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Lonely Planet Amsterdam

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Lonely Planet: The world's leading travel guide publisher

Lonely Planet Amsterdam is your passport to the most relevant, up-to-date advice on what to see and skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. Cycle along tree-lined canals, stroll among the Dutch masters, or explore coffee shops and bars; all with your trusted travel companion. Get to the heart of Amsterdam and begin your journey now!

Inside the Lonely Planet Amsterdam Travel Guide:

  • Colour maps and images throughout
  • Highlights and itineraries help you tailor your trip to your personal needs and interests
  • Insider tips to save time and money and get around like a local, avoiding crowds and trouble spots
  • Essential info at your fingertips - hours of operation, phone numbers, websites, transit tips, prices
  • Honest reviews for all budgets - eating, sleeping, sight-seeing, going out, shopping, hidden gems that most guidebooks miss
  • Cultural insights give you a richer, more rewarding travel experience - history, museums, galleries, shopping, drinking, nightlife, canals, Dutch painting, architecture, contemporary Dutch design and more
  • Free, convenient pull-out Amsterdam map (included in print version), plus over 35 maps
  • Covers Medieval Centre, Red Light District, Nieuwmarkt, Plantage, Eastern Islands, Western Canal Ring, Southern Canal Ring, Jordaan, Vondelpark, the Old South, De Pijp, Oosterpark, South Amsterdam and more

eBook Features: (Best viewed on tablet devices and smartphones)

  • Downloadable PDF and offline maps prevent roaming and data charges
  • Effortlessly navigate and jump between maps and reviews
  • Add notes to personalise your guidebook experience
  • Seamlessly flip between pages
  • Bookmarks and speedy search capabilities get you to key pages in a flash
  • Embedded links to recommendations' websites
  • Zoom-in maps and images
  • Inbuilt dictionary for quick referencing

The Perfect Choice: Lonely Planet Amsterdam, our most comprehensive guide to Amsterdam, is perfect for both exploring top sights and taking roads less travelled.

  • Looking for just the highlights of Amsterdam? Check out Pocket Amsterdam, a handy-sized guide focused on the can't-miss sights for a quick trip.
  • Looking for more extensive coverage? Check out Lonely Planet The Netherlands for a comprehensive look at all the region has to offer.

Authors: Written and researched by Lonely Planet.

About Lonely Planet: Since 1973, Lonely Planet has become the world's leading travel media company with guidebooks to every destination, an award-winning website, mobile and digital travel products, and a dedicated traveller community. Lonely Planet covers must-see spots but also enables curious travellers to get off beaten paths to understand more of the culture of the places in which they find themselves.

TripAdvisor Travelers' Choice Awards winner in Favorite Travel Guide category for 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015.

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Amsterdam's Top 10

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1Housing the world's largest collection by artist Vincent van Gogh, the museum is as much a tour through the driven painter's troubled mind as it is a tour through his body of work. More than 200 canvases are on display, from his dark, potato-filled early career in the Netherlands through to his later years in sunny France, where he produced his best-known work with its characteristic giddy colour. Paintings by contemporaries Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec, Monet and Bernard round out the retrospective.

1Vondelpark & the Old South

2For the quintessential bite of Amsterdam, pull up a stool in one of the city's famed brown cafés (traditional Dutch pubs). The true specimen has been in business a while and gets its name from centuries' worth of smoke stains on the walls. Brown cafés have candle-topped tables, sandy wooden floors and sometimes a house cat that sidles up for a scratch. Most importantly, brown cafés induce a cosy vibe that prompts friends to linger and chat for hours over drinks – the same enchantment the cafés have cast for 300 years.

 

First Time

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AMake sure your passport is valid for at least six months after your arrival date

AInform your debit-/credit-card company of your travel plans

AArrange appropriate travel insurance

ACall your mobile provider to enquire about roaming charges or getting an international plan

AGood comfortable shoes – Amsterdam is best appreciated on foot (or by bike)

AUmbrella or rain jacket, because it can be rainy

ANetherlands electrical adapter

AA small day pack (the smaller the better to avoid having to check it when visiting museums)

APlan your time – lengthy queues can add an hour or so to each museum visit.

