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Amsterdam

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Amsterdam

What's it really like?

Language: Dutch but English is widely used.

Currency: Euro.

Tipping: Service charges are included in the prices.

Amsterdam's liberal laws on drugs and prostitution attract almost 2 million tourists a year and the city is near the top of the league as a short break destination.

Dam square is the grand hub of Amsterdam with its centre-piece Royal Palace although the landmark isn't used much these days except by visitors on guided tours. Although it's packed with paintings by Rembrandt's pupils Ferdinand Bol and Govert Flinck the site is a poor relation to some of the city's world-renowned museums.

Crooked buildings, cobbled tree-lined streets and quaint canals are the backdrop to this curious adult playground which spans 90 islands linked by hundreds of stone bridges radiating out from the original city.

The balmy summer season is the best time to enjoy Amsterdam's outdoor living with its colourful squares and pavement caf�s, but the warmer climate is short-lived and sandwiched between months of drizzle.

Some parts of the city, especially the main drag from Central Station to Dam Square could give Blackpool a lesson in tacky.

Prostitution: Oude Kerk is an area famous for its sex trade, which is legal in Holland. The windows of the brothels are bathed in red lights and attract tourists by the busload. The district is also rammed with erotic bars, sex shops full of mind-boggling contraptions and 'live' sex shows. Some of these brothels are being forced to close over the coming years as part of a crackdown by the authorities but the mayor insists the area will not lose its appeal to those wanting a cheap thrill.

Drugs: Small amounts of soft drugs may be sold in certain establishments and users are allowed to smoke their purchase inside. 'Coffee shop' owners can get around the drug laws provided no more than five grams per person may be sold in any one transaction and person under the age of 18 are banned from the premises.

Attractions:

  • Albert Cuyp Amsterdam's charming market with stalls groaning beneath piles of fresh produce and textiles.
  • Anne Frank House: People queue around the block to absorb this haunting site where the young Jewish girl documented the horrors of World War Two in her famous diary written in the attic. Anne died in a concentration camp just a few weeks before liberation. Although quite moving in places, the house tour only shows the bare rooms where the family hid, there is no furniture and no real sense of what it must have been like for the poor souls holed-up there. A cafeteria serves snacks and drinks.
  • Van Gogh Museum The vast collection is displayed in chronological order from the dourest classics, such as The Potato Eaters to the painters more colourful works such as the famous "Sunflowers". A restaurant serves snacks and lunches.
  • Windmills: Two of Amsterdams famous windmills are open to the public, the nearest being a 20 minute walk from Dam Square.

Getting Around:

Trams or bicycles are the best way to get around Amsterdam quickly on land. Bikes can be hired and the city is over-run by them. The more traditional vehicles are not fitted with brakes on the handle bars and the rider has to operate back-pedal brakes. The trams are an excellent mode of public transport and each has a ticket collector who announces the main tourist stops in English.

Canal Buses and Canal bikes provide a more sedate way of exploring the city centre and the water buses stop at most of the major attractions. A Day Pass offers the best value.

Tip:

From the airport take the train to Amsterdam Central. It's cheap and easy and the announcements onboard are in English.

Night Life:

Reguliersdwarsstraat is lined with bars, restaurants and clubs making it the centre of Amsterdam's nightlife. A standard drink of strong local beer is served in a 250ml glass.

Children:

Parents need to be fairly broad-minded to bring their youngsters to Amsterdam which is, after all a playground for adults. However, children will enjoy the boat trips and Canal Bikes.

The Metropolis is a science museum especially designed for children. In addition there's the city zoo and Madame Tussauds wax museum - the exhibits of the Spice Girls and Boy George are either 'retro' or 'dated' - decide for yourself.

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