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Named after the dam in the River Amstel which is found at Dam Square, Amsterdam is one of the most iconic cities in Europe. Annually it attracts more than four million visitors many of them enticed by the city’s relaxed attitude to recreational drugs and legalised red light district but just as many come to see the historic canals, the Anne Frank House, the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum.

Amsterdam is the capital and largest city in the Netherlands with 1.36 million inhabitants and makes up the northern part of the Randstad which with 6.7 million is the sixth largest metropolitan area in Europe. From its humble beginnings as a fishing village in the 12th century to being the hub of the world’s Superpower during the Dutch Golden Age of the 17th century, Amsterdam is still a major player on the world stage with 7 of the world’s largest companies having their headquarters there including Philips and ING.

How to get there

From the UK there are several options to get to Amsterdam.

Flights Amsterdam Airport Schiphol has direct daily flights from 23 different airports from the UK and Ireland. This season, nine airlines will be operating between the UK and Ireland and Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. It concerns KLM, easyJet, British Airways, BMI, flyBE, Aer Lingus, VLM Airlines, Jet2.com and BMI Baby.

Ferry From the UK you have a list of ferry options.

Stena Line: Sails from Harwich to Hook of Holland twice a day. Average journey time is 6hr 15 min. Fares start from £49 one-way for a car and driver.

P&O Ferries: sails overnight from Hull to Rotterdam. Fares start from £119 each way for a car and two people, with an en-suite standard cabin

DFDS Seaways: sails overnight from Newcastle to IJmuiden. Fares start from £129 each way for a car and two people with en-suite cabin

Train There are currently six trains daily from London to Amsterdam via Brussels. Journey times are on average five hours. From December 13, the high speed line opens and there will be an additional train each day. Journey times will be slashed by 51 minutes. Tickets can be booked on www.raileurope.co.uk, call 0844-848 4070, or visit the Rail Europe Travel Centre at 1 Regent Street, London SW1.

How to get around

The best way to get around Amsterdam is by tram or bus as the city as an extensive network. Trams run from 6am to midnight. Buses run whole day although they have a limited timetable at night.

The OV-chip card is an oyster-like concept will see every traveller touch their cards in and out to activate the ports. Tourist can buy disposable cards at the GVB Ticket Vending and Add Value machines. A disposable card already carries a travel product. At the Ticket Vending and Add Value machines you can pay cash (except in Amstelveen) and with PIN, chip or credit card.

If you travel more regularly to Amsterdam you can buy an anonymous OV-chip card. This card can be bought at GVB Tickets & Info points, at the GVB Ticket Vending and Add Value Machines. The card itself carries a one-time price of €7,50 and is valid for five years. You can then recharge your card every time you come back to the city.

An alternative and very traditional way to move around is by bicycle. Rent a bike from about €8-10 a day. Make use of the generous Dutch bicycle lanes but remember to look the right way!

Where to stay

Travellers are spoilt for choice in Amsterdam. Whether you are on a budget or have a suitcase filled with money. Do you prefer to stay in the well-know chain hotels or perhaps something quirky or with big design features. Or stay on a traditional Amsterdam houseboat and mingle with locals. The city caters for every taste and budget. For more info visit www.iamsterdam.com/en/visiting/accommodation or www.holland.com

Budget options include the Hotel la Bohème which is a small two star hotel with 18 rooms. The hotel is about 200 yards from the Leidseplein, the main night-life area of Amsterdam. See more details at www.la-boheme-amsterdam.com

Another affordable, but luxurious, hotel is CitizenM in the heart of the city. Award-winning design agency, Concrete, is responsible for the aesthetic and there are some real high-end touches at a budget price. More information is available at the website www.citizenmamsterdamcity.com

Slightly more expensive include The Lloyd Hotel in the heart of the Oostelijk havengebied (eastern docks) in Amsterdam. Once a national monument and now renovated into a hotel dates back to 1921, the hotel’s 116 rooms all vary in size and décor. The design is the result of the input of a number of renowned Dutch architects and artists. More information is available on their website www.lloydhotel.com

At the other end of the spectrum is the Hotel 717 which combines the features of an original 19th century building with all the mod-cons of 21st century living. Its magnificent façade hints at the splendour within with marble floors and a solid oak staircase leading to one of two suites that look out on to Prinsengracht at the front of the house and six other suites at the back which give out on to a rustic patio complete with maple tree. Check out www.717hotel.nl for more information. The Grand Hotel Amrâth Amsterdam is located in the Shipping House. It is right at the city centre only 500 metres from Central Station and 1100 metres from Dam Square. It has 165 spacious rooms decorated in the Art Deco style of the building. Website is www.amrathamsterdam.com

Eating Out

Amsterdam is a cultural and, consequently, a culinary melting pot. There are plenty of restaurants and cafés specialising in every cuisine your palate desires. In Holland people generally eat earlier than in the UK. So when visiting restaurants in Holland take into consideration that the kitchen generally closes about 10pm.

