Food, Coffee, and People

Don't worry too much about trying to learn Dutch phrases. Mostly everyone in Amsterdam, especially those engaged in the tourism industry, speak English fluently. Do try to learn the basics (Good morning, Good Evening, Please, Thank you, You're Welcome) from your phrase book. As in any country, knowing a little language always gets your further.

On the other hand, you could study the word for beer, but it's easier just to ask for an Amstel or a Heineken. Or, for the designated driver, koffie is available everywhere, even at the bars. Impress the heck out of 'em when you ask for a koffie verkeerd, or, literally, "coffee the wrong way;" that is, with milk.

You will find some of the most lighthearted and pleasant people in the world in Amsterdam, a city also comprised largely of men and women from other countries. Tolerance and diversity are the norms in Amsterdam, as much as are tradition and determination to make time to enjoy life in this 900-year-old city.

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European Amsterdam0Netherlands0Travel0Guide

· First Things First
· Where to Stay
· Getting Around

· At Your Hotel
· Around Amsterdam
· Food, Coffee, and People
· Top Ten
· If You Have Time
· You Can Probably Skip It

First Things First

The entrepôt of Europe for most of the Renaissance, the Dutch capital of Amsterdam has retained much of the architecture and ambience of it's infamous "Golden Age" of the 17th century. However, for those in search of modernity, parts of the city have adopted a more progressive and innovative style.

The Netherlands is a member of the Eurozone, the group of countries that uses the Euro currency (€). Prices below are expressed in U.S. dollars for convenience; check the rate of exchange prior to arrival in Europe. Dutch is the native tongue of most citizens, though English is a widely-spoken second language.

Where to Stay

Amsterdam isn't a massive city, however we recommend staying near the train station because this area offers easy access to public transportation and other benefits such as tourist offices, ATMs, and many restaurants. If you'll be traveling by rail to cities outside of Amsterdam, then staying near the train station is even more convenient. The most popular areas are near Dam Square and the Damrak. Further from the station are the lively Leidseplein or Rembrandtplein areas.

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Getting to Your Hotel

... From Schiphol Airport
The Dutch have made it easy to get downtown. Taxis (about $50 per car) and Connex Hotel Shuttle buses (about $18 per person/each way) are located just outside the arrivals hall. The least expensive option is to purchase a rail ticket at the main terminal. You can buy a one-way or roundtrip ticket to and from Centraal Station which is located in the heart of downtown. The trip will take about 15 minutes and costs roughly $3 each way.

... From Centraal Station
You'll find yourself at the edge of the city but in the center of its transportation network. If your hotel is between Centraal Station and Dam Square, Prinsenstraat, or Nieuwmarkt, it's a reasonable walk... the streets are flat and the curbs are shallow, so it shouldn't be too exhausting.

Or, take a ride on one of the trams or streetcars. The tourist information office is conveniently located across from the Centraal station, and it's here where you can find the latest tram maps and schedules. For just a few Euros more, transportation on the tram will get you to just about any place in the city. And for those with a serious wanderlust, keep in mind that Amsterdam is very pedestrian friendly as the city discourages transportation by car. It also has a great reputation for being one of the most bicycle friendly cities in the world. One any given Tuesday, expect to see thousands of cyclists!

Taxis are everywhere-always agree on a price before you climb in.

At Your Hotel

Pick up a free city map and other helpful information. City information can usually be obtained in hotel lobbies or from the front desk.

After you've checked in, freshened up, and unpacked your bags, get ready to explore the world famous museums, coffee shops, and labrynths of canals. You're now one step closer to the famed city of Amsteram!

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Around Amsterdam

We spent a frenetic week in Amsterdam and put together a list of the top ten things you just shouldn't miss. If you're ambitious and have the time we've also added a few more sights for your consideration, a local favorite, and finally a little warning against places to avoid altogether. Without further ado, the Amsterdam essentials:

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Top Ten:

Canal Boat Ride: It's the best way to get acquainted with the city, a wonderful way to meet people to hang out with during your stay, and a unique opportunity to see neighborhoods you otherwise might miss. Boats depart from the main canal across from Centraal Station, and a 1-hour tour costs about $12. For a splurge, you can do the candlelight tour at night, which includes dinner and lots of wine.

