Difference between revisions of "Amsterdam"
Revision as of 23:57, 30 December 2010
Amsterdam  is the capital of the Netherlands with impressive architecture, lovely canals that criss cross the city, great shopping, and friendly people who nearly all speak English well. 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. Amsterdam has over a million inhabitants in the urban area, and is in the Province of North-Holland. Amsterdam is not the seat of government (which is in The Hague), but it is the biggest city and the cultural and creative centre of the Netherlands.
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. Five major concentric canals ring the Old Center; the Singel, the Herengracht, the Keizersgracht, the Prinsengracht, and the Singelgracht, together forming the Canal Ring. Other districts inside the city center are the Jordaan, a 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 center 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, often called a river but more exactly is an estuary. 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 north of the ring motorway. The region there, the Rural North, is a protected rural landscape of open fields and small villages that could be considered as part of the Waterland region.
The radius of the semicircle is about 2 km. All major tourist destinations, and most hotels, are located inside it or just outside it. As a result, much 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 service sector, and the port — is on or outside the ring motorway, which is four to five kilometers 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 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 legalized 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 coffee shops 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.
Most people in Amsterdam, young or old, seem to speak at least some conversational English.
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 72°F (22°C). Some things are seasonal: the tulip fields flower only in the spring, and Queen's Day (Koninginnedag) is always on 30 April, unless it falls on a Sunday. Queen Beatrix was actually born on 31 January, but since January is very cold, the celebrations are held on the day she became the queen of the Netherlands, which is also the birthday of her mother, Juliana.
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (IATA: AMS) (ICAO: EHAM)  is one of the busiest airports in the world, situated 15 km south-west of the city. Jet2.com , Easyjet , and other low-cost carriers serve Schiphol, providing a fairly economical way to city-hop to Amsterdam from other spots in Europe. As Amsterdam is a very popular destination, the cheapest tickets may be gone, and in that case a traditional carrier might be cheaper. So it pays to check a number of airlines before booking, to get the best deal. 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
For very frequent visitors to Amsterdam (6 or more times a year) it may be useful to invest in a Privium  card. This is available to EU passport holders only, but allows you to cut the queues at passport control. Instead of showing your passport you go to a special lane with an iris scanner, this will save a significant amount of time if the passport lines are long. Cost is currently €115 + €65 for a partner.
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 one hour 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 7AM-11PM daily.
Coin-operated storage lockers are located along the main hallway through the transit/departure area, across from the start of the E wing. €5 per 24 hours, maximum one week. 
Schiphol by train
From Schiphol there is a direct train to Amsterdam Central Station, for €3.80 (or €7.00 for same-day return), in 20 minutes. Buy the ticket from the machine (yellow with blue writing); if you purchase your ticket at the counter you will pay €0.50 extra. Not all machines accept credit or debit cards. The train station at Schiphol is located underground, under the main airport hall; trains to Amsterdam Central Station usually run from platform 3.
A new national ticketing system is in the process of being introduced, based on a contactless chipcard, which is currently valid in Amsterdam's public transport system and nationwide in the train. A train journey from Schiphol to Amsterdam is slightly cheaper using this card, €3.50, but it might not be interesting for tourists unless you already own one: a card costs €7.50, and you have to have at least €20 on it to be able to travel by train. The old system will be used in conjunction for the foreseeable future. See the section in the Netherlands article.
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. 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 to 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 thirty minutes and leads directly to the south-west of the centre of Amsterdam (namely Museumplein and Leidseplein). The price depends on which bus you take: on local bus 197 the trip would cost you €2.35 to Leidseplein using the OV-chipkaart (see below), or €4.00 on board; on "interliner" bus 370 (an express bus, although in this case the local bus is equally fast) you pay €3.00 using the OV-chipkaart, or €3.80 on board.
Bus 197 currently runs every 15 minutes for most of the day, daily from 5:01AM till midnight; bus 370 runs every hour during the day and every 30 minutes during peak hours. From midnight till 5AM, night buses run to and from the airport. If you don't want to change buses, take either night bus N97 or N72 (both €3.50). These buses run once an hour, within about 15 minutes of each other unfortunately.
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 around €7.50 (as of Oct 08) as a minimum charge and that includes the first two kilometers. Then the meter starts racing. 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 minutes. 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.
