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Amsterdam is the capital city and most populous city of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Its status as the Dutch capital is mandated by the Constitution of the Netherlands, though it is not the seat of the Dutch government, which is The Hague. Amsterdam has a population of 832,563 within the city proper, 1,328,085 in the urban area and 1,601,653 in the metropolitan area. The city region has an approximate population of 2,431,000.
Amsterdam's name derives from Amstelredamme, indicative of the city's origin as a dam of the river Amstel. Originating as a small fishing village in the late 12th century, Amsterdam became one of the most important ports in the world during the Dutch Golden Age (17th century), a result of its innovative developments in trade. During that time, the city was the leading center for finance and diamonds. In the 19th and 20th centuries the city expanded, and many new neighbourhoods and suburbs were planned and built.
The 17th-century canals of Amsterdam and the 19–20th century Defence Line of Amsterdam are on the UNESCO World Heritage List. As the commercial capital of the Netherlands and one of the top financial centres in Europe, Amsterdam is considered an alpha world city.
The city is also the cultural capital of the Netherlands. Many large Dutch institutions have their headquarters there, and seven of the world's 500 largest companies, including Philips and ING, are based in the city. In 2012, Amsterdam was ranked the second best city in which to live by the Economist Intelligence Unit.
Famous Amsterdam residents included Anne Frank the diarist, the artists Rembrandt van Rijn and Vincent van Gogh and the philosopher Baruch Spinoza.
|POPULATION :||City: 832,563 / Metro: 1,601,653|
|TIME ZONE :||CET (UTC+1) Summer: CEST (UTC+2)|
|LANGUAGE :||Dutch (official)|
|RELIGION :||Christians 27%, Islam 14%, Dutch Reformed 11%, Calvinist 6%, Protestant 3%, Others 39%|
|AREA :||219.32 km2 (84.68 sq mi)|
|ELEVATION :||-2 m (−7 ft)|
|COORDINATES :||52°22′N 4°54′E|
|SEX RATIO :||• Male: 49,57% |
• Female: 50,43%
|AREA CODE :||020|
|POSTAL CODE :||1000–1109|
|DIALING CODE :|
Amsterdam is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe, receiving more than 5 million international visitors annually, this is excluding the 16 million day trippers visiting the city every year.
Amsterdam is colloquially known as Venice of the North, because of its lovely canals that criss-cross the city, its impressive architecture and more than 1,500 bridges. 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.
The Amsterdam Stock Exchange, the oldest stock exchange in the world, is located in the city center. Amsterdam's main attractions, including its historic canals, the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, Stedelijk Museum, Hermitage Amsterdam, Anne Frank House, Amsterdam Museum, its red-light district, and its many cannabis coffee shops draw more than 5 million international visitors annually.
The number of visitors has been growing steadily over the past decade. This can be attributed to an increasing number of European visitors. Two-thirds of the hotels are located in the city's centre. Hotels with 4 or 5 stars contribute 42% of the total beds available and 41% of the overnight stays in Amsterdam. The room occupation rate was 78% in 2006, up from 70% in 2005. The majority of tourists (74%) originate from Europe. The largest group of non-European visitors come from the United States, accounting for 14% of the total. Certain years have a theme in Amsterdam to attract extra tourists. For example, the year 2006 was designated "Rembrandt 400", to celebrate the 400th birthday of Rembrandt van Rijn. Some hotels offer special arrangements or activities during these years. The average number of guests per year staying at the four campsites around the city range from 12,000 to 65,000.
Red light district
De Wallen, also known as Walletjes or Rosse Buurt, is a designated area for legalised prostitution and is Amsterdam's largest and most well known red-light district. This neighborhood has become a famous attraction for tourists. It consists of a network of roads and alleys containing several hundred small, one-room apartments rented by sex workers who offer their services from behind a window or glass door, typically illuminated with red lights.
Shops in Amsterdam range from large high end department stores such as De Bijenkorf founded in 1870 and Maison de Bonneterie a Parisian style store founded in 1889, to small specialty shops. Amsterdam's high-end shops are found in the streets P.C. Hooftstraat and Cornelis Schuytstraat, which are located in the vicinity of the Vondelpark. One of Amsterdam's busiest high streets is the narrow, medieval Kalverstraat in the heart of the city. Other shopping areas include the Negen Straatjes and Haarlemmerdijk and Haarlemmerstraat. Negen Straatjes are nine narrow streets within theGrachtengordel, the concentric canal system of Amsterdam. The Negen Straatjes differ from other shopping districts with the presence of a large diversity of privately owned shops. The Haarlemmerstraat and Haarlemmerdijk were voted best shopping street in the Netherlands in 2011. These streets have as the Negen Straatjes a large diversity of privately owned shops. But as theNegen Straatjes are dominated by fashion stores the Haarlemmerstraat and Haarlemmerdijk offer a very wide variety of all kinds of stores, just to name some specialties: candy and other food related stores, lingerie, sneakers, wedding clothing, interior shops, books, Italian deli's, racing and mountain bikes, skatewear, etc.
The city also features a large number of open-air markets such as the Albert Cuyp Market, Westerstraat-markt, Ten Katemarkt, and Dappermarkt. Some of these markets are held on a daily basis, like the Albert Cuypmarkt and the Dappermarkt. Others, like the Westerstraatmarkt, are held on a weekly basis.
Fashion brands like G-star, Gsus, BlueBlood, PICHICHI, Iris van Herpen, 10 feet and Warmenhoven & Venderbos, and fashion designers like Mart Visser, Viktor & Rolf, Sheila de Vries, Marlies Dekkers and Frans Molenaar are based in Amsterdam. Modelling agencies Elite Models, Touche models and Tony Jones have opened branches in Amsterdam. Fashion models like Yfke Sturm, Doutzen Kroes and Kim Noorda started their careers in Amsterdam. Amsterdam has its garment centre in the World Fashion Center. Buildings which formerly housed brothels in the red light district have been converted to ateliers for young fashion designers, AKA eagle fuel. Fashion photographers Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin were born in Amsterdam(Netherland).
- I amsterdam Visitor Centre (VVV Amsterdam), Stationsplein 10(Koffiehuis Stationsplein, across from Central Station), .M-Su 09:00-18:00. Amsterdam's tourist office is opposite Centraal Station in the same building as Smits Koffiehuis. Besides maps, brochures and bookings, you can also buy tram and metro tickets at the GVB office. There are some touch screens with general information about visiting Amsterdam.
- I amsterdam City Card. This card allows admittance to a selection of the city's museums and attractions an no extra cost, plus unlimited travel across the city's on public transport, plus a list of discounts at some other attractions. 24h – €55, 48h – €65, 72h – €75, 96h – €85.
Amsterdam was first referred to as Aemstelledamme ("dam on the Amstel") in 1204, and known as Aemsterdam by 1327. It was first part of Utrecht, and around 1300 Gwijde van Henegouwen, bishop of Utrecht, gave Amsterdam city rights. After his death, the city was inherited by Count William III and became a part of Holland.
Amsterdam prospered in the 17th century and became one of the world's great cities. A global trading network and overseas possessions made Amsterdam the center of shipping in Europe and the world's leading financial center. The arts flourished too, with great painters like Rembrandt producing works that are widely acclaimed as of this day. The city expanded outside of its original boundaries as the Canal Belt was constructed for wealthy merchants and the Jordaan for the working class. Immigrants formed the majority of the population and there was a strong immigration from Lutheran Protestant Germans.
The 18th and 19th centuries were a turbulent period for Amsterdam. The economy suffered from decreased trade opportunities with the colonies and ongoing wars with the United Kingdom and France. Napoleon's brother Louis was crowned King of Holland in 1806 and took possession of the city hall on Dam Square, from then on referred to as the Royal Palace. The Netherlands was fully annexed by France in 1810, and Napoleon crowned Amsterdam "third city" of the French Empire. Prussian and Russian troops liberated the Netherlands, but it remained a unitary state and a monarchy, that now included Belgium.
The Industrial Revolution arrived around 1860, which led to strong economic growth, but also to overpopulation as the city could not cope with the sudden demographic surge. The Jordaan was a notorious working class slum in this period, and neighborhoods like De Pijp were built to provide housing as cheaply and quickly as possible for the lower middle class. Social issues that arose in this period made Amsterdam the center of social democracy in the country.
In World War II, German troops occupied the city and more than 100,000 Jews were deported, most famously Anne Frank. The diamond trade, before the war one of Amsterdam's top industries, almost completely disappeared as these businesses were mostly in the hands of Jews. The cultural revolution of the 1960s and 1970s changed Amsterdam radically. Soft drugs were tolerated, squatting became commonplace and riots with the police occurred on a daily basis. The coronation of Queen Beatrix in 1980 turned violent as protesters demanded a stop to the housing demolition that took place for the construction of Amsterdam's first metro line.
