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Day 1 -- Museumplein/Leidseplein
Amsterdam is remarkably compact and easy to explore on foot. Almost anyplace worth seeing is less than a mile from anyplace else, although Amsterdam’s marvelous historic core is the largest in Europe.

But if you’re interested in conserving your strength, Amsterdam’s trams are cheap, efficient, and easy to negotiate. And there are bike lanes and bike rental shops throughout the city.

Boats will whisk you along the canals, which ring the heart of the city in concentric circles. And no trip to Amsterdam is complete without cruising beneath the 17th-century houses that line the canals.

To combine modes of transportation, consider renting a canal bike. There are four landing spots throughout the city and you can rent the pedalboats at one and drop them at another.

If you’re going to visit more than a couple of Amsterdam’s world-class museums, invest in the Amsterdam Culture Card or a Museum Pass. Both offer free or reduced rate admission to Amsterdam’s museums and the Museum Pass is good throughout the Netherlands.

The cards are available at the VVV or Tourist Information Offices. The one inside the central rail station is usually packed. But the one on Leidseplein is less crowded.

You can also buy an All Amsterdam Transport Pass that includes unlimited travel on trams, metro, and canal buses.

Anne Frankhuis is one of the most visited destinations in Amsterdam. Often, there’s more than a one-hour wait to get in. But there’s usually no waiting after 6PM. It’s open until 9PM from mid-March through mid-September, so go before or after dinner one evening when you’re in the Jordaan neighborhood or nearby Dam Square.

It’s easy to locate Anne Frank’s house. The 277-ft. spire of Westerkerk next door is visible from almost everyplace in the city.

There are two ways to get oriented quickly. The Number 20 Tram was designed for just this purpose. The route makes a loop around the city, stopping near most of Amsterdam’s major attractions. You can hop on and off wherever you like or stay on -- the complete circuit takes less than an hour.

If you can’t wait to get out on the canals, there are plenty of 60-minute cruises to choose from. Most leave from near central station or Leidseplein.

"Plein," by the way, is Dutch for "square." "Straat" is "street" and many share the same name as the adjoining canal or "gracht." And that’s pretty much all the Dutch you need to know, since everyone in Amsterdam speaks English.

After your orientation, make your way -- by foot, bike, or boat -- to Museumplein, where three of Amsterdam’s greatest attractions are clustered.

If you haven’t been to Amsterdam in a while, you’ll be surprised at the changes here. The Museumplein itself was redesigned and now there’s more green space and a pond that doubles as an ice rink in winter. And the Van Gogh Museum nearly doubled its exhibition space.

Billed accurately as "the treasure house of the Netherlands," the Rijksmuseum is one of the top five or six museums in the world. The museum is currently under renovation, expected to be completed mid-2008. Until then some of the collection will be displayed in the Philips Wing

You could easily spend days exploring the more than 200 rooms of art, silver, Delftware, and other precious objects here. But to avoid overload, concentrate on the Dutch paintings from Holland’s "Golden Age."

Like all things Dutch, the Rijksmuseum is progressive and their innovative ARIA system makes it easy to plan a customized tour through the museum. You’ll find it in the room directly behind "Night Watch." The interactive system helps you choose which of the museum’s one million objects you want to see and then provides you with a map.

Highlights include twenty Rembrandts, four Vermeers, and paintings by Franz Hals, Jan Steen, and other Dutch masters.

When you’re hungry, De Pepperwortel at Overtoom 140 is a great deli and a good spot to assemble a picnic lunch.

The Van Gogh Museum exhibits 200 of the tormented Dutch artist’s paintings in chronological order, making the link between his artistic development and his mental health unavoidable. Divided into five periods -- the Netherlands, Paris, Arles, Saint-Remy, and Auvers-sur-Oise -- the collection contains insightful self-portraits, brilliant landscapes, and culminates with the spectacular "Wheatfield with Crows," painted in the weeks before his suicide.

This is an amazing collection and an extremely enjoyable gallery.

The third museum in the neighborhood — the Stedelijk — is a must for lovers of modern art. It displays paintings by Cezanne, Monet, Kandinsky, Kirschner, Chagall, and Mondrian and has frequent temporary exhibits of modern art. The main museum is under renovation until 2008. The current location is Oosterdokskade 5, Post CS-building.

