Amsterdam's fairy-tale looks and progressive spirit have long cast a spell on travelers. Hedonists stumble into town for the pot-wafting coffee shops and Red Light District naughtiness, but the real soul of the city lies in its candlelit cafes, bustling street markets and quirky museums set along rings of glinting canals.
Dam Square, where the Royal Palace rises, has marked the city center since medieval times; 17th-century pubs, secret gardens and antiquarian bookshops hide in the surrounding lanes. Miles of masterpieces await in the Old South, home to the Van Gogh Museum, Rembrandt-filled Rijksmuseum and modern Stedelijk Museum.
The Anne Frank House draws visitors to the Western Canals, along with one-of-a-kind little specialty shops. Historic mansions and DJ-spinning clubs pepper the ritzy Southern Canals. The bohemian De Pijp district holds the Albert Cuypmarkt, Amsterdam’s largest street bazaar, and hip cafes galore. Cozy taverns and sing-along bars spill out of the cheery Jordaan. Avant-garde Noord features a tumbledown shipyard turned arts community. The equally edgy Eastern Docklands converts warehouses into designer bars.
There are only eight windmills left in greater Amsterdam; a tour to Volendam and Marken will take you on a tour of two Dutch fishing villages, and onward to see the traditional Dutch windmills and polders. Sampling two famous cheeses, Gouda and Edam may put you in the mood for putting on some clogs, or klompen as they are known in Dutch.
Cutting edge couture
When you think of Amsterdam, fashion might not immediately spring to mind, especially if you have just klomped around in a pair of clogs. However, the city is quickly establishing itself as an alternative to the established catwalks of Paris and Milan. Blending practical tailoring and offbeat accessories, it has an ageless appeal and may just encourage you to dive into the nearest boutique for an asymmetrical bag or tilted hat. Try Van Baerlestraat for boutiques, P.C. Hooftstraat for high-end labels, and the Waterlooplein flea market for bargains.
Something that may already have your attention is Amsterdam's profusion of coffee shops. In another display of the city's open-mindedness, (and despite recent changes in smoking laws) cannabis is likely to be on the menu. If fruit teas and aromatic smoke aren't for you, the cafes are still worth visiting for their distinctive atmosphere and the convivial conversation. Head to the botanical gardens to find out what a 400-year-old potted plant looks like, and take a restful stroll in the subtropical house and medicinal herb garden.
The tragic story of Anne Frank is retold in a museum dedicated to her life and linked to the house in which she and her family hid from Nazi persecution. It was here that Anne wrote her diary, which was eventually published and has become one of the world's most widely read books. Other notable museums are the Rijksmuseum, which features the masterpieces of the Dutch Golden Age, and the Van Gogh Museum, which has the largest collection of his paintings in the world.
Capturing the canals
In contrast to the colorful red light district, a candlelight cruise along the canals will provide a more reserved evening of entertainment. Illuminated at night, the 17th century bridges will have you reaching for your camera, and the Reguliersgracht is perhaps the most photographed stretch of water in Amsterdam. Hop on one of the many trams to Leidseplein to enjoy snazzy cocktail lounges and cool clubs, and join the in-crowd to dance the night away. Hide