City Life: Laid-back laissez-faire
The city with a village mentality, where ducks compete for canal-bank space with disoriented tourists.
Once you've dipped into the heady club and bar culture, jump on a tram to the picturesque Nine Streets area; hire a bike to explore architecturally interesting Zuid; or hit the beach - it's only 30 minutes away. It's time to graduate from the red-light district and explore one of Europe's most picturesque, liveliest cities.
Parking is hellish. Everyone uses trams or a bicycle.
A taxi from the airport costs around €45. For the most laid-back ride into town, Ralph's taxi service offers a superior, leather-interiored TV-toting Merc (email firstname.lastname@example.org).
A 20-minute train from Schiphol airport to the city centre costs about €6 one-way.
Country code for the Netherlands: 31. Amsterdam: 20.
The Diary of Anne Frank; Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach; Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier.
Do go / Don't Go
Weekends are busy all year round, and September is a big time for conferences, so book ahead.
Hearty, rib-sticking Northern fare, as well as herring, smoked eel, and Indonesian rijsttafel ('rice table'), an army of small spicy dishes.
There are ranks all over, but you can usually hail; tip ten per cent. Beware of unlicensed mini-cabs.
The Dutch aren't big tippers; ten per cent is usually about right, and it's common to give the bartender a euro with every round.
Bicycle clips; puncture kit; an open mind.
Van Gogh Museum (www.vangoghmuseum.nl), Rijksmuseum (www.rijksmuseum.nl), Stedelijk Modern Art Museum (www.stedelijk.nl).
Go with the flow in restaurants - Dutch service can be very laid-back.
For designer labels, go to PC Hooftstraat. We prefer the Nine Streets - a grid within the canal network that is packed with boutiques and curiosity shops. We love DOM on Spuistraat, for all kinds of items you never thought you needed. Spmrkt is a warehouse of all things retro and cool: books, fashion, furniture, art. Spiegelstraat is renowned for antiques. For markets, on Saturdays and Mondays head to Noordermarkt for organic food and bric-à-brac, or the bigger, touristier Waterlooplein market for second-hand clothes. Albert Cuypmarkt in the Pijp claims to be Europe's longest street market.
Owing to topography and building-height restrictions, nothing is that high up, but your best shot is the café on the sixth floor of Metz department store on Leidsestraat.
In April or May, take a drive out to the tulip fields and feast your eyes.
30 April Queen's Day - the whole of Amsterdam is on holiday and the canals come alive. May National Cycling Day on the second Saturday sees thousands pedalling through town. August Classical concerts on the canals; Gay Pride, when the city is awash with revellers (www.amsterdampride.nl). 5 December St Nicholas Day kicks off the Christmas festivities.