Amsterdam is a city in 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 traveler'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 located in the Province of North-Holland. Although Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands, the seat of government is The Hague, and the provincial capital is Haarlem.
The 'Amsterdam' that most people know is the city centre, the semicircle with Central Station at its apex. It corresponds to the old city, as it was around 1850. Five major concentric canals ring the old city; the Singel, the Herengracht, the Keizersgracht, the Prinsengracht, and the Singelgracht (not to be confused with the Singel!), which runs alongside the roads Nassaukade, Stadhouderskade, and Mauritskade and marks the location of the former city moat and fortifications. Almost everything outside this line was built after 1870. The semicircle is on the south side of the IJ, which is called a river, but is more exactly 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, Waterland, is a protected rural landscape of open fields and small villages.
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 located on or outside the ring motorway, which is four to five kilometers from the centre.
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 illegal, is condoned 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. Amsterdam is not generally seen as a family destination, but if you avoid the red light district, it is no more objectionable for children than any large city.
Nearly everyone in Amsterdam, young or old, seems to speak excellent English.
When to visit
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. Some things are seasonal: the bulb fields flower only in the spring, and Queen's Day (Koninginnedag) is always on 30 April, unless that is a Sunday. Queen Beatrix was in fact born on 31 January, but since January is too cold, the celebrations are held on the birthday of her mother Juliana. The color of Queen's Day is orange, symbolizing national pride in the royal House of Orange-Nassau.
Amsterdam Weekly is an English-language free cultural weekly published every Wednesday. It provides coverage of Amsterdam city life, and an arts and entertainment calendar.
Uitkrant is a free monthly magazine, listing all concerts, classical, jazz, pop etc., exhibitions, museums and anything cultural to do in Amsterdam. It can be picked up at many spots in the city, e.g. at the Uitburo at the Leidseplein.
NL20 is a free weekly listings magazine for Amsterdam, in Dutch.
BOOM! is a free magazine in English available from most hotels and coffee shops. It is published 4 times a year, by comedy show Boom Chicago, and if you can overlook their shameless self promotion, you'll find a wealth of up to date information about life in Amsterdam, going out, the best restaurants and a guide to the red light district, all written in an honest, witty style.
Expatica.com/netherlands offers summaries of Dutch news in English, and is useful to get a flavor of Dutch current affairs and politics.
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (IATA: AMS) (ICAO: EHAM), . Situated 15 km south-west of the city, one of the busiest airports in the world. 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 (list LCC flights). 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 former national carrier for the Netherlands is KLM, now merged with Air France. With partner Northwest Airlines they offer worldwide connections. The US, Asia and Europe are particularly well served at Schiphol.
For very frequent visitors to Amsterdam (6 or more times a year) it may pay 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 €99/year + €55 for a partner.
From Schiphol there is a direct train to Amsterdam Central Station, for € 3.60, in 15 minutes. Buy the ticket from the machine (yellow with blue writing), at the counter you will pay extra charge (€ 0.50); beware: the most machines may not accept credit or debit cards, however, there is a machine that accepts cash on the side of the main airport hall closer to terminal 1 and 2. Moreover, you'll find there is no problem getting tickets at the ticket office for the same price, and you will also be given advice as to the next train and at what platform. The train station at Schiphol is located underground, under the main airport hall. 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.
If you are desperately trying to save money, you could use local transport from Schiphol to central Amsterdam, provided that you use a strippenkaart (see below). A trip would cost 6 strippen, that's about €2.75 on a 15 strippenkaart, and takes about an hour: take local bus 300 to the Amstelveen stop "Oranjebaan" and change there to Metro #51 to go to Amsterdam central station or take tram #5 to get into town directly.
Even easier, express buses 370 and 197 run to the Museumplein and the Leidseplein without transferring in about thirty minutes. They run once an hour middays and every 10ish minutes for the rest of the day. Surprisingly, late night bus service is even better, with frequent every five minutes or less. From midnight to six a.m., many night bus lines go to and from the airport.
Taxis from Schiphol are expensive and priced unexpectedly. You pay €6,80 - €7,50 (as of Feb 08) to get in and that includes the first two kilometers. Then the meter starts racing. The ride costs about €40 to go, say, the Leidseplein. Luckily, it could take only 25 minutes. Choose the nicest cab as that driver is more likely to be reputable. Don't just pick the first taxi in line.
Many hotels in Amsterdam share a paid shuttle bus service, and some hotels around the airport will send a free van for you.
If you decided to bring your bicycle on the plane with you, there is a 15-kilometer signposted 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.
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 an hour in advance.
Using other airports 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. A taxi is not advisable: from Rotterdam to Amsterdam a taxi would cost €130, and from Eindhoven even more.
