Amsterdam is one of the most visited cities in Europe probably the most accessible with flight departures from every UK airport via KLM. You can also reach Amsterdam at speed by rail these days (about 4 hours) thanks to a new high speed rail line from Brussels. Arriving at Amsterdam Centraal you can often reach your hotel on foot or by a 5-minute tram ride.
The most popular times of the year for tourists is from Easter to Autumn, but the winter months offer plenty of attractions including the Christmas markets in December.
Amsterdam has a population of 750,000 people but has the feeling of a much smaller city when you arrive from the central rail station. As a visitor you’ll be unlikely to venture out beyond the old part of the city with its network of canals. The major sights are within easy walking distance of any city centre hotel. This is probably why central Amsterdam hotels charge such a premium as it really is necessary to stay in the centre if you want to get the most out of your short break.
Amsterdam was named after the Dam on the Amstel River, and the canals that feed into it. These canals are now protected by UNESCO as World Heritage sites. They’re a legacy of the cities status as one of the most important trading cities in the world. Europe’s oldest stock exchange is in the centre of the city as well as other important visitor sites like the Rijksmuseum, the Stedelijk Museum, Hermitage Amsterdam, Anne Frank’s house, and the Van Gogh Museum.
The infamous Red Light District is easy to miss and not unlike similar districts in a number of other cities in Europe these days. The coffee shops are all easy to find if you like to smoke a bit.
Be another one of the 3.6 million annual visitors to Amsterdam.
Things to do in Amsterdam
Walk out of your hotel, and just carry on walking along, taking in the atmosphere of Amsterdam with its canals (165 in all), bridges, boats, bikes and coffee shops. Everything within the old city of Amsterdam is reachable on foot, especially if you have a hotel room in the centre. Head for Prinsengracht, one of the most picturesque canals with its lines of trees and its houseboats that line-up along the side of the canal. At some point you will arrive at the home of Anne Frank, the wartime diarist. You can follow the Amstel through the centre to find many of the major tourist sites of Amsterdam.
Amsterdam feels like a village compared to London, so you can actually cross the road safely without getting run over by a white van, you do need to watch out for the cycle lanes however, as they are often busy with cyclists going to work or going about their daily business.
Combine a visit to the Rijksmuseum, or the Van Gogh Museum with a walk around the Vondel Park, the largest green space in Amsterdam. Here you will see more cyclists, skateboarders, joggers, sunbathers and all the usual people-watching opportunities you get in any municipal park.
So why not do what everyone does in Amsterdam? Get on your bike. You’ll get to see a lot more in a shorter period of time. Parking the bike does tend to be tricky in places but there are no hills save the occasional bridge. Many of the hotels have bike hire, but there are a number of bike hire services in Amsterdam to choose from, which the hotel reception can help you with. Be careful though, don’t ride side-by-side (a big no-no), put lights on at night, and make sure you lock the thing up or you’ll come away a few hundred pounds lighter than you expected. You can join a group tour of Amsterdam by bike from near the Heineken Museum, but there are other departure points too.
An angle of Amsterdam’s streets that must be experienced is from water level, aboard one of its superb canal boat tours. Prinsengracht is a good place to pick one up, as is the canal next to the Heineken Museum. Prices start at €16.00 for a basic tour but you can pay a lot more if you want dinner as well.
The Rijksmuseum is undergoing a full-scale renovation job until 2013, but don’t let that put you off. You can still see all the artistic masterpieces of the Dutch Renaissance including works by Vermeer (remember the girl with the pearl necklace) and Rembrandt. Ticket prices start at 12 Euro per adult, but under 18’s go in for free.
Van Gogh Museum
The Van Gogh Museum is pure magic. The largest collection of paintings by this genius in the world, so surely can’t be missed. Follow the painters’ life through his periods in Arles, Paris and Auvers sur Oise and how his brilliance finally caused his illness and his descent into depression.
Anne Frank’s House
Learn about Anne Frank’s life and how she spent the early years of her life escaping Nazism. See the very place where she hid from them and how the tragic final days of her life unfolded after she was betrayed by a neighbour.
Dam Square and the Royal Palace
Dam Square is a great place to hang out to watch the street performers and visit the Royal Palace. Admission for the Royal Palace is €7.50 but check opening hours at the website to avoid any closures due to Royal engagements.
Where to Stay in Amsterdam
The Hotel d’Europe is right at the heart of the city of Amsterdam on the corner of the canal with a superb view back down the Amstel River towards the Skinny Bridge. From here you get the best chance to take in the atmosphere of the city, particularly when it’s warm enough to sit on the terrace next to the river. Book ahead to get a room as this hotel tends to get fully booked.
The NH Grand Hotel Krasnopolsky is right opposite the Royal Palace in Dam Square, it has an unrivalled position and is convenient to walk from Centraal Station which is just a few hundred metres away. The renovations taking place on the Palace are complete which means you now have an unhindered view from a front-facing room. There’s always a lot going on at Dam Square so a great hotel to soak up life in Amsterdam.
If you need an intimate boutique hotel look no further. Recently renovated with beautifully designed open-plan rooms, the Canal House is in a 17th century house with wooden beams and a garden from where you can have breakfast and dine in the evenings in the summer months. Right in the centre of town, the Westermarkt tram station is a few hundred metres away, the Anne Frank House and the Centraal Station within easy walking distance.