Amsterdam is not merely the city of garish sin. While the aroma of marijuana smoke does waft out of coffeeshops and prostitutes do pose provocatively behind windows bathed in red light, there is much to savor beyond the city’s fabulous excess. Amsterdam has long been a center of varied openness the same culture of acceptance that tolerates cannabis use and a commercial sex trade has also turned the city into an immigrant capital; countless refugees from Spain to Surinam have called this city home, giving it a multicultural richness rivaled by few places on earth. A Golden Age of art flourished in Amsterdam, and art remains in many forms Rembrandt’s shadowy portraits, Vermeer’s luminous women, and the post-impressionist swirls of van Gogh’s brush. And here, history breathes. Renaissance canal houses perch on enchanting waterways, while subtle remnants of WWII Nazi occupation litter the streets. Accordingly, this supremely relaxed capital of northern Europe is alluring for all sorts of guests: Eagerly experimenting youth, pot pilgrims, businesspeople, art aficionados, and history buffs. They all serve as a reminder that, though Amsterdam is a place for indulging desires, the best trip to Amsterdam isn’t necessarily the one you won’t remember.
Flights: Schiphol Airport (AMS; (0800) 72 44 74 65). Light rail sneltrains connect the airport to Centraal Station (20min. every lOmin. ‚3).
Trains: Centraal Station, Stationspl. 1, at the northern end of the Damrak (09 00 92 92, ‚0.30 per min.; www.ns.nl). To: Brussels (2Vi-3hr. 1-2 per hr. ‚40); Groningen (2l2hr. 2 per hr. ‚25); Haarlem (20min. 1-2 per hr. ‚3.10); Leiden (35min. 1-6 per hr. ‚6.60); Paris (4hr. 8 per day, ‚87); Rotterdam (lhr. 1-4 per hr, ‚12); The Hague (50min. 1-4 per hr. ‚8.50); Utrecht (30min. 3-6 per hr. ‚5.60).
Buses: Trains are quicker, but the GVB (see below) will direct you to a bus stop for domestic destinations not on a rail line. Muiderpoort (2 blocks east of Oosterpark) sends buses east; Marnixstation (at the corner of Mamixstr. and Kinkerstr.) west; and the Stationsplein depot north and south.
Public Transportation: GVB ( 09 00 92 92, ‚0.30 per min.) Stationspl. In front of Cen-traal Station. Open M-F 7am-9pm, Sa-Su 8am-9pm. Tram, Metro, and bus lines radiate from Centraal Station. Trams are most convenient for inner-city travel; the Metro leads to farther-out neighborhoods. Normal public transportation runs daily 6am-12:30am; from 12:30am-6am, night buses traverse the city-pick up a schedule at the GVB. Strip-penkart are used on all public transportation in Amsterdam; two strips (‚1.40) will get you to almost all sights within the city center and is good for unlimited transportation for one hour. Strippenkart are cheaper when bought in bulk (up to bundles of 45) and are available everywhere, especially at newsstands and VW offices.
Bike Rental: Bike rental runs about ‚5-12 per day, plus a ‚30-100 deposit. Try Frederic Rent a Bike, Brouwersgr. 78 (624 55 09; www.frederic.nl), in the Shipping Quarter. Bikes ‚10 per day, which includes lock and theft insurance. Reserve online. AmExMCV required for deposit, but pay in cash only.
Welcome to Amsterdam, the Venice of the North, whose confusing neighborhoods can be easily explored through its guiding canals. In Amsterdam, water runs in concentric circles, radiating from Centraal Station, the starting point for most visitors. The Singel runs around the Centrum, which includes the Oude Zijd, the infamous Red Light District, and the Nieuwe Zijd. In a space not even a kilometer in diameter, brothels, bars, clubs, and tourists abound under wafting marijuana smoke. The next three canals are the Herengracht, the Keizersgracht, and the Prinsengracht, lined by streets of the same name. The land around them is known as the Canal Ring, home to beautiful canal houses and classy nightlife, including bars and traditional bruin cafes. In the eastern end of the Canal Ring, Rembrandt-plein is the city’s gay district and home to some raucous nightlife, while in the western end, at the comer of Leidsegrt. and Singelgrt. Leidseplein boasts some of the city’s best restaurants and nightlife. Just over the Singelgrt. Museumplein is home to the city’s most deservedly famous art museums as well as the sprawling Vondelpark. Farther out lie the more residential Amsterdam neighborhoods: To the west the Jordaan, Oud-West, and Westerpark; to the east Plantage and the Joden-buurt; and to the south De Pljp. Though these districts are populated by dense housing, they still boast excellent eateries and brilliant museums.
