Instead of the traditional guided canal cruise, take a St Nicolaas Boat Club trip. Your captain will give you as many facts about the water (and the number of bicycles and bodies found within) as you can take during a relaxing trip - made all the more pleasant by being allowed, indeed encouraged, to bring your own drinks, food and smokes. Secure a place by signing up in advance (ideally a day or two before) at Boom Chicago, the un-Dutch sounding bar in the Leidseplein. It's free - though a donation of a few euros is expected.
Hey then, what is Amsterdam famous for? Canals and canal boats. Rather than staying in some dingy hotel up loads of steep stairs, it is possible to hire a canal boat. It is cheaper than most hotels or apartments and the water-level views of ducks and passing life are really amazing.
We have done it on a number of ocassions. Even when it is icy-freezing outside, the boats are always toasty-cosy warm and have all the conveniences you need for an easy-going holiday. Visit www.amsterdam-houseboat.com or speak to Klaus on 0031.624207088.
There are two good ways of amusing everybody, from singles to large families, once arriving in Amsterdam's well-organised station.
First, you could hire a bike from a Rijwiel shop, which usually costs about 5-10 euros per day and simply involves showing your passport and paying a small deposit. Remember which side of the road to ride and watch out for roundabouts; vehicles appproaching the traffic have the right of way. All Dutch bikes have built-in locks which are easy to use - which is lucky, as second-hand bike trade is very lucrative in Holland. Travelling by road is a fantastic way of seeing the city.
Alternatively, on arriving in Amsterdam, cross the road in front of the station and jump on a canal boat - they run throughout the day and night all summer. Tours go through all parts of the city. Study gables on residential homes; until 1875, they were the only form of identification for a house. Find the 'spout', the 'step', the 'neck' and the 'bell'. Trips go right round the city, to the harbour, with good guides on board. There are left luggage lockers at the station.
Cut out the middle man, book direct yourself. We went to Amsterdam to see the Tall Ships Race, which was magnificent. The atmosphere was electric, a lovely hot sunny day with an appreciative crowd of spectators.
We took a trip down the canals on a barge and ended up as part of the flotilla, in the harbour. Go and see for yourself, make the most of the opportunities to go to other countries by Eurostar. Travel in comfort, in style and with confidence; Europe is closer than ever with Eurostar.
Head for the harbour, a short walk from the railway station. There you can pick up a boat-and-bike tour of the Isselmeer. While you cycle through the wonderful Dutch landscapes, the barge which acts as your floating hotel moves to the next fishing village and will be waiting for you at the end of the day's gentle cycle ride.
For the price of a three-star hotel, why not rent a houseboat instead and feel like you're living like an Amsterdammer.
We had a fantastic weekend watching the tourist boats go by and feeling quietly smug with a cold beer or three. There's loads to choose from but this is a good place to start: www.houseboathotel.nl.
You might think tourist boats rather corny, but the service based near the Heineken Experience is not as crowded as others.
Our captain asked if we spoke English as he only spoke Dutch; what a fibber! "The canals originally had 3 metres of water, but now are only 2 metres because of 1 metre of bicycles," he told us.
In the evening, eat in Jordaan at the Eetkamer, Westerstraat 76. This small neighbourhood bistro is double its old size, but still friendly with a lovely atmosphere of locals noisily enjoying themselves with brilliant food. Don't book over the net: Frans doesn't read emails.
Don't miss the Houseboat Museum, which is on a boat in Prinsengracht. It provides a small but fascinating look at life on the canals, and every now and then tea is served too.
Learn the secrets of houseboat life, like where they go to get their bottoms scraped (and it's not the red light district).
Live like a local by staying on a cosy houseboat. See the city from water-level, looking at upside-down buildings shimmering; share your evenings with locals and your breakfast with swans.
The incredibly friendly gay owners will fill your fridge with wine and your window boxes with flowers, all for less than the price of a good hotel. You will find yourself down a quiet side canal, but only five minutes walk from the action.
For Amsterdam junkies, fall in love with the city all over again; for newbies, lose your virginity in style. Bliss!
No visit to Amsterdam is complete without a canal trip, but rather than the usual tourist boats, with their pre-recorded multi-lingual commentary, try the St. Nicolaas Boat Club.
Go to the bar of the Boom Chicago comedy club in the Leidseplein as soon as you arrive and book a place. The comedy is also excellent, and buying advance tickets will save you a few euros. Time your trip to end shortly before the show starts.
Buy drinks and snacks for the journey, then enjoy an unforgettable tour of parts of the city that many tourists never see.
We have an 8 and a 5 year old, and really enjoyed half-term in Amsterdam. Van Gogh and Rijksmuseum are reduced scale due to building work, but that means all the best "must-see" stuff is more easily accessible, and 90 mins in each was sufficient. The Artis Zoo and Nemo science place are both worth seeing. Canal boat trips ease tired feet. Great food, lovely people, very child friendly and family orientated.
Fly with KLM, only c.£30 + tax each, but no hassle, really nice people and none of that easyjet scrum. We stayed with City Mundo (recomended in the Guardian) in a private apartment on the outskirts by the Vondelpark and a beautiful canal - very affordable, easy by tram into town. Good local amenities.
This is a canal trip with a difference. The club are a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of historic boats on the Amsterdam canals. The club will take your group on a trip round the lesser known canals and sights, with the knowledgeable captains gauging and tailoring the trip to your particular needs. It's free, although giving the captain a gratuity is polite (around 10 euros is normal). Best of all, you can take your take own supplies, be that food, drink, or smokes.
Inside Boom Chicago, Leidseplein 12, Amsterdam;
A canal tour is perhaps a bit touristy, but I enjoy them despite living in the Netherlands. A one-hour trip is a nice way to see a few sights when you are tired of walking.
In the summer I prefer to rent a paddleboat with a friend. There is a rental place near Rijksmuseum. It is not as warm on the canals and you can go at your own pace.
Most people who visit Amsterdam see the canals but do not know that all these canals end up in the IJ, a large river that runs behind the central station.
For a different view of Amsterdam, walk out the back of the central station to the ferries. Take the one of the boats labelled Amsterdam North (free) and you will end up in the northern part of the city. Take the footpath to the right and after five minutes you'll see a bar/restaurant called the Wilhelminadok. From here there’s a fantastic view of the old city and when it's sunny you can sit on a huge terrace floating on the water.
Alternatively you can go out the back of the central station and to the right (along the waterfront) for about 10 minutes until you reach the new concert hall, Muziekgebouw aan het IJ, which also has a fantastic view of the city and the river.
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