So many stereotypes, so many preconceptions. Alot of people I've met want to go to Amsterdam for only a few reasons. Others I've met don't want to go for the very same reasons. A city liberal in every respect has a tendency to develop a certain reputation. Personally, I enjoy the city's unrepressed vibe but it's not the only reason to go. If you plan to pass your time in a smoky haze, you'll miss the city's subtle side. Known as the "Venice of the North," Amsterdam is rich with natural and architectural beauty. With countless canals running through the city center, there's a good view to be found from any of the city's many bridges. Charming brick buildings line cobble-stone roads and at night, lampposts bath the city in a soft, orange light. The city is picturesque, like something from a fairy-tale.

In some ways, the city is two cities in one. Centrum, the area near the central train station, is chaotic and touristic. In fact, there are so many things to do in Centrum that some tourists never see anything else. Here you can expect to find every kind of shop, restaurant, bar and, of course, coffeeshop. Outside of Centrum, the city tones down. Here you can find a quieter Amsterdam with its many parks, art stores, cafes and bikes.

What to see

Red Light District
Centrum is home to Amsterdam's world-infamous Red Light district. As you stumble upon it the first time, you find yourself almost immediately in a surreal world, one of shadows and small, seedy pathways. Women stand at glass doorways under red tube-lights, begging you to come inside. Next time you're there, instead of just staring at the woman, take a moment to look at the faces of the people passing by next to you.

There are a couple of museums that are unique to Amsterdam. The Van Gogh Museum hosts a very complete selection of the late Dutch artist's work. For beer lovers, there's the Heineken Experience museum, which offers a tour of the original Heineken brewery and tops it off with samples at the end.

The Dutch are quite good at enjoying their free time. Go a little past Centrum and you'll find Vondelpark. In the summertime, expect to see people lazing away on the grass, throwing a frisbee, or having lunch in front of the famous Filmmuseum.

Where to eat

Restaurants in Centrum range from European to Asian to South American, offering a wide variety of ethnic choices in a relatively small area. And near most coffeeshops, you're bound to find a wide assortment of snack shops, selling ice-cream, multi-colored pastries, and the famous "patates", Holland's favorite snack of fries and mayo.

Where to party

Well this depends on your definition of partying, doesn't it? For many, a night can be easily filled with occasional stops at coffeeshops and aimless wandering throughout Centrum. For the more dance- and drink-oriented, a collection of great clubs and bars can be found strewn throughout the city.

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