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Amsterdam

Updated: March 28, 2012 02:51 PM EDT
Amsterdam at night. (©iStockphoto/Thinkstock) Amsterdam at night. (©iStockphoto/Thinkstock)
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By George McDonald

Whether you go for storybook canals or laid-back coffeehouses, the Flower Market's springtime blooms or the Van Gogh Museum's sunflowers, Amsterdam will -- in its inimitable style -- captivate you. Friendly, open-minded and easygoing, the Amsterdammers flaunt their quirky creativity in Jordaan's boutiques and welcome all-comers like long-lost friends in canalside cafés. This is the city of Golden Age art and picturesque canals, legal reefers and red lights, grand merchants' houses and a million bicycle bells. Just remember to always stop and smell the roses like the locals -- or should that be tulips?

Things to Do

Perfect your laid-back Amsterdam look cycling through the flowery Vondelpark, where Amsterdammers gather for picnics and open-air concerts. For close-up views of Golden Age merchants' houses, cruise Amsterdam's storied canals. The Rijksmuseum is a rambling attic of Old Master paintings from Vermeer miniatures to Rembrandt's colossal The Night Watch. The curvy Van Gogh Museum houses the world's largest Van Gogh collection, including Sunflowers and earless self-portraits. Spend a reflective moment in Anne Frank's House.

Shopping

Mornings are the time for markets, with Amsterdammers finding flea market bargains at Waterlooplein, and bunches of vibrant tulips and potted plants at the canalside Flower Market. Pedal along the waterways to Jordaan's alternative shops and tiny galleries, or the quaint Negen Straatjes' designer boutiques, jewelers and cafés. Global designers line posh PC Hooftstraat, while crowded Kalverstraat has all the high-street names. For Delft Blue ceramics, visit the Jorrit Heinen shop on Prinsengracht.

Nightlife and Entertainment

As Amsterdam's bridges and canals twinkle with thousands of lights, follow the locals to Jordaan's nicotine-stained cafés for an ice-cold jenever (gin) and possibly a friendly singalong. The liberal lives on in Amsterdam, where prostitutes flaunt their wares behind glass in the Red Light District and snug coffeeshops fill with chatter and (legal) marijuana smoke. Dress up for pulsating clubs in Rembrandtplein, low-key cocktails in De Pijp's stylish bars and classical music at the grand Concertgebouw.

Restaurants and Dining

The sociable, worldly Amsterdammers love eating out and traveling with their taste buds. In lively Leidseplein choose from Italian trattorias, Argentinean steakhouses and Indonesian restaurants serving spicy rijsttafel, a feast of aromatic little dishes. Nieuwmarkt dishes up value-priced Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai, while multicultural De Pijp is the place for tapas and modern fusion. In Jordaan, fashionable restaurants sit alongside relaxed eetcafés (bistros) where locals meet for a beer and a uitsmijter (open ham and egg sandwich).

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