AMake reservations for dinner at midrange and top-end eateries. Many restaurants are small and customers like to linger. Without a reservation, you might well miss out on your favourite spot.

ASightsee by foot. Walking is one of the best ways to get around the compact city – it's quick, free, and provides the opportunity to wander by hidden lanes and shops you might otherwise miss.

 

Top Itineraries

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MBegin with the biggies: tram to the Museum Quarter to ogle the masterpieces at the Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum. They’ll be crowded, so make sure you’ve prebooked tickets. Modern-art buffs might want to swap the Stedelijk Museum for one of the others. They're all lined up in a walkable row.

5Lunch Slow-food favourite Gartine grows many ingredients in its garden.

RSpend the afternoon in the Medieval Centre. Explore the secret courtyard and gardens at the Begijnhof. Walk up the street to the Dam, where the Royal Palace, Nieuwe Kerk and Nationaal Monument huddle and provide a dose of Dutch history. Bend over and take your jenever (Dutch gin) like a local at Wynand Fockink.

5Dinner Do steak or fondue for dinner at Dwaze Zaken.

NVenture into the Red Light District. A walk down Warmoesstraat or Oudezijds Achterburgwal provides an eye-popping line-up of fetish-gear shops, live sex shows, smoky coffeeshops and, of course, women in day-glo lingerie beckoning from crimson windows. Then settle in to a brown café (pub), such as In ‘t Aepjen, In de Olofspoort or ‘t Mandje.

 

If You Like…

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Van Gogh Museum Has the world's largest collection of the tortured artist's paintings, from his early work to his final pieces.

Rijksmuseum The Netherlands' mightiest museum bursts with Rembrandts, Vermeers, delftware and more, all displayed in a dazzling neo-Gothic/Dutch Renaissance building.

Stedelijk Museum Bountiful modern trove including works by Picasso, Chagall, Mondrian, Warhol, Lichtenstein and the CoBrA chaps, much of it housed in the groovy 'Bathtub' wing.

Museum het Rembrandthuis You almost expect to find the master himself still nipping around his old paint-spattered studio and handsome home.

Hermitage Amsterdam This satellite of Russia's Hermitage Museum features one-off, blockbuster exhibits showing everything from Matisse cut-outs to Byzantine treasures.

FOAM (Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam) Changing exhibitions feature world-renowned photographers such as Sir Cecil Beaton, Annie Leibovitz and Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Albert Cuypmarkt Amsterdam's largest and busiest market has been selling flowers, clothing, food and household goods of every description for more than 100 years.

 

Month by Month

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Top Events

King's Day, April

Grachtenfestival, August

Amsterdam Gay Pride, August

Amsterdam Dance Event, October

Amsterdam Light Festival, early December to mid-January

Yes, it's cold. Yes, it's dark. But the museum queues are nonexistent and there is more time to relax in a cosy cafe in front of a crackling fireplace.

Amsterdam's fashion scene takes flight during Fashion Week (www.fashionweek.nl), with catwalk shows, parties, lectures and concerts. Many events – both free and ticketed – are open to the public. They take place downtown and at the Westergasfabriek. There's also a July fashion week.

Early spring weather can be fickle, but if it complies you can get a jump-start on tulip viewing (and the crowds) at Keukenhof.

Electronic music festival 5 Days Off (www.5daysoff.nl) puts on dance parties at Melkweg and Paradiso toward the start of the month.

 

With Kids

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Breathe easy: you've landed in one of Europe's most kid-friendly cities. The famous Dutch tolerance extends to children and Amsterdammers are cheerfully accommodating to them. You'll find that virtually all quarters of the city – except the Red Light District, of course – are fair game for the younger set.

Green spaces, parks and canals galore provide plenty of fresh-air fun for the little (and not so little) ones.

A hot favourite with kids of all ages is the vast play space of the Vondelpark, with leafy picnic spots and duck ponds, as well as cool space-age slides at its western end and a playground in the middle of the park. Westerpark also has a terrific playground, while Sarphatipark and Oosterpark shouldn't be overlooked as great open spaces to let the kids run free. Canoeing, a tree-climbing park, paddle boats and a goat farm are among the fun activities in the huge, forested Amsterdamse Bos.