Schiphol, other modes of transport
The Connexxion Hotel Shuttle  serves over 100 city center hotels, with 8-seater shared van departures about every 30 minutes between 6 AM and 9 PM, cost to most city center destinations €14.50/22.50 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 from +31-38-3394741.
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 06:30 to 23:00 daily (some are open longer, 06:00-23:30). 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 minutes.
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 €1.95 using a 15 strippenkaart) to the train station, from there take a train to Amsterdam (duration 1:20 hour, frequency four times per hour, single €17.50). Alternatively, take the express bus directly from the airport to Amsterdam central station, which takes 2:15 hours. This service goes only 3 to 4 times per day; see their website for a schedule. The ticket price is €26 for a single or €42 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 €1.38 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 €13.30).
Schiphol airport is 11km from the centre of Amsterdam in a straight line, Rotterdam is 57km and Eindhoven is 107km. Other airports that could possibly be used are:
Most trains arrive and depart from Amsterdam Centraal Station (with one extra 'a' in Dutch), located between the old centre and the IJ waterfront. Other train stations are Duivendrecht, Bijlmer-ArenA, Amstel, Muiderpoort (all southeast), RAI, Zuid-WTC (both south), Lelylaan and Sloterdijk (both west). Schiphol airport also has its own train station, which functions as a major hub within the Netherlands. It has at least seven trains an hour to Amsterdam Central, with additional trains going to other Amsterdam stations.
Direct international trains run to Brussels (which is two and a half to three hours away and connects with Eurostar trains to London St Pancras and Ebbsfleet (Kent) in England), Paris, Cologne, Frankfurt, Berlin, Copenhagen, Milan, Zurich, Vienna, Prague and Moscow. See NS Hispeed  for an international journey planner for trains into/out of the Netherlands.
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. 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 and P+R Olympisch Stadion to the south, 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 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 (ferry from Newcastle upon Tyne) with DFDS Seaways, who offer a daily overnight ferry services from Newcastle-upon-Tyne (North Shields) in the United Kingdom see  (official site). 125km away by car there is a ferry terminal at Rotterdam Europoort (ferry from Kingston Upon Hull), and Hook of Holland (ferry from Harwich). it's about 80 km by the road to Amsterdam by the most direct route. Hook of Holland has an train station. Take the train to Schiedam or Rotterdam CS and from there a train to Amsterdam.
Metro line works
A 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 and cause parts of roads to be blocked off for cars, busses and trams, often for the duration of months or longer. Usually you can pass on foot or bicycle. Currently (2010), in the city centre, building work is taking place at Central Station, Damrak, Rokin and Vijzelgracht/Weteringcircuit.
On foot and bike
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.
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 600,000 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. Be very careful and cycle defensively, also watch out for other cyclists. 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! 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 for free on all ferries across the IJ, and on all metros and some carriages of tram 26 using the bike supplement fee (€1.50 in 2010) on the OV chipcard. Use the special bike racks, locations indicated by a bicycle sign on the outside of the carriage.
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.
Public transport within the city is operated by the GVB (Gemeentevervoerbedrijf ). The tram (18 lines) is the main form of public transport system in the central area, and there are also dozens of (night-)bus routes. Regional buses, and some suburban buses, are operated by Connexxion  and Arriva . 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).
There is a four line metro, including a short underground section in the city centre, that serves the neighborhoods of the South East. It takes 15-20 minutes 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.
A fun way to travel is the GVB Stop/Go minibus  that runs every 12 minutes between the Oosterdok, via Centraal Station and Leidseplein to the Waterlooplein. It follows the Prinsengracht and has no fixed stops; flag it down to stop. One-euro tickets are available from the driver, but GVB day passes are also valid.
A new national ticketing system has recently been introduced, based on a contactless card, called OV-chipkaart ("Public Transport chip card"). 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 tourists, the most useful type of travel pass is probably the 24/48/72/96/120/144/168 hour ticket. This allows the holder to travel on an unlimited number of journeys on the tram, metro and (night)bus throughout the validity period of the pass. On a tram, only the 24 hour ticket is available. 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 busses operated by Connexxion and Arriva. Prices as of Jan 2010: €7/24 hours, €11.50/48 hours, €15.50/72 hours, €19.50/96 hours, €23/120 hours, €26/144 hours and €29/168 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.).
