Amsterdam Hostels, Eurail Passes, and Backpacking Tips
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Amsterdam Hostels, Eurail Passes, and Backpacking Tips
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Personal freedom, liberal drug laws, the gay centre of Europe - these images have been synonymous with the Dutch capital since the heady 1960s and 1970s, when Amsterdam was one of Europe's most radical cities. Though Amsterdam foundered somewhat in the 1980s and continues to face a chronic housing shortage and growing numbers of homeless, it is still exuberant and famously tolerant.

More obvious, however, are the rich historical and lively contemporary airs that meld here, as you'll experience when exploring the myriad art galleries and museums, relaxing in the canalside cafes or enjoying the open-air entertainment that beats through the heart of summer.


Amsterdam's major sights, accommodation and nightlife are scattered around a web of concentric grachten (canals) known as the canal belt.

The centre, easily covered on foot, has two main parts: the medieval core and the 'newer', 17th-century canal-lined quarters which surround it. Corked to the north by Centraal Station, the old city centre is encased by the Kloveniersburgwal and Singel canals. The city's central point is Dam Square, five minutes' walk straight down Damrak from Centraal Station.


Walking Tour

The best place to start is Dam Square (the 'Dam'), where the Amstel River was dammed in the 13th century, giving the city its name. Today it's the crossroads for the crowds surging along the pedestrianised Kalverstraat and Nieuwendijk shopping streets. The Koninklijk Paleis (Royal Palace) on Dam Square is occasionally open to the public - check with the VVV.

Heading west from Dam Square along Raadhuisstraat, you cross the main canals to the Westerkerk whose 85m-high tower is the highest in the city. In the church's shadow stands a statue of Anne Frank, the young Jewish diarist. Across Prinsengracht from here spreads the Jordaan, Amsterdam's trendiest quarter, with renovated gabled houses and canal-front cafes.

South from the Dam along NZ Voorburgwal, the quaint Spui square acts as a facade to hide one of the inner city's most tranquil spots, the Begijnhof. Such hofjes, or groupings of almshouses, were built throughout the Low Countries in the Middle Ages to house Catholic women, the elderly and poor. From the Begijnhof you can walk though the Schuttersgalerij (Civic Guard Gallery), a glass-covered passageway adorned with enormous group portraits of dignitaries from the 16th to 18th centuries, to the Amsterdams Historisch Museum.

Continuing south-west, Leidsestraat ends where the city's nightlife takes off at Leidseplein. From there it's just a few minutes' walk south-east past Vondelpark - a summer-long entertainment venue - to the ever-inundated Museumplein where you'll find the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and Stedelijk Museum.

Back across the canals, the Muntplein tower denotes the colorful Bloemenmarkt (flower market), a floating flower market established in 1862 (closed Sunday). Close by is Rembrandtplein, a nightlife hub, and the Bridge of 15 Bridges, so called because from here you can see 15 bridges (they're best viewed at night when lit up). Farther north, the sleaze of the red-light district extends along the parallel OZ Voorburgwal and OZ Achterburgwal canals, past Oude Kerk, the city's oldest church.






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