Lively, lascivious Amsterdam has a unique atmosphere that makes a mockery of the caricature of the 'conservative Dutch'. Radiating out from Dam Square, the historic centre of the city is ringed by quaint canals and cobbled streets, and throngs with bicycles, tourists, houseboats, students and street performers. Amsterdam wears two faces: on one, it smiles and beckons hedonistic youth with its notorious Red Light District and liberal view of marijuana use; while on the other it offers discerning travellers some of Europe's finest museums and art galleries.
A familiar Amsterdam scene. © Jorge Royan
For the tourist, one of the joys of Amsterdam is its compactness. The old part of town is a pleasure to explore on foot, strolling across ancient bridges and down narrow lanes past gabled houses, and dropping in to browse inviting souvenir boutiques crammed with blue and white Delft china, wooden clogs and tulips. Pavement cafes and cosy bars offer rest and refreshment. An alternative is to take a circular canal-boat cruise and see the city from the water, peering in on the lives of the locals who live on houseboats lining the waterways.
At night even the most conservative visitor is drawn by the lively atmosphere of the infamous Red Light District, known as De Wallen, which is bounded by the Oudezijds Voorburgwal and Oudeziujds Achterburgwal canals near Dam Square. Here prostitutes display their charms in shop windows and touts encourage passers-by to view raunchy floorshows. The best nightclubs and bars, and theatres and cinemas are mainly to be found in the bustling Leidesplein and Rembrandtplein.
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