20 essential things to do in Amsterdam
Until recently, the Netherlands' capital was something of a work-in-progress, its world-class art museums – among them the Rijksmuseum, the Stedelijk museum of modern art and the Van Gogh Museum – shuttered for ambitious renovations that temporarily shifted the focus away from the city's rich artistic heritage towards its sleazy, hedonistic side. Although Amsterdam's clubs, bars and nightlife, and the notorious Red Light District, are as vibrant as ever, now that the bandages are off it can revel once more in its unique status as one of Europe's most diverse and boundary-pushing destinations - a place that should feature on every discerning weekend-breaker's hit-list. Whether you're looking to sample Amsterdam's best restaurants, chill out in one of its weed-touting coffeeshops, pound the cobbled streets for one-off shopping finds, or bed down in one of our recommended hotels, this guide should equip you with everything you need to immerse yourself in a city that revels in high and low culture. Compared to London or Paris, Amsterdam used to be like a kid brother who didn't want to grow up; it was a playground where all involved were guaranteed a good time. In terms of things to do, Amsterdam assails you from all angles, managing to be all things to all people, depending on where you go. First things first: the Red Light District. Despite the best efforts of the legislators, it remains a drug paradise for stoner backpackers. It's also a bottomless well of live sex and no-hol
Where to see art in Amsterdam
Amsterdam is known for its heavy-hitters of art history – Rembrandt, Vermeer, Van Gogh – and in recent years the city's major institutions have stepped up to the historical mark with a glut of major refurbishments that bring its Golden Age and modernist treasures to the masses in a way that has surpassed all expectations. Spend a weekend tripping between the institutions of the Museumplein and you'll know exactly what we mean. The Rijksmuseum alone delivers an unparalleled journey through 800 years of Dutch art and history, from the Middle Ages to the present day, conveyed via a four-floor extravaganza of 8,000 examples of painting, drawing, photography, jewellery, and fashion. Visitors might be less familiar with Amsterdam's present-day art stars, as promoted by the likes of Foam, the city's premier photography museum. Contemporary snappers Rineke Dijkstra, Erwin Olaf and Anton Corbijn may not exactly be global household names, but they rank high on the art charts, and Dutch architects, including Rotterdam-born Rem Koolhaas and Amsterdammer Herman Hertzberger, have made a not-insignificant mark on 20th- and 21st century architecture. Amsterdam is also an exciting design destination, and product designers including Marcel Wanders, Richard Hutten and Tejo Remy, acolytes of design universe Droog, all hail from The Dam. Look out for examples of their work in the newly-extended Stedelijk Museum of modern art and design. At the same time, the creativity-inducing atmosphere in t
Popular areas in Amsterdam
Old Centre area guide
Amsterdam's ground zero of consumerism, vice, entertainment and history, the Old Centre is bounded by Prins Hendrikkade to the north, Oudeschans and Zwanenburgwal to the east, the Amstel to the south and Singel to the west. Within these borders, the Old Centre is split into the New Side (west of Damrak and Rokin) and the Old Side (east of Damrak and Rokin). Within the Old Side, roughly in the triangle formed by Centraal Station, the Nieuwmarkt and the Dam, is the famed Red Light District. The area around Waterlooplein was settled by Jews two centuries ago and took its name - Jodenbuurt - from them.
Canals area guide
The grachtengordel (girdle of canals) that guards the Old Centre is idyllic, pleasant and quintessentially Amsterdam. A great way to explore them is by jumping aboard one of the many boat tours, which roam the waterways for an hour at a time. Singel was the medieval city moat; other canals such as Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht, which follow its line outwards, were part of a Golden Age renewal scheme for the rich. The connecting canals and streets, originally home to workers and artisans, have a number of cafés and shops. Smaller canals worth seeking out include Leliegracht, Bloemgracht, Egelantiersgracht, Spiegelgracht and Brouwersgracht.
Museum Quarter area guide
With its world-class museums (Rijksmuseum, Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art, Van Gogh Museum) and stupendously posh fashion emporia, Amsterdam's Museum Quarter is a mix of culture and couture. South of Singelgracht, with approximate borders at Overtoom (west) and Hobbemakade (east), it's also home to many pleasant hotels and, at its northernmost tip, is within a stone's throw of both Leidseplein and Vondelpark.