In recent decades, Amsterdam has lost some of its revolutionary appeal. It became a center for wealthy yuppies. Once poor districts like the Jordaan became upper class districts, and poorer inhabitants moved out of the center to the outer boroughs and other cities. The city's once progressive ideals have faded as squatting is cracked down on, coffeeshops are increasingly closed and prostitution is outlawed outside of the Red Light District. However, it is still a progressive and tolerant city by international standards.
Amsterdam has an oceanic climate. Both winters and summers are considered mild, although occasionally quite cool.
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.
January and February are the coldest months, with lows around 0°C (32°F) and highs around 5°C (41°F). July and August are the warmest months, with an average temperature of 22°C (72°F) at daytime.
Climate data for Amsterdam
|Record high °C (°F)||13.9|
|Average high °C (°F)||5.8|
|Daily mean °C (°F)||3.4|
|Average low °C (°F)||0.8|
|Record low °C (°F)||−15.4|
|Source : Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute|
Amsterdam is located in the western Netherlands, in the province of North Holland. The river Amstel terminates in the city centre and connects to a large number of canals that eventually terminate in the IJ. Amsterdam is situated 2 metres below sea level.
The surrounding land is flat as it is formed of large polders. A man made forest, Amsterdamse Bos, is situated southwest. Amsterdam is connected to the North Sea through the long North Sea Canal.
Amsterdam is intensely urbanised, as is the Amsterdam metropolitan area surrounding the city. Comprising 219.4 square kilometres (84.7 square miles) of land, the city proper has 4,457 inhabitants per km2 and 2,275 houses per km2. Parks and nature reserves make up 12% of Amsterdam's land area.
Amsterdam is home to more than one hundred kilometres (60 miles) of canals, most of which are navigable by boat. The three main canals are Prinsengracht, Herengracht and Keizersgracht. In the Middle Ages, Amsterdam was surrounded by a moat, called the Singel, which now forms the innermost ring in the city, and makes the city centre a horseshoe shape. The city is also served by a seaport. It has been compared with Venice, due to its division into approximately 90 islands, which are linked by more than 1,200 bridges.
Amsterdam is the financial and business capital of the Netherlands. Amsterdam is currently one of the best European cities in which to locate an international business. It is ranked fifth in this category and is only surpassed by London, Paris, Frankfurt and Barcelona.
Many large corporations and banks have their headquarters in Amsterdam, including Akzo Nobel, Heineken International, ING Group, ABN AMRO, TomTom, Delta Lloyd Group and Philips. KPMG International's global headquarters is located in nearby Amstelveen, where many non-Dutch companies have settled as well, because surrounding communities allow full land ownership, contrary to Amsterdam's land-lease system.
Though many small offices are still located on the old canals, companies are increasingly relocating outside the city centre. The Zuidas (English: South Axis) has become the new financial and legal hub. The five largest law firms of the Netherlands, a number of Dutch subsidiaries of large consulting firms like Boston Consulting Group and Accenture, and the World Trade Center Amsterdam are also located in Zuidas.
There are three other smaller financial districts in Amsterdam. The first is the area surrounding Amsterdam Sloterdijk railway station, where several newspapers like De Telegraaf have their offices. Also, Deloitte, the Gemeentelijk Vervoerbedrijf (municipal public transport company) and the Dutch tax offices (Belastingdienst) are located there. The second Financial District is the area surrounding Amsterdam Arena. The third is the area surrounding Amsterdam Amstel railway station. The tallest building in Amsterdam, the Rembrandt Tower, is situated there, as is the headquarters of Philips.
Port of Amsterdam
The Port of Amsterdam is the fourth-largest port in Europe, the 38th-largest port in the world and the second-largest port in the Netherlands by metric tons of cargo. In 2014, the Port of Amsterdam had a cargo throughput of 97,4 million tons of cargo, which most was bulk cargo. Amsterdam has the biggest cruiseport in the Netherlands with more than 150 cruiseships every year. In 2019 the new sealock near ijmuiden will open that Amsterdam can grow to 125 milion tonnes.
The Amsterdam Stock Exchange (AEX), now part of Euronext, is the world's oldest stock exchange and is one of Europe's largest bourses. It is near Dam Square in the city's centre.
Together with Eindhoven (Brainport) and Rotterdam (Seaport), Amsterdam (Airport) forms the foundation of the Dutch economy.
The medieval center and most visited area of Amsterdam. It is known for its traditional architecture, canals, shopping, and many coffeeshops. Dam Square is considered its ultimate center, but just as interesting are the areas around Nieuwmarkt and Spui. The Red Light District is also a part of this district.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Canal District was dug in the 17th century to attract wealthy home owners. It is still a posh neighborhood with many Dutch celebrities owning property. The Leidseplein and Rembrandtplein are the city's prime nightlife spots.
A traditional working class area gone upmarket with plenty of art galleries, hip boutiques and happening restaurants. Also includes the Haarlemmerbuurt and the Westelijke Eilanden.
Intended to be an extension of the Canal District, lack of demand made this into a leafy area with lots of greenery, botanical gardens and Artis Zoo. Also includes the Weesperbuurt and the Oostelijke Eilanden.
One of Amsterdam's prime areas, a trip to the city is not complete without a visit to the Museum Quarter. You can chill in the Vondelpark with a bottle of wine or go hunt for bargains at the Albert Cuyp Market. It is the most popular area for accommodation as rates are considerably cheaper than in the city center.
West is a vast suburban area built at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries in the Amsterdam School architectural style. The Vondelbuurt has beautiful stately mansions, while the Westerpark is known for its cultural events.
An area that is undergoing significant development with new cultural venues like the NDSM-werf and the EYE Film Institute. The area east of the motorway A10 is a protected rural landscape culturally similar to Waterland. It is best explored by bicycle.
Oost is a large and diverse residential area. The Eastern Docklands and IJburg stand out as lively upper middle class neighborhoods known for their modern architecture.
An exclave of Amsterdam, the Bijlmer is a melting pot of cultures. Built as a neighborhood of the future in the 1970s, it quickly made headlines with crime and robberies. Its safety record has improved remarkably the last years due to redevelopment and the ArenA Boulevard is turning into a hotspot for concertgoers and football fans.
The first internet cafes of the country opened in Amsterdam, but they vanished as quickly as they appeared. Only a few smaller internet cafes remain in the Binnenstad. Outside of it, you might want to try your luck at one of the phone shops (belwinkel), which cater for immigrant communities in the Netherlands, but they usually have only one or two terminals.
If you bring a laptop, many hotels in the city offer Wi-Fi for guests, but inform in advance as some places still charge high fees, while cheaper hotels and hostels may have no internet service at all. Several fast food chain restaurants and an ever increasing number of small cafés and restaurants offer free wifi for guests, although you'll typically be required to order a drink. Speed and stability obviously differ per place. 3G is fully available and several providers (including KPN and Hi) have full 4G coverage for Amsterdam. Other providers are expanding their coverage fast.
The country code for the Netherlands is 31 and Amsterdam's area code is 020. You only need to dial the 0 if you're calling from within the Netherlands.
Pay phones are increasingly rare as most people have a mobile phone. That's why pay phones mostly cater to tourists and can be found around tourist areas. Centraal Station has pay phones in groups of six near the main entrance. If making local calls from a pay phone, you may need a phone card (€5 minimum) as many green KPN telephone booths do not accept coins. Phone cards can be bought at post offices and some delis, although the cards are increasingly hard to find. The KPN booths are currently being replaced by newer models that will accept coins again. Blue/orange Telfort booths accept both coins and cards.
If you need to make a call and do not have access to a pay phone, local phone or hotel phone, it is best to go to a phone shop (belwinkel). Phone shops can be found all over the city. Outside the city center, they mostly serve immigrants calling their home country at cheap rates. You can also use a calling service over the Internet like Skype.
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 they are often the same price as buying a KPN phone booth card. Calling then is a lot cheaper than using pay phones, and you are mobile.
Prices in Amsterdam
MARKET / SUPERMARKET
|Beer (domestic)||0.5 l||€1.05|
|Bottle of Wine||1 bottle||€5.50|
|Dinner (Low-range)||for 2||€41.00|
|Dinner (Mid-range)||for 2||€56.00|
|Dinner (High-range)||for 2||€71.00|
|Mac Meal or similar||1 meal||€7.00|
|Beer (Imported)||0.33 l||€4.00|
|Beer (domestic)||0.5 l||€5.00|
|Coctail drink||1 drink||€9.00|
|Men’s Haircut||1 haircut||€30.00|
|Mobile (prepaid)||1 min.||€0.30|
|Pack of Marlboro||1 pack||€6.00|
|Toilet paper||4 rolls||€1.90|
CLOTHES / SHOES
|Jeans (Levis 501 or similar)||1||€92.00|
|Dress summer (Zara, H&M)||1||€36.00|
|Sport shoes (Nike, Adidas)||1||€90.00|
|Local Transport||1 ticket||€2.80|
69 € per day
Estimated cost per 1 day including:
- meals in cheap restaurant
- public transport
- cheap hotel
260 € per day
Estimated cost per 1 day including:
- mid-range meals and drinks
Transportation - Get In
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (IATA: AMS) is 15km southwest of the city. It ranks in the top 25 airports worldwide for passenger traffic, serving 55 million passengers per year. KLM is the largest carrier operating at Schiphol and offers flights to many major cities around the world. British Airways offers 15 flights per day to 3 London Airports; Heathrow, Gatwick and London City.Transavia, Jet2.com, TUIfly, Easyjet, and other low-cost carriers serve Schiphol, offering service to many cities in Europe. WOWAir offers discount service to Reykjavik, with further discounted connections to the United States.