From Eindhoven Airport take a local bus (Hermes bus 401, 23 minutes, about four times per hour, €3.20 on board or €1.80 using a 15 strippenkaart) to the train station, from there take a train to Amsterdam (1:20 hour, four times per hour, single €16.80). Alternatively, take the express bus directly from the airport to Amsterdam central station, which takes 1:45 or 2:15 hours depending on the time of day. This service goes quite infrequently, see their website for a schedule. The ticket price is €18.50 for a single or €32.50 for a return .
From Rotterdam Airport ("Zestienhoven") take a city bus (RET bus 33, 26 minutes, every 10-20 minutes, €2.40 on board or €1.35 using a 15 strippenkaart) to Rotterdam Centraal train station, from there take a train to Amsterdam (about an hour, every 10-20 minutes, single €12.70).
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 Centraal, with additional trains going to other Amsterdam stations.
Direct international trains run to Brussels (connecting with Eurostar trains to London St Pancras and Ebbsfleet (Kent) in England), Paris, Cologne, Frankfurt and Berlin.
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.
The speed limit on Dutch motorways is 120 km/h, except where indicated. On most sections of the A10 ring motorway around Amsterdam, the maximum speed has been lowered to 80 km/h. 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). There are also ferry terminals at Rotterdam Europoort (ferry from Kingston Upon Hull), and Hook of Holland (ferry from Harwich). More information, timetables and ticket prices for these ferries is available at Ferries To Amsterdam.
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 a half an hour.
A pleasant way to cover a lot of ground is to rent a bicycle. There are approximately three-quarters of a million 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. If you are not used to that, be very careful, and also watch out for other cyclists. Avoid getting your tire in the tram rails; it's a nasty fall. Always cross tram rails at an angle. There are bike rental shops at stations, and several others in and around the city centre. Bikes cost about € 9 to € 20 per day.
Make sure to get a good lock, 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; if to a large group of bicycles going by, you yell out, "Hey, that's my bike!" about five people will jump off "their" bikes and start running.
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 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.
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 Central Station or Waterlooplein to the Bijlmer (Amsterdam Arena stadium, Heineken Music Hall and Pathe Arena cinema and IMAX).
Tickets can be bought on bus or tram, but it is always cheaper to buy a strippenkaart before boarding. They are available from machines in the metro and railway stations, from the GVB office opposite Central Station, and from supermarkets, newsagents and tobacconists. In Central Station, purchase them at the red GVB machine (bills and coins) or at one of the Albert Heijn To Go mini marts. Purchase multi-day passes at the Amsterdam Tourist office (ACTB) or GWK Money Exchange.
A strippenkaart is also valid for use on NS trains within Amsterdam, validate them on the platform. They are not valid for train trips to Schiphol airport. You can use them on buses to Schiphol but generally it's faster to get there by train.
The strippenkaart ticket consists of a number of strips, which must be stamped in a yellow machine prior to entering the metro, or by the driver or conductor when boarding a tram or bus. Travel for one hour through a single zone costs two strips; two zones cost three strips, and so forth. Typically tourists will only be traveling through the central zone of Amsterdam, unless they plan on visiting outer areas. Multiple people can share one strippenkaart but must be validated respective to the number of travelers (eg. for two people traveling in one zone, the strip can be validated on the second and fourth strip from the last validation stamp).
Alternatively, you can get a 1, 2, 3 or 4 day pass. Although convenient, it is usually cheaper to use strippenkaarten, especially for people who stay in the city center. (€7/1 day, €11.50/2 days, €14.50/3 days, €17.50/4 days, as of Feb 08).
Don't forget to stamp it before your first journey. 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 really cheaper.
A new national ticketing system is being introduced, based on a contactless card (swipe card). The system is operational on the Amsterdam metro, at first in parallel with the old system. Trams and buses will be converted to the new system in 2008-9.
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 always have more time for you.
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 :15 and :45 from Central Station and :00 and :30 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 only accept credit and debit cards (note that 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 located in the hallway in front of the ticket office.
You face a fine of 35 euros, 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.
Using a car in central Amsterdam is something of 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. 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 center, 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 center 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.
Taxis in Amsterdam are plentiful but expensive. Call TCA taxis at 777 7777 for a reliable driver who arrives almost immediately. Hailing taxis on the street is usually a positive experience, although it is not unheard of for passengers to be cheated by shady drivers.
Some drivers, traditionally at Centraal Station, will refuse short trips, or else they'll quote outrageously high fares, even though all taxis are metered. 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 (as of Feb 08). Luckily, that includes the first two kilometers 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 center 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) as they take reservations 24 hours a day at 0900 99 333 99 (note to call, there is a fee of €0.55 per conversation).
