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Amsterdam. City of canals, boats and bridges. City of museums, art galleries and shops. City of cafes, bars, clubs, coffee shops and an infamous red light district.

Something for everyone, as the saying goes. A cliché, perhaps, but for the capital of the Netherlands — true.

First-timers should take a boat cruise through Amsterdam’s port and canals to get a feel for the city and its history. On a follow-up trip, rent a canal bike — similar to a paddle boat — and use pedal power to poke around in places larger boats can’t go.

Art fans will love Amsterdam’s museums: the van Gogh Museum, the Rijksmuseum, the modern Cobra and the Stedelijk museums (it is closed for renovations, but some of its works are on exhibit at Stedelijk CS near the train station) are all worth a visit.

If you like museums but art is not your thing, there is the Anne Frank House, the Amsterdam Historical Museum, the Jewish Museum and the Rembrandt House Museum (well, a little bit of art) to name a few. And while not exactly museums, there is a Madame Tussauds and the Heineken Experience in the factory where the famous beer was once brewed.

Shopping in Amsterdam comes in many forms, from probable junk at the flea market to upscale clothing and accessories. The Waterlooplein flea market is on the low end of the bill, while at the Albert Cuyp Market, called by some Europe’s largest street market, you can get just about anything from clothing to food.

For fresh food and produce, try the Boerenmarkt (farmers market) at Noordermarkt on Saturday mornings, and Spui square for art on Sundays.

Amsterdam’s biggest department store, De Bijenkorf, is on Dam square and Klaverstraat; the city’s main pedestrian shopping street is just off the square. For designer stores, look near Museumplein for names like Luis Vuitton and Cartier. If you are thinking engagement, Amsterdam is known for its diamond factories and stores.

Some people go to Amsterdam for its nightlife alone. There are bars, cafes and clubs open until the wee hours of the morning. They have famous names like Melkweg, Odeon or Paradiso. The so-called Brown Cafes, popular with the locals, get their name from their walls colored yellow by smoke, and while they do sell coffee, in the evening their denizens will be hoisting beers and jenever, Dutch gin.

Coffee shops do offer coffee, but most often no alcohol. What they do sell is illegal — in Europe, in the States, under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and even in Holland — namely drugs. It might be tolerated by the Dutch authorities, but don’t try to take any home with you.

Some of the things offered in Amsterdam’s red light district are also not allowed under UCMJ, but it is not forbidden to walk through, as the hundreds of tourists passing by attest to. There are good bars here, and the city’s Chinatown, with good, family-run restaurants is right on the district’s edge.

If the night of partying was too much, clear your head at the Artis Zoo (good with kids, too) or a walk through Amsterdam’s expansive Vondelpark.

For more on the city and help with finding accommodations, see the Web site www.visitamsterdam.nl.


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