Flying to other airports than Schiphol could prove cheaper as some budget airlines have their base in Eindhoven or Rotterdam. Buses and trains can be used to get to Amsterdam, and renting a car is also an option. Taxis are not advisable, a ride from Rotterdam costs about €180 and from Eindhoven a whopping €300.
From Eindhoven Airport (IATA: EIN), take a local bus (Hermes bus 401, duration about 25 minutes, frequency about four times per hour, €3.20 on board or €1.71 using an OV-chipkaart) to Eindhoven train station. From there take a train to Amsterdam Centraal (duration 1hr 20min, frequency four times per hour, single €17.20). Alternatively, take the express bus from the airport to Amsterdam Centraal, which takes 2 hours and 15 minutes. This bus only leaves 3 to 4 times per day; see their website for the schedule. The ticket price is €25.50 for a single ticket and €42.50 for a return.
From Rotterdam The Hague Airport (IATA: RTM), take a city bus (RET airport shuttle bus 33, duration 25–30 minutes, frequency every 10–20 minutes, €2.50 on board or €1.39 using the OV-chipkaart) to Rotterdam Centraal train station. From there, take a train to Amsterdam Centraal (duration about an hour, frequency every 10–20 minutes, single €13.40).
Most trains arrive and depart from Amsterdam Centraal, located on an artificial island between the medieval center and the IJ waterfront. Other important train stations in Amsterdam are Amstel, Bijlmer-ArenA, Sloterdijk and Zuid. Most international trains run directly to Amsterdam Centraal, but some only stop at Zuid.
- Thalys is a high-speed train that connects Amsterdam with Paris (3h19),Brussels (1h54), and Antwerp (1h12). Thalys trains rup up to ten times a day. The cheapest tickets are sold early, so book in advance if possible. There is a bar coach available; if you're travelling in first class, a snack and drinks are included in the price.
- ICE International connects Amsterdam up to 7 times each day with Düsseldorf (2h06), Cologne (2h35), and Frankfurt (3h46). One ICE-train runs to Basel (6h43). There is a BordBistro-coach available on each ICE-train.
- The InterCity Berlin runs every two hours and connects Amsterdam with Osnabrück (3h08), Hanover (4h20), and Berlin (6h22). A BordBistro-coach is available on each train.
- The Intercity Brussel runs up to 16 times a day to Brussels (3h18) and Antwerp (2h23) at lower speeds than the Thalys. Usually cheaper than Thalys.
- CityNightLine/Euronight runs overnight trains from Amsterdam Centraal directly to Munich (1 night) and Zurich (1 night). Traveling with these trains might save you a hotel night. You can choose to spend the night in ordinary seats, reclining seats (only to Warsaw/Munich/Zurich), 6- or 4-bedded couchettes, or a 3, 2 or 1-bedded private sleeper-compartment with washing basin or private shower/toilet. Breakfast is included in the sleeper compartment, other snacks/drinks are also on sale on board the trains.
- Eurostar runs a high speed service from London St Pancras Station to Brussels Zuid/Midi Station. From Brussels you can continue to Amsterdam by Thalys or take the Intercity to Amsterdam. Tickets are sold on the Eurostar website and (sometimes cheaper) on the NS Hispeed website.
If you plan to take a train to Amsterdam, it's advisable to check the train times in the international journey planner. Most tickets are sold online, and often it is cheaper to book tickets in advance. Tickets are also sold at the international ticket offices at Amsterdam Centraal and at Schiphol Airport.
There are dozens of daily international bus services, many of which serve countries immigrants originate from. Nearby international destinations in Germany, Belgium and France (Paris and Lille) and London are served at high frequency.
- Eurolines. The largest international affiliation of international bus services is Eurolines, which has a terminal at Duivendrecht railway station, which is connected by train and by metros 50 and 54.
- Megabus. British low-budget bus company Megabus operates a bus service twice-daily from London and Paris to Amsterdam via Brussels, terminating at the PR Transferium Zeeburg in the east of the city. Tram 26 connects it with Amsterdam Centraal.
- Flixbus. German low-cost bus company offering connections to many German cities such as Berlin, Cologne and Munich. Departing from Sloterdijk station. Reachable by Bus 22, trains and metro line 50.
- iDBUS. The bus-operating arm of the French railway company SNCF, which runs a coach service between Paris and Lille to Amsterdam. It stops at the Stadionplein. Tram 16 and 24 connect it with Amsterdam Centraal and metro station Amstelveenseweg.
There are only a few long-distance national bus services in the Netherlands, and apparently none to Amsterdam Centraal. Bus 300 connects Haarlem train station with Hoofddorp, Schiphol Airport, Amstelveen and Amsterdam Bijlmer-ArenA.
The western part of the Netherlands has a dense (and congested) road network. Coming from the east (Germany), motorway A1 directly leads to Amsterdam. If you're taking motorway A12 from Arnhem, change in Utrecht onto the A2 in northern direction. From the south (Belgium), follow motorways A16, A27 and A2, in that order in northern direction. 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'll want to avoid getting into the area enclosed by the ring road. Traffic is dense and parking spaces are expensive and difficult 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 to the southeast, P+R Olympisch Stadion to the south, and P+R Sloterdijk to the west). Here you can park your car and take public transport to the city center for a single fare. There is a flat rate of €8 a day with public transport to the city center for up to 5 persons included. You can park for free at a few places that have metro or tram stops nearby (e.g. IKEA near metro station Bullewijk).
The speed limit on Dutch motorways is 130 km/h, except where indicated. On the A10 ring motorway around Amsterdam, the maximum speed is 100 km/h, and 80 km/h on the Western section. These limits are strictly enforced and there are many speed cameras.
There are quite a few car services from Schiphol airport to the city and also around the city, such as Deluxe Taxi Amsterdam, which allows you to book your car online. De Dagtoertaxi is another company that provides well maintained cars for rent and chauffeured cars. They serve a reliable service, quality and affordability. In addition, DotTransfers offers a wide range of services at very competitive rates.
The Passenger Terminal Amsterdam is close to the city center but is only used for cruise ships. The nearest ferry port is IJmuiden, where ferries from Newcastle upon Tyne dock. DFDS Seaways offers daily overnight ferry services from Newcastle upon Tyne (more specifically, North Shields) in the United Kingdom.
Other ferry services dock at Rotterdam Europoort (ferry from Hull) and Hook of Holland (ferry from Harwich). These are about 100 km away from Amsterdam. Hook of Holland has a train station. Take the train to Schiedam Centrum or Rotterdam Centraal and from there transfer onto a train to Amsterdam.
Transportation - Get Around
Amsterdam's city center is quite compact, and pretty flat, so you can easily get to most tourist destinations on foot. From Amsterdam Centraal, most areas in the city center can be reached within half an hour.
Public transport within the city is operated by the GVB. The tram is the main form of public transport and there is a metro and dozens of (night)bus routes. Regional buses, and some suburban buses, are operated by Connexxion and EBS.
As in the rest of the country, OV-chipkaart provides the only way of payment of transportation fees in the city. The former strippenkaart system was seized in 2010. To travel with OV-chipkaart, one has to check in at the start of the journey and check out at the end by holding the card in front of the card reader.
Three types of OV-chipkaart are available:
- Personal card on which you can load weekly/monthly/yearly subscriptions
- Anonymous card on which you can load money that can be spent on public transport
- Disposable card that can be used for a limited period of time (an hour or a few days)
The first two types of cards come with no credit included and cost €7.50. To travel in the city you have to top up such a card for at least €4 before a journey begins. A disposable card, on the other hand, has already a product bundled with it, but it can not be re-used after this product expires.
Anonymous and disposable OV-chipkaarts can be obtained from GVB vending machines in all metro stations, from the desks at some larger stations (including Amsterdam Centraal) and some shops. Additionally 1 hour disposable cards could be bought on a train or a bus.
