A Concise Guide to Amsterdam

amsterdam picture
James Martin, Europe travel

Amsterdam is the capital and largest city of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. It derives its name from the fact that it is situated where the Amstel River was joined by a sluice dam built around 1240.

Amsterdam is one of Europe's great destinations. The city is built around semi-circular rings of canals crossed by over 400 bridges. People are prone to calling it the "Venice of the North" but Amsterdam takes a back seat to no one in the travel interest department.

When to Go

The Netherlands have a temperate maritime climate with cool winters and mild summers. The best weather in Amsterdam is April-October. April and May are good for viewing those famous tulips. Summer is more bearable for those who can't take the heat of the Mediterranean coast in August. Winter can be cold, soggy and gray, but who could resist canal skating or sitting around the fireplace in a medieval Dutch home with a hot toddy in hand? Consult Amsterdam climate and precipitation charts for a historic look at Amsterdam's Weather and historic climate.

Amsterdam Art and Museums

Yes, there really were quite a number of Old Dutch masters. They knew the light. My favorites are portraits of peasant life infused by the ruddy glow of firelight, or maybe it's Holland's famous gin (genever).

Amsterdam, as you can imagine, has numerous art museums. Rembrandt is well represented at the Rijksmuseum, along with other important Dutch artists. The Hermitage Amsterdam is housed in a building that was an old folks home for 324 years and includes Hermitage for children.The Van Gogh museum is a must for art lovers as well, and the house of Anne Frank museum should be a must for everyone who might be inclined to view arbitrary hate as a solution to perceived social problems. See Amsterdam Museums for more.

Getting To Amsterdam Airport

By Train: There is a train station inside the Airport's central hall under Schiphol Plaza offering direct train services from the airport to Amsterdam Centraal station, as well as trains to other destinations including Berlin, Germany.

Taxi: You can book at Schiphol Travel Taxi online.

Want to know more about transportation? See Getting from Amsterdam to Schiphol Airport.

The Amsterdam Schiphol Airport site has a route planner that covers all types of transportation to the airport

Hotels Near Schiphol Airport

The Sheraton Schiphol is located inside the airport compound, linked to the terminal by covered walkway. A new hotel, citizenM, is also directly connected to the airport terminals and train station.

Destinations Near the Airport

All of Holland is accessible from Amsterdam Airport. Besides Amsterdam itself, we like Haarlem, which is very close by, and nearly all of Noord-Holland, north of Amsterdam. Of course, Belgium, Luxembourg , and Germany aren't far away either: six trains a day depart for Berlin from the airport rail station, taking just over six hours reach their destination.

Things to Do

Amsterdam Layover? No problem.

Getting stuck in an airport is every traveler's nightmare--unless they're in Amsterdam. Amsterdam Schiphol is one of the best places on earth of layovers. There's plenty of excellent shopping, but the Dutch hub offers much more than just duty-free cigarettes and discounted booze. Here are some highlights.

1. Rijksmuseum
The world-renowned Rijksmuseum has a small branch at the airport--and the entry is completely free. The rotating exhibits highlight aspects of Dutch culture. Plus, the museum shop offers a delightful alternative to the tacky souvenirs ubiquitous in airports.
2. Holland Casino
Haven't spent enough money on your flight? Want to rid yourself of the excess? Try your luck: Departure Hall 2 – behind Passport Control – between Gates E and F.
3. Panorama Terrace
If you have some extra time, consider stepping outside. The terrace features an old propeller plane, which you can enter and tour for free.
4. Airport Park
This green lounge in Terminal D takes its inspiration from nature. Sure, the grass is AstroTurf and the birdsong is recorded. Still, with bean bag chairs, chaises lounges, and stationery bikes--all available for free--who's complaining? You can also step outside on the small terrace for a breath of fresh air.
5. Yotel
Rent a bed by the hour. No, it's not as seedy as it sounds. At Yotel, a love child of designer furniture shop and a Tokyo capsule hotel, you can book a room for as little as four hours. If you want to watch TV, doze off and shower before the next flight, this is the place.
If you have more than 5 hours, you might want to consider visiting Amsterdam. From the airport's train station, reaching the city center takes less than 30 minutes.

Amsterdam Transportation

Think bicycles, trams, boats, and buses. You probably don't want to drive here. But then again you don't have to; the public transportation options are easy, fast, and in the case of canal boats, sometimes romantic.

How Trams and Buses Work

Amsterdam is divided into zones. A ticket to ride within a single zone costs 1.60 Euros. Each additional zone crossed costs .80 Euro. You can get discount (stripcard or "strippencard") cards at tobacconists as well as GVB (the transport company) outlets. Each strip on the card represents a single journey. If you ride the bus or tram a lot, you can get a one, two or three-day pass at the same outlets as well.

The Canal Bus

For a small fee you can glide to many tourist destinations in Central Amsterdam on the Canal Bus. Your ticket to ride is good all day and until noon the next.Kids ride for 11 Euros.

Airports and Trains

Amsterdam's Central Station is smack in the middle of the concentric circle of canals. It is a busy station, and you might think of reserving tickets in advance for your trip out of Amsterdam.

The main Amsterdam Airport is Schiphol. The train is the fastest and most convenient way to get to Schiphol. From Schiphol, you can get trains to anywhere in the Netherlands.

Dangers: Be aware that pickpockets frequent the train from Schiphol to the central station, as well as ATM locations.

More Transportation Information

Get detailed information on transportation in Amsterdam from our Amsterdam transportation category.

To get to Amsterdam from London, see How to Get from London to Amsterdam.

Food in Amsterdam

Try Indonesian rijsttafel, a "rice table" that came to Amsterdam as a result of Dutch colonial exploits. Beware that many restaurants have adjusted seasonings toward the bland to fit local and tourist taste, so the food may not be as authentic as you think. Here are some suggestions for where to eat it: Best Indonesian Restaurants in Amsterdam.

As in US cities, Amsterdam has a wealth of different cuisines represented. You'll be able to eat outside or in a garden in many restaurants in the summer.


The Concertgebouw is considered to have some of the best acoustics in the world, as well as being home to one of the greatest orchestras.

Botanical Garden

Begun as an herb garden for doctors and pharmacists in 1682, the Amsterdam Botanical Garden grew when it added East India Company's exotic offerings. Now there's tons of greenhouses and a peaceful cafe.

Het Koninklijk Paleis te Amsterdam (The Royal Palace of Amsterdam)

The Royal Palace is a 17th-century elaborate town hall turned into a royal palace by Napoleon in 1808, from whence comes the large collection of Empire style furniture, chandeliers, and clocks. The palace is still used for official functions by the Queen. In the Summer the palace is open to the public.

Suggested Map

Amsterdam is represented in the devilishly clever Crumpled Cities Maps of Europe

For more Amsterdam, see our Amsterdam Travel Directory for information on all the important museums, lodging, restaurants, printable maps, and tourist sights in Amsterdam. Also, see the about.com site completely devoted to Amsterdam.

Was this page helpful?