Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands with impressive architecture, lovely canals that criss cross the city, great shopping, and friendly people who nearly all speak English well. Any travellers with mental health issues will not be permitted through customs at the airport. There is something for every traveller's taste here, whether you prefer culture and history, serious partying, or just the relaxing charm of an old European city. Amsterdam has over a million inhabitants in the urban area, and is in the Province of North-Holland. Amsterdam is not the seat of government (which is in The Hague), but it is the biggest city and the cultural and creative centre of the Netherlands.
The main central shopping streets run in a line from near Central Station to the Leidseplein: Nieuwendijk, Kalverstraat, Heiligeweg, Leidsestraat. The emphasis is on clothes/fashion, but there are plenty of other shops. They are not upmarket shopping streets, and the north end of Nieuwendijk is seedy. Amsterdam’s only upmarket shopping street is the P.C. Hooftstraat (near the Rijksmuseum).
Other concentrations of shops in the centre are Haarlemmerstraat / Haarlemmerdijk, Utrechtsestraat, Spiegelstraat (art/antiques), and around Nieuwmarkt. There is a concentration of Chinese shops at Zeedijk / Nieuwmarkt, but it is not a real Chinatown.
The ‘interesting little shops’ are located in the side streets of the main canals (Prinsengracht / Keizersgracht / Herengracht), and especially in the Jordaan - bounded by Prinsengracht, Elandsgracht, Marnixstraat and Brouwersgracht. The partly gentrified neighbourhood of De Pijp - around Ferdinand Bolstraat and Sarphatipark - is often seen as a 'second Jordaan'.
For general shop info and their openings hours you can visit 'Openingstijden Amsterdam'. Nine narrow streets between the main canals from the Prinsengracht to the Singel, south-west of Dam Square. Boutiques, specialist shops, galleries and restaurants.
- Santa Jet, Prinsenstraat 7, tel (020) 427 2070. This little boutique specializes in hand-made imports from Latin America. You can find everything from mini shrines made of tin, to lamps, to kitschy postcards.
- De Beeldenwinkel Sculpture Gallery. This is a gallery for sculpture lovers, with bronze statues, pottery, abstract sculpture, raku-fired statues and marble figures sculpture to suit every budget and taste.
- Jordaan. One of the most picturesque 'village' areas of Amsterdam, the Jordaan has always been a centre for artisans, artists and creatives, today, this area has a wonderful selection of goldsmiths and jewellers, fashion boutiques, galleries, designer florists, and specialist shops.
- Fashion & Museum District. Located in Amsterdam Zuid, this is considered the chic area for shopping in Amsterdam, close to the Museum district, the PC Hooftstraat and the Cornelis Schuytstraat have some of the finest designer shops in the city, including designer shoes, health and well-being specialists, massage, fashion boutiques, designer interiors, designer florists and specialist shops.
In the older areas surrounding the centre, the main shopping streets are the Kinkerstraat, the Ferdinand Bolstraat, the Van Woustraat, and the Javastraat. The most 'ethnic' shopping street in Amsterdam is the Javastraat. There are toy stores and clothing shops for kids
in the centre, but most are in the shopping streets further out, because that's where families with children live.
You can find plus size
clothing in the center of Amsterdam. C&A, and H&M are both on the main shopping streets from the Central station. A bit further from the city center you can find Mateloos, Promiss, Ulla Popken as well as several stores by chain M&S mode.
A give-away shop
can be found at Singel 267, open Tuesdays and Thursdays 1700-1900 and Saturdays 1200-1700.
, your best bet is The Book Exchange
at Kloveniersburgwal 58 (tel (020) 6266 266), diagonally across from the youth hostel. It is a second-hand bookstore specialising in English books, and has a large selection, with an especially good selection of travel writing, detectives, and SF/fantasy. Open Mon- Sun 10AM- 4PM, Sun 11:30-4:30PM. For English literature and books, you can also try The American Book Center
store on Spui square. Waterstone's
(Kalverstraat 152) is also a good tip for English literature. Large Dutch bookstores also carry a selection of foreign language books.