TOURIST, FINANCIAL, AND LOCAL SERVICES
Tourist Office: WV, Stationspl. 10 (a(0900) 400 40 40, ‚0.55 per min.), to the left when exiting Centraal Station. Room booking fee ‚3. Open M-F 9am-5pm. Branches inside Centraal Station (open M-Sa 8am-7:45pm, Su 9am-5pm) and Leidsepl. 1 (open M-Th 9am-6pm, F-Sa 9am-7pm, Su 9am-5pm).
Budget Travel: Eurolines, Rokin 10 (a 560 87 88; www.eurolines.nl). Books coach travel throughout Europe. Open M-F9:30am-5:30pm, Sa 10am-4pm.
Consulates: All foreign embassies are in The Hague (797). American Consulate,
Museumpl. 19 (a 575 53 09; open M-F 8:30am-l 1:30pm). British Consulate, Kon-ingslaan 44 (a676 43 43; open M-F 9am-noon, and 2-5:30pm).
American Express: American Express, Damrak 66, offers the best rates, no commission on AmEx Traveler’s Checks, and a ‚4 flat fee for all non-euro cash and non-AmEx Traveler’s Checks. Open M-F 9am-5pm, Sa 9am-noon.
Bi-Gay-Lesbian Resources: COC, Rozenstr. 14 (a626 30 87; www.cocamsterdam.nl), is a social network and main source of info. Open M-Tu and Th-F 10am-5pm, W 10am-8pm. Gay and Lesbian Switchboard (a623 65 65) takes calls daily lOam-lOpm.
Laundromat: Aquarette, Oudebrugsteeg 22 (a638 13 97), off Damrak just south of Centraal Station. Self-service 5kg load for ‚5, dry ‚1 per 12min. Go to Continental Hotel across the street for doorkey. Open daily 8am-9:30pm. Cash only.
EMERGENCY AND COMMUNICATIONS
Emergency: Medical, Police, and Fire a 112; no coins required.
Police: Headquarters, Elandsgr. 117 (a08 00 88 44), at the intersection with Marnixstr. Call here for the Rape Crisis Department.
Crisis Lines: General counseling at Telephone Helpline (a675 75 75). Open 24hr. Rape crisis hotline (a612 02 45) staffed M-F 10:30am-llpm, Sa-Su 3:30-llpm. For drug counseling, call Jellinek Clinic (a570 22 22). Open M-F 9am-5pm.
Medical Assistance: For hospital care, Academisch Medisch Centrum, Meibergdreef 9 (a566 91 11), is easily accessible by bus #59, 60, 120, or 158 from Centraal Station (ask the driver to announce the medical center). Kruispost Medisch Heipcentrum, Oudezijds Voorburgwal 129 (a624 90 31), is a walk-in clinic offering first aid only to non-insured travelers daily 7am-9pm. For 24hr. medical help, call the English-speaking Centrale Doktorsdienst (a 592 34 34). STD Line, Groenburgwal 44 (a 555 58 22), offers phone counseling. Free testing clinic. Open for calls M-F 8am-noon, l-4pm.
24hr. Pharmacy: A hotline (a 694 87 09) will direct you to the nearest pharmacy.
Internet Access: Internet access in Amsterdam leaves much to be desired; the best bet may be a cozy coffeeshop. Try easyEverything, Reguliersbreestr. 22 and Damrak 34. (‚1 generally buys 26min. but varies according to demand. Open 24hr.) Other cafes include The Mad Processor, Bloemgr. 82. (‚3 per hr; open daily noon-2am) and Free World, Nieuwendijk 30 (‚1 per30min; open M-Th and Su 9am-lam, F-Sa 9am-3am).
Post Office: Singel 250, at Radhuisstr. Address mail to be held: Firstname, SURNAME, Poste Restante, Singel 250, Amsterdam, THE NETHERLANDS. Open M-W and F 9am-6pm, Th 9am-8pm, Sa 10am-l:30pm.