Beer lovers can visit the old Heineken Brewery, which was built in 1868. Though they haven’t brewed beer here since 1990, you can take a tour and sample the product.

One of the most architecturally interesting streets in Amsterdam is nearby. Roemer Visscherstraat is a quiet lane that leads into Vondelpark. The seven houses from Number 20 to 30 were built in 1894 in the architectural style of a different country. There’s a French chateau, an Italian palazzo, a Cotswold cottage, and even an interpretation of the Moorish Alhambra Palace. It’s worth a detour to see.

Two of Amsterdam’s most stylish shopping streets -- P C Hooftstraat and Van Baerlestraat -- are between the Museumplein and Vondelpark. Designers such as Donna Karan have their shops here.

The Spiegel Quarter, as the area is called, is home to more than 100 of Amsterdam’s best antique stores. If you’re a collector, you’ll find a stroll down Nieuwe Spiegelstraat very enjoyable.

For shopping at the other end of the spectrum, the Albert Cuyp market in the adjoining De Pijp neighborhood is Amsterdam’s largest. It’s open daily and has a little bit of everything.

When you’re ready to relax, head for Leidseplein, the bustling hub of the city. Find a sidewalk café and you’ll have front row seats for the never-ending show of fire-eaters, acrobats, jugglers and other performers who entertain the crowds here.

Or if you prefer something a little mellower, wander over to Vondelpark. It’s a pleasant place for a stroll. You can rent roller blades and go for skate. Or you can have a beer at Café Vertigo.

When it’s time for a snack, have french fries. Although the Belgians will argue that their pommes frites are the best in the world, Holland’s vlaamse frites are definitely contenders. Try them with home-made mayonnaise or peanut butter sauce. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.

And be sure to have some Dutch Apple Pie during your stay -- slathered with lots of heavenly whipped cream.

There’s plenty to do in Amsterdam after dark, so you may want to pace yourself and have a little rest back at your hotel before heading out for the evening.

Though the Dutch dine fairly early by European standards, you can probably fit in a pre-dinner stop if you plan accordingly.

The city is famous for its "brown cafes," so named because of the tobacco-stained walls. No matter where your hotel is located, there’s sure to be one within walking distance. They’re cozy places with wooden floors, beamed ceilings, plenty of atmosphere, Dutch beer and ice-cold "jenever," the local jet fuel masquerading as gin. Ask your hotel concierge for a good one in your neighborhood.

Those who fancy jenever can visit a tasting house. These small bars/distilleries offer several varieties of gin, and in most cases, older is better. Be prepared to stand, and don’t go on an empty stomach. De Admiraal, De Ooivaar, Het Proflokaal Wynand Fonkink, and Slijterij Tapperij Oosterling are your best bets.

For a tipple of another sort, you can visit one of Amsterdam’s 300 "coffee houses." Take a seat, ask for a menu, and you’ll get a listing of the marijuana and hashish on offer. Prices are between 5EUR and 12EUR for 5 grams, the maximum you can buy.

Most of the coffee shops serve juice and some offer sandwiches and other snacks. We’ve been told to only order the "space cakes" on a to-go basis. If you eat the cake there, it may be a long time before you can leave.

De Rokerij, the Grey Area, Barney’s, and the Greenhouse are all Amsterdam "Cannabis Cup" winners.

A couple words of warning. Amsterdam has more than its share of pickpockets and thieves, and being impaired makes you a preferred target. And if you do wish to indulge, don’t do it the night before you return home. The beagles in U.S. Customs can still find your scent interesting a couple of days later.

One of the great legacies of the Dutch colonization of Java was culinary. When Holland liberated the country in 1949, nearly 200,000 Indonesians came to Amsterdam, bringing their recipes with them. Today, no trip to Amsterdam is complete without an Indonesian meal.

A "rijstaffel" or "rice table" is a good introduction to the cuisine. Kind of an Indonesian smorgasbord, a rijstaffel can include as many as 30 different dishes -- some spicy, some sweet. Usually, you’ll get several kinds of meat, fish, vegetables, rice, and plenty of condiments.

Try Sama Sebo, Kantjil en de Tijger, or Tempoe Doeloe.

After dinner, there’s lots to choose from.