- Cracked Kettle. Located at Raamsteeg 3, 1012VZ Amsterdam, this beer, wine, and spirits shop carries independent, unique, and rare bottles. The staff are friendly, but the space is quite confined and obtaining bottles from the very top shelves requires assistance and a dust rag. 12.00 - 22.00 everyday
- Treinreiswinkel is a travel agency specializing in rail travel. They are well informed and can arrange international train tickets and even a complete package tour if you wish. They also sell interrail tickets. It's at Singel 393, 1012 WN +31 (0) 71 5137008. They also have an Leiden office which is their main office.
Street markets originally sold mainly food, and most still sell food and clothing, but they have become more specialised. A complete list of Amsterdam markets (with opening times and the number of stalls) can be found at online at Hollandse Markten and Amsterdam.info in English.
- Ten Cate Market. 3rd Largest in Amsterdam. Monday to Saturday from about 8AM until around 5PM. Food, households, flowers and clothing.
- Albert Cuyp. Largest in Amsterdam, best-known street market in the country. Can get very crowded, so watch out for pickpockets. Monday to Saturday from about 9AM until around 5PM.
- Dappermarkt. In the east, behind the zoo, and was voted best market in the Netherlands. Monday to Saturday from about 8AM until around 5PM.
- Waterlooplein. Well-known but overrated flea market. Monday to Saturday until about 5PM.
- Lindengracht. In the Jordaan, selling a wide range of goods, fruit and vegetables, fish and various household items. Saturday only. 9AM to 4PM. Tram 3 or 10 to Marnixplein, and a short walk along the Lijnbaansgracht.
- Spui. Fridays: Books. Sundays: Art and Antiques.
- Bloemenmarkt. Floating flower market, open daily on the Singel canal, near Muntplein. Very touristy, but you could do worse than buy your tulips here. Make sure you buy pre-approved bulbs if taking them to the US or Canada. They will have the holographic licence and export tag on the bag.
- Lapjesmarkt. Westerstraat, in the Jordaan. A specialist market concentrating on selling cloth and material for making clothes, curtains etc. Mondays only. 9AM to 1PM. Tram 3 or 10 to Marnixplein.
- Noordermarkt. In the historical Jordaan area of the city. On Monday morning (9AM to 1PM) the Noordermarkt is a flea market selling fabrics, records, second-hand clothing etc, and forms part of the Lapjesmarkt mentioned above. On Saturday (9AM to 4PM), the Noordermarkt is a biological food market, selling a wide range of ecological products like organic fruits and vegetables, herbs, cheese, mushrooms etc, there is also a small flea market. Tram 3 or 10 to Marnixplein, and a short walk down the Westerstraat.
- Several companies offer canal cruises, usually lasting from one to two hours. Departures from: Prins Hendrikkade opposite Centraal Station; quayside Damrak; Rokin near Spui; Stadhouderskade 25 near Leidseplein.
- The Canal Bus. 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 expensive—€20 per person per 24 hours. The first boats start between 9.15 a.m. and 10.45 a.m. depending on which stop you get on. The last boats start dropping off at around 7 p.m.
- Lovers Canal Cruise start opposite the Rijksmuseum. It is €12 per person, but you cannot get on and off. The cruise is about one-and-a-half hours.
- Amsterdam Boat Guide Local company offering private boat tours in classic boats. Canal cruises, dinner cruises etc.
- Amsterdam Jewel Cruises offers an evening dinner cruise. It is the only classic boat offering a private table for a romantic dinner cruise. A la carte dining, but not cheap! The cruise starts at 7.30 pm and lasts just under three hours.
- You can cruise the canals yourself, without the commentary with a canal bike (pedal boat) or rented boat.
