Day 1 - From water to land
The best way to see Amsterdam is by getting one of the canal trips. Embark on one and you will get to see most of the city. They also have recorded guides playing explaining the city’s unique buildings. Boat trips also bring you into the city’s harbour behind the train station, somewhere otherwise difficult to visit.
After seeing the city from the water it’s good to walk about the city on land afterwards. Amsterdam is very easy to get around, and once you use the train station as your base you won’t get lost. It is right in the city centre and other places in the city such as Dam Square are only a short stroll down the road.
Even if you have walked through the Red Light District in the Nieuwe Markt area of the city during daylight hours, it really has to be seen at night to understand just how unique it really is. Centred on one street called Oudezijds Achterburgwal, it is full of sex shops, bars and live sex shows (one inventively known as, ahem, The Banana Bar).
The streets are full every night with a mixture of couples, large groups of males (sometimes resembling large groups of vultures) and drug dealers constantly mumbling 'coke, ecstasy' to passer bys. Contrary to belief, it is quite safe, once you don’t walk down the wrong street on your own.
Day 2 - Get to see all the Netherlands is famous for
Amsterdam is famed for its tulips, clogs and windmills. But after walking around the Dutch capital for a few days and you will soon find out that the only windmills you are going to see are ones measuring approximately four to five inches in height that are sold in novelty shops around the train station.
Thankfully the Netherlands isn’t the biggest country in the world, so just a hop, skip and jump from Amsterdam and you will find yourself in traditional Dutch village called Zaanse Schans which is just 8 miles north of Amsterdam. Here is where you will find everything which epitomises the country such as 17th century windmills and wooden houses. The village also has a museum so you can learn more about how locals used to live in a typical Dutch community. And if you wanted to see how clogs are made, there is also a wooden shoe factory here.
Not far from Zaanse Schans is Marken, a small fishing village built around a tiny harbour. Houses in the village are built on top of mounds to protect them from floods. What is particularly unique about Marken is that locals are known to wear traditional Dutch attire not just for the locals, but also to try and maintain local customs.
Organised tours leave Amsterdam daily and visit both towns as well as a cheese factory to sample some of the Netherlands’ renowned types such as Edam and Gouda. They take approximately four or five hours and they get you back into the city for the evening.
Getting back into Amsterdam that evening, its good to explore the city’s other cafés because not all of specialise in getting their customers stoned. Amsterdam has a very prominent café culture. Along with the coffee shops that legally sell cannabis, Amsterdam is also full of grand cafés and brown cafés which, basically, are large pubs. Look hard enough and you will find one of the theatre cafés where you can enjoy some performing arts while sipping on your cappuccino or latté.
Day 3 - Bikes followed by some culture also
Bikes are, without a shadow of a doubt, the easiest way to get around the city. As the city is very flat you won’t exert too much energy cycling around the city. There are bike lanes everywhere and if you’re not on a bike you may just get knocked over by one! Make sure and keep your eyes peeled – you have been warned.
Not far from Central Station is the Anne Frank House. Upon visiting the museum you can imagine what it must have been like for the young Jewish girl when she was hiding from the Nazis during World War II. There is a good account of the young girls life, along with history about the war also.
As this is the only place in the world where you can buy cannabis and hash legally, you can’t leave Amsterdam without visiting one of the coffee shops, but whether you sample the ‘local herb’ is at your own discretion. There is a unique atmosphere in these coffee shops, but it is not all smoking joints! You can drink and play pool in some of them. There is also a good chance of meeting some of the city's more unique characters.
Day 4 - Parliament, royalty and the theatre
Along with everything traditionally Amsterdam just on the outskirts, The Hague it can be visited from Amsterdam. Even though it is Amsterdam which holds the status as the Netherlands’ capital city, it is here that the country’s government sits to discuss the country’s issues, and it is also in the Hague that Dutch Royal Family calls ‘home’.
En route to the Hague, two other towns are worth visiting also (tours from Amsterdam usually pass through them if you decide to book one). The first of these is the ‘miniature city’ of Madurodam. Filled with mini versions of all that the Netherlands is famous for – canals, windmills, its airports, the Hauge’s Peace Palace, among others, the detail given is unbelievable. If you decide to go to Hague independently it will take you about 45 minutes on a train and cost in and around €9. If you take the easy option and book yourself on to a guided tour, along with visiting the Hague and Madurodam, you will also be brought to the picturesque village of Delft, famous for its pottery.
Contrary to what you might think, there is more to Amsterdam’s nightlife than smoke-filled cafés, illuminated windows filled with scantily clad women and sex shows. Amsterdam has over 50 which stage normally Dutch speaking plays, although in peak holiday season (ie the summer) you can find those performed in other language other than their native tongue, namely English. Boom Chicago is more of a comedy venue, but it has English speaking plays every now and then. And for alternative dance and musical productions check out what is happening in Felix Matrix on Keizersgracht.
Day 5 - Parks, then partying
Amsterdam has numerous museums, many of them around the aptly named Museumplein. The best known museum here is the Van Gogh Museum where there is a huge collection of the eccentric artist’s drawing and writings, both permanent and temporary. Other museums at Museumplein are the Rijksmuseum which is the country’s biggest museum, and the Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art.
Not far from the Van Gogh Museum is Vondelpark, Amsterdam’s answer to Central Park. South of the city centre, the park is quite big and a great place to go for a walk, jog or simply laze around for a few hours. By doing so you can see Amsterdam life go by with joggers and rollerbladers filling the paths.
There are two main squares in Amsterdam which come alive at night, the best of them being the Leidseplein. Just a short tram ride from Central Station, there are hundreds of bars, restaurants and nightclubs here. During summer months there is always a real carnival atmosphere around with street performers galore.