With every justification, Amsterdam is one of Europe’s top short-break destinations. It’s a compact, instantly likeable city, that’s appealing to look at and pleasant to walk around. An intriguing mix of the parochial and the international, it has a welcoming attitude towards visitors and a uniquely youthful orientation, shaped by the liberal counter-culture that took hold in the 1960s. Also engaging are the buzz of its open-air summer events and the intimacy of its clubs and bars, not to mention the Dutch facility with languages: just about everyone you meet in Amsterdam will be able to speak near-perfect English, on top of their own native Dutch and often French and German too. If you are looking for a place to stay in Amsterdam you may find our expert’s guide to the best area’s to stay in Amsterdam helpful on deciding where to visit next.
Amsterdam has three world-famous sights, the Anne Frank Huis, the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum, with its wonderful collection of Rembrandt paintings. In addition, there is a slew of lesser known places to visit, from the Resistance Museum through to the Royal Palace on the Dam, though for many tourists the city’s canals are its main draw – take a cruise or a stroll around the Grachtengordel and you’ll see why. Beyond the sights, Amsterdam also boasts an unparalleled selection of drinking places, be it a traditional, bare-floored brown café or one of the city’s many designer bars and grand cafés. The city’s nightlife and cultural events have a similarly innovative edge, with offerings that are at the forefront of contemporary European film, dance, drama and music. In addition, Amsterdam boasts one of the world’s leading classical orchestras, a platoon of great clubs, and one of Europe’s liveliest and largest gay scenes.
No one could say the Amsterdam tourist industry doesn’t make the most of its canals, with a veritable armada of glass-topped cruise boats shuttling along the city’s waterways, offering everything from quick hour-long excursions to fully-fledged dinner cruises. There are several major operators and they occupy the prime pitches, either the jetties near Centraal Station on Stationsplein or beside the first part of the Damrak. Despite the competition, prices are fairly uniform with a one-hour tour costing around €14 per adult, €7 per child (4–12 years old). The big companies, for example Lovers (t 020 530 5412, w lovers.nl), also run a lot of different themed cruises – candlelight cruises, cocktail cruises, etc – with tickets costing in the region of €32–35, though dinner cruises will rush you about €75. All the basic cruises are extremely popular and long queues are common throughout the summer. One way of avoiding much of the crush is to walk down the Damrak from Centraal Station to the jetty at the near end of the Rokin, where Reederij P. Kooij (t 020 623 3810, w rederijkooij.nl), which also has a jetty beside Centraal Station, offers all the basic cruises at cheaper prices. For other types of canal transport.
After the abdication of Queen Beatrix in favour of her son, Amsterdam saw its last Queen’s Day on 30 April, 2013. Traditionally the city’s biggest party with up to half a million people packing the streets and canals, it remains to be seen whether King’s Day (27 April) will rival it. Knowing the Dutch, the orange wigs will be dusted off, the sound systems cranked up and the city will become one big waterside disco again in April 2014 (just book ahead if you want to be there).
A former Rough Guides Managing Editor, Keith Drew has written or updated over a dozen Rough Guides, including Costa Rica, Japan and Morocco. As well as writing for The Telegraph, The Guardian and BRITAIN Magazine, among others, he also runs family-travel website