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Given its worldwide renown as a visitor city, many people are surprised when they get to Amsterdam to find just how compact and walkable the central area of the city is. It takes a thirty minute walk or ten minute tram ride to get from one end of the city centre to the other. The central area, sometimes also referred to as the 'inner canal belt', is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with much unique and beautiful architecture.
The standard advice therefore is that it doesn't matter where you stay, as long as you are within the inner canal belt. If you are staying anywhere in that area, all the main sights and entertainment areas will be easily reachable.
The central 'inner canal belt' area of Amsterdam is bordered by Central Station (CS) to the North and the Leidseplein/Museum area to the South. On the Western edge is the Jordaan area and to the East is Oosterpark, the docks area and the Amstel River.
This map shows the area and the main visitor sights. To zoom in on any particular area simply click on that part of the map. The remainder of this article will refer to the grid references given in this map so where, for example, you see a listing such as 'Central Station (C2)' simply refer to the square marked as C2 on the map.
Within the inner canal belt there are a number of distinct areas. This will give you a very brief outline of the main ones:
Central Station (C2) - This is the main transport hub in the city. From here trains run all over the country and beyond. It also serves as the city's main tram and bus hub. There are many hotels, from high to low end, in the immediate area and plenty of bars and restaurants. It is perhaps the only part of Central Amsterdam with significant amounts of cars in evidence but in comparison to most other European cities even this traffic is not particularly heavy.
Square (B3) - This is about a 10
minute walk along the city's main street Damrak from Central Station. Both
Damrak and Dam Square
are very touristy with generally over priced bars and restaurants. There are a
number of hotels on Damrak most of which are best avoided. Dam Square is the
spot where Amsterdam
was founded. The city derives its name from a 'Dam' on the river 'Amstel' which
was located here. The Royal Palace and National War Memorial are here, as are Amsterdam's most
expensive bars. There are a couple of upmarket hotels on the square itself and some mid range ones in and around it.
Red Light District (B3 & C2). - The epicentre of 'naughty' Amsterdam the Red Light District is actually quite a small area. It is in the area bordered by the canals Oudezijds Voorburgwaal and Oudezijds Achterburgwaal. In addition to many outlets from the erotic and drugs industries, it hosts a number of great bars. This place is buzzing at night, particularly at weekends and is generally regarded as safe. There are not many hotels in this area, what there are tend to be low end establishments.
Rembrandtplein (B4) - One of the main nightlife areas of Amsterdam this square and its immediate area is surrounded by hotels, eateries, bars and clubs. There are a wide range of hotels, mostly middle to upper market, here.
Leidseplein (A4) - Along with the Red Light District and Rembrandtplein, this is the other main nightlife area in Amsterdam. Like Rembrandtsplein it and the area immediately around it is surrounded by hotels, eateries, bars and clubs. Like the other entertainment areas it gets very busy at night, particularly at weekends. There is a wide range of hotels in every category in this area.
Museumplein (A5) - Whilst only a few minutes walk from lively Leidseplein, the museum area of the city has a totally different atmosphere. It is much quieter, particularly at night and is, museums and small offices aside, a more residential area of the city. There is a wide range of hotels, from high to low end, in this area.
Jordaan (A2 & A3) - A delightful, mostly residential area the Jordaan is quite arty. It could perhaps best be likened to Covent Garden in London or Greenwich Village in New York although, this being Amsterdam, it is both smaller than and very different to either of those areas. There are not many hotels actually in this area. Those that are, come mostly in the B&B or guesthouse category. The canals between Jordaan and Dam Square (A2-B2 & A3-B3) host some of the city's nicest boutique hotels.
Plantage district (D4) - Residential and picturesque district in a quieter, eastern part of the center. The jewish quarter full of museums and jewish landmarks and Artis Zoo (don't be surprised to hear monkeys or wolves at night). A variety of restaurants and cafes, and especially the smaller streets are very pleasant to just stroll around in (Entrepotdok, Plantage Kerklaan). Walking distance to most sights or an easy ride om tram 9.
Vondelpark (A5) - Quieter and more residential, the Vondelpark area has a few upmarket hotels and a good number of B&B/Guest House type establishments.
Stadsdeel Zuid (B6 and the area just to the south of C6) - This area user to be referred to as two distinct ones. De Pijp which is centered around the famous Albert Cuyp Market and the area to its West, formerly known as Oude Zuid. It is a largely residential area teeming with all sorts of shops, restaurants and bars. It stretches from the West at Apollolaan to the Eastern side of Albert Cuypstraat and the Amstel River (C6). On the Western side of this area there area number of hotels, including a few upmarket ones. There are also a few large hotels and a number smaller establishments in De Pijp. Those considering self catering should certainly consider this area.
Off the map: (see Google Maps for more details)
The ring of neighborhoods directly around the center - as in many cities, the 'center experience' in Amsterdam has been expanding to the districts around it: Spaarndammerbuurt (Museum Het Schip), Staatsliedenbuurt, Da Costabuurt, Kinkerbuurt / Oud-West (De Hallen food court), Oosterparkbuurt (Tropenmuseum), Dapperbuurt (Dappermarkt 6 d/w), Indische Buurt. Those neighborhoods have more and more small and big (music, dance, film, food) festivals, heaps of good cafes and restaurants, quirky shops. There are lush parks and the lesser-known museums gain the appreciation they deserve. Safety has improved to the point where it's now statistically safer than the very center. A good option for visitors who want to be away from the crowds in the center, who want to stay amongst the locals in a lively residential neighborhood, and only about 10 minutes travel time into the center.Amsterdam Noord - The area to the North of the map on the other side of the river IJ. It is reached by different free ferries from the back of Central Station (ranging from 5 minutes to 15 minute rides) or by bus or taxi which take a tunnel under the IJ. This area has been transformed in the past ten years or so fom a semi-derelict industrial and commercial zone to one which now hosts a good mix of eateries and things to se and do. The most notable building is the EYE Film Institute which serves as both a cinema complex, a museum, and a waterside eatery. There are now a few hotels in this area, self catering is also an option here. The NDSM wharf has a few hotels and various restaurants, and Pllek city beach (no swimming) and is a 15 minute ferry ride from Central Station.
The Suburbs - Amsterdam's suburbs close to or outside the A10 ring road are mostly bland and uninspiring. A good number of hotels in all market sectors are sprinkled around these suburbs. Most, such as those close to the RAI exhibition centre, cater to commercial customers with business in those parts of town. Many of these places try to pass themselves off as 'close to the centre'. Most aren't, you have been warned!