Accommodations near Centraal Station often take good security measures due to the chaos of the nearby Red Light District. Hostels and hotels near Museumplein toward the south and the Jordaan out to the west are quieter and safer. Both locations are close to bars, coffeeshops, AND museums and are a mere 2min. by tram from the heart of the city. Museumpl. is also very close to the bustling Leidsepl. The accommodations in the Red Light District (surrounded by the Oude Zijd) are often bars with beds over them. Before booking a bed there, consider just how much noise and drug use you can tolerate from your neighbors.
The quiet, drug-free ambience is surprising given its central location in the Nieuwe Zijd. Sheets and lockers included. 2-night min. stay on weekends. Reservations recommended. Closed during part of Dec. Dorms ‚16-18; doubles ‚70-80. AmExMCV. Flying Pig Downtown, Nieuwendijk 100 (420 68 22; www.flyingpig.nl). Helpful and professional staff, great location, and colorful decor-a perennial favorite among backpackers. Kitchen available. Breakfast and sheets included. Key deposit ‚10. Dorms ‚21-27; singles and doubles ‚76. AmExMCV. O
Hotel Brouwer, Singelgr. 83 (624 63 58; www.hotelbrouwer.nl). Eight gorgeously restored rooms each named after a Dutch painter: Rembrandt, Vermeer, and others. Breakfast included. Singles ‚50; doubles ‚85. Cash and traveler’s checks only.
The Shelter City, Barndesteeg 21 ( 625 32 30; www.shelter.nl). Virtue amid the red lights at this Christian-oriented hostel, but all faiths are welcome. No drugs. Breakfast included. Locker deposit ‚5. Linens included. Curfew M-Th and Su midnight, F-Sa lam. Security guard ll:30pm-7:30am. Dorms ‚16-18. MCV with 5% surcharge.
Old Quarter, Warmoesstr. 20-22 (s626 64 29; www.oldquarter.com). Smaller rooms are snug but homey; larger ones clean, classy, and bright. Downstairs bruin cafe. Breakfast included. Reception 24hr. Singles ‚40; doubles ‚70-100. AmExMCV.
Bob’s Youth Hostel, Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal 92 (623 00 63). Bare necessities, nofrills living is legendary among backpackers. Breakfast, lockers, and sheets included. 2-night min. weekend stay. Reception 8am-3am. No reservations; arrive before 10am for a room. Dorms ‚18; doubles ‚70; triples ‚80. AmExMCV.
The Greenhouse Effect Hotel, Warmoesstr. 55 ( 624 49 74; www.the-greenhouse-effect.com). Theme rooms like Arabian Nights await your discovery. Singles ‚60, with bath ‚75; doubles with bath ‚90; triples with bath ‚120-130. AmExMCV
Young Budget Hotel Kabul, Warmoesstr. 38-42 (623 71 58; email@example.com). Pleasant hostel experience. Breakfast and sheets included. Internet ‚1 per 15min. Key deposit ‚15. Dorms ‚17-23; private rooms ‚45-95. AmExMCV.
Durty Nelly’s Hostel, Warmoesstr. 115117 (638 01 25; http:xs4all.nl~nellys). Cozy lodgings above an Irish pub with co-ed dorms. Breakfast and sheets included. Lockers ‚10. Reception 24hr. Internet reservations only. Dorms ‚25-35. Cash only.
Hotel Royal Taste, Oudezijds Achterburgyval 47 (623 24 78; www.hotelroyal-taste.com). Almost-fancy accommodations in the heart of the Red Light District. Breakfast included. Singles ‚50; doubles ‚90; triples ‚135; quads ‚180. AmExMCV.
Tourist Inn, Spuistr. 52 (421 58 41; www.tourist-inn.nl). Clean, friendly, and comfortable. Breakfast and sheets included. Reservations advised. Dorms ‚25-35; singles ‚50-100; doubles ‚65-120; triples ‚100-150; quads ‚100-140. AmExMCV. O
Hotel Groenendael, Nieuwendijk 15 (624 48 22; www.hotelgroenendael.com). Mellow hotel near Centraal Station. Breakfast included. Free safe access. Key deposit ‚5. Singles ‚32; doubles ‚50-55; triples ‚75. Cash and traveler’s checks only. 0
Hotel The Crown, Oudezijds Voorburgwal 21 (626 96 64; www.hotelthecrown.com). This British-owned hotel provides handsome digs in the picturesque end of the Red Light District. Singles ‚35-50; doubles ‚70-100; triples ‚105-150; quads ‚140-200; quints ‚175-250. AmExMCV required for reservation confirmation; only cash is accepted for payment.
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