Kids will love the skating rinks and outdoor merriment at the winter carnivals that spring up in public spaces such as the Museumplein. Don't miss uniquely Dutch festive season treats such as poffertjes (small pancakes) and gingery-cinnamon speculaas (cookies), traditionally eaten around Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas' Eve; 5 December), which are served up at rustic market stalls.

 

By Bike

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Bicycles are more common than cars in Amsterdam, and to roll like a local you'll need a two-wheeler. Rent one from the myriad outlets around town or your accommodation, and the whole city becomes your playground. Cycling is the quintessential activity while visiting Amsterdam.

Many visitors rent a bike late in their stay and wish they'd done so sooner. Rental shops are everywhere; you'll have to show a passport or European national ID card and leave a credit-card imprint or pay a deposit (usually €50). Prices for basic 'coaster-brake' bikes average €11 per 24-hour period. Bikes with gears and handbrakes cost more. Theft insurance costs around €3 extra per day.

Ajax Bike Off the beaten path in De Pijp, with bargain prices on city, kids', tandem and cargo bikes.

Bike City Jordaan shop; bikes carry no advertising, so you'll look like a local.

Black Bikes ( MAP GOOGLE MAP ; %670 85 31; www.black-bikes.com; Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal 146; bike rental per 3/24hr from €6/8.50; h8am-8pm Mon-Fri, 9am-7pm Sat & Sun; j1/2/5/13/14/17 Dam/Raadhuisstraat) Signless company offering city, kids', tandem and cargo bikes at 10 shops, including this one in the centre.

 

Like a Local

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Get on your bike, head to the nearest brown café and take a free course in Dutch culture by simply observing what goes on around you. It's one thing to witness local life and another to actually immerse yourself in it.

This particularly Dutch quality, which is most widely found in old brown cafés (traditional Dutch pubs), is one of the best reasons to visit Amsterdam. It's variously translated as snug, friendly, cosy, informal and convivial, but gezelligheid – the state of being gezellig – is something more easily experienced than defined. You can get this warm and fuzzy feeling in many places and situations, often while nursing a brew with friends during borrel – an informal gathering over drinks. And nearly any cosy establishment lit by candles probably qualifies.

'Holland’ is a popular synonym for the Netherlands, yet it only refers to the combined provinces of Noord (North) and Zuid (South) Holland. (Amsterdam is Noord-Holland's largest city; Haarlem is the provincial capital.) The rest of the country is not Holland, even if locals themselves often make the mistake.

 

For Free

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Although the costs of Amsterdam's accommodation and dining can mount up, there is a bright side too. Not only is the entire Canal Ring a Unesco World Heritage Site (read: free living museum), but virtually every day you'll find things to do and see that are free (or virtually free, at least).

The money-saving I Amsterdam Card (www.iamsterdam.com; per 24/48/72hr €49/59/69) offers discounts and freebies at shops, attractions and restaurants. Students and seniors should bring ID and flash it at every opportunity for reduced admission fees.

Civic Guard Gallery Stroll through the monumental collection of portraits, from Golden Age to modern.

Rijksmuseum Gardens Even many locals don't know that the Renaissance and baroque gardens are free and open to the public (including occasional sculpture exhibitions). Let your pre-Raphaelite spirit run free as you explore the rose bushes, hedges and statues.

Begijnhof Explore the 14th-century hidden courtyard and its clandestine churches.

 

Canals

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Amsterdammers have always known their Canal Ring, built during the Golden Age, is extraordinary. Unesco made it official in 2010, when it listed the waterways as a World Heritage site. Today the city's canals outnumber those in Venice, and Amsterdam also has three times as many bridges – more than any other city worldwide.

Far from being simply decorative or picturesque, or even useful waterways for transport, the canals were crucial to drain and reclaim the waterlogged land. They solved Amsterdam's essential problem: keeping the land and sea separate.

In Dutch a canal is a gracht (pronounced ‘khrakht’) and the main canals form the central grachtengordel (canal ring). These beauties came to life in the early 1600s, after Amsterdam's population grew beyond its medieval walls and city planners put together an ambitious design for expansion. The concentric waterways they built are the same ones you see today.

