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Travel Planner: Amsterdam

By:
Ben Hall
 

Need to Know

Location: 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 can be reluctantly accepted but check the surcharges before signing or pin punching - some places bang on 5% extra for plastic. 

Time Difference: GMT +1hour

Getting around: Amsterdam is a real walking city 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 and there are also buses and a metro system for Amsterdam, and if you want to strike further afield, the Dutch train system is excellent and will get you to other towns and cities in Holland.

When To Go: The European summer from June-August has the warmest weather and the longest days, but of course there’ll be more visitors at this time of year. April-May and September-October are “shoulder season” and crowds reduce greatly while the winter can be cold with shorter days.

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

Overview

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 the biggest city in the Netherlands has long been a magnet for tourists, artists and creatives. Famous for its liberal marijuana smoking and prostitution laws, there’s way more to Amsterdam than joints and hookers 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.

Where To Stay 

Hotels can be quite pricey in Amsterdam and a good option if your're staying for more than three days is search for an apartment rental, and you might even be able to score a canal boat. If you need a hotel then at the budget end the Bicycle Hotel at Van Ostadestraat 123, Amsterdam, is a good option for around 60-120 Euro a night with bathroom and breakfast (and naturally you can rent bicycles as well). At the top end, the InterContinental Amstel at Van Ostadestraat 123, is the stately grand dame of Amsterdam hotels, dating back to 1867, and will cost around 500-650 Euro a night.

Sightseeing Essentials

* 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 cruise along canals that made Amsterdam what it is today, under historical bridges and past other canal boats that now serve as permanent homes to inner city locals.  

* If you only visit one of the scores of world class museums in Amsterdam, the Van Gogh Museum (Paulus Potterstraat 7) should be the 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 (Museum het Rembrandthuis on Jodenbreestraat 4) houses pretty much every etching the master made and there’s a fascinating collection of the master’s possessions including Roman military weaponry.

Vondelpark is the heart and soul of the city for locals and when the sun breaks through, this 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. 

Tours

* For first timers, a City and canal cruise is a great way to get to know Amsterdam. usually you get taken on a narrated scenic drive and a cruise through its famed canals, view Dam Square, the Royal Palace and the graceful Mint Tower near the Flower Market. Then cruise past colorful houseboats, 17th-century buildings, and the Anne Frank House.

* Most tours combine some of Amsterdam’s major attractions with a canal cruise, and if you want to get outside the city and experience something totally different, a good option is a Windmills and Edam tour. The coach tour takes you to Zaanse Schans which is a recreation of a 17th century community where you can watch some clog making demonstrations, visit a recreated bakery and dairy farm set amongst windmills before returning through Edam which is renowned 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. De Saloon is a really fun local joint that does drink and food specials near the Rijksmuseum and the van Gogh Museum at at Lijnbaansgracht 271 and the nearby Herengracht Bar on 435 Herengracht is also popular with locals and is right on a canal, but to be honest there are hundreds of others like this one.

Shopping And Souvenirs

Because most of the city centre is closed off to traffic, shopping in Amsterdam is a pleasant experience and although it’s famous for its antiques, and diamonds there are plenty of unusual shopping districts which will tempt you with so much more. Nieuwedijk-Kalverstraat is a good place to start and is 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?

Police and emergency services: 112

Australian Embassy: +31 70 310 8250

Before you travel always make sure you have travel insurance and that you have adequate cover in case of a medical emergency. Travel insurance policies have various levels of cover and it’s important you understand what you’re covered for, and what’s not covered. You can get a quote from InsureandGo and find out what you’re covered for in the quote box below.

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