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Pocket Guide: Amsterdam

Despite its rise from small fishing village to cosmopolitan capital, Amsterdam retains an appealing modesty. Its elongated, unadorned architecture, canals, and cobbled streets, combined with bicycle-friendly flat terrain offer its inhabitants an easy ride and a neighborhood feel. Modesty however, is not something which applies to its infamous red light district. Whether it repels you or draws you in, it is undoubtedly an eye-opening experience and an unashamed display of liberation and tolerance.

Traditional Amsterdam

There are only eight windmills left in greater Amsterdam; a tour to Volendam and Marken will take you on a tour of two Dutch fishing villages, and onward to see the traditional Dutch windmills and polders. Sampling two famous cheeses, Gouda and Edam may put you in the mood for putting on some clogs, or klompen as they are known in Dutch.

Cutting edge couture

When you think of Amsterdam, fashion might not immediately spring to mind, especially if you have just klomped around in a pair of clogs. However, the city is quickly establishing itself as an alternative to the established catwalks of Paris and Milan. Blending practical tailoring and offbeat accessories, it has an ageless appeal and may just encourage you to dive into the nearest boutique for an asymmetrical bag or tilted hat. Try Van Baerlestraat for boutiques, P.C. Hooftstraat for high-end labels, and the Waterlooplein flea market for bargains.

Fragrant wanderings

Something that may already have your attention is Amsterdam's profusion of coffee shops. In another display of the city's open-mindedness, (and despite recent changes in smoking laws) cannabis is likely to be on the menu. If fruit teas and aromatic smoke aren't for you, the cafes are still worth visiting for their distinctive atmosphere and the convivial conversation. Head to the botanical gardens to find out what a 400-year-old potted plant looks like, and take a restful stroll in the subtropical house and medicinal herb garden.

Humbling history

The tragic story of Anne Frank is retold in a museum dedicated to her life and linked to the house in which she and her family hid from Nazi persecution. It was here that Anne wrote her diary, which was eventually published and has become one of the world's most widely read books. Other notable museums are the Rijksmuseum, which features the masterpieces of the Dutch Golden Age, and the Van Gogh Museum, which has the largest collection of his paintings in the world.

Capturing the canals

In contrast to the colorful red light district, a candlelight cruise along the canals will provide a more reserved evening of entertainment. Illuminated at night, the 17th century bridges will have you reaching for your camera, and the Reguliersgracht is perhaps the most photographed stretch of water in Amsterdam. Hop on one of the many trams to Leidseplein to enjoy snazzy cocktail lounges and cool clubs, and join the in-crowd to dance the night away.

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