Core Canals

Starting from the core, the major semicircular canals are the Singel, Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht. An easy way to remember them is that, apart from the singular Singel (which originally was a moat that defended Amsterdam's outer limits), these canals are in alphabetical order.

 

Museums & Galleries

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Amsterdam’s world-class museums draw millions of visitors each year. The art collections take pride of place – you can’t walk a kilometre here without bumping into a masterpiece. Canal-house museums are another local speciality. And, of course, the freewheeling city has a fine assortment of oddball museums dedicated to everything from hash to houseboats.

The Dutch Masters helped spawn the prolific art collections around town. You’ve probably heard of a few of these guys: Johannes Vermeer, Frans Hals and Rembrandt van Rijn. They came along during the Golden Age when a new, bourgeois society of merchants and shopkeepers were spending money to brighten up their homes and workplaces with fresh paintings. The masters were there to meet the need, and their output from the era now fills the city’s top museums.

The Netherlands’ maritime prowess during the Golden Age also filled the coffers of local institutions. Silver, porcelain and colonial knick-knacks picked up on distant voyages form the basis of collections in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam Museum, Het Scheepvaartmuseum and Tropenmuseum.

 

Eating

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Amsterdam's food scene is woefully underrated. Beyond pancakes and potatoes, Dutch chefs put their spin on all kinds of regional and global dishes using ingredients plucked from local seas and farms. Wherever you go, meals are something to linger over as the candles burn low on the tabletop.

Traditional Dutch

Traditional Dutch cuisine revolves around meat, potatoes and vegetables. Typical dishes include stamppot (mashed pot) – potatoes mashed with another vegetable (usually kale or endive) and served with smoked sausage and strips of bacon. Erwtensoep is a thick pea soup with smoked sausage and bacon that's usually served in winter.

Pannenkoeken translates to pancakes – the Dutch variety is huge, served one to a plate and topped with sweet or savoury ingredients. The mini version, covered in sugar or syrup, is poffertjes. You can often find these fresh at markets.

Many snack bars and pubs serve appeltaart (apple pie). For breakfast it's common to eat hagelslag (chocolate sprinkles) on buttered bread.

 

Drinking & Nightlife

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Amsterdam is one of the wildest nightlife cities in Europe and the world, and the testosterone-fuelled stag parties of young chaps roaming the Red Light District know exactly what they're doing here. Yet you can easily avoid the hardcore party scene if you choose to: Amsterdam remains a café (pub) society where the pursuit of pleasure centres on cosiness and charm.

Need to Know

Coffeeshop vs Café

First things first: café culture should not be mistaken for coffeeshop (marijuana-smoking cafe) culture, and there's a big difference between a café (pub) or koffiehuis (espresso bar) and a coffeeshop. A coffeeshop may serve coffee (never alcohol) but its focus is cannabis and hash.

Smoking (any substance) is banned by law in cafés.

Opening Hours

ACafés serving breakfast tend to open between 8am and 10am, while others – notably many of the cosy brown cafés – are late risers, opening around noon.

 

Entertainment

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Amsterdam supports a flourishing arts scene, with loads of big concert halls, theatres, cinemas and other performance venues filled on a regular basis. Music fans will be in their glory, as there’s a fervent subculture for just about every genre, especially jazz, classical and avant-garde beats.

Jazz

Jazz is extremely popular, from far-out, improvisational stylings to more traditional notes. The grand Bimhuis is the big game in town, drawing visiting musicians from around the globe, though its vibe is more that of a funky little club. Smaller jazz cafés abound and you could easily see a live combo every night of the week.

Classical

Amsterdam's classical-music scene, with top international orchestras, conductors and soloists crowding the agenda, is the envy of many European cities. Choose between the flawless Concertgebouw or dramatic Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ for the main shows.

Rock & Dance Music

Amsterdam's dance-music scene thrives, with DJs catering to all tastes. Many clubs also host live rock bands. Huge touring names often play smallish venues such as the Melkweg and Paradiso; it's a real treat to catch one of your favourites here.

 

Shopping

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During the Golden Age, Amsterdam was the world’s warehouse, stuffed with riches from the far corners of the earth. The capital’s cupboards are still stocked with all kinds of exotica (just look at that Red Light gear!), but the real pleasure here is finding some odd, tiny shop selling something you wouldn't find anywhere else.

