Amsterdam isn't huge. See that random line I've added through the centre of the below map from the train station? The first near Bloemmarkt is about 10 minutes on the tram, and the second mark near the Vondelpark where we stayed was about 20 minutes on the tram.
It's a compact city with a lot packed into the centre. Knowing that I don't cycle, the best tip we had before departing was to get a 72hour tram pass (thank you Runawaykiwi!) on arrival. Basically, leaving the main train station, hook a left out of the main entrance and head for the blue and white information centre. When we visited, the 72hour pass was €16.50 for unlimited access to GVB metros, trams, and buses. We caught the tram the whole time; you just tap the pass on the scanner coming in and out. Easy peasy.
Where to stay in Amsterdam
Advised to book somewhere quickly, as accommodation is usually pretty pricey, we ended up with a good deal from lastminute.com at the Park Plaza Vondelpark. Nestled on the edges of the Museumkwartier, the neighbourhood is a nice quiet family area, with the Amsterdam Hilton (for Beatles fans) just around the corner. The hotel was fine, nothing to write home about bar the slightly strange translucent bathroom walls, but was surrounded with cluster of local restaurants and several tram lines - which for us was great.
A friend of mine hired a houseboat via AirBnB in the Jordaan area, just to the east of the main train station. It's a more funky, lively area full of traditional canals, brown cafes and a short walk from Dam Square and the red light area.
What to do on a city break to Amsterdam
This is probably the $65 million dollar question! I've picked out a few of our favorites on the map above - the van Gogh musuem, a proper Dutch windmill (with great beer), the famous Bloemmarkt (the floating flower market) and the Albert Cuyp Market. Of course, you'll need to visit the Tassenmuseum - handbags and purses - and the Kattenkabinet - Cat museum). A top tip to sneak your way there is to insouciantly just wander that way, accidentally 'discovering' what you've stumbled upon.
|The business end of the Amsterdam Bloemmarkt containing riotous floristry|
Where to eat in Amsterdam
There are funky bistros all over the city, but after our foodie tour, we kept wandering back to the Jordaan area (after our foodie walking tour - the Eating Amsterdam blog is also fabulous for tips) or near our hotel as it was so convenient.
If you're going to try *ahem* special brownies, do you research beforehand and suss where you fancy going. They are usually called Coffee Houses, and have a greena and white label in the window confirming that they are licensed. Oh, and eat afterwards - the munchies can be pretty strong, so I'm told! Just ask the staff in the coffee houses if you're unsure about what to have. Rumour also has it that the coffee houses often have the best coffee and juice selections...
How to get there
It is so very easy. We caught the Eurostar from London, managing to take advantage of a super cheap upgrade (we traveled Friday morning and Monday afternoon) to business class. You transfer in Brussels to the Thalys network which were beautiful trains with wifi, a plethora of snack meals, drinks and their rather friendly staff. There are also business lounges in the station where you can escape the hustle and bustle of the main thoroughfare (and watch the Dutch version of Great British Bake Off if you're lucky...)
|Amsterdam Centraal Station|
Top tip: do not book the last train of the day. Enroute home, the Thalys from Amsterdam to Brusssels was a touch late, making the transfer through Brussels station rather rushed. Chatting with a few regular travellers in our carriage this can happen, but they always spoke with the manager & were placed on the next train to London, usually upgraded - hence not booking the very last train, just in case. Also, when booking your seats the train staff said book the fartherest carriages from the middle of the booking page - they are usually much quieter.
It's also rather straight forward to fly - the airport has good train connections from the main station.
Overall, just wander and enjoy the laid back lifestyle.