Amsterdam has one of the largest historic city centres in Europe, with about 7 000 registered historic buildings. The street pattern is largely unchanged since the 19th century - there was no major bombing during World War II. The centre consists of 90 islands, linked by 400 bridges. Its most prominent feature is the concentric canal ring begun in the 17th century. The city office for architectural heritage (BMA)  has an excellent online introduction to the architectural history, and the types of historical buildings. The website includes a cycle route along important examples.
The oldest parts of the city are Warmoesstraat and Zeedijk. Two mediaeval wooden houses survive, at Begijnhof 34 and Zeedijk 1. Other old houses are Warmoesstraat 83 (built circa 1400), Warmoesstraat 5 (circa 1500) and Begijnhof 2-3 (circa. 1425).
The Begijnhof is a late-mediaeval enclosed courtyard with the houses of beguines, women living in a semi-religious community. Beguinages are found in northern France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and north-western Germany.
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 19th-century warehouses, along the Oostelijke Handelskade, are surrounded by new office buildings.
The trading city of Amsterdam was ruled by a merchant-based oligarchy, who built canal houses and mansions in the most prestigious locations, especially along the main canals. The BMA website has a chronological list of the most important:
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. It was probably the first example of gentrification in the Netherlands, even before the word was used. The name probably drives from the nickname 'Jordan' for the Prinsengracht. Apart from a few wider canals, the streets are narrow, in an incomplete grid pattern.
19th-century architecture is under-represented in Amsterdam. Immediately outside the Singelgracht (former city moat) is a ring of 19th-century housing. The most prominent buildings from this period are Centraal Station (1889) and the Rijksmuseum (1885), both by P. J. H. Cuypers.
There are five main churches in the historic centre. The oldest is the Oude Kerk (1306) on the Oudezijds Voorburgwal, in the red-light district. It was followed by the Nieuwe Kerk (15th century) on the Dam. The late-mediaeval 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. Around 1600, three new Protestant churches were built:
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 only built again in the 19th-century: the most prominent is the Neo-Baroque Church of St. Nicholas (1887) opposite Central Station.
The most prominent synagogue is the Portugese-Israelite Synagogue (1675) at Mr. Visserplein, in an austere Classicist style.
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 building obstructed the wind. The Amsterdam windmills were all originally outside the city walls. Nearest to the centre are De Gooyer and De Otter:
Only the Molen van Sloten  and De Gooyer are open for visitors. The Molen van Sloten at Akersluis 10, about 10 minutes walk from the terminus of tram line 2, open daily from 10.00 to 16.00. De Gooyer at Funenkade, Bus 22, Tram 7, open Wednesday to Sunday from 15.00 to 19.00.
An English-language list at the GVB (public transport) website includes the tram and bus routes for each museum: Museums and attractions.
The Museumkaart (museum card) costs €34.95 (or €19.95 for those under 25 years old). It gives discount admission (typically 40% or 50%) in over 400 museums across the Netherlands, and sometimes free admission. 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 €10 each, so this card can quickly pay for itself.
Zoo and botanical garden
Parks and countryside
The nearest open countryside is north of the city, about 20 minutes by bike. Cross the IJ by ferry behind Central Station, and follow the cycle signs for the villages of Ransdorp, Zunderdorp, Schellingwoude or Durgerdam. Cycling along the Amstel river for about 30 to 40 minutes will also take you into open countryside, and the village of Oudekerk.
The whole coast west of the Netherlands is a single long beach. The nearest stretch is at Zandvoort - 27 minutes by train from Central Station, every 30 minutes. In summer there are extra trains, change trains at Haarlem. Zandvoort is very crowded on warm days in summer: parts of the beach attract the incrowd, others the somewhat less so. The long beaches continue north of IJmuiden, they are more family oriented. For the most accessible of these, take the train to Castricum, and then bus (or minibus) 267. Or, you can take the hydrofoil (Fast Flying Ferries) from behind the Central Station to IJmuiden, and then take a bus to the beach.
There is a temporary artificial beach Blijburg, surrounded by construction sites, in the new suburb of IJburg. Tram 26 to the last stop, then a few minutes walk, follow the signs.
Attractions and tours
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 walls) 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, 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 sexshops 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.
Amsterdam is home to two universities, both offer summer courses and other short courses (with academic credits).
The Volksuniversiteit  is, despite the name, 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 - 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'.
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.
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 secondhand bookstore specialising in English books, and has a large selection, with an escpecially good selection of travel writing, detectives, and sf/fantasy. Open M-S 10-18, Sun 11.30-16. For English literature and books, you can also try The American Book Center store on Spui square. 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 Hollandse Markten and Amsterdam.info in English
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 vegetarians Maoz chain of falfels is a blessing.The falafels are excellent offering a variety of options to load onto the basics falafel and pita bread.One of the Maoz is just outside Centraal station.