For those who stay in Amsterdam longer, one of the day or multiple day passes could be a useful option. You can get them for 24 hours up to 168 hours. This allows the holder to travel on an unlimited number of journeys on the tram, metro and (night)bus throughout the validity period of the pass. 'NB: these sort of passes are not valid on buses operated by Connexxion and Arriva. These passes could be purchased at tourist offices (at Schiphol Airport and just outside Amsterdam Centraal), AKO bookstores, many hotels and GVB ticket offices. Additionaly, a one day pass could be purchased from the conductor on a tram (but not on a bus).
- GVB cards. Multi-day cards are valid for an exact amount of hours available in the respective period of days. 1 hour € 2.90, 1 day (24h) € 7.50, child 1 day €2.50, 2 days €12.50, 3 days €17.00, 4 days €21.50, 5 days €26.50, 6 days €30.00, 7 days €33.00.
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 cheaper. GVB tickets are not valid on trains or Connexxion bus 197 to Schiphol Airport. You can use them on GVB bus 69 to Schiphol but it's quicker to get there by train.
Alternatively, you can buy:
- Amsterdam Travel Ticket. It includes a return ticket to and from Schiphol for a train (to any of Amsterdam's stations) and bus 197, plus unlimited travel on all GVB trams, metro and (night)buses for 1, 2 or 3 days. These tickets are based on calendar days, and expire at 0400 in the morning after the last valid day. €15 (1 day), €20 (2 days) and €25 (3 days).
- I amsterdam City Card if you are also fancy of visiting museums.
- Amsterdam & Region Travel Ticket. A 24h hour pass which allows unlimited travel in a whole greater Amsterdam area. Among the other locations it includes Zandvoort, Edam, Aalsmeer, Keukenhof gardens,Volendam and Zaanse Schans. These tickets are available at I amsterdam Visitor Centre, at service centres of GVB, EBS, Connexxion and some other locations like hotels, campsites etc. €13.50.
There are four lines ofmetro in Amsterdam, including a short underground section in the city center, that serves the suburbs. It takes about 15–20 minutes from Centraal Station to Zuid or Bijlmer-ArenA in Zuidoost.
The 5th metro line, the Noord/Zuidlijn, is currently under construction. It's an underground metro line that will connect the north of Amsterdam directly with its southern suburbs, hence the name. This major project started in 2003 and has proved somewhat of a disaster for the local government with big budget overruns and delays. Building in the wet soil of Amsterdam is difficult and some buildings along the line have sustained damage due to subsidence. Visitors to Amsterdam will notice the ongoing roadworks along the route of the metro line. It is now estimated for completion in 2017.
The tram network has 18 lines and it is considered the major carrier in the central area of the city. All tram stops have a detailed map of the system and the surrounding area. You can also get a free public transport map at the GVB ticket office (just outside Amsterdam Centraal).
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 be sure to respond to your query. You can buy 1 hour, 24 hour, and 48 hour tickets at the conductors.
Just like the tram and metro, local buses are operated by the GVB. There are also suburban buses to nearby towns such as Haarlem and Uithoorn; these are operated by Connexxion or EBS (the company name and house style is prominent on the bus side) and can be used within Amsterdam if you travel with an OV-chipkaart. Enter buses only via the front door.
There are several ferry services across the IJ river, between the city center and Noord, the most frequent runs every 7 minutes. They all leave from a new jetty on the northern (rear) side of Amsterdam Centraal. All ferries are free of charge and provide nice views of the harbor and skyline.
The nicest one is the 15 min service to the NDSM-werf, a funky, up and coming, industrial neighborhood with a nice cafe-bar (IJkantine), restaurant (Noorderlicht), indoor skateboard park, and the Pancake Boat (Pannenkoekenboot) which sails many times each week. Ferries leave every 30 minutes from Amsterdam Centraal and from the NDSM-werf. Double frequencies during rush hours.
You can also hop on the ferry to Buiksloterweg, and then make a short walk to the EYE Film Institute for its architecture and free exhibition in the basement.
A pleasant way to cover a lot of ground is to rent a bicycle. There are approximately 750,000 people living in Amsterdam and they own about 800,000 bicycles. The city is very, very bike-friendly, and there are separate bike lanes on most major streets. In the city center, however, there is often not enough space for a bike lane, so cars and cyclists share narrow streets.
Cyclists do not have the right of way even though it might appear like that when observing the typical Amsterdammer's cycling behavior. Be very careful and watch out for other cyclists. Always show other traffic where you're going (e.g. by holding out your hand) in order to avoid accidents and smoothen the traffic flow. If not indicated otherwise by signs, the right-before-left rule applies.
Avoid getting your tire in the tram rails; it's a nasty fall. Always cross tram rails at an angle. When crossing tram lanes, watch out for fast approaching taxis. They have a rather ruthless driving style. Let none of the above deter you from doing it the Amsterdam way. Rent a bike! There are bike rental shops at railway stations and several others in and around the city center. Bikes cost about €9 to €20 per day. (Bring wet gear.)
A good map for cycling (routes, repairs, rentals and also public transport) isAmsterdam op de fiets (a Cito-plan). Bicycles can be taken for free on all ferries across the IJ, on all metros, and on some carriages of tram 26 with a bike supplement fee on the OV-chipkaart (€1.60 in 2013, not allowed in rush hours). Use the special bike racks, locations indicated by a bicycle sign on the outside of the carriage.
Make sure to get a good lock (or two), and to use it. Amsterdam has one of the highest bicycle theft rates in the world. 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: when calling out to a large group of cyclists passing by "Hey, that's my bike!" about five people will jump off "their" bikes and start running.
- Black Bikes (Het Zwarte Fietsenplan), Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal 146(tram 1, 2, 5, 13 or 17 to Dam), . M-F 08:00-20:00, Sa Su 09:00-19:00. Rent traditional black bikes. There are no bright red, yellow, blue or orange bikes in their shops. There are three locations throughout the city center and the shops have long opening hours, 7 days a week. Also rents out cargobikes for kids. €9 (3 hr), €13 (24 hr).
- Frederic, Brouwersgracht 78, . Bike, insurance, bags, locks, and children seats all included in the asking price. Close to Centraal Station. Bikes are offered "incognito", for the discerning guest who does not want to appear "touristy". €8 (3 hr), €10 (day till 17:30), €15 (24 hr), €25 (2 days), €35 (3 days).
- MacBike, Stationsplein 33 (tram or metro to Centraal Station), . 24 hours daily. Perhaps the most ubiquitous bicycle rental agency in Amsterdam, their bicycles are painted red with a MacBike sign on the front, everyone will know you're visiting. The bicycles are reliable, and in a good condition. Several locations around the city center for assistance or repairs. Online bicycle reservations at their website. €7.50 (3 hr), €9.75 (24 hr), every day extra €6.
- Orangebike, , e-mail: [email protected]. 09:00-18:00 daily. Their bikes are not so obviously colored, more discrete, reliable and sturdy. The typical Dutch granny bikes are available. Online reservations can be made. €5 (1 hr), €6.50 (3 hr), €9.50 (day till 18:00), €11 (24 hr), €17.50 (2 days).
- Rent a bike Damstraat, Damstraat 20-22 (tram 4, 9, 16 or 24 to Dam), . 09:00-18:00 daily. Daily to weekly rentals. They have promotions in place with several hotels for "discount tickets", ask at the front desk. Offers repairs for your bike and also has new and used bike sales.€12.50 for the first 24 hr, insurance included.
- Star Bikes Rental, De Ruyterkade 127 (tram or metro to Centraal Station), . M-F 08:00-19:00, Sa Su 09:00-19:00. Classic and solid Dutch bikes for those who want to fit in with the locals. They have the traditional black granny, pick-ups, tandems, bikes for kids and for disabled needs. You can also arrange exclusive picnic and barbecue sets within your rental. €5 (4 hr), €7 (a day) or €9 (24 hr), 2 lockers included.
- OV-fiets, any Amsterdam train station (except Holendrecht and Science Park), plus other locations. This cycle hire service, run by Dutch Railways (NS), is mostly used by Dutch residents, as a Dutch bank account is required for the yearly subscription. Also an OV-chipkaart is needed. If you manage to obtain these, it's a very good option due to its ubiquity and low cost. €10 per year (subscription), plus €3.15 per 24 hr (usage).
The bicycle is a good way to explore the surrounding countryside. Within half an hour you're out of town. Go north, take the ferry across the IJ and cycle to Waterland. Or go south, into the Amsterdamse Bos, a giant park, or follow the river Amstel where Rembrandt worked. You can also take your bike onto the metro to the end of line station Gaasperplas, and cycle along rivers and windmills to old fortified towns like Weesp, Muiden and Naarden.
Amsterdam Amstel Cycle Route (54 or 46 km) - Idyllic rivers, villages and forts.
Marken Cycle Route (51 or 45 km) - Former island on the doorstep of Amsterdam.
