Amsterdam Travel Guide Chances are, you've heard one or two things about Amsterdam already: seventeenth century buildings and readily available hash, the Van Gogh gallery and erotic museums, a laid back atmosphere and a liberal tolerance, eccentrics and slick business types; Amsterdam blends history and urban flair unlike any other city in Europe. It doesn't matter if you've been around the world twice, you're a first-time traveler, or you're somewhere in-between, Amsterdam offers something new at every gabled corner, and to suit all tastes.
The capital of the Netherlands is a lively juxtaposition of cobbled streets and pretty canals, with an easily accessible underbelly of fascinating quirks. Whether you're here for a weekend break or as part of a longer Europe trip, there are many superlatives to describe Amsterdam, and boring is never one of them. Explore concentric horseshoes of canals by bike – navigating the compact warren of heritage buildings studded with offbeat shops and bars. Stop cycling to traverse the city's waterways, flanked by boats and barges, the perfect way to spend a lazy afternoon and to understand Amsterdam's seamless diversity. Museum-hop by foot; echoing the Dutch Eco-spirit whilst choosing a handful from hundreds of cultural centers and galleries to expand your knowledge.
Amsterdam, of course, has a striking reputation. Many people feel intimidated by the idea of visiting, and shouldn't feel bad about that – however, this is a city filled with alternatives, both for those uninspired by the tolerant attitudes, and for those not sufficiently challenged by Rembrandt and the Rijksmuseum. Everything you've heard about Amsterdam is true, and it isn't true; some justified, some blown up. There are layers of understanding to this city which you can peel back and give you new insight visit after visit. Over the past couple of decades or so, Amsterdam has softened its edge. Though you can still find groups of blokes on the prowl in the Red Light District, along with backpackers and sixties throwback crowds here solely to get stoned, the small-city segmentation by its canals means you can just as easily find your way to cosmopolitan shopping districts, boutique bars, and peaceful parks within a city utterly brimming with culture.
For new travelers, Amsterdam is one of Western Europe's great gateway cities. This is a place which gives those in their late teens and early twenties, or those unsure or inexperienced in wandering the world, a taste of life beyond their own borders. Not only an early port of call for Europeans, Amsterdam is often the first long haul destination for many Americans and Australians, seeking a heady mixture of rich culture, eclectic beauty and vibrant parties after sundown. This city might be on the other side of the world, with a startlingly laissez-faire attitude, but it's also a home from home. Not only is it easy to find your way around, but Amsterdammers would describe their city as gezellig, their well-worn buzz word meaning a combination of 'cosy', 'warmly convivial', and 'lived-in'.
For the well-travelled, Amsterdam is ever-evolving and making constant headway in terms of counterculture and development – leading the list of consistently visit-able European cities. Though many travelers return to Amsterdam to find new clubs, more up-market establishments and exciting regeneration projects, most return time and time again for what remains sacred to the city – the cheery intimacy of Dutch cafes, the human and physical warmth at its open-air summer events, the swath of art moving through the city and the proximity of atmospheres to suit every mood: oases of calm found right next to bustling markets.