Take advantage of the diversity of restaurants... especially Asian. The influence of the Dutch colonial past is apparent; Indonesian food is usually excellent, while Indian is often expensive and of poor quality. Surinamese food is widely available and worth a try. The highest concentration of Surinamese restaurants can be found in the Albert Cuypstraat. For Chinese food (generally good and cheap) check out the Zeedijk/Nieuwmarkt area. Also very good value are the numerous Falafel bars scattered around town, often sporting a "all you can pile" salad bar. And the Vlaamse Frites -- large french fries served with mayonnaise -- are great. Eetcafe's are pubs serving dinner too. Many restaurants of all kinds can be found in the Haarlemmerstraat and the Haarlemmerdijk, 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 marvelous, buy some at the Albert Cuyp market, or at specialist cheese shops found around central Amsterdam. Dutch cheese is tradionally 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 flavor.
Don't forget to taste the main culinary contribution of the Amsterdammers to the world: Heineken - oh, except you've already done that, and it doesn't taste any better in Holland. Try some of the other excellent beers you can get from this part of the world - including "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 the "broodje haring" (herring sandwich), available from the dozens of fish stalls that scatter the city. (And if they ask "with onions and gherkins?", just say "of course"!) 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.
For much more detailed restaurant listings, see the Iens restaurant guide , the web version of a published restaurant guide, similar to Zagat. The English breaks down occasionally, and you may not always agree with the opinions, but the listings are exhaustive.
Amsterdam has over 400 registered hotels of varying standards from budget tourist to some of the most expensive hotels in Europe. Advance booking is recommended, especially for weekends and holidays. Mosts hotels are in the centre of the canal ring, especially south of Centraal Station, or near Museumplein. Hostels are also found around the Warmoesstraat, in the red light district. Prices: a bed in hostel starts around €15 in weekday winter time and might be up to €30 on a summer weekend. A twin room in a budget hotel, 1-2 stars, might cost around €40 in winter time on weekdays, 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.
Apartment and Canal Boat rentals
Some agencies rent furnished apartments or canal boats. Short-stay tenancies are permitted in Amsterdam, but the minimum is one week. Apartments (or houseboats) let for less than one week are officially an "illegal hotel". The city and boroughs have begun an enforcement campaign to close them.  This is not applicable to bed and breakfasts and private accommodation with a main tenant.
The telephone country code for the Netherlands is 31, and Amsterdam's city code is 020. If making local calls to reserve hotel rooms or restaurants, or calls to other cities in the country, you will need a phone card (5 Euro 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 phone centres/shops ('belwinkel') all over the city. Outside the city centre, they mostly serve immigrants calling their home country at cheap rates.
Tip: 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 it's often on the same price level as buying a KPN phonebooth card, and you're mobile.
There are internet cafés in the centre, and almost every phone centre has internet access, even if only one terminal.
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, because 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. 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.
Visitors from outside the Euro zone should also take care they are not short-changed in shops. Unscrupulous vendors sometimes try to take advantage of those who are not familiar with the currency.
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!
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) only sell 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, i.e. 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 nauseous, 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).
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. Ignorance 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 XTC alternative which is a complete waste of money, various more or less obscure psychedelic herbs, and magic mushrooms. It is the latter which causes problems as people often underestimate their strength. Magic mushrooms have little 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 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 attendents 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. 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.
Holy mass in catholic churches (Overview of cath. churches in Amsterdam (dutch)):
Direct trains connect Amsterdam to Paris, to major Belgian cities like Brussels and Antwerp, and to German cities like Cologne, Frankfurt or Berlin. The ticket machines sell tickets to nearby destinations in Belgium and Germany. For longer journeys you will need the international ticket office which is located on Platform 2.
Almost everywhere in the Netherlands can be reached within 3 hours travel from Amsterdam, by public transport. To make more sense, day trips can be divided into those very close to the city (about 30 minutes by public transport) and further afield.
Under 45 minutes away
Haarlem is the closest of the historic cities, only 15 minutes by train. Smaller towns just outside Amsterdam (all within cycling distance) include:
The historic cities of Utrecht, Amersfoort, and Leiden, and the smaller historic town of Alkmaar, are 30 to 35 minutes away by train. So is Zandvoort, the nearest beach resort. The historic port of Hoorn is 40 minutes away by train, and the smaller historic port of Edam is 40 minutes by bus (lines 110, 112, 114, 116, 117, 118).
About one hour away
Rotterdam, The Hague, Delft, Den Bosch, Apeldoorn, and Arnhem all take about one hour by train. A slightly longer journey, 80 minutes, takes you to the historic cities of Zwolle and Deventer, by then you are already in the Eastern Netherlands.
The smaller historic town of Enkhuizen is also one hour away by train, it has a large open-air museum  showing how people used to live around the former sea, Zuiderzee. Several other smaller historic towns are within an hour by train.