There are many reasons to travel to Amsterdam. It's the capital of the Netherlands and one of Europe's most vibrant and colourful cities. Amsterdam offers an unparalleled combination of high culture and decadence.
Look once and it's a pretty European city laced with canals; twice and it becomes a cultural centre with an incredible collection of art and for a third time you see a decadent party town where anything goes.
So which one is the real Amsterdam? The romantics will adore the lazy curves of the city's waterways and enjoy watching from cafés in cobbled streets or picturesque bridges as the mood of the city changes with the weather.
The culture-hungry will soak up the offerings of the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh and Stedelijk museums along with hundreds of smaller collections dotted all over the city. Amsterdam satisfies a wide range of tastes and displays include everything from the best Dutch Masters to ultra-modern exhibitions.
Then there are the alternative delights which draw their own crowd - some seeking the pleasure of De Wallen or De Walletjes (the notorious Red Light District) and others attracted by the liberal attitude towards soft drugs sold in the city's "coffeeshops". For those who are curious but not tempted to indulge, a stroll through De Wallen in the evening is still likely to be an illuminating experience albeit a bit seedy.
In truth the city is a kaleidoscopic mixture of all these things, where you can take as much or as little of each to create your own unique experience of AmsterdamWhat could be more enchanting than discovering Amsterdam by its most famous transport system. Canal tours might not be the quickest way, but are undeniably enjoyable when you want to sit back, relax and enjoy some of Europe's greatest architectural gems.
Routes vary but most canal tour companies cover Amsterdam's most famous landmarks such as Anne Frank's House, Rijksmuseum and Centraal Station. Canal Bus offers 3 routes illustrated by a colour coded board at the front of the boat. Operational hours are from 10h00 to 18h00 with the Green Line touring until 19h30. A Canal Bus Day Pass costs EUR18 and is valid until 12h00 the next day.
On a more active note, it is also possible to discover these amazing and sometimes bustling canals with the power of your own legs by renting a pedalo. Cycling at your own pace and making your own itinerary, pedalos are great fun and enable you to catch some sun however it is important to bring back the pedalo on time otherwise extra charges will be applied.
A great way to see the city and experience it in local fashion is to rent a bike for the length of your stay for a day or even a few hours. Amsterdam is one of the most cycle-friendly cities in the world and bicycles have sometimes more space on the road than their fellow pavement users.
Usually by ringing the bike's bell, cyclists charmingly alert pedestrians they are not too far and cohabitation with cars is surprisingly annoyance free. Take note that patience is a virtue when cycling around busy tourist sites.
The importance of cycling in the Dutch way of life is easily noticeable with bicycles on every street corner and some with personalised colours and additional seating, a far cry from the traditional black bike.
If Amsterdam is a heaven for cyclists, it's also a great place to discover with your own two feet. From the picturesque Jordaan district where streets are named after flowers to the artistic Westerpark where open-air concerts, theatre and exhibitions take place, Amsterdam abounds with walking tours that combine well with cultural heritage.
Strolling by the canals is a great way to admire Amsterdam's traditional houses. Interior design is very popular as the Dutch tend to spend a lot of time indoors. It's a great way to get novel ideas for your own home just by looking discreetly through the window!
Vondelpark is also very popular and is a great place to be on Queens Day (30th April) when the young entertain to earn some pocket money. Home to the Film Museum and with concerts given at the Openluchttheater in the summer, Vondelpark is an enjoyable green space.
Amsterdam's infamous Red Light District is in the very centre of the city, concentrated on two canals (Oudezijds Voorburgwal and Oudezijds Achterburgwal) and the interconnecting streets. It is definitely an eye-opener, the working girls sit or stand in windows beckoning at passers-by. There are also a number of adult shops and entertainment that might be too much for some people.
However, on the other hand there is a refreshing honesty and openess about the whole experience, that means you don't have to feel sleazy wandering here - you can often see family groups wandering through the district, although stag and hen parties form the majority of passers-by. Whatever your feelings on the topic, a walk through De Wallen is likely to be memorable.
The best time to explore is probably just after dusk - De Wallen looks rather sad and sleazy in the daylight, and later on you are likely to be confused for a potential customer. If you are interested in the more "adult" of Amsterdam's attractions we have a short guide to these matters available here.