Typical Dutch food might include a hearty pea soup, dinner pancakes, meat croquettes, thick fries with real mayo as well as variations of meat and potato dishes. Fresh seafood, such as herring, mussels and shrimp are available all year round. There is also a strong Indonesian influence in Dutch kitchens, with Nasi Goreng and peanut sauce as common as the Dutch kibbeling (deep-fried cod) and poffertjes (mini-pancakes). For those in a hurry there are also plenty of fast food options.

Apart from the international chains, there are plenty of deep-fried products to be found in ‘snack bars’ throughout the city. There are also ‘Febo’ snack bars where, after inserting some change, you can get your treat right out of the wall. Brown cafés and pubs normally serve up great sampling plates with bitterballen (mini meat-croquettes), or cubed Dutch cheese and liverwurst served with a strong mustard. All are best complimented with a pint of Dutch beer.

A popular spot for locals and home to a wide variety of cuisines is the area surrounding the Albert Cuyp market. Another great place to enjoy a meal is in the gardens of restaurants located along the Regulierdwarsstraat and Herengracht. During summertime these restaurants book up fast, so it is best to reserve in advance.

Shopping

When it comes to upscale designer labels then the Museum District (Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and Stedelijk Museum) is home to the majority of Amsterdam’s luxury boutiques and designer stores. The P.C. Hooftstraat is Amsterdam’s most exclusive shopping street. Along three short blocks is every label and designer you desire: Chanel, Louis Vuitton, DKNY, Mulberry, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger and more.

On the Van Baerlestraat there is a large Vanillia (popular Dutch brand) store. Famous Dutch designers Percy Irausquin and Marlies Dekkers have shops on the Cornelis Schuytstraat. Also check out Kalverstraat and Leidsestraat.

For Department stores and shopping centres, The Maison de Bonneterie is an upscale department store on the Kalverstraat. Vroom & Dreesmann is the largest department store of the Netherlands, and it offers easy and affordable shopping. De Kalvertoren shopping centre, home to some 45 shops, sells many leading labels including Mango and Tommy Hilfiger Denim. Magna Plaza, an exclusive shopping centre in a stunning monumental building, is located close by at the Dam Square.

Antiques Following the construction of the Rijksmuseum in 1900, the Spiegelkwartier emerged into Amsterdam’s centre for antiques and curiosa. Shops in this area boast impressive collections of paintings, ceramics, glass, jewellery, furniture, coins, books and Art Deco items.

The Haarlemmerdijk The Haarlemmerdijk is a fantastic shopping street, nice and long, filled with shops all the way to Central Station. It is a lively strip where you will find everything from shoes, independent labels and second-hand clothes to food, interior design and Dutch collectables.

Nine Streets Between Leidsestraat and Raadhuisstraat there is an area known as De 9 Straatjes (The 9 Streets), named after the nine side streets connecting the main canals. Together they constitute an appealing neighbourhood full of young designer boutique shops, art galleries, jewellers, gift shops, fashion shops and there are plenty of trendy bars, cafes and restaurants to refresh you along the way.

Main Attractions

On 20 June 2009, Queen Beatrix, together with the Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev opened Hermitage Amsterdam after extensive renovations and expansions. As the western arm of the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, Russia, this new museum gives an insight into worldwide culture and art from the Stone Age to the 20th century, collected by the Russian institution.

This major new addition to a city already bursting with art history re-enforces Amsterdam as a cultural capital of the world. www.hermitage.nl If you are visiting Amsterdam then a canal cruise is an absolute 'must'! Cruising along the canals is a real journey of discovery. The cruise boats will take you on an hour-and-a-quarter trip past the stately canal houses, the colourful houseboats, the canal with seven arched bridges, the Dutch East Indies Company replica ship and much more. www.canal.nl

A visit to the Van Gogh Museum is a unique experience. The museum contains the largest collection of paintings by Vincent van Gogh in the world. It provides the opportunity to keep track of the artist's developments, or compare his paintings to works by other artists from the 19th century in the collection. www.vangoghmuseum.nl

