Younger visitors may confine themselves to the narrow alleyways of the Red Light District and coffeeshops that do not actually sell coffee, but they are missing out on what Amsterdam is really about. The Dutch capital is simultaneously steeped in history and resolutely progressive—Golden Age grandeur is only a bicycle ride away from cutting-edge contemporary architecture.
When to Go
Summertime is when Amsterdam is at its brightest—and busiest. As an extremely popular tourist destination with a tiny city center, it can get cramped. Visit in spring or fall, when there is enough room for everyone and the weather is usually fine or fair (although there is a chance of rain across all seasons). If you are planning a cultural trip, visiting mainly indoor attractions, winter is also a good time, with cheaper accommodation.
With 300 events and festivals each year, Amsterdam is always buzzing. For King’s Day (in spring), the entire city turns orange, Pride (summer) features the world’s only floating LGBT parade, Amsterdam Dance Event (autumn) is the world’s biggest festival for electronic dance music, and in the darkest days the Amsterdam Light Festival (winter) lights up the city.
What to Eat
While a few chefs are bravely striving to revive it, Old Dutch cuisine has all but faded into oblivion. Haring is raw, salted herring from the North Sea, eaten right at the fish stall by holding it by its tail, or find an automat and try a kroket, a bread-crumbed and deep-fried roll filled with meat ragout. Stamppot is a winter dish of mashed potatoes and vegetables, served with bacon bits, rookworst (smoked sausage), and gravy.
Souvenir to Take Home
Forget about overpriced wooden shoes, plastic tulips, or miniature windmills, and opt for something stylish and original. A selection of Dutch designs, ranging from locally crafted skateboards and board games to pickle jar pendant lamps and Rijksmuseum robots can be found at the I amsterdam Store at Central Station.
Sustainable Travel Tip
The city center can easily be circumnavigated on foot. If you want to explore up-and-coming neighborhoods like De Pijp, Oud-West, or Noord, take the tram or do as the Amsterdammers do and ride a bicycle. They can be rented for around 12 dollars a day from many locations around town. You will fit right in: Amsterdam is the only place in the world that has more bicycles (881,000) than residents (855,000).
Nab your picture-perfect view of Amsterdam from the SkyLounge of the DoubleTree hotel, a few steps from Central Station. Food and drinks are pricey, but the view is worth it, particularly at sunset.