Heritage and hedonism. Canals and cycle paths. Tulips and techno music. Svelte 17th-century townhouses and brawny corporate HQs. Amsterdam, it seems, has something for everyone. And when you consider the capital of the Netherlands has 800,000 permanent residents and 3.6 million annual visitors, that's a lot of things to have.
However you arrive in Amsterdam, start your sightseeing at the Central railway station. Built in the 1880s on three man-made islands that divide the waterfront from the historic centre of Amsterdam, this impressive structure has a cast-iron roof spanning 40 metres. From here you can explore the winding streets of the centre and the famous canal system that encircles it.
The canals are one legacy of Amsterdam’s 17th-century Golden Age. Another is the collection of seminal paintings by Rembrandt, Vermeer, et al., exhibited at the Rijksmuseum (www.rijksmuseum.nl). Masterpieces from later centuries can be seen at the refurbished Stedelijk Musem (www.stedelijk.nl). Until the Van Gogh Museum (www.vangoghmuseum.nl) reopens in April 2013, you can see works by the Netherlands' most famous artist in a special Van Gogh exhibition in the Hermitage Amsterdam (www.hermitage.nl).
Inspired by Vincent? Get your sunflowers (and pretty much anything else) at the Albert Cuypmarkt (www.albertcuypmarkt.nl), open Monday to Saturday and reputedly Europe’s largest daytime market. Centrally located Droog (www.droog.com) sells designer wares from bamboo bikes to cowhide chairs. Holland is the world’s largest cheese exporter – find out why at the Gewoon Kaas cheese shop (www.gewoonkaas.nl).
Unsurprisingly for a city whose development was financed by the spice trade, Amsterdam has an eclectic culinary scene. Centrally located Coffee & Jazz (Utrechtsestraat 113) delivers the hot drinks and cool music it promises along with delicious Indonesian food. For everything from teatime scones to suppertime monkfish, book a table on the terrace at Café de Jaren (www.cafedejaren.nl), which overlooks the river Amstel. If you value quality over choice, try De Kas (www.restaurantdekas.nl), whose fixed menu incorporates vegetables, herbs and edible flowers from its own nursery.
Amsterdam’s sin city credentials tend to obscure just how diverse its nightlife is. The red-light district and ‘coffeeshops’ loom large on the scene, but so do places like De Biertuin (www.debiertuin.nl), a beer garden where even kids and grandmothers would feel at home. Melkweg (www.melkweg.nl) is a cinema, theatre and concert venue rolled into one. A beautiful church in its former life, Paradiso (www.paradiso.nl) is now a stunning music and club venue which hosts live bands on weeknights and top DJs at the weekend.
If you’re in the city on April 30th, join in the festivities for Koninginnedag, or Queen's Day (www.koninginnedagamsterdam.nl/queensday.html). The official birthday party of The Netherlands' Queen Beatrix is a festival of orange in honour of the House of Orange, with orange clothes, food, drinks and banners all over the city, and street parties that last through the night. August’s Grachtenfestival (www.grachtenfestival.nl) is a beloved classical musical festival, with many performances either on or alongside canals. Zaanse Windmill Day, which involves cycling out of town to view windmills, takes place in late September and could be the most eco-friendly day trip ever.