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With more than one million inhabitants in its urban area, the capital of the Netherlands is Amsterdam. Its the country´s largest city and its financial, cultural and creative center.
What to do in Amsterdam
Several companies offer private tours by car, van, or mini bus for groups of up to 8 people. Bike tours are also available at a more affordable price, and offer a more authentic Dutch experience.
Other companies offer canal cruises, usually lasting from one to two hours. Departures from: Prins Hendrikkade opposite Centraal Station; quayside Damrak; Rokin near Spui; Stadhouderskade 25 near Leidseplein.
The Canal Bus. Runs three fixed routes, stopping near major attractions (Rijksmuseum, Anne Frank's House, etc.). You can get on or off as often as you like, but it is expensive, €20 per person per 24 hr. The first boats start between 9.15AM. and 10.45AM. depending on which stop you get on. The last boats start dropping off at around 7 p.m.
Lovers Canal Cruise start opposite the Rijksmuseum. It is €15 per person, but you cannot get on and off. The cruise is about 1 hr.
Amsterdam Boat Guide. Local company offering private boat tours in classic boats. Canal cruises, dinner cruises etc.
Amsterdam Jewel Cruises offers an evening dinner cruise. It is the only classic boat offering a private table for a romantic dinner cruise. A la carte dining, but not cheap! The cruise starts at 7.30 pm and lasts just under three hours.
You can cruise the canals yourself, without the commentary with a canal bike (pedal boat) or rented boat.
Boats4rent Boat Hire. At Boats4rent you can rent and drive your own electric boat for max. 6 people. Boats4rent is located at the Westerpark, very close to the Brouwersgracht and the other main city center canals. You don't need a license, nor experience to rent a boat.
Boaty Rental Boats. Boaty offers rental boats (max. 6 persons) for your own private tour: decide where to go yourself or choose one of Boaty's free canal routes. These rental boats are electrically driven which means they are silent and free of exhaust fumes. They are charged with renewable energy every night so you can enjoy your time on the water as long as you like. The boats are very stable, unsinkable and of course the rental is accompanied by free life vests in different sizes.
Canal Company. Has four rental locations; two-seater canal bikes cost €8 per person per hour.
Venetian Gondola. You can also rent a gondola, hand made by an Amsterdam girl who traveled to Venice to learn the craft and build her own Gondola which she brought back to Amsterdam.
Watch a movie at one of the over 55 cinemas.
A must see in Amsterdam
Amsterdam has an amazing collection of museums, ranging from masterpieces of art to porn, vodka and cannabis. The most popular ones can get very crowded in the summer peak season, so it's worth exploring advance tickets or getting there off-peak (e.g. very early in the morning). Some of the quality museums that you can't miss:
Rijksmuseum — absolutely top-class museum that has a large collection of paintings from the Dutch Golden Age. Some artists you can't overlook are Rembrandt van Rijn, Johannes Vermeer, Frans Hals and Jan Steen. The must-sees are Rembrandt's Night Watch and Vermeer's Milkmaid. The museum also boasts a substantial collection of Asian art. The Rijksmuseum was under heavy construction until early 2013, but has re-opened in full capacity on the 14th of april, 2013.
Van Gogh Museum — even someone with little knowledge of art must have heard about Vincent van Gogh, the Dutch Post-Impressionist painter whose work had a far-reaching influence on 20th century art for its vivid colours and emotional impact. This museum has the largest collection of Van Gogh's paintings and drawings in the world. A hint: you can book a ticket online and skip the cashier line.
Anne Frank House — dedicated to Anne Frank, a Jewish girl who kept a diary while hiding from Nazi persecution in hidden rooms at the rear of the building (known as the Achterhuis). It's an exhibition on the life of Anne Frank, but also highlights other forms of persecution and discrimination. Mind that there could be quite a line in the evening/weekends in summer.
Amsterdam has one of the most extensive historic city centres in Europe, with about 7,000 registered historic buildings. The street pattern has been largely unchanged since the 19th century — there was no major bombing during World War II. The centre consists of 90 islands linked by 400 bridges, some of which are attractively floodlit at night.
The inner part of the city centre, the Old Centre, dates from medieval times. The oldest streets are the Warmoesstraat and the Zeedijk located in the Nieuwmarkt area of the Old Centre. As buildings were made of wood in the Middle Ages, few buildings from the period have survived. Exceptions are two medieval wooden houses at Begijnhof 34 and Zeedijk 1. Other old houses are Warmoesstraat 83 (built around 1400), Warmoesstraat 5 (around 1500) and Begijnhof 2-3 (around 1425). The Begijnhof is a late-medieval enclosed courtyard with the houses of beguines, Roman Catholic women living in a semi-religious community. Beguines are found in Northern France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and north-western Germany. Number 34 Begijnhof is the oldest house in Amsterdam. Entry to the courtyard and surrounding gardens is free, but be careful not to disturb the community living here.
Churches and synagogues
Since the Middle Ages and throughout the 17th century, the Netherlands was a country with a relatively high degree of freedom and tolerance towards other religions and cultures, especially compared to other countries in Europe. Between 1590 and 1800, the estimated foreign-born population was never less than 5 percent, many of them settling in Amsterdam. This led to a large diaspora of Jews, Huguenots (French protestants), Flemish, Poles and other peoples in the city. The Jewish people especially have always had a large presence in Amsterdam, notably in the Old Jewish Quarter (though this quarter has been in a status of decay since World War II). The most prominent synagogue is The Esnoga (or The Portuguese Synagogue) , built in 1675 in an austere Classicist style.