Port of Amsterdam
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Amsterdam is small enough that much of the city can be covered on foot, allowing visitors to savor sights such as the charming no-two-alike gables atop the houses, houseboats bedecked with potted greenery and masses of blooms in the colorful, floating flower market. Shops offering antiques and avant-garde art beckon everywhere. Outdoor markets, selling everything from postage stamps and parakeets to "junk-tiques," are another intriguing facet of the city.
Considered one of Europe's major art capitals, Amsterdam boasts three great Dutch museums as well as a branch of the Hermitage, the famous trove of art treasures in St. Petersburg, Russia. The Anne Frank House and Rembrandt's home are also popular attractions. In the performing arts, the city has two international stars: the National Ballet and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. (A 2008 poll from classical music magazine Gramophone called the latter the world's best.)
The canal streets of the old city are protected by ordinance and will never change, but Amsterdam is expanding outward and architecture buffs will find both modern and historic neighborhoods to explore. Though quite close to the old city, Passenger Terminal Amsterdam (PTA), known as "the wave" for its free-form facade (shaped like a whale), is the part of the Eastern Docklands area where shipping docks have given way to neighborhoods of striking contemporary design that now house more than 20,000 people. Muziekgebouw aan het IJ, a concert hall for jazz and modern music, is adjacent to the terminal, and ongoing construction will bring many more amenities, including hotels.
With so much to see and do, Amsterdam makes for a rewarding stay before or after cruising.
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Where You're Docked
The Amsterdam cruise terminals are busy in season, hosting more than 200 oceangoing vessels and more than 1,800 river ships that carry more than 786,000 passengers from spring through fall.
If you're on an ocean cruise, you'll dock at one of two areas. The Passenger Terminal Amsterdam (PTA), near the start of the new Eastern Docklands development, is a 10-minute walk or a five-minute ride from Central Station, where all of the city's bus, trolley and boat lines can be boarded. The second terminal area is Felison Terminal, which recently added a second berth. This area is located just in front of the locks.
The city's multitude of river cruise vessels dock behind the Central Station on the River IJ, along a long street called de Ruyterkade.
Though vendors usually appear in the terminal when a ship arrives, there is far more to do, see and buy nearby in town. The port offers a welcome market in the terminal, where you can buy access cards for various attractions. You can also purchase an iAmsterdam card at the tourist office in front of Central Station. The card will give the holder discounts on bus tickets, museum admission and entrance to other places of interest.
Good to Know
The Red Light District can get a bit rowdy at night, with the mobs coming out to pay their respect for various reasons. Amsterdam visitors should also be aware that the term "coffee shop" has a different meaning here; these are places where no hard liquor is sold, but the sale of marijuana is officially tolerated.
On Foot: For visitors who plan to explore on their own, almost everything can be done on foot -- and when you tire, trams cover the main areas of the old city, and buses go almost everywhere, including the Docklands area. (The tourist office, opposite Central Station, is a convenient place to get maps and information and purchase tickets.).
The city's central point is the huge Dam Square, just a five-minute walk from Central Station via Damrak, a busy tourist street. The canals form five circles around Dam Square, and several other squares will help you get your bearings as you study the city map. Lively Leidseplein and Rembrantsplein are lined with sidewalk cafes that are ideal places to rest and watch the passing scene.
Major museums and the classic Concertgebouw concert hall are near the Museumplein, just beyond the canals. Waterlooplein is home to the Jewish Museum, the Muziektheater, the city's handsome concert hall, and Amsterdam's biggest flea market; the Hermitage museum and Rembrandt's House are also nearby. The Jordaan, a bohemian neighborhood with unusual shops and galleries, can be found by looking for the Westerkerk Church and the Anne Frank House.
The adventurous can join the Dutch on their bicycles; rentals are available at MacBike at Central Station.
By Bus: The #326 bus, headed to Central Station, stops right in front of the cruise terminal; the #16 trolley travels from the passenger terminal to the city center. The Canal Bus, a cruise boat traversing the canals with stops at all the city's main attractions, is a sightseeing trip, as well as an easy way to get around; you can get on and off all day.
By Taxi: Metered taxis are readily available, but they can be expensive. There are also human-powered Tuk Tuk taxis. Pricing is based on "zones."
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The Netherlands is part of the European community, and the euro is the official currency. For up-to-the-minute conversions, visit www.xe.com or www.oanda.com.
Bank hours are typically Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. until 5 p.m.; on Mondays, some banks are open only in the afternoon. ATM's are plentiful; a machine can be found just to the left as you exit the cruise terminal, as well as at the airport, train station and dozens of banks. When out and about, look for the ubiquitous lion symbol (IMG ATM's). Credit cards are widely accepted.
Dutch is the official language, but English is the second language of the Netherlands and is spoken everywhere.
Food and Drink
Cafe Americain (American Hotel, 97 Leidsekade, 020 556 3010) is an Art Deco rendezvous, one of the city's most popular spots for everything from a cup of coffee to a full dinner. There's a big outdoor terrace on Leidseplein in summer and it's open from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m., daily.
De Oesterbar (Leidseplein 10, 020-623-2988) is the city's longtime favorite seafood restaurant in a setting of white tiles and fish tanks. Fish is delivered fresh twice daily, and used in indigenous preparations like sole Danoise with tiny Dutch shrimps and sole Veronique with Muscadet grapes. It's open 5:30 p.m. until 11 p.m., daily.
Dutch pancakes are a treat that should not be missed, and the Pancake Bakery (191 Prinsengracht, 020-625-1333) is one of the classic places to sample delicious dinner-plate-size crepes with fillings like ham and cheese as a main dish or fruits for dessert. The bakery is open from 9 a.m. until 9:30 p.m., daily. This is a great choice for families, but large groups should make reservations in advance.
If you are in town late enough for dinner, sample a Dutch specialty -- an Indonesian rijsttafel (rice table) -- at Tempo Doeloe (Utrechtsestraat 75, 020-625-6718). Inspired by the days of the Netherlands East Indies company, it consists of a dozen or more small meat and vegetable dishes served with condiments and rice. It's open Monday through Saturday, 6 p.m. until 11:30 p.m., reservations required. Another solid rijsttafel option is Sampurna (Singel 498 1017), open from 12 to 11 p.m.
Haesje Claes (Spuistraat 273-275, 020-624-9998) serves typical Dutch dishes at moderate prices in an Old World setting, complete with traditional Dutch hanging lamps. Menu items to try include stampot (mashed potatoes and cabbage) and hutspot (stew). It's open noon until midnight, daily.
Delicate Delft china is one of Holland's best-known products; it can be found both in traditional blue and white and in multi-color designs. Gardeners will want to order famous Dutch tulip bulbs, which are shipped to buyers at the proper planting time. Delicious Dutch cheeses can be bought at the airport, as well as in town. The hand-worked, aged Gouda is a special treat. Amsterdam is also an international diamond-cutting center, with many showrooms offering competitive prices on diamonds.