***image1***Most people probably don’t think of Amsterdam as a winter destination, but I discovered there’s really not a bad time to visit this unique city as its charm, nightlife and ever-present tulips draw visitors throughout the year.
Of course, getting there is always your first concern. We chose to go by rail, my personal recommendation. The trip from Kaiserslautern provides some magnificent scenery to view and letting someone else do the driving makes the trip more enjoyable.
However, international flights reach Schiphol Airport on the outskirts of Amsterdam, daily, and ferry service from the United Kingdom is available to nearby ports. The roadways leading into the city are up to the usual solid European standards, so driving is certainly an option as well, and may be your cheapest way to travel.
If you choose rail, you’ll find yourself arriving downtown in the heart of the city. As you exit the station, you’ll see one of four tourist information offices within and near the city just across the road. There’s another one inside the station, one across town in the Leidseplein, and one located at the airport. All are opened daily, with the exception of Christmas and New Year’s Day, but be sure to verify the hours. Visit www.visitamsterdam.nl for more information and to see the location of each office.
Whatever else you do, stop by one of these offices. You can purchase transportation tickets, grab a current map of the city, and gather all the information you’ll need for your visit. Guys, get the map … your wife, sister, girlfriend, daughter, mother, aunt, fiancé will be proud of you!
Once you find yourself within the city proper, you’ll note both the tram and Metro systems. The tram has better route coverage within the city while the Metro serves the needs of commuters living in the suburbs.
Remember that stop at one of the tourist information offices? I suggest you purchase a public transportation pass if you have any intention of using these services. It covers the tram, Metro and all bus lines, and is especially nice when the weather turns sour.
You’ll also immediately note that the bicycle rules in Amsterdam. Bike paths often run parallel to the pedestrian paths, and everyone – every vehicle – yields to the bicyclist.
Of course, the feature that grabs most visitors is the city’s concentric rings of canals, carefully clutching Amsterdam as though the city sat in the belly of a horseshoe. The canals are not only attractive and vibrant, but they provide another means of public transport that is both novel and functional.
Once you’ve sorted out your transportation needs, you’re ready to hit the bricks. Seems to me every self-respecting tourist has to accomplish at least five noteworthy visitations while in Amsterdam, especially if you’re there for more than 24 hours. My list included the Anne Frank House, the Heineken Experience, the flower market, at least one museum – I chose the Van Gogh Museum – and of course, the Red Light District.
Naturally, it’s automatically understood that shopping occurs between visits and eating at every opportunity is required. The stores range from tourist trap to exquisite and some of the best pancakes in the world are served in Amsterdam.
If all else fails, or if you just have no plan at all, start walking. Around every corner, along each canal, from one side of the city to the other, you’ll certainly find something that interests you. The people are friendly and visitors are welcomed. And yes, you’ll even see those magnificent tulips … even in the winter.