Taxis in Amsterdam are plentiful but expensive. Hailing taxis on the street is generally not to be recommended unless you are going to a well-known destination (e.g. Centraal Station or Schiphol). The recent liberalization of the taxi market in Amsterdam led to an influx of taxi drivers who have little or no clue of where they are going and who drive erratically and dangerously (e.g., driving on bicycle lanes instead of the main road or ignoring red lights). Tourists are advised to stick to public transport if at all possible. Get into a taxi only if you know the route yourself and are able to give directions to the taxi driver and if you know roughly how much the journey ought to cost so you don't get cheated.
Some drivers, traditionally at Centraal Station or Leidseplein, will refuse short trips or will quote outrageously high fares, even though all taxis are metered. Even if you convince the driver to use the meter, he will often take a circuitous route that racks up €15 or more on the meter. For reference, no trip within the historic center should cost more than €10 or so. In 2012, the car service Uber (using their mobile app) became available in Amsterdam. Although slightly more expensive than a normal taxi, you can avoid a lot of the problems associated with taking an Amsterdam taxi from busy areas (Centraal Station/Leidseplein) and at peak evening hours.
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. Luckily, that includes the first two kilometres 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 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 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.
Tuk-tuks, 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 metered taxis. Tuk-tuk pricing is based on a zone system. Within a zone, a ride is €3.50 per person, €5 for 2 persons and €6.50 for 3 persons. If you go to another zone, €3.50 is added (irrespective of number of persons). This service is handy if past the regular tram/bus/metro service hours (approximately half past midnight). They take reservations 24 hr/day ( 0900 993-3399) and there is a fee of €0.55 per call.
It is practical to use a car only outside of the historic center; within the historic center, a traveler is advised to stay with public transport. In Amsterdam, a car is generally a liability and not an asset, as traffic is dense and parking spaces are quite expensive and very hard to find. Use a car only if you are going to an obscure location many kilometers out that is not served by public transport, or during the less busy times of the day or week, you may want to park near the Centraal Station and take the tram or walk. Driving here is 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. Plus, petrol is about €1.54 to €1.7 per liter.
You can try parking at one of the secured parking garages, for example under Museumplein, or near Centraal Station, and then walk around the city center, or get on 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 minutes walk to the city center.
You can park for free in some parts of Amsterdam outside the city center though this is slowly changing. Parking is still free in some areas in Noord, and you can take the bus from the Mosplein stop to the city center easily. Plenty of buses run through here. Another option is to park your car far outside the city center at a Park and Ride facility. For €8 you get a full day (24 hr) of parking and a return ticket to the city center. The ride takes about 15 minutes. Look for the P+R signs.
Popular car rental chains operate in a smaller capacity in Amsterdam, including Avis and Budget. Most recently Car 2 Go has all-electric smart cars available within and around the city.
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The main central shopping streets run in a line from Centraal Station to the Leidseplein: Nieuwendijk, Kalverstraat, Heiligeweg, Leidsestraat. The emphasis is on clothing and fashion, but there are plenty of other shops. These are not upmarket shopping streets, and the north end of Nieuwendijk is a bit seedy. English-language books can be found in the shops around Spui, and a used book market is held there every Friday. There is a concentration of Chinese shops in Zeedijk and Nieuwmarkt, and flowers can be bought at the Bloemenmarkt. Other concentrations of shops in the center are Utrechtsestraat, Spiegelstraat (art and antiques) and Staalstraat (specialty shops).
Interesting little shops and boutiques are located in the side streets of the main canals (Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht, Herengracht) and especially in the Jordaan. The Haarlemmerstraat and Haarlemmerdijk are claimed as best shopping streets in the Netherlands. The area around Museumplein in Zuid has Amsterdam's upmarket shopping streets. The P.C. Hooftstraat and theCornelis Schuytstraat have the finest designer shops in the city. You can find designer shoes, health and well-being specialists, massage parlors, fashion boutiques, designer interiors, designer florists and specialist shops. The partly gentrified neighborhood of De Pijp—around Ferdinand Bolstraat and Sarphatipark—is slowly becoming the 'second Jordaan'.
Street markets originally sold mainly food, and most still sell food and clothing, but they have become more specialized. The Albert Cuyp Market is the largest in Amsterdam, and the best-known street market in the country. TheWaterloopleinmarkt is partly a flea market, partly an alternative and second hand clothing and accessories market. It is more oriented towards tourists than to locals. If you're looking for authenticity, visit the Dappermarkt in Oostor the Ten Katemarkt in West. Both have food, households, flowers and clothing, and have a multicultural flavor.
In the areas surrounding the city center, the main shopping streets are the Kinkerstraat, Ferdinand Bolstraat, Van Woustraat, and the Javastraat. The most ethnic shopping street in Amsterdam is the Javastraat. There are some toy stores and clothing shops for kids in the center, but most are in the shopping streets further out, because that's where families with children live. Particularly IJburg has a good set of shops for families.
There is a large diversity of restaurants in Amsterdam, especially if you are looking for Asian cuisine, and although some of it is tailored to the fairly bland local tastes, it is possible to find quite fiery food if you look for it. The influence of the Dutch colonial past is apparent, as can be seen in the wide array of Indonesian and Surinamese restaurants. As in other cities with a large number of tourists, better value can often be found in streets that are not main tourist corridors.
Most Asian restaurants are clustered at the Zeedijk near the Nieuwmarkt and it is often dubbed as Amsterdam's Chinatown. It's also home to many tokos, small Asian grocery stores that sell Eastern food and spices. Chinatown offers plenty of Chinese, Thai and Japanese restaurants, usually good value. Indonesian restaurants are usually of excellent quality, but Indian ones can be expensive. For a budget meal, check out the various Middle Eastern restaurants around the Damstraat and Muntplein. The numerous falafel bars have a good value, often sporting an "all you can pile" salad bar.
Surinamese food is widely available and worth a try. The highest concentration of Surinamese restaurants can be found in Zuid, especially in the Albert Cuypstraat. Locals recommend the roti met bonen, moksi meti,petjil and bojo as dessert. Try the dawet as well; this typical drink is made from milk, coconut milk and rose sirup and has sago balls in it. Most kids like it.
The Lange Leidsedwarsstraat (just off Leidseplein) has about five Italian restaurants that sell pasta or pizza for €5. Many restaurants of all kinds can be found in the Haarlemmerbuurt. Also worth trying is the Van Woustraat in De Pijp, or continue to the Rijnstraat in the Rivierenbuurt. Exquisite but expensive restaurants can be found in the Utrechtsestraat. While there are exceptions, in general avoid restaurants along Damrak and be cautious around Leidseplein—they are well known tourist traps.
Cheese can be bought at the Albert Cuyp Market, or at specialist cheese shops found around the city center. Dutch cheese is traditionally firm, made in large wax-covered wheels, and falls into two main categories—young and old. There is a rich variety within these categories. Among the more unusual young cheeses is cumin cheese (komijnenkaas), which is particular to the Netherlands. Sheep cheese (schapenkaas) and goat cheese (geitenkaas) are also common. Old cheese can be made of any sort of milk, and is often reminiscent of Italian Parmesan in consistency and sharpness of flavour.
Check out bitterballen, fried breaded ragout balls, and kroketten (the same, but shaped like a cylinder), but take care not to burn your mouth. Also don't forget to try a traditional herring or a broodje haring (herring sandwich), available from fish stalls around the city. Herring in Amsterdam is usually served with onions and pickles. A good try is the fish stand on the Koningsplein near the Bloemenmarkt. Syrup waffles (stroopwafels) are made fresh at the Albert Cuyp. 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.
Sights & Landmarks
The inner part of the city center, the Binnenstad, dates from medieval times. The oldest streets are the Warmoesstraat and the Zeedijk in theOudezijde of the Binnenstad. As buildings were made of wood in the Middle Ages, not many of this period's buildings have survived. Two medieval wooden houses did survive though, at Begijnhof 34 and Zeedijk 1. Other old houses are Warmoesstraat 83 (built around 1400), Warmoesstraat 5 (around 1500) and Begijnhof 2-3 (around 1425). The Begijnhof is a late-medieval enclosed courtyard with the houses of beguines, Roman Catholic women living in a semi-religious community. Beguines are found in Northern France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and north-western Germany. House number 34 at the Begijnhof is the oldest home in Amsterdam. Entry to the courtyard and surrounding gardens is free, but be careful not to disturb the local community still living here.
One of the most prominent features is the Canal District, a concentric ring of canals built in the 17th century. The merchant-based oligarchy that ruled the trading city of Amsterdam built canal houses and mansions in the most prestigious locations here, especially along the main canals. Typical for the country are its traditional white draw bridges. The best example has to be theMagere Brug, which is over 300 years old and nearly in its original capacity. It is a beautiful place to overlook the river and take in some traditional Dutch architecture.
The Jordaan was built around 1650 along with the Canal District, but not for the wealthy merchants. For a long time it was considered a typical working-class area, and included some notorious slums. The name probably derives from the nickname 'Jordan' for the Prinsengracht. Apart from a few wider canals, the streets are narrow, in an incomplete grid pattern (as the grid followed the lines of the former polders located here in medieval times). This district is the best example of "gentrification" in the Netherlands, as recently it turned into a hip boutique district.
