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Top five things to do in Amsterdam

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Amsterdam is a beautiful city and, while it is popular for one or two particular recreational pursuits, there is plenty to do for those whose interests are a little less intemperate. 

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I enjoyed a few days in the Netherlands city in what is known as the tourism “shoulder period” last year (late September/early October) and enjoyed absolutely glorious weather – sunny mild days with almost no rain.

However, if you think there may be less in the way of crowds at that time of year, think again. The streets, cafés and bars were heaving, so be prepared to rub shoulders with quite a few fellow travellers.

There is plenty to do in Amsterdam aside from cycling and visiting the much-touted marijuana cafés, red light district and Anne Frank House (be prepared to join a huge queue for the latter). Here are my top picks.

Take a Walk

I guess this sounds a little counter-intuitive in a city with such a bike-friendly reputation, but safely cycling the narrow, busy roads takes quite a lot of concentration.

There is so much to see just in the streets and buildings that it is worth grabbing a good guide book and taking time to get lost around the canals, finding some of the city’s charming hidden corners. Even better, take a walking tour with a local to get an insider’s view of the city and learn some history.

The beautiful Art Nouveau/Art Deco Pathé Tuschinski in Amsterdam.

The beautiful Art Nouveau/Art Deco Pathé Tuschinski in Amsterdam.

Take a canal tour

There are lots to choose from. Some of the canal tours operate in a similar fashion to the hop-on-hop-off buses found in many major cities and are a great way to get a wider view of the city’s pretty and distinctive 400-year-old UNESCO-protected canal belt. Others operators offer night-time tours, when the bridges are magically lit up, or delightful evening dinner cruises, when you can take in the city nightlife over a glass of wine; they are the perfect end to a busy day of walking (see above).

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Visit the Jordaan

When the hustle and bustle of the busy main tourist areas are getting to be too much for you, a visit to the quieter residential area of The Jordaan is just the thing. I spent some time wandering there with the fabulous Eating Amsterdam food tours, visiting local foodie secrets, but could happily have spent much longer exploring the independent art galleries, antique stores and cool small bars and restaurants.

Here, you will also find the area known as the 9 Streets – a network of old, narrow cobbled streets full of some of the most fascinating independent shops you will find anywhere. Big tip – take your credit card.

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Visit the Rijksmuseum

Located on Museum Square is the magnificent and recently renovated Rijksmuseum. It is the largest art museum in the country and rivals any of the great art museums elsewhere in Europe. It houses an extensive range of significant objects from the last 800 years, including the miniature house which was the inspiration for the novel The Miniaturist and Rembrandt’s famous painting The Night Watch.

Make sure you leave plenty of time to wander around and see as much as possible. I remember learning about the Dutch Masters school of painters at school, but it wasn’t until I saw some of them here that I truly appreciated why they are known as masters.

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People-watch in Rembrandtplein

Rembrandtplein is the major square in central Amsterdam. Everybody eventually passes through here and it is surrounded by heaps of cafés, bars and clubs, most with outdoor tables and chairs. It is the perfect place to sit back with a large, cold beer and watch the world go by.

In the centre of the square is a bronze-cast replica of The Night Watch, a magnet for tourists and a photo must – although it’s so popular that it’s impossible not to end up with snaps of perfect strangers.

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You can find out more about Amsterdam, including its festivals, restaurants, nightlife and other activities, on the iAmsterdam website.

South Australian writer Amanda McInerney writes about travel and food on her Lambs’ Ears & Honey blog. She was a guest of Eating Europe for her Eating Amsterdam tour.

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