On Foot: For visitors who plan to explore on their own, much can be done on foot -- and when you tire, trolleys cover the main areas of the old city and buses go almost everywhere, including the new Docklands area (the tourist office opposite Central Station is a convenient place to get maps and information and purchase tickets).
The city's central point is Dam Square, just a five-minute walk from Central Station via Damrak, a busy tourist street. The canals form five circles around Dam Square, and several other squares will help you get your bearings as you study the city map. Lively Leidseplein and Rembrantsplein are lined with sidewalk cafes that are ideal place to rest and watch the passing scene.
Major museums and the classic Concertgebouw concert hall are near the Museumplein, just beyond the canals. Waterlooplein is home to the Jewish Museum, the Muziektheater, the city's handsome new concert hall, and Amsterdam's biggest flea market; the Hermitage museum and Rembrandt's House are nearby. The Jordaan, a bohemian neighborhood with unusual shops and galleries, can be found by looking for the Westerkerk Church and the Anne Frank House.
The adventurous can join the Dutch on their bicycles; rentals are available at MacBike at Central Station, about $11 a day.
By Bus: The #326 bus headed to Central Station stops right in front of the cruise terminal; the #16 trolley travels from the passenger terminal to the city center. The CanalBus, a cruise boat traversing the canals with stops at all the city's main attractions, is a sightseeing trip as well as an easy way to get around; you can get on and off all day for about $21.
By Taxi: Taxis are readily available, but can be expensive ($10 and up); fares are best negotiated in advance to avoid problems.
Where You're Docked
The Amsterdam cruise terminal is busy in season, hosting some 100 ships from spring through fall. The terminal, near the start of the new Eastern Docklands development, is a 10-minute walk or a five-minute ride from Central Station, where all of the city's bus, trolley and boat lines can be boarded.
Where to Eat and Drink
Near Leidseplein: Cafe Americain (American Hotel, 97 Leidsekade, 020-2052056-3232) is an Art Deco rendezvous, one of the city's most popular spots for everything from reading a cup of coffee to a full dinner. There's a big outdoor terrace on Leidseplein in summer. Open 10:30 a.m. until midnight daily.
De Oesterbar (Leidseplein 10, 020-623-2988) is the city's longtime favorite seafood restaurant in a setting of white tiles and fish tanks. Fish is delivered fresh twice daily, and used in indigenous preparations such as sole Danoise with the tiny Dutch shrimps and sole Veronique with Muscadet grapes. Open noon until 1 a.m. daily.
Along the Canal Belt: Dutch pancakes are a treat that should not be missed, and the Pancake Bakery (191 Prinsengracht, 020-62205-1333) is one of the classic places to sample delicious dinner-plate-size crepes with fillings like ham and cheese as a main dish or fruits for dessert. Open noon until 9:30 p.m. daily. This is a great choice for families, but large groups should make reservations in advance.
If you are in town late enough for dinner, sample a Dutch specialty, an Indonesian rijsttafel (rice table), at Tempo Doeloe (Utrechtsestraat 7205, 020-62205-6718). Inspired by the days of the Netherlands East Indies company, it consists of a dozen or more small meat and vegetable dishes served with condiments and rice. Open Monday - Saturday, 6 p.m. until 11:30 p.m.
City Center: Haesje Claes (Spuistraat 273-27205, 020-624-9998) serves typical Dutch dishes at moderate prices in an Old World setting, complete with traditional Dutch hanging lamps. Menu items to try include stampot (mashed potatoes and cabbage) and hutspot (stew). Open noon until 10 p.m. daily.
Staying in Touch
Major hotels in Amsterdam have in-room Internet connections, and this cosmopolitan city has many cyber cafes. You can also check your e-mail or access the Internet at the Passenger Terminal or at easyInternetcafe, where two locations are open 24 hours a day, at Damrak 33 and Reguliersbreestraat 22 (near Rembrandt Square).
Amsterdam has shops to appeal to everyone. Traditional large department stores such as the Bijenkorf are near the Dam Square, and Magna Plaza (just behind the Royal Palace) is a historic building that has been converted to a luxurious shopping center. Exclusive designer fashions are found on P.C. Hoftstraat and other streets near the Rijksmuseum, while Rokin Street and the Spiegelkwartier are centers for the city's many antique shops.
Most fun for browsing are the small streets between the main canals, lined with intriguing little shops and galleries that have made the city increasingly known for its young, cutting-edge fashion and design. Frozen Fountain (Prinsengracht 64205) and Droog Design (Staalstratt 7b) are good places to see some of the best work of new interior designers. Post Amsterdam also showcases contemporary furniture design; it is in the same building that houses the temporary Stedliijk Museum and has a top-floor restaurant with fabulous city views.
Many of the diamond dealers offer demonstrations of how a diamond is cut and polished, fun to see even if your budget doesn't allow for a solitaire on this trip. The "Shopping in Amsterdam" brochure available at the tourist office offers a plan of 16 shopping areas around town.
Editor's Note: If you spend more than 137 euros (about $177) in a store, you are entitled to a refund of the value-added tax, which amounts to 13.205 percent of the bill (shop where you see the Global Refund Tax-Free Shopping sign and remember to ask for the Global Refund Cheque). When leaving the country or the European Union, show your purchases, receipts and passport to customs officials and have
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