After drastic renovation work the Stedelijk Museum, one of the pillars of Amsterdam’s museum world, will be reopening its doors to the public in spring 2010. The renovation work comprised the complete restoration of the existing building and the construction of a new extension. The renovation has turned the new Stedelijk Museum into one of the finest modern art museums in the world. www.stedelijk.nl

At the Anne Frank House on Prinsengracht 263 Anne Frank and her family lived in hiding in the annex of the building where Anne’s father, Otto Frank, had his business, for more than two years. The Van Pels family and Fritz Pfeffer were in hiding with them. The doorway to the annex was concealed behind a moveable bookcase constructed especially for this purpose. The office personnel knew of the hiding place and helped the eight people by supplying them with food and news from the outside world. On August 4, 1944, the hiding place was betrayed. The people in hiding were deported to various concentration camps. Only Otto Frank survived the war. Nowadays, the rooms at the Anne Frank House, though empty, still breathe the atmosphere of the hiding period. Quotations from the diary, historical documents, photographs, film images, and original objects that belonged to those in hiding and the helpers illustrate the events that took place. Anne’s original diary and other notebooks are on display in the museum. www.annefrank.org

The former Heineken Brewery in Amsterdam, a national monument and listed in the European Route of Industrial Heritage, has now been transformed into the Heineken Experience. Millions of hectolitres of Heineken beer have been brewed here until 1988, when the Heineken brewery in Zoeterwoude took over production from the Amsterdam brewery. www.heinekenexperience.com

For more than 400 years Amsterdam has been the ‘City of Diamonds’ as its extensively known for its great quality of polishing. Visit the diamond factory Gassan Diamonds for the ultimate diamond experience. Gassan Diamonds is the historical diamond polishing factory of Amsterdam. Experience the craftsmanship of the diamond polishers, while multilingual staff presents the dazzling world of diamonds. www.gassandiamonds.com

An absolute must for anyone who wants to visit the crème de la crème of Dutch art from the Golden Age is of course the Rijksmuseum. The museum is the largest, most important museum in Holland, with a collection of almost a million objects, among which are many masterworks. The museum’s greatest treasure is probably Rembrandt’s Nightwatch. www.rijksmuseum.nl Museum Van Loon is the residence of the Amsterdam merchant family of Van Loon. In 1602 Willem van Loon was one of the founders of the Dutch East India Company (the VOC).

Several members of the family were on the city council of Amsterdam. In the early nineteenth century the family was raised to the peerage. Right into the twentieth century the family played a significant role on the Amsterdam stock exchange. www.museumvanloon.nl

Nightlife

Amsterdam’s nightlife is as varied as the city’s residents themselves. The city offers everything from night theatre, art parties and live music from well-known and up-and-coming international bands, to packed clubs with the best DJs spinning everything from R&B and house to hard rock and hip-hop. You’ll have plenty of time to take it all in, as most nightclubs stay open until 04:00, with some extended to 05:00 or 06:00 on weekends.

The nightlife in Amsterdam is versatile, cosmopolitan and never sleeps. Enjoy an intimate dinner or dance to top DJs until 5:00. From night theatre to lounge bars to clubs; cosy pubs to grand cafes, Amsterdam offers something for every taste.

Brown Cafes If you’re curious what that favourite Dutch word ‘gezelligheid’ (cosy) really means, a visit to an authentic Dutch pub known as the ‘brown café’ is a must. The reason these charming café-style pubs are brown is pretty simple: nicotine. Some of the nicest brown cafés can be found around the Zeedijk close to Central Station, in the Jordaan district and the along the Utrechtsestraat. The Leidseplein and Rembrandtplein areas are also popular, especially among tourists.

Proeflokalen (tasting houses) Taverns known as ‘proeflokalen’ (tasting houses) were very popular during the 17th century. Customers could sample alcoholic beverages before purchasing one or more bottles. The tasting houses typically specialise in old Dutch liquors such as ‘jenever’. There are still 'proeflokalen' in Amsterdam, though nowadays these samples are seldom free of charge.

Lounge and DJ bars Over the last ten years, an emergence of design cafés and lounge bars has made their mark on Amsterdam’s nightlife.

Smaller versions of nightclubs in a way; with the latest DJs, trendy crowds and the best cocktails. Most lounge bars stay open until 01:00; some until 04:00.

