Getting Oriented

Once you realize that there are no straight lines in central Amsterdam, you’ll find it to be both an easy city to navigate as well as one you want to purposely get lost in. For starters, it's a teeny city: think of it as an onion with Centraal Station as the stem and the city folding out in layers, each on a somewhat circular path under the guidance of the Canal Ring. To stay oriented, just follow each onion layer around. The concentrically circular nature of the city’s layout makes it easy to unwittingly walk in exactly the opposite direction from the one you thought you were heading—but this really only adds to the fun. Do watch out for trams, taxis, and bikes; when you're walking, keep off the bike paths, which are well paved and often mistaken for sidewalks.

  • Centrum, Red Light District, and Nieuwmarkt.In the oldest part of town, you'll get the split personality of Amsterdam: historic marvels, as well as the infamous Red Light District.
  • Plantage and Amsterdam-Oost.The Plantage with its elegant 19th-century architecture has a handful of family-friendly attractions and some excellent museums, notably those that tell the story of Amsterdam Jewish life. Amsterdam-Oost is mostly residential with some fantastic restaurants and several nice parks, including the elegant late-19th-century Oosterpark, just behind the Tropenmuseum, which focuses on world cultures.
  • The Waterfront.Before Centraal Station was built, the city center was open to the sea; today the waterfront area surrounding the station is full of new life, with exciting museums, the Westerpark, and many restaurants.
  • The Canal Rings and Rembrandtplein. The beautiful waterways and 17th-century mansions along the Western and Eastern Canal Rings are Amsterdam at its most scenic.
  • Jordaan, Leidseplein, and Oud-West. Jordaan is a picturesque area to wander and eat out; next-door Leidseplein is the place to go to lose yourself in bars and coffeeshops; and Oud-West is a hip and happening place to be.
  • Museum District, De Pijp, and Oud-Zuid. This large area includes the Museum District and De Pijp, a buzzy global village where you can taste a bevy of multicultural treats.

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