Travel Postcard: 48 hours in Amsterdam

AMSTERDAM Sat Oct 27, 2007 1:05am IST

1 of 2. A tourist boat turns from the Brouwersgracht into the Prinsengracht in Amsterdam, August 11, 2004.

Credit: Reuters/Michael Kooren

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AMSTERDAM (Reuters Life!) - With more than 230 rainy days a year, it doesn't really matter when you visit Amsterdam. So pack an umbrella and enjoy the Dutch capital's picturesque city centre and infamous nightlife. Reuters correspondents with local knowledge help visitors get the most from a short stay.

FRIDAY

5 p.m. - Welcome! As you will have noticed during the taxi ride to your hotel, bikes rule the streets of Amsterdam. The city has more bicycles than people. So at the start of the weekend, get into the spirit and rent yourself a bike. A city bike will set you back just 23 euros for two days at Rent A Bike (Damstraat 20-22, phone 020-6255029, www.bikes.nl). If you feel adventurous, you can even rent a tandem.

7 p.m. - Amsterdam offers many choices for food -- from the cuisines of former colonies such as Indonesia and Suriname to all-time favorites like Italian and Japanese. You should probably stop at an Indonesian restaurant at least once and have the famous Rijstafel for dinner, a selection of small dishes with rice. You are most likely to run into Reuters reporters at Tujuh Maret (Utrechtsestraat 73, 020-427 9865, www.tujuh-maret.nl, be sure to reserve a table), but there are plenty more excellent Indonesian restaurants. For restaurant listings and recommendations, check www.iens.nl.

10 p.m. - Amsterdam's main nightlife hot spots are Rembrandtplein, Leidseplein and the surrounding streets, where you will find a wide choice of watering holes for a Friday night. Check the schedules for the nearby Melkweg (Lijnbaansgracht 234a, 020-5318181, www.melkweg.nl) and Paradiso (Weteringschans 6-8, 020-626 45 21, www.paradiso.nl), the main venues for live music. International super stars will appear elsewhere, for example in the football stadium in the south of the city, but you might get lucky -- Robbie Williams for example gave a "warm-up concert" in the Paradiso ahead of a major tour in 2005.

SATURDAY

9 a.m. - Weather permitting, start your day with a bike ride along the three main canals of central Amsterdam, the Prinsengracht, Keijzersgracht and Herengracht, and take in the postcard views of the Dutch capital with its 17th century houses, some of them leaning so dangerously that one wonders when they will topple. Historically, the finest and priciest houses were in the so-called Golden Bend of the Herengracht, which stretches east from the intersection of Nieuwe Spiegelstraat. Amsterdam mayor Job Cohen has his official residence here.

10 a.m. - There are several options to see an Amsterdam canal house from the inside. We recommend the Willet Holthuysen Museum (Herengracht 605, 020-523 1822, www.willetholthuysen.nl), a fully furnished patrician house that was bequeathed to the city by its last resident, Louisa Holthuysen, in 1895. Don't miss the garden. Alternatively, visit the Huis Marseille (Keizersgracht 401, 020-531 8989, www.huismarseille.nl). In the basement of this photography museum you will find a small reading room with a coffee machine, inviting you to take a break from the bustling city outside.

Noon - Make your way along the main canals in a northwesterly direction until you hit the Negen Straatjes ("Nine Streets", www.de9straatjes.nl) -- a matrix of busy streets in a rectangle framed by the Prinsengracht and the Singel to the west and east, and Reestraat and Runstraat to the North and South. Explore the colorful mix of shops selling anything from 1960s lamps to current designer fashion, and stop for lunch at one of the cafes (for example the Seven Steps, Reestraat 7, 020-420 9545). Fans of Steven Soderbergh's "Ocean's Twelve" will recognize the corner of Reestraat and Keijzersgracht.