Events

Queen’s Day Queen's Day must turn every other monarchy in the world green with envy as Amsterdam and the rest of Holland turn a bright shade of orange to celebrate their royal family. Queen's Day is a public holiday but certainly not a day of rest. The Dutch, expats and tourists alike fill every public space in Amsterdam in a day of harmonious chaos. Over Koninginnenacht (Queen’s Night) and into Koninginnedag (Queen’s Day), the carnival atmosphere spreads; DJs play parties on public squares; brightly decorated boats fill canals; and live music spills onto streets from cafe patios.

Amsterdam Festivals Every July & August, Europe’s number-one festival city hosts numerous exciting performances and concerts featuring leading artists from all over the world. Language will be no barrier at these festivals, some of which are even accessible free of charge. Besides concert halls and theatres, the venues for the international, highly varied programmes include parks, town squares and even Amsterdam's canals. www.amsterdamfestivals.com

Vondelpark outdoor theatre The Vondelpark Outdoor theatre in Amsterdam is an open air stage in the middle of Holland’s most famous park, the Vondelpark. There is no other place where as many people from different ages, backgrounds, nationalities, and from as many different city districts, come together. From June 7th until August 23rd 2009 the Outdoor theatre will offer a diverse programme of about 125 free performances. During these summer months around 100,000 people are likely to visit the Outdoor theatre. www.openluchttheater.nl Amsterdam Gay Pride 

Amsterdam Gay Pride celebrates the lifestyles of the gay, lesbian and transgender communities in an open and upbeat festival atmosphere with a diverse programme of parties, club nights, exhibitions, talks, weddings and of course the big canal parade. Amsterdam's famous liberal-mindedness over the years has encouraged a welcoming and safe environment for gays, lesbians and transgenders to both visit and live in. www.iamsterdam.com/en/visiting/things-to-do/gay-pride

Amsterdam Art City This year Amsterdam is an Art City. The city is brimming over with cultural attractions. There are a tremendous range of remarkable exhibitions for you to visit. The Hermitage Amsterdam reopened and the new Stedelijk Museum will be opening its doors to the public in 2010.

Amsterdam has always been a leading cultural centre, with top attractions such as the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum. The opening of the Hermitage Amsterdam and the impressive range of exclusive exhibitions will make a visit to Amsterdam an absolute must in 2009. www.amsterdamartcity.com

Uitmarkt The Uitmarkt is the national opening of the cultural season and the largest cultural festival in Holland. Over the years, the Uitmarkt has evolved into a festival attracting 500,000 visitors and featuring 2,000 performers at more than 30 venues. information market. www.uitmarkt.nl

Dutch Design Double Two Dutch cities, more than 25 design-events, spread over five weeks. Dutch Design Double celebrates Dutch design and fashion from the 4th of September until the 11th of October 2009. Last year Dutch design was celebrated under the name of FreeDesigndom, with four weeks of events in Amsterdam and Utrecht. This year there is a new name and run for one extra week. The two Dutch cities host a great variety of internationally orientated design and fashion events. These events cater to the needs of design and fashion aficionados, people from the industry and media professionals, but also to the general public. www.design.nl/item/dutch_design_double

Fast Facts

Location: Province of North-Holland next to provinces of Utrecht and Flevoland
Time: GMT +1 hour
Language: Dutch is the official language but English is widely spoken.
Area: City- 219 km2 , Urban- 1,003 km2, Metropolitan- 1,815 km2
Population: City- 762,057, Urban- 1.3 million, Metro- 2.16 million.
Religion: The Netherlands is a secular country with just 39% of the country religiously affiliated; Roman Catholicism is the single largest with 26.3% of the population.
Electricity: The Netherlands uses a 50 Hz and 230 V power system.
Telephone Code: +58
Currency: The Euro
Passport/visa requirements: British passport holders do not need a visa to travel to the Netherlands. Airports: The International airport, Schipol, is the largest in the Netherlands and the fifth largest in Europe in terms of passengers.
Flight time: Under half an hour.

Public Holidays- 2009 1 Jan New Year's Day. 10-13 Apr Easter. 30 Apr Queen's Day. 5 May Liberation Day. 21 May Ascension. 1 Jun Whit Monday. 25 Dec Christmas Day. 26 Dec Boxing Day. 2010 1 Jan New Year's Day. 2-5 Apr Easter. 30 Apr Queen's Day. 5 May Liberation Day. 13 May Ascension. 24 May Whit Monday. 25 Dec Christmas Day. 26 Dec Boxing Day.

For more information contact: oNetherlands Board of Toursim & Conventions, PO Box 30783, London WC2B 6DH. Tel: 020 7539 7950 Email: info-uk@holland.com Website: www.holland.com

 

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