If you decide to travel Europe for a while, be sure not to miss Amsterdam. Contrary to many believes, it is not only Red Light District and stoner coffee shops that make the city what it is – there are many cultural, romantic and historical aspects to the city as well.
The good thing about Amsterdam is the general ambiance of the place. The city part of town is very compact and laid back and all major streets are separated by canals which are ever present throughout the city. The canals also mean that the major part of town is spared from heavy traffic and you can easily (albeit thirty-five to forty-five minutes from north to south) walk everywhere. Somewhat complicated is the way the streets are arranged. They follow the canals in a kind of pentagonal way, which will most likely get first time visitors lost. Make sure you bring a good map with you when you travel here.
Transport to and from Schiphol airport is first-rate and convenient. The train station connected to the airport has a train leaving for Centraal Station every twenty, thirty minutes or so. Originating almost right outside of Centraal Station is the street Damrak, which can be considered the main avenue of Amsterdam. Here you will find a tourist information centre, bars and restaurants targeted mostly at other tourists who have chosen to travel here, and more business oriented hotels. Parades and demonstrations are usually held here as well which can be an interesting site sometimes. Damrak takes you straight towards the heart of the city, and it’s a big heart.
Damrak ends up in Dam Square which is busy day and night with both locals and tourists. Located here is the glorious Royal Palace (Koninklijk Palace). The king and queen are usually not at home anymore, however, as the palace is mainly used for official receptions and banquets nowadays. Another interesting port of call in the square is Madame Tussauds, the world famous wax museum.
If you make it eastward from here, you will eventually end up in the infamous Red Light District. Here, religion and conscience is left at the door and prostitutes, sex shops, peep shows and strip clubs are of abundance. This part of town has its own history; dating back to the sixteenth century when Amsterdam was a major port for world trade and sailors needed to distract themselves before they would travel further. Contrary to popular beliefs, the Red Light District is actually the safest part of Amsterdam; just keep your wallet in a safe place. It is usually very busy and overcrowded with tourists and as always opportunists are afoot.
If you continue south you will end up in Rembrandt Plein. This is a great centre for nightlife with bars, clubs and cafés. If you are young and travel alone, the grassy area in the middle is a good place to meet other young people on sunny days.
Make your way westward and you will find yet another busy nightlife square, Leidseplein. It has plenty cinemas, theatres, coffee-shops, restaurants and clubs. If you travel here during the summer, enjoy a drink or two in one of the many pubs’ outdoor seating. This place is usually busy until the early hours.