It's hard not to fall in love with Amsterdam. It's a liberal, forward-thinking city wrapped in the packaging of an antique charmer. Pack an open mind, and prepare to be dazzled by a brilliant combination of old-meets-new.
Icelandair offers daily cheap flights to Amsterdam from North America for year-round exploration. We'll get you there, then it's all about bikes and canal boats for getting around like a local.
Before you load up on frites with mayo and fill your bag with windmill trinkets, how about hot dogs and puffin souvenirs from Reykjavík? When you book flights to Amsterdam with Icelandair you have the opportunity to add a stopover in Iceland at no additional airfare.
At some point, you might start thinking you've got a handle on this chameleon city. Don't be fooled! Amsterdam has many faces. It does highbrow with aplomb, giving you blockbuster art from homegrown icons like Rembrandt and Van Gogh. It does colorful lowbrow too, from brown cafés (the name for traditional pubs) to a renowned red light district. There's somber at Anne Frank House, cute and kitschy thanks to clogs and windmill mascots, and cutting-edge design courtesy of shiny new developments along the IJ waterfront. Golden Age architecture and canals (more than Venice!) will make you wish you had time to follow every cobbled laneway.
Vlaamse frites may just be the best thing about Amsterdam: hot, crunchy French fries smothered in mayonnaise. Enjoy them with a local beer at any of the countless outdoor cafes - with a side order of canal views and people-watching, every bite technically counts as a cultural experience. Drop by the Foodhallen, in converted tram sheds, for some tasty touring and to sample a bitterballen, for the name alone (it's a tasty, meat-filled croquette). Markets are a draw: the Dutch know good cheese when they see it - there are towns in the Netherlands famed for creamy goodness (hello Gouda and Edam), and raw herring is a love-it-or-leave-it local flavor. Perhaps the biggest 'homegrown' surprise on the food front: the rijsttafel (Indonesian banquet), courtesy of the Netherlands' colonial history.
Amsterdam spawned one of the world’s great trading empires, and today it's a shopper's heaven. Quirkiness is easily found - the 9 Streets (9 Straatjes) is a neighborhood overflowing with specialty boutiques.
Amsterdam is also paradise for anyone who likes mooching in outdoor markets. Waterlooplein Markt is the flea market to top all flea markets, and there are also markets devoted to antiques, art and old books. Albert Cuypmarkt is a multicultural melting pot of spice and color. Prepare for sensory overload at Bloemenmarkt, the fragrant, fabulous flower market. You didn’t think we'd write about Amsterdam and not mention tulips, did you?