Most trams these days have conductors, near the rear of the tram. Board by the driver or the conductor. If you have questions, the conductor will be sure to respond to your query. You can also buy one-hour and 24-hour tickets at the conductors. Enter buses only via the front door.
There are several free ferry services across the IJ river, to Amsterdam North, the most frequent runs every seven minutes. They all leave from a new jetty on the northern (rear) side of Centraal Station. The nicest one is the fifteen minute service to NDSM Werf, a funky, up and coming, industrial neighborhood with a nice cafe-bar (IJkantine) restaurant (Noorderlicht), indoor skateboard park, and the Pancake Boat (Pannekoekenboot) which sails many times each week. Ferries leave every 30 minutes from Centraal Station and from NDSM Werf. Double frequencies during rush hours.
For journeys outside the city, the train is usually the best option. Besides some exceptions, all trains in the Netherlands are operated by the Nederlandse Spoorwegen  (NS, "Dutch Railways"). Their website has English-language information.
Ticket machines are the standard way to buy a ticket, it costs 50 cents extra to buy a ticket at ticket counters, and at Central Station, there are often long lines at these counters. Older machines are not in English and as such can be difficult to interpret. New machines come with a language selection, and support English, Dutch, French and German but usually accept only credit and debit cards (note that many foreign credit and debit cards do not work in most NS ticket machines). In Central Station, there is a machine that accepts cash and is in the hallway in front of the ticket office.
You face a fine of €35, due immediately, if you are caught on the train without a ticket. The chance of getting caught without a ticket is almost certain on main routes during the day, but there is always a random element.
For discount tickets and rail passes see the Netherlands page.
It is practical to use a car only outside of the historic centre; within the historic center, 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, gas is about €8 (11 dollars) per gallon. 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 minute walk downtown.
Another option is to park your car further outside the city-centre. For € 5,50 you get a full day 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, a week long rental from more popular chains can run anywhere from $275 US for a micro car to $1000 US for a luxury sedan.
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). 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.
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. 50 cents 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-Center 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, €5.00 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 hours a day on 0900 99 333 99 and there is a fee of €0.55 per call.
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 center, the Old Center, dates from medieval times. The oldest streets are the Warmoesstraat and the Zeedijk located in the Nieuwmarkt area of the Old Center. 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.
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.
Churches & 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 Dutch were 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.
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.
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 Amsterdam West. However, the best one to visit might 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.
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 Museum Card (Museum Jaarkaart)  costs €39.95 (or €22.45 for those under 25 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 at least €10 each, 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 €38 per day, which includes "free" access to Amsterdam museums, public transport and discount on many tourist attractions.
Zoo and botanical garden
For Artis Zoo and botanical gardens, head for Plantage.
Attractions and tours
Amsterdam has three trendy city beaches:
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. Note: Don't try to take photos of prostitutes even from the streets, or you might lose your camera without any warning. 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.
Entering and exiting the premises is half of the job that might take some strength for first timers as you might hear some chuckles from people you'll never see again in your whole life. This part of town gets very crowded, especially on a normal weekend night, sometimes up until 3AM. A fifty euro bill will get you either oral sex or a girl laying on her back, the rest is up to you. Although every room is booked by the girl herself, some of the sex workers are still being pimped by outsiders.
You can book a tour of the Red Light District via the I amsterdam information booths. The tour starts at 5PM at the VOC Cafe and is found to be very informative and entertaining.
Several companies offer private tours by car, van, or mini bus for groups of up to 8 people. Bike tours are also available at a more affordable price, and offer a more authentic dutch experience.
Boaty Rental Boats . Boaty offers rental boats (max. 6 persons) for your own private tour: decide where to go yourself or choose one of Boaty's free canal routes. These rental boats are electrically driven which means they are silent and free of exhaust fumes. They are charged with renewable energy every night so you can enjoy your time on the water as long as you like. The boats are very stable, unsinkable and of course the rental is accompanied by free life vests in different sizes.
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).
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. They are not upmarket shopping streets, and the north end of Nieuwendijk is seedy. Amsterdam’s only upmarket shopping street is the P.C. Hooftstraat (near the Rijksmuseum).
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'.
For general shop info and their openings hours you can visit 'Openingstijden Amsterdam'  it shows an overview of the most popular shops and their location on the map.