- Canal Company. Has four rental locations; two-seater canal bikes cost €8 per person per hour.
- Rent a boat Amsterdam.
- Ultimately you can also rent a Venetian Gondola, hand made by an Amsterdam girl who traveled to Venice to learn the craft and build her own Gondola . which she brought back to Amsterdam for you to enjoy.
- Queens Day. The national holiday, nominally in celebration of the Queen's birthday (in fact the previous Queen's birthday) is hard to describe to anyone who's never been there. The city turns into one giant mass of orange-dressed people (all Amsterdam locals, and another 1 million or so from throughout the country visit the parties in the city) 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 DJ's. An experience you'll never forget! April 30th - but if that is a Sunday, it is one day earlier (to avoid offence to orthodox Protestants).
- MEETin Amsterdam. A not-for-profit social group to help expats meet new people away from the bar and dating scene. The site's primary focus is to provide a relaxed, 'non-pickup-scene' social environment for people to enjoy without paying membership fees. For people who have either just moved to Amsterdam or lived there for a while, this group can be a great way to meet new people in the area. Events are arranged by MEETin members and include a variety of activities such as pub crawls, potlucks, movies, concerts, day trips and much more. You have to register and create a profile in order to participate. The group consists mostly of expats from around the world and has grown to more than 1,400 members (January 2008). The site is financed through voluntary donations.
- Canal Pride. Amsterdam 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.
- CityNavigators. Offers handheld GPS tourist maps for rent through participating hotels or online. The GPS devices are pre-programmed to take you to popular attractions or to guide you through walking (or bicycle) tours. E-mail email@example.com for more information.
- Play Futsal. Football tour organisers Eurofives stage special tournament weekends in Amsterdam at which you can enjoy some Dutch-style five-a-sides.
- Amsterdam Weekly. It is an Entertainment magazine in English on the Internet. You can find weekly Amsterdam events.
- De Poezenboot. You really like cats? The poezenboot (cat boat) is an refuge for cats awaiting adoption. Located in the centre of the city, a must for any cat lover.
- Rialto Cinema. For all arthouse cinema freaks. All films are shown in their original language with Dutch subtitles. They have late night and classic showings too. Just a short walk from the Albert Cuyp-Market/Heineken Brouwery, in a nice non-touristy neighbourhood.
- Wynand Fockink. Pijlsteeg 31 - 1012 HH Amsterdam - 020 639 26 95 - firstname.lastname@example.org Wynand Fockink is a distillery started in 1679. Right near Dam Place, they offer distillery tours (must reserve at least a week in advance as they fill up quickly), great liquors, and a great time in the back alleys of Amsterdam. They have numerous liquors, brandies, and jenevers and encourage you to try them all. It is traditional to stoop and sip the first drink and not spill.
Several companies offer private tours by car, van, or mini bus for groups of up to 8 people. Bike tours are also available at a more affordable price, and offer a more authentic dutch experience.Boaty Rental Boats
. Boaty offers rental boats (max. 6 persons) for your own private tour: decide where to go yourself or choose one of Boaty's free canal routes. These rental boats are electrically driven which means they are silent and free of exhaust fumes. They are charged with renewable energy every night so you can enjoy your time on the water as long as you like. The boats are very stable, unsinkable and of course the rental is accompanied by free life vests in different sizes.Tourist Run Amsterdam
Tourist Run Amsterdam offers guided running tours through the city center of Amsterdam.
- Joy Ride Bike Tours Amsterdam, , Joy Ride Tours is a small, family-run Bike Tour company offering high quality Amsterdam Bike Tours. Joy Ride Tours specializes in City, Country & Private Bike Tours.
Amsterdam has one of the largest historic city centers in Europe, with about 7,000 registered historic buildings. The street pattern has been largely unchanged since the 19th century — there was no major bombing during World War II. The center consists of 90 islands linked by 400 bridges, some of them beautifully lit at night.