There are several large warehouses for more specific uses. The biggest is the Admiralty Arsenal (1656-1657), now Het 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 city office for architectural heritage [www] has an excellent online introduction to the architectural history and the types of historical buildings available. The website includes a cycle route along important examples.
Windmills were not built in urban areas, since the buildings obstructed the wind. The windmills in Amsterdam were all originally outside its city walls. There are a total of eight windmills in the city, most of them in West. However, the best one to visit is De Gooyer, which is not far from the city centre, and is being used as a brewery. The only windmill fully open to the public is the Molen van Sloten in Sloten, a former village now part of West.
Churches and synagogues
Since the Middle Ages and throughout the 17th century, the Netherlands was a country with a relatively high degree of freedom and tolerance towards other religions and cultures, especially compared to other countries in Europe. Between 1590 and 1800, the estimated foreign-born population was never less than 5 percent, many of them settling in Amsterdam. This led to a large diaspora of Jews, Huguenots (French Protestants), Flemish, Poles and other peoples in the city. Especially the Jewish have always had a large presence in Amsterdam, notably in the Jodenbuurt, though this quarter has changed significantly after World War II. The most prominent synagogue isThe Esnoga (or The Portuguese Synagogue), built in 1675 in an austere Classicist style.
As the Netherlands was a Protestant nation, most of the churches are from this branch of Christianity. The oldest church in Amsterdam, the Netherlands-gothic Oude Kerk on the Oudezijds Voorburgwal at Oudekerksplein, is now surrounded by window prostitution. It was built in 1306, and became a Calvinist church after the Reformation in 1578. The Nieuwe Kerk, at Dam Square, dates from the 15th century and is now used for royal coronations and exhibitions. From the 17th century onwards, four compass churches were built that would serve the areas outside the Binnenstad.
The late-medieval 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. 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 built again only in the 19th-century. The most prominent is the Neo-Baroque Church of St. Nicholas (1887) opposite Centraal Station. Also, investigate some of the "hidden churches" found in Amsterdam, mainly Catholic churches that remained in activity following the Reformation. A prominent hidden church is Ons' Lieve Heer op Solder. Well worth the visit. Two hidden churches still in use are the Begijnhofchapel near the Spui, and the Papegaaikerk in the Kalverstraat (both Catholic).
Since there was little large-scale demolition in the historic city center, most modern architecture is outside of it. Immediately outside the Singelgracht (the former city moat) is a ring of 19th century housing. The most prominent buildings from this period are the Amsterdam Centraal railway station (1889) and the Rijksmuseum (1885), both by Pierre Cuypers. De Pijp is a textbook example of 19th century revolution-build, cheap construction housing. The most prominent in architectural history are the residential complexes by architects of the Amsterdam School, for instance at Zaanstraat and Oostzaanstraat inWest. The Amsterdam School is a style of Expressionist architecture that arose from 1910 through about 1930. Examples can be found in De Baarsjes in West and the Rivierenbuurt in Zuid.
A completely different approach to architecture has been followed in the Bijlmer, a huge architectural project undertaken in the 1970s. A series of nearly identical high-rise buildings were laid out in a hexagonal grid with a strict separation of pedestrian and car traffic. It has been a revolutionary way of thinking in the architectural world, but within a decade the district started to make headlines with crime and robberies. As these high-rises are being torn down, the safety situation has improved, and now modern office buildings are taking their place.
The 1990s and 2000s also left its mark as a revolutionary time in architectural design. The Eastern Docklands is the largest concentration of modern residential buildings. The zone includes three artificial islands: Borneo, Sporenburg, and KNSM/Java-eiland. The latter has been designed as a modern re-imagining of the old Canal District. Across from it is the brand new Piet Heinkade and some adjoining projects. The largest concentration of box-like office buildings is in the Zuidas and in Zuidoost. Some spectacular buildings are Amsterdam ArenA stadium and the new Bijlmer-ArenA railway station.
Museums & Galleries
Amsterdam has an amazing collection of museums, ranging from masterpieces of art to porn, torture and cannabis. The most popular ones can get verycrowded in the summer peak season, so it's worth exploring advance tickets or getting there off-peak (e.g. very early in the morning). Avoid the museums in the Binnenstad as these are mostly tourist traps. The quality museums can be found in Zuid, the Canal District and Plantage. The museums in Zuid are located at the Museumplein, a square surrounded by quality museums. The country's national museum is the Rijksmuseum, a must-visit with a large collection of paintings from the Dutch Golden Age. Some artists that can't be overlooked are Rembrandt, Johannes Vermeer, Frans Hals and Jan Steen. The most widely regarded paintings are Rembrandt's Night Watch and Vermeer's Milkmaid. The museum also boasts a substantial collection of Asian art. It has recently reopened after a reconstruction of about ten years. Its renewed set-up is absolutely worthwhile, leading the visitor through the ages from the late Middle Ages to the early 20th century.
Even someone with little knowledge of art must have heard about Vincent van Gogh, the Dutch Post-Impressionist painter whose work had a far-reaching influence on 20th century art for its vivid colors and emotional impact. TheVan Gogh Museum has the largest collection of Van Gogh's paintings and drawings in the world. The Stedelijk Museum is all about modern art, contemporary art and design. A newer addition to Amsterdam's already stellar set of art museums is the Hermitage in Plantage, the largest satellite branch of the famous museum from Saint Petersburg, Russia.
A major museum is the Anne Frank House, dedicated to Anne Frank, a Jewish girl who kept a diary while hiding from Nazi persecution in hidden rooms at the rear of a building in the Canal District (known as the Achterhuis). It's an exhibition on the life of Anne Frank, but also highlights other forms of persecution and discrimination. Amsterdam has hundreds of museums about pretty much every topic one could think of. They are described in the city's district articles.
The Museumkaart costs €54.90 (or €29.95 for those under 18 years old). It covers the cost of admission to over 400 museums across the Netherlands and 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 €15 each, so this card can quickly pay for itself. The tickets to the major museums, including the audio guide, can be bought early from the tourist information desk at no extra cost. Alternatively, for short stays, you can consider buying the I amsterdam City Card, starting at €42 per day, which includes "free" access to Amsterdam museums, public transport and discount on many tourist attractions.
Things to do
The locals spend their summer days in Amsterdam uncorking bottles of red wine in the Vondelpark—and so should you. Every district in Amsterdam has at least one park, but the Vondelpark stands out for its size and convivial atmosphere. The neighbourhood best known for its trees and gardens is the Plantage. Besides leafy boulevards and grand mansions it also features the botanical gardens of the Hortus Botanicus and has Artis Zoo for the kids.
A more recent tradition is the opening of so-called city beaches. Yes, it's now possible to lay in the sand far from any natural coastline! Amsterdam has three of these beaches, which are located in West, Oost and Zuid. The one in Oost, Blijburg, is the best of these, and you get the fine architecture and atmosphere of the IJburg neighborhood included for free.
You can also watch a film at one of the more than 55 cinemas. Rialto in Zuid and Kriterion in Plantage run a selection of art house and alternative films. The EYE Film Institute in Noord is dedicated to film conservation, but also has screenings and exhibitions.
A canal cruise usually lasts from one to two hours. Commentary on the surroundings is given during the route. Departures from Prins Hendrikkade opposite Centraal Station, quayside Damrak, Rokin near Spui and Stadhouderskade 25 near Leidseplein. If it's a warm day, avoid the enclosed boats with glass ceilings—they get hot. You can also cruise the canals yourself with a pedal boat or rented boat.
- Amsterdam Boats B.V.. Personal rental of a wide variety of boats. You can rent a gondola, hand made by a girl from Amsterdam. She traveled to Venice to learn the craft, then built her own Gondola which she brought back to Amsterdam.
- Amsterdam Jewel Cruises. An evening dinner cruise. It is the only classic boat offering a private table for a romantic candlelight dinner. A la carte dining, but not cheap! The cruise starts at 19:30 and lasts just under three hours. €99-113.
- Boaty. Boaty offers rental boats so you can do your own private tour (or choose one of the provided canal routes). These rental boats are electrically driven which means they are silent and free of exhaust fumes.
- Boats4rent. Boats4rent has self operated rental boats at the Westerpark. With a three or four hour rental you can make a private trip on the Amsterdam canals and the Amstel river.
- Canal Company. The Canal Hopper runs three fixed routes, stopping near major attractions (Rijksmuseum, Anne Frank's House, etc.). You can get on or off as often as you like, but it is relatively expensive with €20 per 24 hours. The first boats start between 09:15 and 10:45, depending on which stop you get on. The last boats start dropping off at around 19:00. It also has four locations for renting your own boat; two-seater canal bikes cost €8 per person per hour.
