Amsterdam is unique. You won’t find a city like it anywhere in the world. Home to about 750.000 people, Amsterdam is a big city with a small-town ‘feel.’ It is, as one writer puts it, “more a worldly village than a cosmopolitan capital.” Nevertheless, this vibrant, youthful city is the capital of the Netherlands (or Holland, as many tourists know it).
All of Amsterdam’s districts have their own, unique character – some more, some less. But if you come to Amsterdam as a tourist, you’ll want to make sure you reserve a hotel in – or at least near – the center of town.
The city’s center is contained within 5 concentric, tree-lined canals – the so-called grachtengordel (literally, canal belt).
View Amsterdam Canal Belt in a larger map
Actually, as long as you stay in the center, the canal belt, or the Jordaan district, you’ll be close to everything you want to see.
The Singelgracht, which became Amsterdam’s outer limit during the Golden Age in the 17th century, is not part of the canal belt. However, it marks the boundary of the city’s Centrum (Center) borough.
Within the space of a few square miles (or, to be precise, 8.04 square kilometres in local terms), the inner city provides nearly everything Amsterdam is known and loved for: row upon row of 17th and 19th century canal houses, centuries-old churches and other landmarks, the town’s lively squares, more museums per square mile than any other city in Europe… Nightlife, street markets, and restaurants that serve food from around the world.
There’s more. The place is a shopper’s delight. Visit the majestic Bijenkorf or the busy Magna Plaza shopping Centre (an indoor mall) – or pop into one of thousands of small, unique stores, many of which have a decor that dates from centuries ago.
Also in the center of town is the Jordaan district, a delightful neighborhood with lots of cafés, small restaurants, galleries and unique shops.
The best way to see Amsterdam is to simply walk around. Downtown Amsterdam is easily negotiated by foot, or – in case you feel particularly adventurous – by rented bike. The entire city is served by an efficient public transport network. A tram or bus ride from the Amsterdam’s outer districts seldom takes more than 30 minutes.
Amsterdam’s (in)famous Red Light District, in the oldest part of town, has become a busy tourist attraction itself – for a variety of reasons. And yes, there are lots of licensed(!) ‘Coffeeshops‘ where the main attractions are listed on a menu of softdrugs. True, many of these places also sell health-food and espresso, but if you’re simply after a cup of coffee and a traditional lunch you’ll want to look for a Koffie Huis (‘Coffee House’) or Café instead.