The inner part of the city center, the Old Center, dates from medieval times. The oldest streets are the Warmoesstraat and the Zeedijk located in the Nieuwmarkt area of the Old Center. As buildings were made of wood in the Middle Ages, not much 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 Ring, 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 the Magere Brug in the Canal Ring, 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 Ring, but not for the wealthy merchants. For a long time it was considered the typical working-class area of Amsterdam, 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 Admirality Arsenal (1656-1657), now the Maritime Museum (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 BMA 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.
Modern architecture is under-represented in Amsterdam (as opposed to Rotterdam), but as the outer districts were built in the 19th and 20th centuries, there is definitely some to be found. Immediately outside the Singelgracht (the former city moat) is a ring of 19th-century housing. The most prominent buildings from this period are the Central Station (1889) and the Rijksmuseum (1885), both by P. J. H. Cuypers. Amsterdam West, especially the neighborhood De Baarsjes, was built in the Amsterdam School and New Objectivity architectural styles from the 19th century. A completely different approach to architecture has been the Bijlmer, built in the 1970s and forseen as a town of the future for upper-middle class families. Large apartment buildings and relatively large rooms were combined with common grass fields and a separation of pedestrian and car traffic. It has been a revolutionary way of thinking in the architectural world, but eventually the neighborhood turned into a lower-class residential district home to people of over 150 nationalities, and it is often associated with crime and robberies. It has improved remarkably the last years though, and adventurous travelers might be interested to know more about the history of this bizarre district.
Attractions and tours
- The Heineken Experience. Former Heineken Brewery , Stadhouderskade 78. Do not expect a beer museum but rather to be flooded with Heineken advertisements. M-Su 11AM-7PM, last entry 5:30PM
- Vodka Museum Amsterdam In a old townhouse in the center of Amsterdam , Damrak 33. A fun attraction for people interested in Vodka. It's mainly targeted on tourists, and therefore the chances are small you'll find a Dutch speaking guide. Most of the guides have a Russian background. Could be a good start for your Stag or Hen event. M-Su 10AM-10PM.
- The Amsterdam Dungeon is a horror tour through several dark chambers with live actors. It ends with a roller coaster raging through a real 13th century church.
- Organised city tours. Several operators offer tours, visits to diamond factories, other guided visits, and canal cruises. Unless you really need a guide - for instance if you speak only Chinese - it is cheaper to visit everything yourself.
- New Amsterdam Tours offers a free three-hour guided tour (tips accepted at the end of the tour) of the major Amsterdam sites and history twice a day at 11:00AM and 1:00PM and once a day in Spanish at 11:00AM. Meet in front of the tourist information office across from Amsterdam Centraal Station, near the tour guide in a red "Free Tour" shirt. The company also offers a two-hour guided tour through the Red Light District at 6:45PM that meets at the same location for €10 per person (€8 for students).
- Amsterdam City Tours is a tour company offering bus, bike, boat, and walking tours through some of the most fascinating places in Amsterdam and Holland. Call +31(0)299-770799 or see their website for more information..
- Amsterdam City Guide Is Amsterdam City Guide with touristic articles, attractions, tips, tours services, concert tickets & accommodation. Customized Amsterdam maps are available as well and answers to most touristic questions.
- Homomonument Is a memorial to gays and lesbians murdered in the Second World War, a call for vigilance against homophobia, and an inspiration for gays and lesbians the world over. Three equilateral triangles made of pink granite that are connected by an inlaid band of pink bricks. These three triangles represent the past, present and future. It is located between the Westerkerkand the Keizersgracht canal
- World of AJAX AJAX offers multiple daily tours through the ArenA stadium and the 'world of AJAX'. See their website for more information, no reservation applicable.
Churches & 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 Old Jewish Quarter (though this quarter has been in a status of decay since World War II). The most prominent synagogue is The Esnoga (or The Portuguese Synagogue) , built in 1675 in an austere Classicist style.