If you’re like every other tourist in town, you’ll want to take a stroll through the Red Light District. It’s seedy, but generally safe -- unless you try to take pictures of the girls. And there isn’t anything like it anywhere else.

While you’re in the neighborhood, you can stop into the Erotic Museum or the Hash-Marijuana-Hemp Museum.

Jazz buffs are in luck here. During the 1950s and ‘60s American jazz musicians flocked to Amsterdam in droves, drawn by the city’s progressive, easy-going attitudes. As a result, Amsterdam is a jazz mecca compared to many other European capitals.

Alto Jazz Café, Bimhuis, Ijsbreker all present top quality live acts.

Lovers of serious music should check the schedule at the Concertgebouw, which hosts the world-renown Concertgebouw Orchestra and soloists from around the world. The Netherlands Philharmonic and Netherlands Chamber Orchestra perform at the Beurs van Berlage, which was once the stock exchange.

Those who want a selection of clubs, bars, and lounges should try Leidseplein or Rembrantdplein. Current hot spots include Escape, which can handle as many as 2,000 sweaty dancers, De Melkweg, Sinners in Heaven, Vakzuid in the 1928 Olympic Stadium, and iT, Amsterdam’s most popular gay bar. The club scene changes hourly, so ask your hotel for advice.

Boom Chicago is the top comedy club. It features English-speaking comedians with a Dutch perspective.

If it’s Friday night and you’re somewhat brave, the Friday Night Skate (FNS) in Vondelpark attracts as many as 3,500 in-line skaters. There are half a dozen places in town where you can rent equipment.


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Day 2 -- Waterlooplein/Muntplein
Start your day at the Waterlooplein market. There’s an unbelievable array of goods from junk to treasures. And great people watching. Take cash, as credit cards aren’t accepted.

When you’re through at the market, pass on the "cheesy" Holland Experience and pay a visit to Rembrandt’s House. Expanded in 1999, the three-story house which dates from 1606 is furnished in the style of the period and contains brushes, easels, and other objects used by the master.

The new wing of the house exhibits 250 of Rembrandt’s etchings and there are temporary exhibits here too.

Not far from Waterlooplein, the Joods Historisch Museum or Jewish History Museum is housed in four historic synagogues which have been restored and connected. The complex provides a fascinating history of Amsterdam’s Jewish culture told through paintings, photographs, religious artifacts and interactive exhibits.

The museum leads walking tours to the Portuguese Synagogue nearby.

Also in the neighborhood is the Verzetsmeuseum or Dutch Resistance Museum which documents Dutch efforts to combat the Nazis during the German occupation of Holland between 1940 and 1945.

To see how Amsterdam’s upper crust lived in the 17th and 18th centuries, visit the Museum Willet-Holthuysen. The patrician house dates from 1687 and was remodeled several times before being donated, along with its contents, to the city in 1889. The house is furnished in the Louis XIV style and the kitchen is particularly interesting.

For great photos, head for Bloemenmarkt, the floating flower market. It’s open every day but Sunday and it’s one of the most beautiful places you’ll ever stroll.

Not far from the flower market, the Begijnhof is a group of houses that were once the residence of the Beguines, a sisterhood of unmarried women who devoted their lives to good works. The order was founded in the 14th century and the last sister died in 1971.

If you’re discrete, you can visit the 16th- and 17th-century houses, the courtyard, garden, and secret Catholic chapel during the day. It provides a glimpse at part of Amsterdam’s history that seems a million miles away from the bustle of the city.

To learn more about Amsterdam’s history, drop into the Amsterdams Historisch Museum next door. Located in a 17th-century building, this museum is much more impressive and enjoyable than others of its ilk. You’ll see the history of the city from 1275 to the present unfold in a series of interactive exhibits.

Those who have any strength left can visit the Woonbootmuseum or house boat museum opposite Prinsengracht 296 for a look at how the city’s 2,000+ floating residents live. Those who are beat can find a terrace café on Spui and indulge in a little people watching.

For dinner tonight, try ‘t Swarte Schaep, In de Waag, Bodega Keyser, or D’Vijff Vlieghen for traditional Dutch cooking in an atmospheric canal house.

