July 20, 2012

Find the Old World in Amsterdam

Amsterdam is delightful any time of the year – but summer reigns supreme.

Amsterdam is delightful any time of the year – but summer reigns supreme. In July and August tourists flock to the never-ending procession of celebrations, festivals and music concerts staged atop scenic canal bridges. Amsterdam is an attractive Old World city truly in touch with its evocative, idiosyncratic and tolerant heritage. This city is a canvass, and it’s your vacation to paint any way you see fit.

Logistics: Don’t take an airport shuttle from Schiphol International to your central Amsterdam hotel. Full shuttles drop each visitor off at separate hotels strewn about the city – you may be wasting valuable hours in the process. Don’t even consider renting an automobile. All the city’s major sites are within walking distance; if you want to view the countryside, there are plenty of other options, including trains, buses and tour groups. Don’t convert your dollars into Euros at the airport: The exchange rate is preposterous. Consider using a more established and respected financial institution in the city’s business district.

Do take the train. The trains are conveniently located beneath the well-organized airport. The ride to the city’s hotel district is only 15 minutes and costs a paltry 3.60 euros (about $4.42), one way.

Lodgings: The Hotel Aspen is an affordable, clean and centrally located boutique inn. You’ll notice the glowing neon XXX on the street sign, but you haven’t arrived in the red-light district: “XXX” is emblematic of Amsterdam’s official flag. After being buzzed in, the imposing vertical flight of stairs gets you to the check-in. The charming rooms are small and minimalistic; several rooms share a bathroom, but this really isn’t as much as an obstacle as you might anticipate. Details:

Oh, the sights: No trip to the Netherlands would be complete without visiting Anne Frank’s rooms – the “Secret Annex” – which have meticulously been maintained. You will definitely want to arrive earlier in the day. More than likely, there will be a time-consuming line to get into the Ann Frank Museum.

Before you arrive, grab a hearty breakfast – a traditional Dutch pancake (“pannekoeken”); top yours with apple and Grand Marnier. The Pancake Bakery is only a block from the Anne Frank house.

Hop-on/off canal cruise: Try a canal bus. The cruise is an enjoyable and peaceful way to reach all of Amsterdam’s top historical or notable sights. You’ll pass many noteworthy attractions and be dropped off at all major museums. A two-day pass runs only 33 euros (about $41) and you can get on/off at your leisure.

The world’s largest collection of Vincent van Gogh paintings is in the famous Van Gogh Museum. “Beauty in Abundance,” currently on display, has works of such masters as Bonnard, Gauguin and Toulouse-Lautrec. Details:

The giant Rijksmuseum is considered Amsterdam’s finest museum, but due to hold-ups in renovation, displays are limited. Do your homework in advance ( The iconic ‘ I amsterdam’ letters in front of the museum are a photo opportunity waiting to happen.

Shopping: For designer brands, great shopping and fine dining nothing tops the fashion and museum district. Also, there is extensive browsing to be found in vibrant Dam Square. Be sure to stop and sample the street markets or take in a local art show.

The Waterlooplein Market, in the middle of Amsterdam, is more avant garde in its offerings – and is an enjoyable and laid-back shopping experience.

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