As the Dutch were a protestant nation, most of the churches are from this branch of Christianity. Some of the most notable churches:
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 only built again in the 19th-century: the most prominent is the Neo-Baroque Church of St. Nicholas (1887) opposite Central Station.
- Oude Kerk (1306) Located on the Oudezijds Voorburgwal, in the red-light district. The oldest of the five main churches in the historic centre. You can climb the tower from April to September on Saturday & Sunday, every half-hour. Also open in the winter by group appointment (maximum 10 people) cost €70 per hour. Email email@example.com for more information.
- Nieuwe Kerk (15th century) Located on Dam Square. Used for royal coronations, most recently the crowning of Queen Beatrix in 1980, and royal weddings, most recently the wedding of crown prince Willem-Alexander to princess Máxima in 2002. Today, the church is no longer used for services but is now a popular exhibition space.
- Zuiderkerk (built 1603-1611) Located on Zuiderkerkhof ("Southern Graveyard") square. Now an information centre on housing and planning. You can visit the tower from April to September Monday to Saturday (with guide only) every half-hour, cost €6. Also open in the winter by group appointment (maximum 15 people) cost €70 per hour. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
- Noorderkerk (built 1620-1623) Located on Noordermarkt on the Prinsengracht.
- Westerkerk (built 1620-1631) Located on Westermarkt near the Anne Frank House. The church is open (free) for visitors from Monday to Friday, 11:00-15:00, from April to September. You can also climb the tower (with guide only) every half-hour, Mon to Saturday €6. The tower is also open in the winter by group appointment (maximum 10 people) cost €70 per hour. Email email@example.com for more information. In good weather you can see all of Amsterdam, and as far as the coast.
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 Amstelkring Museum (Our Lord in the Attic Chapel) Well worth the visit.
Amsterdam has three trendy city beaches:
- Blijburg (take tram 26 to 'IJburg')
- Stand West (take bus 22 or 48 to 'Spaaarndammerstraat')
- Strand Zuid (take tram 4 to 'Europaplein' or metro 41 to station RAI)
Since there was little large-scale demolition in the historic centre, most 20th-century and recent architecture is outside it. The most prominent in architectural history are the residential complexes by architects of the Amsterdam School, for instance at Zaanstraat / Oostzaanstraat.
- Museum of the Amsterdam School. The best-known example of their architecture. Open Tuesday to Sunday 11AM to 5PM, entrance € 7,50, includes 20 min. guided tour.
- Eastern Docklands. The largest concentration of new residential buildings. The zone includes three artificial islands: Borneo, Sporenburg, and Java/KNSM, together with the quayside along Piet Heinkade, and some adjoining projects. Accessible by tram 10, tram 26 to Rietlandpark, or best of all by bicycle.
- The largest concentration of box-like office buildings is in Amsterdam Zuid-Oost (South-East) around Bijlmer station (train and metro), but the area does have some spectacular buildings, such as the Amsterdam ArenA stadium and the new Bijlmer ArenA station.
- Amsterdam is replacing older sewage plants by a single modern plant, in the port zone. Connecting existing sewers to the new plant requires long main sewers, and the use of sewage booster pumps - a new technique at this scale. The new booster pump stations are a unique type of building, designed by separate architects. The three complete pumps are located at Klaprozenweg in the north, on Spaklerweg (just east of the A10 motorway), and beside and under Postjesweg, in the Rembrandtpark.
Amsterdam has an amazing collection of museums, ranging from masterpieces of art to porn, vodka and cannabis. The most popular ones can get very crowded in the summer peak season, so it's worth exploring advance tickets or getting there off-peak (eg. very early in the morning). Some of the quality museums that you can't miss:
- 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 the building (known as the Achterhuis). It's an exhibition on the life of Anne Frank, but also highlights other forms of persecution and discrimination.