The city offers plenty of distinct wares, from cool-cat fashion to tulip bulbs. Whatever your price range, you'll find something to take home. Souvenir shops cluster around Dam in the centre and the Bloemenmarkt in the Southern Canal Ring.

Dutch fashion Locals have mastered the art of casual style and it streams right out of the no-nonsense side of the national character. The result is hip, practical designs – such as floaty, layered separates and tailored denim (that don’t get caught in bike spokes).

Dutch-designed homewares Dutch designers have shown a singular knack for bringing a creative, stylish touch to everyday objects. What started as a few innovators – such as Droog and Moooi – has morphed into a world-renowned industry. Items are colourful and sensible, with vintage and witty twists mixed in. They solve problems you didn't know you had. Once you own a hand towel with a rivet in one corner for hanging, you'll wonder how you ever lived without it!

 

Neighbourhoods at a Glance

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Amsterdam's oldest quarter is remarkably preserved, looking much as it did in its Golden Age heyday. It's the busiest part of town for visitors. Some come to see the Royal Palace and Oude Kerk. Others barely get out of the train station before hitting the coffeeshops and Red Light District.

Nieuwmarkt holds the keys to the Rembrandthuis – the master painter's studio – as well as to centuries-old synagogues, diamond factories and the daily Waterlooplein Flea Market in the old Jewish quarter. Beside it, the leafy Plantage hosts a sprawling zoo as well as a beery windmill. It segues into the Eastern Islands, old warehouse hubs that have morphed into the cutting edge of Dutch architecture.

One of Amsterdam's most gorgeous areas. Grand old mansions and oddball little speciality shops line the glinting waterways. Roaming around them can cause days to vanish. But most people come here for a singular reason: to visit Anne Frank's house and see the famous diary.

Two clubby nightlife districts anchor the Southern Canal Ring: Leidseplein and Rembrandtplein. Both are neon-lit, one-stop shops for partygoers. In between lie several intriguing museums – including the art blockbuster Hermitage Amsterdam – as well as the flower market, terrific restaurants, ritzy cafes and romantic canal views that'll make your camera flash.

 

Medieval Centre & Red Light District

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1Wandering through the Red Light District, which will make your jaw drop, even if near-naked women beckoning from backlit windows is the oldest Amsterdam cliché.

2Ogling the chandeliered opulence and taking a Dutch history lesson in the Royal Palace.

3Pushing open the door to the Begijnhof and beholding the hidden gardens and churches.

4Biting into a crisp golden spud slathered in mayonnaise, curry or peanut sauce at Vleminckx.

5Bowling up to a 17th-century tasting house such as Wynand Fockink, to knock back a jenever (Dutch gin).

Amsterdam's heart beats in its medieval core, as well as in the centuries-old Red Light District. All visitors end up here at some point. Centraal Station is the main landmark – indeed, it is the first thing most visitors see as they arrive by train from the airport or elsewhere in Europe. Damrak slices south from the station to the Dam – Amsterdam's central square and home to the Royal Palace.

 

Nieuwmarkt, Plantage & the Eastern Islands

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1Viewing Rembrandt's studio at the Museum het Rembrandthuis, where you can see his brushes, sketches and cabinet stuffed with seashells and Roman busts.

2Downing a Dommelsch beer in the old lock-keeper's house at De Sluyswacht.

3Fathoming the history of Dutch seafaring through the extensive maritime collection at the Het Scheepvaartmuseum.

4Catching live classical music or jazz at the acoustically and visually stunning Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ.

5Browsing the Waterlooplein Flea Market, filled with bric-a-brac from porcelain teapots to Buddha statues.

Centred on its namesake square, Nieuwmarkt (New Market) is a district as historic as anything you'll find in Amsterdam. Rembrandt painted canalscapes in Nieuwmarkt, and Jewish merchants generated a fair share of the city's wealth with diamonds and other ventures here.

The neighbourhood's top sight is Museum het Rembrandthuis, the master's impressive home/studio. In the old Jewish quarter is an excellent museum and a synagogue. The famed Gassan Diamond factory is also here, offering free tours.

 

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