Travel Planner: Amsterdam, The Netherlands

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It’s been dubbed as one of the coolest cities in Europe, and while the likes of Berlin and Copenhagen may have a problem with that, there’s no doubting that Amsterdam has long been a magnet for tourists, artists and creatives. Famous for its liberal marijuana smoking and prostitution laws, there’s way more to the biggest city in the Netherlands than vice, and ever after just one day this place gets its hooks into you and demands that you explore and experience more and more of its beguiling backstreets and canals with 17th century architecture and stunning museums.

Need to Know

Location: The Netherlands.

Language: Dutch, but English is widely spoken. 

Money: Euro. ATM’s are plentiful and banks tend to offer better exchange rates than currency exchange bureaus. Credit cards are accepted but check surcharges before signing or pin punching - some places add an extra five per cent for paying with plastic. 

Time Difference: GMT +1 hour.

Getting around: Amsterdam is meant for walking, and this is the best way to get to the heart and soul of the city. The tram system is also a fun way to get around, along with buses and a metro system, and if you want to strike further afield, the Dutch train system is excellent and will easily get you to other destinations in Holland.

When To Go: The European summer from June to August has the warmest weather and the longest days, but of course there’ll also be more visitors. April to May and September to October are deemed “shoulder seasons” when crowds reduce greatly, while the winter months can be cold with much shorter days.

Tipping: A 15 per cent service charge is automatically added to most services such as taxis, and it should be included in the bill clearly. Some wait staff will tell you “tips are not included”, but they are. The basic rule of thumb is if someone provides outstanding service, add a bit more and it will be appreciated. 

Where To Stay 

Hotels can be quite pricey in Amsterdam, and the city has everything from classic and quirky to super cool. A a good option if you’re staying for more than three days, and to get really into the culture, however, is to rent an apartment or a canal boat. At the top end of the hotel scale, two award winning hotels to check out include The Toren with a lush decor and a city centre location on one of Amsterdam's famous canals, and the NH Collection Amsterdam Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky located in a magnificent historic building on the main square with spectacular views of the Royal Palace. Others to consider include the InterContinental Amstel Amsterdam, the stately grand dame of Amsterdam hotels which dates back to 1867, and the Ambassade Hotel, which spans ten original canal houses built during the 17th century, and is within walking distance of the main museums, popular shopping areas and historic landmarks.

Sightseeing Essentials

* Canal Boat Tour

It’s a very touristy thing to do but if you’ve never been to Amsterdam before, it’s worth taking a canal boat tour to get a real feel for what makes this city so special. You’ll enjoy a narrated cruise along canals that made Amsterdam what it is today, under historical bridges, past colourful houseboats, and taking in sights including Dam Square, the Royal Palace, the graceful Mint Tower near the Flower Market, and the Anne Frank House. 

* Van Gogh Museum

If you only visit one of the scores of world class museums in Amsterdam, make it this one. Along with 200 paintings and more than 500 drawings by the often tortured Vincent van Gogh, there’s also works from his contemporaries such as Gauguin, Monet and Toulouse-Lautrec. 

The Rembrandt Museum 

Also called the Museum het Rembrandthuis, and located on Jodenbreestraat 4, this museum pretty much every etching the master made and there’s a fascinating collection of the master’s possessions including Roman military weaponry.


This is the heart and soul of the city for locals, and when the sun breaks through it becomes the equivalent of New York’s Central Park. It’s a myriad of walkways, ponds, gardens and you can also rent bicycles here to really get into the local groove. 

*  Windmills and Edam Tour

Most tours combine some of Amsterdam’s major attractions with a canal cruise, but if you want to get outside the city and experience something totally different, this coach tour is a good option. It takes you to Zaanse Schans, which is a recreation of a 17th century community where you can watch clog making demonstrations, and visit a recreated bakery and dairy farm set amongst windmills before returning through Edam, famous for its red wax covered cheese.

Best Happy Snap

The city is best explored on foot and for photo enthusiasts there will be classic Amsterdam photos at every turn - a good place to start though is the historic Jordaan district which is heritage listed with narrow canals and plenty of Dutch bicycles.

Eating And Drinking

Amsterdam epitomises what a cafe society should be and it seems the locals base most of their social life around their cozy local joints. And it’s not just coffee that’s served in “cafes”: in Amsterdam it mostly means you’re going to a pub that also serves food. And to make a distinction, Amsterdam’s cafes do not serve marijuana. The places that sell marijuana are called “coffeeshops” and they can be recognised by a green and white licence sticker in the window and they’re not allowed to sell alcohol. For a high-end dining experience which is currently very “in”, try Jansz; it’s located in a former apothecary shop with canal views, and offers classics with a modern twist. Also at the upper end of the scale is De Kas, which is set inside a set of old greenhouses, with a farm-to-table approach to dining. Fish and seafood lovers should put Stork on their list, while Cannibale Royal is a brassierie suited to meat lovers. For drinking, Hiding In Plain Sight is a classy speakeasy-style bar, Brouweij ’t IJ is a tasting room in an old bathhouse at the base of a windmill, and the SkyLounge Amsterdam is admittedly a touristy joint but views worth braving the crowds for on its 11th floor terrace.

Shopping And Souvenirs

Because much of the city centre is closed off to traffic, shopping in Amsterdam is a pleasant experience. It’s famous for antiques and diamonds, and there are plenty of unusual shopping districts which will tempt you with so much more. Nieuwedijk-Kalverstraat is a good place to browse, a one kilometre stretch of shops near Central Station with clothes, sportswear and general gift shops catering to visitors and tourists.

Hot Tip

There are free ferries that connect Centrum with Amsterdam-Noord across the IJ channel and you can enjoy great views of the harbour.

Got An Emergency?

Local Police: 112 is the emergency number.

Australian Embassy: 70 310 8250


Ben Hall