- Rijksmuseum - Absolutely top-class museum that has a large collection of paintings from the Dutch Golden Age. Some artists you can't overlook are Rembrandt van Rijn, Johannes Vermeer, Frans Hals and Jan Steen. The must-sees are Rembrandt's Night Watch and Vermeer's Milkmaid. The museum also boasts a substantial collection of Asian art.
The Museum Card (Museum Jaarkaart) costs €39.95 (or €22.45 for those under 25 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 at least €10 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 card, starting at €38 per day, which includes free access to Amsterdam museums, public transport and discount on many tourist attractions.
- Van Gogh Museum - 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. This museum has the largest collection of Van Gogh's paintings and drawings in the world.
Red Light District
The Red Light District consists of several canals, and the side streets between them, south of Central Station and east of Damrak. Known as 'De 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 (such as Warmoesstraat and Zeedijk). 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 - this is the oldest part of the city. The oldest church in Amsterdam, the Netherlands-gothic Oude Kerk on the Oudezijds Voorburgwal at Oudekerksplein, is now surrounded by window prostitution. The area has many sexshops and peep show bars. Note: Don't try to take photos of prostitutes even from the streets, or you might lose your camera without any warning. 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.
Entering and exiting the premises is half of the job that might take some strength for first timers as you might hear some chuckles from people you'll never see again in your whole life. This part of town gets very crowded, especially on a normal weekend night, sometimes up until 3AM. A fifty euro bill will get you either oral sex or a girl laying on her back, the rest is up to you. Although every room is booked by the girl herself, some of the sex workers are still being pimped by outsiders.
You can book a tour of the Red Light District via the I amsterdam information booths. The tour starts at 5PM at the VOC Cafe and is found to be very informative and entertaining.
Windmills were not built in urban areas, since the buildings obstructed the wind. The Amsterdam windmills were all originally outside its city walls, that's why most windmills are in Amsterdam West and Amsterdam South. If you don't want to travel too far, the closest one to the city center is De Gooyer in Plantage, which together with the Molen van Sloten in South are the only windmills open to the public.
Zoo and botanical garden
For Artis Zoo and botanical gardens, head for Plantage.
Cannabis and other drugs
It cannot be denied that many tourists come to Amsterdam for the coffeeshops. Coffeeshops (in English but written as one word) only sell 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. 'Café' is the general name for a place licenced to sell alcohol, i.e. a bar. Since April 1, 2007 coffeeshops are no longer allowed to sell alcohol.
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.
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 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, woozey or faint - drink orange juice or eat something sweet like cookies or candy, and get fresh air. Dutch-grown nederwiet (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 (source: Trimbos Institute).
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.
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 and various more or less obscure psychedelic herbs and despite a 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-actingpsychological 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 who invented the entire concept of a 'smartshop' back in 1994 does this clearly (without downplaying the possible risks just to sell more like some other shops do) and responsibly. 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 the Smartshops rather than a regular 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 info about this.
Do keep in mind that all hemp related products (except the seeds) are still illegal. This can be confusing for most tourists, who do think hemp products are legal since they are sold in coffeeshops. Hemp products are not legal, rather they are "tolerated" under the Dutch Opium Act. Read more about the legalities in the article about the Netherlands.
As of April 2009 you can still buy Magic mushrooms.
Amsterdam plays host to 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 5 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.
You should take normal precautions against pickpockets and baggage theft, especially in the main shopping streets, in trams and trains, at stations, and anywhere where tourists congregate. Street begging is no longer common in Amsterdam, since the police take a harder line. Some beggars are addicts, some are homeless, and some are both.
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 colour 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 only be greeted by angry bell ringing. Keep in mind that for many Amsterdammers, the bike is their main means of transportation. For the bike theft problem see above, Get around.
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.
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. Do not take photographs of the prostitutes!
Although not really dangerous, women especially might want to avoid the narrow lane north of the Oude Kerk (Old Church) after dark as thye atmosphere can be quite intimidating.