Colorful, quirky and charming, Amsterdam is a lovely old-world city lined with 17th century building, canals, and the constant sight of bicycles whizzing by. But it also bears all the hallmarks (and then some) of a thriving and downright lenient metropolis. While many young people visit Amsterdam for the marijuana scene - and perhaps to peek at the legal prostitutes in the Red Light District - the city is teeming with high culture, from the world-class art in the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseumn to P.C. Hooftstraat, the shopping street where you can also find plenty of the contemporary, cutting-edge design that has become a source of pride in Amsterdam and the Netherlands.
Things Not to Miss in Amsterdam
Ready to pedal your own way through the city? Use this Amsterdam travel guide to plan your own adventure. Be sure not to miss these popular sights:
• Amsterdam's canals
• The Van Gogh Museum
• The Rijksmuseum
• The Anne Frank House
• The flower market
• Shopping along the P.C. Hooftstraat
• The centuries-old Albert Cuypmarkt market
• The Red Light District - just don't take pictures!
When to Go to Amsterdam
In general, May through October is the main Amsterdam travel season, when temperatures are warmest. Crowds peak in July and August. The other top time to visit Amsterdam is tulip season: The city bursts into bloom as early as March and can extend into May. Rain is possible year round and winter can bring occasional snow and slush, so pack layers when you travel to Amsterdam.
The flower market (bloemenmarkt), which starts on the Singel canal at the Leidsestraat, is a zany village of its own, whose caste system of stands and shops ascends from the crustiest bulb seller up to the fanciest floral artists.
Take a walk through the Red Light District, where narrow streets and canals are hemmed in on either side by picture windows showcasing ladies of all types—tall and short, lean and zaftig, shyly flirtatious and domination-ready. Do take a moment to look up from those vitrines at some of Amsterdam’s oldest buildings; just don’t break out the camera (photography is discouraged—sometimes aggressively—by the local pimps).
Enjoy a canal cruise at dusk on one of the many independently run lines like Rondvaarten Rederij Kooij (011-31-20-623-3810), or book one through your hotel. Then sit back and stare up at the moving peep show of architecture and interiors ranging from Golden Age splendor along the Prinsengracht and Keizersgracht canals to the 21st-century pomp of Renzo Piano’s NeMo Building on the Amstel River.