Waterfront and Noord (North) area guide
Once the gateway to the city's prosperity, Amsterdam's waterfront is now the setting for one of Europe's most exciting new architectural developments and an increasing number of nightlife options, including Café Pakhuis Wilhelmina and Panama. On the other side of the IJ waterway, accessible via the free ferries that leave regularly from behind Centraal Station, the hip hood of Noord ('North') is fast becoming the focus of artistic and commercial expansion for those who appreciate appeal of wide open spaces a stone's throw from Western Europe's most densely populated urban centres.
The best sights and attractions in Amsterdam
Anne Frank Huis
Prinsengracht 263 was the 17th-century canalside house where young Jewish girl Anne Frank and her family hid for two years during World War II. Today it's one of the most popular attractions in Amsterdam, with almost a million visitors a year. Having fled from persecution in Germany in 1933, Anne, her sister Margot, their parents and four other Jews went into hiding on 5 July 1942. Living in an annexe behind Prinsengracht 263, they were sustained by friends who risked everything to help them; a bookcase marks the entrance to the sober, unfurnished rooms. But on 4 August 1944 the occupants were arrested and transported to concentration camps, where Anne died with Margot and their mother. Her father, Otto, survived, and decided that Anne's diary should be published. The rest, as they say, is history: tens of millions of copies of the diary have been printed in a total of 55 languages. In the new wing, there's a good exhibition about the Jews and their persecution during the war, as well as displays charting racism, neo-Fascism and anti-Semitism, and exploring the difficulties in fighting discrimination; all have English texts. To avoid the famously long queues, arrive first thing in the morning, or book a queue jump ticket online. Interestingly, the Amsterdam South apartment the Franks previously lived in now hosts persecuted writers from around the world.
Amsterdam's largest green space is named after the city's best-known poet, Joost van den Vondel (1587-1679), whose controversial play Lucifer caused the religious powers of the time to crack down hard on those who engaged in what was termed 'notorious living'. The campaign helped bring about the end of Rembrandt and Vondel; the latter ended his days as a pawnshop doorman. Vondelpark is the most central of the city's major parks, its construction inspired by the large development of the Plantage, which had formerly provided the green background for the leisurely walks of the rich. It was designed in the 'English style' by Zocher, with the emphasis on natural landscaping; the original ten acres opened in 1865. The park has actually sunk some two to three metres (seven to ten feet) since it was first built - some larger trees are in fact 'floating' on blocks of styrofoam or reinforced with underground poles. There are several ponds and lakes in the park - no boating, though - plus a number of play areas and cafés; try 't Het Blauwe Theehuis (Round Blue Teahouse; and the always charming Café Vertigo at the Nederlands Filmmuseum. The NFM is less of a museum and more a cinema with a café attached and a library nearby. Keep your eye out for a huge Picasso sculpture in the middle of the park, and the wild parakeets who were mistakenly released in 1976. Around the corner - and providing a unique place for coffee - is the epic Hollandsche Manege (Vondelstraat 140, 618 0942), a wood
Rembrandt bought this house in 1639 for ƒ13,000 (around €6,000), a massive sum at the time. Indeed, the pressure of the mortgage payments eventually got to the free-spending artist, who went bankrupt in 1656 and was forced to move to a smaller house (Rozengracht 184). When he was declared bankrupt, clerks inventoried the house room by room; it's these records that provided the renovators with clues as to what the house looked like in Rembrandt's time. You can't help but admire the skill and effort with which craftsmen have tried to re-create the house, along with the antiquities, objets d'art (Rembrandt was a compulsive collector) and 17th-century furniture. However, the presentation is, on the whole, dry and unengaging. Nagging at you all the time is the knowledge that this isn't really Rembrandt's house, but rather a mock-up of it - which lends an unreal air that is only relieved when guest artists are allowed to use the studio. There's also a remarkable collection of Rembrandt's etchings, which show him at his most experimental, but if it's his paintings you're after, make for the Rijksmuseum.