Most of Amsterdam lies south of the IJ (pronounced "eye"), an arm of the Zuider Zee (southern sea). Centraal Station and Dam Square make up the hub of the city center, Amsterdam Centrum. A series of semicircular canals, called the grachtengordel (canal belt), radiate out from the Centrum. Lovely canal-scapes, the Anne Frank House, and intimate boutiques are along the Western Canal Belt. The Jordaan, a historically working-class neighborhood of now-gentrified row homes, and the up-and-coming Haarlemmer Quarter lie beyond. In the Southern Canal Belt, the mansions are grander and the canals wider. The Leidseplein and Rembrandtplein nightlife districts are here, and farther south through the art- and antique-laden Spiegel Quarter is the Old South, where the Rijks and Van Gogh Museums and Concertgebouw flank Museumplein. West of the Museum Quarter, 120-acre Vondelpark flows with meadows traversed by biking and walking paths, landscaped gardens, and cafés; on a sunny summer day, it becomes the city's very real, democratic living room. On Museum Quarter's eastern edge is vibrant, multicultural de Pijp. Completing the canal-bound semicircle, the Red Light District is east of Dam Square, en route to café-ringed Nieuwmarkt square. The Eastern Docklands lies to the north, along the IJ.
WHEN TO GO
Amsterdam weather can be changeable any time of year, but it's most reliably finest in summer. Unfortunately, that can also mean hordes of visitors. Also, air-conditioning is not standard, so if that's important to you, inquire before booking a hotel room. Outside of summer, late spring is a good optionthe weather always seems to be fine on Queen's Day, April 30and there are often spells of Indian summer in autumn. Wet and murky winters are best avoided, although your endurance will likely be rewarded with lower hotel rates.
HOW TO GET THERE
Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport is an important air hub within Europe and just 11 miles from the city center. Expect taxi fare from the airport to run upwards of €35 (about $45) depending on your destination. Trains cost €3.60 (about $4.60) each way for the 15-minute ride to Amsterdam Centraal Station (CS), and from there you can catch public trams or taxis to your destination; up to six trains run per hour. Connexxion runs door-to-door shuttle buses to many hotels for €11 (about $14).
The center of Amsterdam is almost completely flat and easily walkable. That said, the chief mode of transportation among locals is the fast, cheap, trusty bicycle; designated bike paths (with reddish pavement) line most streets between vehicular traffic and sidewalks. There are rental shops all over townfigure on around €7 (about $9) per day. Make sure the rental service provides locks; bike theft is common. Whatever you do, look left, right, and every other direction before crossing the streetthose bikes, trams, and cars have a way of whizzing past you out of nowhere.
Trams ply the main streets with base fares of €3/4.50 (about $4/6) one way/round-trip (valid for 90 minutes). Most terminate at Centraal Station. A complicated system of "strip cards" are more cost-efficient, but day passes (24/48/78 hours for €6.30/10/13, about $8/13/16.50) are often the best deal for visitors. Day passes can be purchased at offices of the GVB (municipal transit authority) and VVV (Netherlands Tourism Board) as well as at many shops, newsstands, and hotels, and on board most trams. If you board a tram with a prepurchased ticket, it will need to be validated. The type of validation depends on the type of ticket; ask the driver or conductor. Locals tend to avoid the overpriced taxis (expect to pay €8, about $10.25, for even a short ride), and drivers cannot be counted on to know the way or speak English.
VVV (Netherlands Tourist Bureau)
Tel: 31 20 551 2525
Evert v/d Beekstraat 202, Schiphol (Schiphol Airport)
Stationsplein 10 (Centraal Station)
Leidseplein 1 (corner of Leidsestraat)