- Lovers Company. Starts opposite the Rijksmuseum, but you cannot get on or off. The cruise takes about 1 hr 30 min. €12.
Festivals and events
Amsterdam is a cultural haven with year-round festivals for every pocket.
- Chinese New Year. Celebrated with festivities in Chinatown.
- Imagine Film Festival. A two weeks celebration of drive-in, exploitation and cult films, generally of the lower budget variety. Takes up all the screening rooms of the EYE Film Institute in Noord.
- King's Day. Formerly Queen's Day, this national holiday, nominally in celebration of the King's birthday, is difficult to describe to anyone who's never been there. The city turns into one giant mass of orange-dressed people with flea markets, bands playing, and many on-street parties, ranging from small cafes placing a few kegs of beer outside to huge open-air stages hosting world-famous DJs. The Vondelpark is the place where children sell toys and perform. An experience you'll never forget. Normally held on April 27, but if that is a Sunday, it is celebrated one day earlier.
- KunstRAI. A modern art fair in the RAI exhibition and conference center. If you want to know what the latest developments are in Dutch galleries, this is where to find them all in one place.
- Holland Festival. A performing arts festival that brings together events from all over the world in the fields of music, opera, theater and dance.
- Taste of Amsterdam. A culinary festival where you can explore the food of famous Amsterdam restaurants and their chefs.
- Open Garden Days (Opentuinendagen). Normally you can see only the front of the canal houses, but during the Open Garden Days you get to go past the entrance and see the green world behind them, often bigger than you would have expected. You can buy one ticket that gives you entry to all participating gardens, and there is a special canal boat to take you from one location to another.
- Amsterdam Roots Festival. A free open-air festival with music from non-Western countries accompanied by paid film and theater performances in the surrounding theaters.
- Julidans. International contemporary dance festival, always showing the latest developments in modern dance.
- Vondelpark Openluchttheater. This free festival offers many different performances every day. Go to the open air theater just by the fountain and let the entertainment do the work. From cabaret to drama to concerts to dance, there is something for everyone here and for all ages.
- Amsterdam International Fashion Week. Twice a year, this event presents young and upcoming fashion in Europe with a focus on Dutch design.
- Robeco Summer Nights. Affordable classical music concerts taking place at the prestigious Concertgebouw.
- De Parade, Martin Luther King Park. Circus turns vintage, on an old-fashioned fairground with many different tents, the performers are each trying to attract their public, featuring spectacles of dance, theater, magic, art, animation and music.
- Amsterdam Pride. Amsterdam's gay pride on the first weekend in August. One of the biggest festivals in Amsterdam with parties, performances, workshops and a boat parade on the Prinsengracht on Saturday afternoon which is always well worth seeing by gays and straights alike.
- Prinsengrachtconcert and Grachtenfestival. Third weekend of August each year. A free open-air classical music concert is held every year on a stage in the middle of the Prinsengracht. If you have a little boat, join the crowds and make sure to bring a bottle of rose wine or prosecco for full enjoyment. It takes place during the Grachtenfestival, a 10 days classical music festival with about 150 concerts throughout the city, but is organized independently from it.
- Sail Amsterdam. Tall-ships from all over the world come to visit the Amsterdam harbor every five years, the next one is in 2015.
- Uitmarkt. The opening of the cultural season in the last weekend of August, it offers a taste of the year to come with 30 min performances at different theaters, an extensive book market and many open-air concerts. All free.
- Jordaan Festival. A big inner city street festival celebrating the diversity of this former working class district. Features can include drum bands, a children's festival, opera and cabaret, a boules competition, a flea market and an auction.
- Robodock. A unique festival presenting contemporary art shows in the huge, old NDSM shipyard depot in Noord. The atmosphere is rough, industrial, experimental. A lot of loud music, fire, smoke, noise and heavy machinery are usually elements of these performances.
- National Restaurant Week. Two times a year, participating restaurants offer a full 3 course dinner for a mere €25 (excluding drinks), allowing you to try a different restaurant for a change or a chance to have an affordable meal at one of the famous five-star restaurants.
- Amsterdam Dance Event. Usually held during the second last weekend in October, this electronic music annual festival gathers cream of the crop faces from the house and techno scenes. Buy your tickets in advance to avoid paying more at the door and having to queue for hours. Besides partying for four nights in a row, the conference offers workshops, seminars, presentations etc.
- Museumnacht. Long before the film came out, this "night at the museum" attracts new crowds at the traditional Amsterdam museums with special performances at unusual locations. Do as the locals do and hire a bike to go from one place to the other.
- PAN Amsterdam. Third week of November. The biggest national art and antiques fair in the Netherlands.
- International Documentary Film Festival (IDFA). The largest festival in the world for documentary films with screenings of about 200 documentary films and videos.
- Museumplein. Amsterdam celebrates holy day of Sint Nicholaas on December 5th as Christmas in the Dam Square also known as "Christmas Square". However, on the Day of Christmas, i.e. December 25th, the people of Amsterdam are also getting used to celebrating Christmas along with Anglo-Americans.
Amsterdam's famously wild nightlife caters to all tastes and budgets. The archetypical Amsterdam watering hole is thebruine café ("brown bar"), a neighborhood bar of sorts with gorgeous dark wood panelling—hence the name—and booths.Grand cafés are more grand and spacious, and also serve small food portions. These usually have at least one long table with newspapers and magazines. Lounge and designer bars have recently been popping up across the city catering to the city's younger and more trend susceptible crowd. If you're a beer lover consider visiting a beer shop or tasting room in the Binnenstad or the brewery in Plantage. There are some excellent beers you can get from this part of the world such as wheat beer (witbeer).
The nightclubs in Amsterdam are not as rough as one might think. Many of them congregate around Leidseplein and Rembrandtplein in the Canal District. You can't go wrong at Melkweg, Sugar Factory and Paradiso, three live music venues that usually have large queues in weekends. Paradiso has the best interior, as it used to be a church, while Melkweg feels more like a nightclub. Sugar Factory is a little more intimate and is a multidisciplinary platform for young talent. Jimmy Woo is an impressive VIP-room, and a strict dress code applies. There are also some nightclubs in Oost, such asPanama, and near the Westerpark. Amsterdam's gay nightlife is not as vibrant it used to be, but there is still an active community in theReguliersdwarsstraat in the Canal District. The annual gay pride in August is a fun event that can be attended by gays and straights alike.
Amsterdam is renowned for its liberal drug policy. Coffeeshops (in English, but written as one word; not to be confused with coffeehouses or cafes) are allowed to sell cannabis and hash for personal use (not more than 5 grams). Whiletechnically still illegal, mostly to comply with international treaties, personal use of (soft) drugs are regulated by the Ministry of Justice under an official policy of gedogen; literally this means to accept or tolerate, legally it is a doctrine of non-prosecution on the basis that action taken would be so highly irregular as to constitute selective prosecution. The city council of Amsterdam allows coffeeshops to operate only with the provision of set, non-transferable licenses as shown by an official green and white sticker on the window of a coffeeshop. Coffeeshops are to sell only soft drugs (such as cannabis), selling of other drugs is not allowed. Also selling of dried hallucinogenic mushrooms is not allowed.
There are about 250 coffeeshops in Amsterdam, most of them in the Binnenstad. Marijuana is mostly sold in one-gram increments with a maximum limit of 5 grams per transaction. Prices hover around €7.50 for 1 gram, with the average joint holding around 0.33g. Most coffeeshops are happy to recommend varieties and prepare your joint for you. Some offer vaporizers/inhalators for people who don't want to smoke. Smoking paraphernalia (grinders, rolling papers, bongs, vaporizers, etc.) is usually available upon request. It is common practice not to smoke at a coffeeshop without purchasing something from the establishment first, be it coffee, a Coke, or marijuana. All coffeeshops do, indeed, sell coffee as well. ID is requested upon entrance to each establishment, and more often than not the only acceptable ID (except for Dutch citizens) is a passport.
Many coffeeshops offer a 'smoking lounge' where soft drugs may be used. Also note that despite the confusion on the subject, the country-wide smoking ban applies only to tobacco. However, since the Dutch commonly smoke tobacco mixed with their marijuana or hash, many coffeeshops, especially those unaccustomed to tourists, may require all smoking to be done in a separated smoking section or outdoors. Most central coffeeshops with large tourist clientèles will allow marijuana or hash smoking in their entire space, requiring you to smoke in the separated section only if your joint contains tobacco. Many coffeeshops also provide a non-tobacco herbal filler for those who find pure joints too strong. You may usually smoke joints containing this herbal filler anywhere within the coffeeshop although individual house rules may vary. If in doubt, always ask the staff.
