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Favorite experiences in Amsterdam

Frommer's favorite experiences in Amsterdam:  So many things to do, see and taste - so little time.
Groups of partiers navigate in the main
Groups of partiers navigate in the main canals of Amsterdam celebrating Queen's Day, one of the biggest and most popular national holidays in Holland, on April 29. People take the street to celebrate the birthday of Queen Juliana wearing clothes predominately orange, which is the royals' last name.Cris Bouroncle / AFP-Getty Images file
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Cruising the Canals: Save yourself inches of shoe leather by hopping aboard a glass-topped canal boat for a cruise through Amsterdam's beautiful canals, from where you get the best possible view of all those gabled Golden Age merchants' houses. Just ignore anyone who tells you it's a tourist trap -- it is a tourist trap, I suppose, but it got that way by being justifiably popular.

Viewing Old Masters at the Rijksmuseum: Unfortunately, most of the museum is closed for refurbishment through 2008. But in the sole wing that remains open, the Philips Wing, the Rijksmuseum has assembled The Masterpieces, highlights from its collection of 17th-century Dutch Golden Age, ah, masterpieces, among them Rembrandt's classic The Night Watch.

Visiting with Vincent: At the Van Gogh Museum, where the world's largest collection of Vincent's works is housed in perpetuity, you can trace the artistic and psychological development of this great, tragic painter.

Remembering Anne Frank: The clear and haunting words of a young Jewish girl trying to survive and to grow up in unimaginable circumstances have moved millions since they were first published in the aftermath of World War II. They speak both for her and, in a way, for all those whose voices were never heard. It's a melancholy but unforgettable experience to spend a reflective moment in the Anne Frankhuis, amid the stark surroundings of Anne's hideaway from the Nazi terror.

Treating Your Ears to the Concertgebouw: Take in a classical music concert at one of the world's most acoustically perfect halls, home to the famed Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and prime stop for visiting philharmonics (the musicians are sometimes pretty good, too).

Going Tiptoe Through the Tulips: Join in with four centuries of Dutch tradition and go overboard for a flower that, though its natural home is among the mountain-fringed plains of Turkey and Iran, has become synonymous with Holland. In spring you'll find them everywhere, but sharp promotion (and at least a seed of truth) has it that the best place to pick up a bunch of tulips from Amsterdam is from the Flower Market on Singel.

Biking the City: If you want to pass for an authentic Amsterdammer, find a bicycle that's so ancient, rusted, and worn that no self-respecting thief would waste a second of their valuable time trying to steal it (ah, but they will). Then, charge like Custer at Little Bighorn into the ruckus of trams, cars, buses, and other bikes. Better yet, rent a bike that's in somewhat better condition -- and go carefully.

Hunting for Antiques: Five hundred and more years of Amsterdam history, including a guaranteed piece of the city's 17th-century Golden Age, is there for the wrapping in the Spiegelgracht antiques quarter. And all you need to acquire it is a fistful of euros or some flexible plastic.

Shopping for a Steal at a Street Market: You'll have to get up pretty early and be pretty slick to hoodwink a Dutch street trader and score a genuine kill at the Waterlooplein flea market or the Albert Cuyp street market. But bargains have been sighted at both, and local color is guaranteed.

Riding a Canal Bike: Amsterdam natives -- and even some long-term expats who ought to know better but who are trying to pass themselves off as Amsterdam natives -- scoff long and loud at this. Let them. Pedal yourself through the water for an hour or two on your own private tour-boat and at your own speed, to view the canals in style (not much style, I'll admit).

Skating the Canals: When the canals freeze over -- and sadly it doesn't happen every winter -- you'll find few Amsterdammers to argue with the proposition that God is a Dutchman. The chance to go around on the ice is one of the few things that can pry the locals off of their bikes. Strap on a pair of long-bladed Noren skates and join them in their favorite winter outdoor activity.

Shuttling Across the Harbor on the IJ Ferry: The short passage by ferryboat back and forth across the IJ channel between Centraal Station and Amsterdam Noord (North) is a great little cruise and provides a good view of the harbor. What's more, the ferries on the shortest routes are free.

Crossing Bridges When you Come to Them: Amsterdam has more bridges and more canals than Venice -- a city that Italians are proud to call "the Amsterdam of the South." Find out what makes Italians so humble by crossing as many of the 1,200 bridges over the untroubled waters of Amsterdam's canals as you can reasonably fit in. The views are great.

Living the "Américain" Dream: Join tout Amsterdam for coffee, tea, and gâteau in the stunning Art Nouveau ambience of the American Hotel's Café Américain. The service has improved somewhat since a post-war Dutch writer described the waiters as "unemployed knife throwers."

Beaching About Zandvoort: Come rain, hail, or shine (and, often enough, come all three on the same day), Amsterdam rides the train for the short hop out to its brassy but not classy sea coast resort and lets the bracing North Sea air blow away all that hash and marijuana smoke.

Popping a Herring: Chasing herring is what got this city started, and Amsterdam folk are still in hot pursuit. They like their herring fresh and raw from a neighborhood fish stall. Now, raw herring is something of an acquired taste. One way to acquire the taste is to eat it in the approved Dutch manner -- whole, holding the fish by its tail, with your face to that wide Holland sky. But Amsterdammers themselves, being sensible folk, prefer theirs chopped, with onion.

Dining Out on a Rijsttafel (Rice Table): The concept of "Dutch cuisine" is generally considered to be a contradiction in terms. Luckily, Dutch colonialists in Holland's former possession, Indonesia, were inventive enough to supply an alternative. Consisting of anything from 10 to 30 little Indonesian dishes, some of them as fiery as a rocket exhaust, a rijsttafel is a great introduction to Indonesian cuisine and a substantial meal in its own right.

Sinking a Jenever (Dutch Gin): Spend a leisurely evening absorbing the atmosphere, and sundry beverages of an alcoholic nature, in a brown cafe, the traditional Amsterdam watering hole. These old bars -- centuries old in many cases -- have seen plenty in their time, and still have space for more. Your first sip of jenever must be from a glass that's a "look, no hands" effort, leaning over the bar.

Walking on the Wild Side: Stroll through the neighborhood known as De Wallen, to examine the quaint gabled architecture along its narrow 16th-century canals, peruse the shelves of its antiquarian and secondhand bookstores, and observe the everyday life of the inhabitants as they walk the dog, ride their bikes to the shops, take the kids to school. Oh, yes, and since this is the Red Light District, you might also notice certain minimally attired ladies watching the world go by through their red-fringed windows.

Boosting Ajax: Should you somehow manage to wangle a ticket (saying you're a pal of the Queen might help), you can shout yourself hoarse for Amsterdam's soccer hotshots, Ajax, one of the all-time great clubs of world football, at their high-tech Amsterdam ArenA stadium, in the southeastern suburbs.

Visiting a "Coffeeshop": Yes it's true -- smoking marijuana is officially tolerated in Amsterdam's very special "smoking coffeeshops." These places aren't your neighborhood cafes, and they're not for everyone, but they're an established part of Amsterdam's alternative tradition. You'll be able to buy and smoke marijuana inside, and no law-enforcement agency is going to hassle you.

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