Did you know that 2013 marks the 400th anniversary of Amsterdam's iconic canals? Look back at the last 400 years by looking forward to with a trip to the gorgeous city. Whether you're on a strict budget or have euros burning a hole in your pocket, we've got just the tips for you. Just remember to watch out for cyclists.
Where to Stay
Amsterdam is a city where high and low are happy neighbors. Here you can choose accommodation based on amenities and price—splurge and save options are often side-by-side.
Splurge: The Andaz Amsterdam opened its doors in November 2012, overlooking one of the most scenic stretches of Prinsengracht, or Prince's canal. This 122-room hotel was designed by local architect Marcel Wanders and captures the free spirit that exists so strongly in Amsterdam. Rich tones fill the lobby along with oversized furniture that evokes an "Alice in Wonderland" feel. With 24-hour room service, a spa, gym, and bike rentals, this is a full-service, memorable hotel (rooms from €275/night).
Save: Almost immediately next door on the same stretch of Prinsengracht is the Triple Five Guesthouse, a recently renovated, canal-facing guesthouse with just one guest room and one apartment. Both simply decorated options have balconies and free WiFi. Choose between the two based on the amount of space you need, and whether you desire a kitchen. The location for the price is a steal (from €100/night, cash only).
What to Do
Rich traditions are felt throughout Amsterdam, and today's locals uphold those pastimes in countless ways, including performances and informative classes.
Splurge: The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra is celebrating another 2013 milestone with its 125th anniversary. Listen to this internationally acclaimed orchestra—featuring 120 musicians from more than 20 countries—on their home stage, known for its spectacular acoustics. The music and the building are equal inspirations to score yourself a ticket (from €22.50-€121.50).
Save: If you prefer to taste your tradition instead of listen to it, book a tasting class at the Reypenaer Tasting Room. Cheese shop upstairs, classroom downstairs, this center of all things cheese will teach you about the historic ripening processes that make Dutch cheeses so delicious. Learn about how cheeses are made and aged in this class that includes a tasting of several cheeses and paired wines (€15/one-hour class and tasting, with wine).
Where to Eat
Whatever you're craving, Amsterdam has a restaurant to match. From traditional Dutch restaurants serving up home cooking to spicy Indonesian fare, you won't leave town hungry.
Splurge: The flavors of former Dutch colony Indonesia are on offer throughout Amsterdam. One notable spot is Restaurant Blauw, a sleek and modern space known particularly for a delicious execution of rijsttafel, or rice table (from €26.50). This series of small dishes, based around vegetables, fish, or meat, surprises the palate with each new bite. Be sure to make a reservation in advance, or head a couple doors down to a wine bar called Sovine for a glass while you wait for a table.
Save: Saving on meals can be a fun challenge instead of a miserable obstacle. My favorite option is an impromptu canal-side picnic. Benches line the canals, and planning a picnic encourages visitors to enter shops and markets they might otherwise miss. At De Kaaskamer, gather ingredients for your picnic like Dutch cheeses, hard-to-find raw cheeses, meats, breads, and prepared salads. Spend as little or as much as you like.
Where to Drink
During the 17th century Golden Age, Amsterdam was a main port for tea and coffee trade. The tradition of lingering over a drink is still alive and well, so relax over a coffee or cocktail to blend in with the locals.
Splurge: Long known as a beer town, Amsterdam is finally offering upscale places for a cocktail. A local favorite is Vesper, in the charming streets of the Jordaan neighborhood, where bartenders are mixing up serious house special cocktails (from €10). The bar name is inspired by the one true love of James Bond, and in addition to a martini named after the seductress, the cocktail menu offers a "Leap of Faith" where you entrust your drink order to the whims of the bartender. Cocktail workshops are also available for aspiring mixologists.
Save: A former bank building has been transformed into Cafe de Jaren, where a young crowd tends to fill the breezy, bright space. With a sunny terrace overlooking the River Amstel and lots of private, comfortable booths and tables, it is surprising that the menu is so affordable. By day, sip coffee for €2 or by night, order a €3.50 glass of house wine or €2.40 glass of Grolsch beer.
Wear comfortable shoes and Amsterdam is yours to explore on foot. If you want to cover ground quickly, choose one of these canal-focused options.
Splurge: One of the best ways to admire the Dutch architecture that lines Amsterdam's canals is from the scenic seat of a canal cruise. This classic journey meanders through the city's waterways, floating beneath bridges all while you sip on a bottomless glass of sparkling wine. One company, Smidtje, offers a range of cruise options from happy hour 90-minute tours to 3-hour dinner cruises to architecture-focused adventures (from €35-€100).
Save: To witness how neighborhoods change, how the canals curve to form the city's famous canal ring, climb aboard a bike rental. Join the locals in their most popular form of transportation, and cycle alongside picturesque Prinsengracht en route to the quaint streets of the Jordaan district. Though Amsterdammers are sometimes seen breaking traffic rules, for safety (please!) try to follow all traffic patterns and signal when turning (rentals from €8/day)
Freelance writer Jessica Colley covers cuisine, culture, the arts, and experiential travel. She is currently based in New York City and called Dublin, Ireland home for several years. You can follow her on Twitter @jessicacolley or check out her "Writer in the Kitchen" series on her blog.
Photo credits: Andaz Amsterdam courtesy of Andaz Amsterdam; Reypenaer Cheese courtesy of Jessica Colley; Restaurant Blauw courtesy of Restaurant Blauw; Cafe de Jaren courtesy of Cafe de Jaren; Amsterdam canals via Shutterstock