3 p.m. - Amsterdam has enough museums for several visits. The Rijksmuseum is currently undergoing renovation and has only a limited collection on display in one wing. The modern art Stedelijk Museum is also closed for construction; it has found a temporary home in the former building of the postal service at central station, PostCS. The Van Gogh Museum houses the largest collection of the artist's paintings in the world and is showing an exhibition about Barcelona around 1900 until January (www.vangoghmuseum.nl). From the Negen Straatjes, the closest of the major museums is the Anne Frank Museum (www.annefrank.org), which incorporates the house where the young girl hid during the Nazi occupation.

5 p.m. - One of the most remarkable museums in Amsterdam is Our Lord in the Attic (www.museumamstelkring.nl) -- a church hidden away in the attic of a house in the red-light district and dating from a time when Catholics were not allowed to openly practice their religion in Protestant Amsterdam. It was used as a church for over 200 years but the museum notes that its existence was an open secret -- the Protestant authorities knew about it, but turned a blind eye.

6 p.m. - You're already in the red-light district, so you might as well walk around a bit and take in the sights. No visit to Amsterdam is complete without it anyway, and even if you're not here for a stag night, nobody will understand if you skipped this bit of town. Explore the side streets and then make your way to the Nieuwmarkt, where you'll find a sufficient number of respectable pubs to stop for a drink. Now is the time to try out traditional Dutch cuisine -- order yourself some bitterballen (deep-fried balls filled with a meaty sauce) and kaasblokjes (blocks of cheese) as appetizers along with your biertje.

8 p.m. - Make your way from the Nieuwmarkt back to Dam Square and walk down Nes, a small street running parallel to the Rokin. See if you like any of the restaurants there (Brasserie Harkema has recently developed into a crowd favorite). Alternatively, walk on a bit and have dinner at the spacious Cafe de Jaren (www.cafedejaren.nl). De Jaren is also well worth a visit during the day for coffee and cake.

11 p.m. - Still some energy left? Club 11 in the PostCS building close to the central station offers a unique clubbing experience -- on the 11th floor with a great view of the city. Check the schedule on www.ilove11.nl.

SUNDAY

10 a.m. - Amsterdam's web of canals was once key to transporting goods in and out of the city's warehouses -- and express company DHL to this day uses a delivery boat -- but today almost all traffic is from pleasure craft. Many locals while away Sundays cruising through the canals with a bottle of wine and some good company. Renting a boat with an outboard motor is nigh impossible, but you can rent your own pedal boat or "canal bike" which are moored at various spots across the city. If you would prefer to take it easy you can hop on to a canal cruise. There are several boat tours on offer but one option is Reederij Kooij (www.rederijkooij.nl) which have several departure points including Leidseplein and Rokin.

Noon - If you aim to hop off your boat in the area, the Vondelpark is another great place to spend some time on a Sunday. As long as you watch out for the many rollerbladers, bikers and joggers, a pleasant stroll around the park's leafy walkways will help to blow away any remaining cobwebs from the night before. Weather permitting, you can pick up some edam or gouda cheese, bread rolls and a few cans of Heineken from a nearby supermarket and have a picnic near one of the lakes. Otherwise stop at 't Blauwe Theehuis (the Blue Teahouse) for a bite to eat (www.blauwetheehuis.nl).

2 p.m. - The city's official tourist board may not be promoting them, but Amsterdam coffee shops are a huge draw nonetheless. Granted, to most first-time visitors it may seem odd that there are places where you can order marijuana off a menu and the staff behind the counter is happy to give advice about the subtle differences of intoxication that the different varieties will produce. The Greenhouse on Oudezijds Voorburgwal (www.greenhouse.org) can be a good place to spot celebrities, given its proximity to the Grand Hotel. Alternatively, the Asian art work, cushions and lanterns in De Rokerij on Lange Leidsedwarsstraat (www.rokerij.net) are just what you need to sink into a mystical trance.

4 p.m. - If you have some time to spare before you head home, you could have a browse around Amsterdam's Flower market. Florists are located on barges along this canal and you can pick up a range of flowers at a bargain ("50 tulips for 10 euros!") or just enjoy the sights and smells of the colorful array of plants on offer. If you absolutely must, there are also several souvenir shops along this street which provide you with a last chance to pick up a canal house magnet for your fridge, an Amsterdam key ring or even a pair of clogs.

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