High culture meets good times in Amsterdam, a city as popular for museum-hopping mini-breaks as it is for raucous hen or stag trips.
Its iconic 17th-century canal houses, delightful cafés and fleets of vintage-style bikes project an air of wholesome, timeless charm. But make no mistake: there’s more to this destination than Rembrandt and tulips.
Arriving at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol
From London City Airport you'll touch down at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, located to the southwest of the city. This is the Netherlands' biggest air travel hub, so it has excellent public transport connections. Jump on a train here and you’ll be at Amsterdam Centraal station in less than 20 minutes. The journey will cost around €5, though you’ll have to pay a small surcharge for a disposable ticket if you don’t want to invest in an OV-chipkaart (this is much like London's Oyster card; you can use it across all forms of public transport and top it up as you need).
With trains departing every 10 to 15 minutes, this is the most convenient and affordable option. However, the buses won’t break the bank either, and will still get you into the city centre within about half an hour.
And of course, should you prefer to just go straight to your accommodation, you’ll find plenty of taxis waiting outside the airport. Expect to pay about €40 to get into the centre. Your driver should offer you a flat fare for the journey, so check what it is before you get in.
Amsterdam is an easy place to get around. It’s famously bike-friendly, the centre is walkable, and the wider neighbourhoods are covered by a good range of transport options.
There are few – if any – cities in the world with cycling infrastructure as well-developed as Amsterdam’s. Do as the locals do and get around on two wheels, hiring a bike from one of the many rental shops clustered around Amsterdam Centraal, Dam Square and Leidseplein.
Because much of the public transport network in Amsterdam is run by a single company, GVB, most tickets are valid across all buses, trains, trams, ferries and the metro. They’re priced by time rather than distance; buy an hour’s ticket and you can make as many journeys as you like within that time.
If you’re going to be travelling a lot, it’s a good idea to buy a multi-day ticket, available for anything from one to seven days. For longer stays, consider buying an OV-chipkaart.
Fares start at around €3 and then go up by just over €2 with every kilometre travelled. You'll easily find taxi ranks in the busier parts of town.
If you want to explore beyond the city, car hire can be a good option – be sure to book your car before you travel. Do be aware that driving in Amsterdam can be frustrating, as parking spaces are scarce and the roads are set up to favour cyclists.
The Old Centre: for classic Amsterdam experiences
This is the heart of Amsterdam, where medieval buildings line the crowded streets and historic sites such as the Royal Palace compete for tourist attention against the likes of Madame Tussauds and the Sex Museum. It’s also home to the red-light district (De Wallen) and its many bars and coffee shops.
Museum Quarter: for culture and art
The clue to this area’s appeal is in its name. It’s home to the city’s three most famous cultural sites – the Rijksmuseum (art and history across eight centuries), the Stedelijk Museum (modern art), and the Van Gogh Museum (self-explanatory). In the west of this well-heeled part of town, the stately 19th-century buildings are perfectly complemented by the gorgeous Vondelpark green space. In the evening, head to the Concertgebouw, an elegant and historic concert hall, for world-class classical performances (you can take a guided tour during the day).
Jordaan: for aimless wandering
This neighbourhood doesn’t have any massive museums, but it’s packed with smaller galleries, shops bursting with cool design items and antique curios, and charming places to eat and drink. Spend an hour or two wandering its picturesque lanes and expect to stumble across everything from jazz bars to museums dedicated to tulips or pianolas. After nightfall, snap photo after photo of lights reflecting off the picture-perfect canals.
Currency: Euro €
Time zone: Central European Standard Time (GMT+1) and Central European Summer Time (GMT + 2)
Language: Dutch is the national language. However, the staff in most attractions, bars and restaurants also speak excellent English.