Amsterdam has three multi-media performance art/experimental theater troupes that are very entertaining. Dogtroep, founded in 1975, is the best known and performs all over the world. Vis a Vis specializes in boffo outdoor performances with spectacular sets and special effects, and Warner & Consorten tailors their production to the venue, which is usually not a conventional theater. If any of them is performing during your stay, they offer an enjoyable evening’s entertainment.


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Day 3 -- East End/Dam Square
There are still several major attractions in Amsterdam for you to visit.

The newMetropolis Science and Technology Center (NEMO) on Amsterdam’s waterfront is a great spot for those who enjoy science and technology. Designed by Renzo Piano who did the Pompidou Centre in Paris, the building itself is noteworthy. The green metal structure looks like the hull of a sinking ship emerging from the harbour.

There are lots of interactive exhibits illustrating scientific principles and you can create a power grid, "steer" a supertanker, or explore the inner workings of the brain. And the views from the roof terrace are among the best in town.

Also in the neighborhood, the Nederlands Scheepvaartmuseum or Maritime Museum documents Holland’s seafaring history with thousands of objects, included a recreated East India Company three-masted clipper. The museum is housed in a 17th-century Venetian-style building that was once an arsenal of the Amsterdam Admiralty. There are other ships -- including a replica of the 1749 Amsterdam and the Greenpeace Rainbow Warrior.

All in all, it’s one of the best museums of its type in the world.

The Tropenmuseum in Oosterpark (East Park) is not quite like anything else. Operated by the Royal Tropical Institute, the museum explores life in the tropics with recreated villages from Indonesia to India to Africa. The building that houses the museum is splendid in its own right.

If you have a taste for the exotic, have lunch at Ekeko adjacent to the Tropenmuseum. They specialize in the cuisines of the cultures examined at the museum.

This afternoon, do a little shopping, go for a bike ride, and explore the attractions around Dam Square.

Everyone who comes to Amsterdam should do a little diamond shopping, even if its just window shopping. The city has a long and storied history with the stones; the Koh-I-Noor was cut here for the British Crown Jewels in 1852.

Amsterdam Diamond Centre, Coster Diamonds, Gassan Diamond BV, Stoeltie Diamonds, and Van Moppes & Zoon all have very good reputations for quality and service.

Koninklijk Paleis, Holland’s 17th-century Royal Palace, is right on Dam Square. Originally Amsterdam’s City Hall, it became the palace in 1808. Decorated in the Empire style, the palace is quite ornate and the Council Room, Citizens’ Hall, and Burgomasters’ Chambers are highlights. Note the many paintings from Rembrandt’s followers.

The Palace is currently closed for renovations. Expected to re-open early 2008.

Next to the Palace, Nieuwe Kerk is something of a misnomer. Although it’s new by Amsterdam standards, the church dates from the 14th century. It’s not the most impressive church you’ll ever visit, but worth stepping inside to see the carved altar and stained glass windows.

De Bijenkorf, Amsterdam’s leading department store is also on Dam Square.

Take a little time to stroll through the Jordaan nieghborhood. There aren’t many "attractions" here, but the relatively quiet streets and winding alleys are pleasant to wander. If you’re an antiques fan, visit the Looier market which is open every day except Friday, it has more than 80 dealers.

And if cheese is your weakness, stop by Wegewijs or Kef, French Cheesemakers.

Westerkerk, completed in 1631, towers over Jordaan. It has quite a history -- Rembrandt is reputedly buried here and Queen Beatrix was married here in 1966. Climb the 277-ft. tower for the best views around.

Next to Westerkerk, Anne Frank’s House was a warehouse and office building during World War II. Anne, and seven other family members and friends hid here for more than two years from June 1942 to August 1944 during the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam.

The families were discovered near the end of the war and sent to concentration camps. Only Anne’s father, Otto, survived and it is he who had Anne’s moving Diary published. The museum includes exhibits about the war and the persecution of Jews throughout history.

Even if you’ve cruised the canals during the day, don’t leave Amsterdam without taking a candlelight cruise. The gabled townhouses lining the canals are absolutely stunning at night and gliding along the dark water through the 17th century is the only suitable finale to a stay here.

You can splurge with an early dinner at the Art Nouveau Café American in the Hotel America, Excelsior, or Christophe and then take a two-hour cruise that includes a bottle of wine. Or reserve a four-course dinner cruise.

Either way, you’ll discover the magic that's been beguiling travelers for 400 years.