Don't expect cyclists to be kind to pedestrians: some consider the side-walk an extension of the road, to be used when it suits them. Never stay or walk on the bike path or street for extended periods of time, as you will be greeted only by angry bell ringing. Keep in mind that for many Amsterdammers, the bike is their main means of transportation. For the bike theft problem see above, Get around.
Watch out for trams when crossing the street. Taxis are also allowed to use some tram lanes, and even if not allowed, they often use them anyway.
Groups of women visiting the Red Light District at night might feel harassed in the aggressive environment, though this is said to be the safest area because of the police presence. Keep to main streets and groups. Do not take photographs of the prostitutes!, you will be yelled at or worse.
Although not really dangerous, women especially might want to avoid the narrow lane north of the Oude Kerk (Old Church) after dark as the atmosphere can be quite intimidating.
Amsterdam is actually one of the safest cities in the world. International consultancy Mercer ranked Amsterdam 13 out of 215 world cities for personal safety in its 2010 Quality of Life Survey. 
Journeywoman.com calls Amsterdam 'female-friendly' and recommends it as a city where women travelling alone should feel comfortable and safe. 
However, there are differences between the neighborhoods. While it's filled with all types of people during the day, the Red Light District does attract seedier visitors and vagrants after sunset. You may want to avoid walking alone here or in parks at night.
The Bijlmer and Slotervaart in West still have a bad name regarding violence and harassment. With recent urban renewal projects, these neighborhoods have made significant progress in the last few years.
Cannabis and other drugs
It cannot be denied that many tourists come to Amsterdam for the coffeeshops. Coffeeshops (in English but written as one word) sell only soft drugs such as marijuana and hash - asking for other drugs is pointless because coffeeshops are watched closely by the authorities, and nothing will get them closed faster than having hard drugs for sale. 'Café' is the general name for a place licenced to sell alcohol: a bar.
Quality varies. Coffeeshops aimed at tourists are more likely to have overpriced and poor quality products. A simple rule of thumb is: if the place looks good and well-kept chances are their wares will be good as well. Don't just enter a coffeeshop being overwhelmed that it's possible at all to buy and consume cannabis openly: be discerning as to the quality.
If you're not a smoker, and you really want to try it, start with something light, make sure you don't have an empty stomach, and don't combine it with any other drugs or intoxicants, including alcohol. Be forthright with the counter person about your inexperience, they see it all the time. Go with an experienced person if you can. Regardless of the strength, your first experience can be quite a sensation at first, but will quickly decrease in intensity. You may want to plan to return to your hotel and "hole up" for a couple hours until you become comfortable with the feeling. If you do find yourself too strongly under the influence - feeling nauseated, woozey or faint - drink orange juice or eat something sweet like cookies or candy, and get fresh air. Dutch-grown nederwiet (a.k.a. super skunk) is much stronger than you might expect, even if you are experienced. The THC level can be as high as 15%, twice the norm (source: Trimbos Institute).
There's a small chance you will be approached by people offering to sell you hard drugs in the street, especially as you are walking through the Red Light District. Ignoring or failing that a firm refusal is enough - they will not pester you. The selling of drugs in the street is illegal and often dangerous; moreover the drugs sold to strangers are usually fake. When they invite you to see the goods, they can lure you into a narrow street and rob you.
So-called smartshops do not sell any illegal products, but a range of dietary supplements, including 'herbal exstacy' - a legal attempt at an ecstasy pill alternative which is a complete waste of money and various more or less obscure psychedelic herbs and despite a change in the law, one type of magic mushrooms. It is the latter which causes problems as people often underestimate their strength. Magic mushrooms have few physical risks attached to them, but can have a very strong short-acting psychological effect, which can either be great or very distressing, depending on your own mindset (e.g. if you are relaxed, have any serious worries, history of mental illness, etc.) and your surroundings (e.g. if you feel comfortable and safe in them). The first time you try this should always be in a familiar and trusted environment, not on the streets of an unfamiliar city. If you do decide to try it please get informed first. Conscious Dreams , the company who invented the entire concept of a 'smartshop' back in 1994 does this clearly (without downplaying the possible risks just to sell more like some other shops do) and responsibly. Also plan well ahead, make sure you have thought out where you will be, most recommended is going to a large park like the Vondelpark, the Rembrandtpark or the Amsterdamse Bos where it is quiet, and there is no risk from traffic. Make sure that being intoxicated will not endanger your safety, or that of anybody else. Be sure to make your purchase in the Smartshops rather than a regular coffeeshop. They are better regulated and information is available from the attendants that work there. They are also of better quality and stronger potency than at the coffeeshops.