Anne Frank Huis: The home where the young, Jewish writer hid from the Nazis is on Prinsengracht. It is a humbling experience, to say the least. The line can get long, but always moves quickly. It's worth the wait and costs about $10.

Rijksmuseum: Rembrandt's The Nightwatch is on display very prominently. This is the must see of the Dutch masterpieces. But give yourself some time to explore the more than 200 other rooms and thousands of other paintings exhibited here. Admission is about $8.

Van Gogh Museum: The museum is dedicated not only to the masterful work of the genius, but also to his psychological "development." Since he was one of the most talented painters of his age and quite an eccentric, the museum is a thrill ride into the artist's life, work, and uncanny mind.

Leidseplein: Another tram hub, Leidseplein is a spot where most visitors end up at one point or another. We recommend stopping at this square to explore it's vibrant energy during the day. It's possible to find concerts, impromptu street games, magicians, and other means of entertainment that are truly unique to this area. At night, Leidseplein lights up with its clubs, restaurants, and cafes.

The Red Light District: The simple truth is that although fully operational, the Red Light District is also a big tourist attraction. Generally safe during the day, the area should be avoided at night, and you should be aware of pick pocketing at all times. Don't take any photographs; they really, really don't like it. Your memories of the place will be unforgettable anyway!

Real Dutch Stuff: Several tour companies will take you on half-day or full-day drive out to the countryside to see the windmills, tulip farms, cheesemakers, and wooden shoe crafters that you might have thought were just stuff of legend. The half-day option lasts a very entertaining 4 to 5 hours and costs about $53.

Indonesian Rijstafel: The former Crown colony of Indonesia was gracious in sharing its spicy, exotic recipes with the formerly meat-and-potato Dutch. Laid out a little like tapas, rijstafel allows you to sample many dishes and, afterwards, the fantastic desserts and after-dinner drinks of Indonesia.

FEBO: These fast food havens are located throughout the city, but avoid them if you're at all worried about your arteries. Otherwise, indulge in the walk-up, automat-type nosh vendors, specializing in just about anything breaded, fried, and delivered with heaps of mayonnaise.

Kalverstraat: Beginning from Dam Square, this long, narrow, well-stocked street is frequented by tourists and locals alike. There are plenty of "Sale!" signs, but once inside the stores, look for specific sale racks or sections. There's even a supermarket or two, so you can stock up on coffee and chocolate before you head home.

Vondelpark: (Yes, this is 11 top ten items, but we can't resist.) This is the perfect spot for a stroll, a picnic, a nice bike ride, or even lunch, since there are a number of restaurants inside the park. The cinema museum (and bar!) is also located near the center of the park. Check locally for museum and restaurant operating hours and closing time for the park.

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If You Have Time:

Madame Tussauds: Maybe you're thinking, "Why bother?" Well, at the end of the exhibit, on the top floor, is one of the best views of the city, Dam Square, the Damrak, the Royal Palace, and Centraal Station. Plus, the oversized, folk-singing "William of Orange" figure is really a gas.

Royal Palace: Also in Dam Square, the Royal Palace is used occasionally for official functions and is open to the public at other times. Hours can be a bit sporadic and limited, but if you catch it open, spend the few Euros on admission and live like a Koning for a while.

Haarlem: Just a short train ride from Centraal Station is picturesque Haarlem. Older than Amsterdam (but younger than Rome, to put it in perspective), Haarlem has a largely intact and very inviting old town and countless cafes, concerts, canals, and accompanying canal houses... sound familiar?

Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky: Hidden just to the left of the main lobby is the "Evolution Staircase." Carved from a single piece of wood in the 19th century, the artwork of the staircase follows the development of humankind from pre-historic, near naked hunters to stuffy, overdressed Victorians. Linger in the Winter Garden or lobby bar for a hot koffie or taartje.

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You Can Probably Skip It

Bull Dog Café: In the Leidseplein, the Bull Dog is a surefire tourist trap. It's loud and the drinks are a little on the steep end.

Magna Plaza: It's true that there's good shopping here, but if you wander a little you can find the same wares and fashions at lower prices in other parts of the city.

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