Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands, and is also called the "Venice of the North". Its canals are world famous and in the city center alone there are over 290 bridges. Amsterdam is the cultural heart of the Netherlands, with famous museums, national theatre companies and the country's only opera.
Amsterdam has 750,000 inhabitants, which makes it the largest city in the Netherlands. The people of Amsterdam are known as tolerant and assertive, with their hearts in the right place.
Amsterdam originated at the mouth of the river Amstel in Het IJ, where it also got its name (Amstelredamme, or 'Dam in the Amstel'). The city is located in the west of the country. Utrecht is located at 40 kilometers, The Hague at 55 kilometers and Rotterdam at 75 kilometers.
For the economy of Amsterdam, the service sector is the most important. The city is the financial center of the Netherlands. The national airport Amsterdam Schiphol Airport also plays an important role in the city's economy. In addition, the city has a flourishing port, although it pales into insignificance compared to Rotterdam.
Amsterdam attracts many tourists, who enjoy the city's old city center with its canals, numerous museums and relaxed atmosphere. The British are the largest group of foreign tourists, followed by the Americans and the Germans. The Dutch themselves also like to come to Amsterdam for one or several days.
To the south-west of the city lies Schiphol, officially Amsterdam Airport, one of the biggest airports in Europe with direct connections to all continents. Budget airlines use Eindhoven Airport and Rotterdam Airport.
There is a sophisticated tram and bus network. Amsterdam also has a metro, but that is of only limited value to the city's visitors. The metro is connected above all with the "Zuid-Oost" area, a suburb. Currently, a third metro line is under construction, which is expected to be ready by 2012.
All public transport (including trains with the city limits!) is accessible with a so-called strip card. The city is divided into zones. The greater the number of zones, the more strips need to be stamped. The city center comprises a single zone.
Traffic and Parking
The center of Amsterdam has no wide boulevards. Traffic has to move through relatively narrow streets and across narrow canals, and the result is often gridlock, which is why the people of Amsterdam often use public transport or use a bike.
Finding a place to park in the center of Amsterdam is not easy. Also, it is expensive, and if you forget to fill your parking meter, your car will simply be towed away. It is better to park your rental car in one of the car parks in and around the center, and to proceed on foot or by tram. Dynamic signs throughout the city indicate in which car parks there are still spaces available.
There are some Park & Ride (P+R) car parks at the edge of the city (train station Sloterdijk, Amsterdam Arena, Zeeburg). When you park there you get a free public transport ticket.
It is necessary to book hotel rooms in Amsterdam in advance, especially during peak season (spring until autumn). There are many hotels outside of the city center as well, and in light of the compact size of the city, staying in one of those is not a problem. Some hotels may be fully booked due to large exhibitions or conferences, especially those near the RAI in the south of the city.