If you're not sure of how much to take, take a small dose. Then you'll know what your "tolerance" level is. People who have bad trips are those who take a dosage over their own tolerance level. Never take more than one packet of mushrooms - usually half is good for your first time. A good smart shop can give you more info about this.
Do keep in mind that all hemp related products (except the seeds) are still illegal. This can be confusing for most tourists, who do think hemp products are legal since they are sold in coffeeshops. Hemp products are not legal, rather they are "tolerated" under the Dutch Opium Act. Read more about the legalities in the article about the Netherlands.
As of April 2009 you can still buy Magic mushrooms.
Amsterdam plays host to the Cannabis Cup, the most important marijuana related event in the world every year during the week of Thanksgiving. The Cannabis Cup is organized by High Times magazine, and offers both tourists and natives the chance to enjoy 5 days of consuming and judging marijuana in different forms. Participants are eligible to pay $199 in advance or €250 at the door to obtain a "judges pass", which allows entry to the event for all 5 days, admission to numerous concerts and seminars held during the event, the ability to vote on numerous awards that are handed out, and free bus tours to and from the event. Day passes are available for €30 for each day, and certain concerts sell tickets at the door provided they are not already sold out.
If you bring a laptop, tablet or smartphone, many hotels in the city offer wifi free of charge for guests, but inform before making a booking. Plenty of coffee houses and cafés offer free wifi to their consuming guests.
If you don't bring your own device you'll have a harder time finding internet access. Try the phone shops which cater for immigrant communities in the Netherlands. They usually have one or two terminals.
The telephone country code for the Netherlands is 31, and Amsterdam's city code is 020. You only need to dial the 0 if you're calling from within the Netherlands.
Pay phones are increasingly rare as most Dutch people have a mobile phone. That's why pay phones mostly cater to tourists and can be found around tourist areas, such as the central station. If making local calls from a pay phone, you will need a phone card (€5 minimum) as many green KPN telephone booths do not accept coins. blue/orange Telfort booths accept both coins and cards. The KPN booths are currently being replaced by newer models, which will accept coins again. There are very few public telephones on the streets or in public transport stations in the Netherlands. If you need to make a call and do not have access to a local phone or hotel phone, it is best to go to a call centre or use a calling service over the internet (like Skype, for example). Most payphones require phone cards which can be bought at post offices and some delis, although the cards are increasingly hard to find. Also, as in any area, some of the pay phones are scams. If you do need to use a payphone, call the free customer service number listed on the payphone first to make sure the phone is actually in service. When you call the customer service number listed on the phone, if you get a recorded message or 'number not in service' message in Dutch or English, then DON'T put your money or credit card into the phone. Phones run by BBG Communications, common in Europe and the U.S., have repeatedly been alleged to make fraudulent charges with credit cards used in their phone, for calls that were never made.
If you really do need a pay phone, they can be found in groups of six near the main entrance of the Central Station.
There are phone shops ('belwinkel') all over the city. Outside the city centre, they mostly serve immigrants calling their home country at cheap rates.
If you have a simlock-free European GSM mobile phone (suitable for GSM 900/1800 networks), consider buying a prepaid simcard. You can buy these in any electronics store, and they are often the same price as buying a KPN phonebooth card. Calling then is a lot cheaper than using pay phones, and you are mobile.
For pre-paid dataplans, Lebara and Lyca Mobile have outlets at Schiphol Airport selling SIM cards (typically €10 for 150 to 120MB data plans). A list of pre-paid SIM providers can be found here.
ings daily news from The Netherlands in English.
Holy Mass in Catholic churches (Overview of Cath. Masses in the city center (English): ):
The older generation of Dutch people tends to be more religious.
Direct trains connect Amsterdam to Paris, to major Belgian cities like Brussels and Antwerp, and to German cities like Cologne, Frankfurt and Berlin. The ticket machines directly sell tickets to nearby destinations in Belgium and Germany, for longer journeys you will need to consult the international ticket office at the west end of the Central Station. CityNightLine trains run directly from Amsterdam Central Station to Milan, Vienna, Copenhagen, Prague, Warsaw, Moscow, Munich, Innsbruck, and Zurich (reservation compulsory).
Almost any place in the Netherlands can be reached within 3 hr of rail travel. To make more sense, day trips can be divided into those close to the city (about 30 min by public transport) and those further afield.