Amsterdam hosts the Cannabis Cup, the most important marijuana related event in the world every year during the week of Thanksgiving. The Cannabis Cup is organized by High Times magazine, and offers both tourists and natives the chance to enjoy 5 days of consuming and judging marijuana in different forms. Participants are eligible to pay $199 in advance or €250 at the door to obtain a "judges pass", which allows entry to the event for all five days, admission to numerous concerts and seminars held during the event, the ability to vote on numerous awards that are handed out, and free bus tours to and from the event. Day passes are available for €30 for each day, and certain concerts sell tickets at the door provided they are not already sold out.
Coffeeshops are increasingly being controlled by the Dutch government. The number of coffeeshops has decreased significantly since 1995, and no alcohol may be sold inside a coffeeshop. As of 1 January 2013, non-residents (e.g. all tourists) are legally banned from entering a coffeeshop in the Netherlands. However, municipalities have wide freedom in implementing this law, and Amsterdam currently does not have any plans for implementation, but future plans are uncertain.
Red Light District
The Red Light District consists of several canals, and the side streets between them, south of Centraal Station and east of Damrak. It is known asDe Wallen (the quays) 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.
The area has many sex shops and peep show bars. This section of town is a common attraction for bachelors celebrating a stag night; if you ever get hassled, a firm and loud "leave me alone" will work most of the time. The whole area has a heavy police presence, and many security cameras. Nevertheless it is still a residential district and has many bars and restaurants, and also includes historic buildings and museums.
Things to know
Many people choose to visit Amsterdam because of its reputation for tolerance and progressivism. Prostitution is legalized and licensed in the Netherlands, so window prostitution is very visible in some areas of Amsterdam. The possession and consumption of small quantities of cannabis and hash, while technically illegal, is tolerated by authorities (the policy ofgedogen). Coffeeshops are allowed to sell cannabis and hash for personal use, and Amsterdam has hundreds of these scattered over the city.
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. The number of coffeeshops has decreased significantly and new laws forbid the selling of dried hallucinogenic mushrooms. Window prostitution outside the Oudezijds Achterburgwal is slowly but surely being closed down by the local authorities.
Depending on your viewpoint some people will consider Amsterdam an unwholesome city whereas other people will find the relaxed attitudes refreshing. If you avoid the Red Light District, Amsterdam is an excellent family destination.
The "Amsterdam" that most visitors experience is the city center, the semi-circle with Centraal Station at its apex. It corresponds to the city as it was around 1850. Five major concentric canals ring the Binnenstad: Singel, Herengracht, Keizersgracht, Prinsengracht and Singelgracht, together forming the Canal District. Other districts inside the city center are the Jordaan, a former working class area now popular with yuppies, and Plantage, a leafy and spacious area with botanical gardens and the zoo. The Nassaukade, Stadhouderskade and Mauritskade surround the city center and mark the location of the former city moat and fortifications. Almost everything outside this line was built after 1870.
The semi-circle is on the south side of the IJ, which is often called a river but more exactly is an estuary. Going east from Centraal 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 near Dam Square. 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 northeast of the A10 ring motorway. That area is a protected rural landscape of open fields and small villages considered a part of the Waterland region.
The radius of the semi-circle is about 2 km. All major tourist destinations, and most hotels, are located inside it or just outside it. As a result, a large swathe of Amsterdam is not visited by the average tourist: at least 90% of the population lives outside this area. Most economic activity in Amsterdam—the offices of the financial sector, the port—is near or outside the ring motorway, which is 4–5 km from the center.
The expansion of Amsterdam outside the ring motorway and the expansion of activity outside the city center is redefining what locals consider the 'central area' of Amsterdam. Zuid, especially with the construction of the Noord/Zuidlijn and the Zuidas, is becoming more and more important in the daily lives of the locals. Its significance for tourists has increased by the recently completed reconstruction work on the Museumplein and the adjoining museums.
Amsterdam has two universities, both offer summer courses and other short courses (with academic credits). It also has one venerable institute.
- Universiteit van Amsterdam. Founded as the Athenaeum Illustre in 1632, in 1877 it became the University of Amsterdam. With about 25,000 students, the UvA is on three separate campuses in the city center and many smaller sites scattered over Amsterdam.
- Volksuniversiteit. Despite the name, it is not a university, but a venerable institute for public education. Among the many courses are Dutch language courses for foreigners.
- Vrije Universiteit. Founded in 1880, the VU campus is located southwest of the city centre, and approximately 20 minutes away by bicycle. It is the only Protestant general university in the Netherlands.
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 an often a good place to start: Jobs in Amsterdam [www], Blue Lynx,Undutchables, Unique, SAM Recruitment 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, especially true 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).
Safety in Amsterdam
It might surprise some visitors, but Amsterdam is one of Europe's safest cities. It has an overall easy-going, laid-back feel and crime is not common. Amsterdam is female friendly, women can easily travel alone here and feel comfortable and safe. Gay and lesbian travelers also have little to worry about. However, you should take normal precautions against scams, pickpockets and baggage theft, especially in the main shopping streets, in trams and trains, at stations, and anywhere where tourists congregate.
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 color 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. Never stay or walk on the bike path or street for extended periods of time, as you will be greeted only by angry bell ringing. Keep in mind that for many Amsterdammers, the bike is their main means of transportation.
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. If you're driving, always give way to trams unless you're driving on a priority road.
Amsterdam's canals are picturesque and full of fun - but are also (by far) the single biggest cause of death to tourists in Amsterdam. On average about 25 people drown every year in the canals, almost all of them tourists. Invariably the victims are male and fall in while attempting to urinate in the canal - often the bodies are found with open fly. Typically there is a lot of alcohol involved, sometimes mixed with other drugs. There is some speculation that fainting due to dropping blood pressure caused by the combination of relaxation from relieving oneself and sudden exposure to cold may be involved, but generally being blind drunk and completely unstable is a perfectly adequate explanation. So: peeing in a canal is not only unhygienic and antisocial, it's also potentially lethal if you're under the influence. Please pee in the place you are drinking or failing that at an outdoor urinal. If you really can't find one, do it against a tree (risking a fine) rather than in a canal (risking your life).
The city center is generally safe, but there are differences between the neighborhoods. Leidseplein and Rembrandtplein are the tourist traps of Amsterdam, so prices are relatively high and there are lots of scams. Zeedijk and Warmoesstraat had a reputation for gang violence and riots in the 1970s and 1980s, but the security situation has improved strongly and now it is safe to visit.
Be cautious in the Red Light District. All kinds of people walk around there during the day, including families with children, but the area does attract seedier visitors and vagrants after sunset. Do not take photographs of the prostitutes, you will be yelled at or worse. 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. Although not really dangerous, women might want to avoid the narrow lane north of the Oude Kerk after dark as the atmosphere can be quite intimidating.
Other areas in the city center are mostly safe, but can get pretty much deserted after midnight, so you might want to avoid walking alone there at night. This is also true for the Kalverstraat and Nieuwendijk, even though shops are lit all night.
The outer boroughs have profound differences in safety levels. Nieuw-West and Zuidoost still have a bruised image regarding violence and harassment. Recent urban renewal projects have improved conditions in the last few years, but you should still be aware of the situation. Noord also has some rougher neighborhoods, but the rural parts are safe. Oost is largely safe, but there are some neighborhoods east of Oosterpark where some travelers might not feel comfortable. Zuid is perfectly safe, even at night.
Neighborhoods with a bad reputation might still be worth seeking out, but be cautious at day and avoid at night. As most tourists only visit the city center and Zuid, they do not have much to worry about except for the usual precautions (e.g. scams and pickpockets).
Cannabis and other drugs
It cannot be denied that many tourists come to Amsterdam for the coffeeshops. 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 any other drugs or intoxicants, including 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 nauseated, woozy or faint—drink orange juice or eat something sweet like cookies or candy, and get fresh air. Dutch-grownnederwiet (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.
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. Coffeeshops sell only 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.
There's a small chance 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. Ignoring (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.
The usage of magic mushrooms has been forbidden since December 2008. So-called smartshops do not sell any illegal products, but a range of dietary supplements, including 'herbal exstacy'—a legal attempt at an ecstasy pill alternative which is a complete waste of money with various more or less obscure psychedelic herbs and, despite the change in the law, one type of magic mushrooms. It is the latter which causes problems as people often underestimate their strength. Magic mushrooms have few 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 that invented the entire concept of a 'smartshop' back in 1994 does this clearly and responsibly (without downplaying the possible risks just to sell more like some other shops do). 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, the Rembrandtpark 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 a smartshop rather than a coffeeshop. They are better regulated and information is available from the attendants 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. Never take more than one packet of mushrooms—usually half is good for your first time. A good smart shop can give you more information about this.
It might be surprisingly difficult to find a pharmacy in the center, especially one open in the late afternoon. The Leidsestraat Apotheek in the Leidsestraat is open daily until 11pm. Remember to take medications with you. Some basic OTC drugs can be bought e.g. in Kruidvat (convenience drugstore) and Albert Heijn (supermarket).