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 center of Amsterdam. C&A, and H&M are both on the main shopping streets from the Central station. A bit further from the city center 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 1700-1900 and Saturdays 1200-1700.
For books, your best bet is The Book Exchange at Kloveniersburgwal 58 (tel (020) 6266 266), diagonally across from the youth hostel. It is a second-hand bookstore specialising in English books, and has a large selection, with an especially good selection of travel writing, detectives, and SF/fantasy. Open Mon- Sun 10AM- 4PM, Sun 11:30-4:30PM. For English literature and books, you can also try The American Book Center  store on Spui square. Waterstone's (Kalverstraat 152) is also a good tip for English literature. 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.
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. And the Vlaamse Frites -- large Belgian fries served with mayonnaise -- are great. Eetcafe's are pubs serving dinner too. 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 is marvellous, buy some at the Albert Cuyp market, 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.
Don't forget to taste the main culinary contribution of the Amsterdammers to the world: Heineken it tastes no better here. Try some of the other excellent beers you can get from this part of the world such as "witbeer" (white beer). 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 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.
Avoid at all costs any steak house in the centre - they are well known tourist traps. You will also never be hungry enough to make Febo  a good idea.
Try `Studio 2` located at flower market in center especially for breakfast. Nice atmosphere and good service with nice staff with resonable prices.
For food during the day, the Albert Heijn supermarkets (largest national chain) usually have cheap ready-to-go meals on hand, from pre-packaged sandwiches and salads to microwavable single-serving meals. There is one right behind the Royal Palace on Dam Square, on the Nieuwmarkt, on Koningsplein and in the Vijzelstraat.
For budget meal, check out also the various Falafel and Shoarma restaurents 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.
Amsterdam's famously wild nightlife caters to all tastes and budgets.
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.
Amsterdam features many famous clubs, including:
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 halugenic 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 Center. 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.
A simple bed in a hostel starts around €15 on weekdays in the winter and up to €30 on a weekend in the summer. 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.
The first internet cafes of the country opened in Amsterdam, but they vanished as quickly as they appeared. Only a few smaller internet cafes remain in the Old Center. Outside of it, you might want to try your luck at one of the phone shops (belwinkel), which cater for immigrant communities in the Netherlands, but they usually have only one or two terminals. The Amsterdam Public Library (Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam) offers free internet access. It is limited to web-only access though and is located near the Central Station in the Old Center.
If you bring a laptop, many hotels in the city offer wifi free of charge for guests, but inform before making a booking. Don't count on this when staying at a hostel or cheaper end hotel. On the go, you can try some of the various coffee houses or fast food chains for wi-fi — but nearly all of them charge for it.
The telephone country code for the Netherlands is 31, and Amsterdam's city code is 020.
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 center 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.
There are phone shops ('belwinkel') all over the city. Outside the city center, 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.
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.
While there has been a big decline in crime since the 1980s, there are are some neighborhoods in Amsterdam best avoided. Most visitors do not get further than the city center and the South, which are quite safe (with the notable exception of the Red Light District in the Old Side, which feels sleazy and attracts its fair share of crime).
The most dangerous area of Amsterdam is the borough of West; the Old West is actually one of the safer areas in Amsterdam, but the New West is where many of Amsterdam's social problems get together. Especially Slotervaart catches daily headlines in the newspapers for stabbing incidents, burned cars and harassment of gay people. Another district known for its high crime rates is the Bijlmer with a relatively high amount of robberies. With urban renewal projects underway, New West and especially the Bijlmer have made some progress in the 2000s.
It is still best to avoid these districts, as there is not much to see anyway; at least take precautions if you decide on going. At day time, it is still possible to visit these places, though they might fall outside of many travelers' comfort level. Never visit at night though. East and North are safer to visit, but also have their fair share of problems. Some neighborhoods inside these districts are best avoided (Nieuwendam in North, Transvaalbuurt, Dapperbuurt and Indische Buurt in East).
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. Since April 1, 2007, coffeeshops are no longer allowed to sell alcohol.
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 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.
Holy mass in Catholic churches (Overview of cath. churches in Amsterdam (dutch): ):
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 hours of rail travel. To make more sense, day trips can be divided into those close to the city (about 30 minutes by public transport) and those further afield.
About 30 minutes
About one hour