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Amsterdam is named after the river Amstel and has a population of over 740.000 people. As as a result of centuries of land-reclamation projects the city now borders the freshwater of IJsselmeer although it was originally built on the Zuiderzee. The centre of the old city is shaped like a horseshoe, surrounded by three well known canals called the "Herengracht", "Keizersgracht" and "Prinsengracht". To the north of the city you will find the impressive 19th Century Central Train Station, with it's interior painted ceiling and ornate brickwork. Amsterdam is one of the world's most popular destinations for travellers and offers a wealth of cultural and social activities.
The city has a wide range of major tourist attractions, such as the Rijksmuseum with Rembrandt's "Nightwatch" and some exquisite Vermeer's. The constructed Van Gogh museum is also worth visiting and very accessible. This striking modern building not only houses many landscapes and interiors by the infamous Dutch painter, but also temporary exhibitions.
Unlike some of the other most frequently visited cities in Europe, Amsterdam is best explored on foot. With its extensive network of canals, visitors can walk along peaceful, tree-lined streets, past elegant Seventeenth Century houses and converted warehouses. The inner ring is one of the most beautiful areas, with an often confusing circular layout of streets, known as the Grachtengordel, or "Girdle of Canals". It is enjoyable to wander along the four main routes, from Singel, with its five star restaurants to Prinsengracht where there are lots of delightful cafes by the water. Even in colder weather, there is plenty to do and see, as numerous town houses owned by illustrious Dutch citizens have been turned into museums. You will find yourself admiring the marble floors, hand-made Delft tiles in the kitchens and grand staircases leading up to sumptuous bedrooms.
The weather in Holland is usually mild. Rarely dropping below freezing in the winter or becoming too hot in the summer.
It can be beautiful when the canals freeze over, (but not much fun if your bike lock has frozen solid). Rain is spread pretty evenly throughout the year, so it is advisable to pack umbrellas and rainwear.
The local language in Amsterdam is Dutch. Touristy places, such as museums and train stations have English speaking people. Usually most of the Dutch are fluent in English.
Religion is not very popular in the Netherlands. Most of the people stopped going to church long time ago but nevertheless, some old churches were not destroyed because of their value. They are today used as houses or museums. People are living respectfully of each other and are open minded. Their spiritual orientation seems to be more cosmic than religious.
Although a service charge generally is included in restaurant prices and taxi fares, it is customary to give taxi drivers and waiters a tip of about 10 percent. Porters, doormen and room service will expect a small tip for their services.
Public telephones can be found on streets all over the city, at railway stations, post offices and some bars. There are different types, one where you can use cash (which is not very common anymore) and others for which you need a telephone card. Phone cards are available for € 5, € 10 or € 20 at post offices and most tobacco shops. The country code of the Netherlands is +31 and the local area code for Amsterdam is 020. To dial Amsterdam from abroad, dial 00 31 (0)20, followed by the local number.
Internet cafés are all over the city. Most coffee shops and a lot of cafés have at least one computer or a wireless internet access. Some offer the service even for free. Internet cafés are for example: Easyeverything: Damrak 13 and Reguliersbreestraat 22, Cybercafé: Nieuwendijk 19, Giga Plaza Internet Plaza: Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal 62, Internet Café: Martelaarsgracht 11, Internet coffee shop: Prinsengracht 480, ect.
First aid, police, fire department: 112
Central Emergency Call: +31 (0)20 5923434
Tourist Medical Service: +31 (0)20 5923355
Hospital with First Aid: Onze Lieve Vrouwe Gasthuis (OLVG): +31 (0)20 5999111
Banks are open Mondays to Fridays from 9 am to 4 / 5 pm. Exchange offices are indicated by the letters GWK, and you can also book theatre and concert tickets here. GWK offices can be found in the city centre, (Leidesplein) major railway stations, Schiphol airport and at the border crossings with Germany and Belgium.
Note: visa cards are a rarity in the Netherlands. Most chain stores don't take them and you need to show proof of identity when buying something (passport,ID-Card).
Amsterdam is as safe as any other touristy city. Crowded place like the Central Station, at the tourist information, on Leidseplein, in the big museums, in trams or in the shopping areas you have to be careful and watch out for pickpockets. The best thing is to leave most of your belongings at home. Don’t present yourself as a tourist! Have a coffee in a nice café and check your map over there. Everybody who is coming by car should take care of the radio! Please don’t leave any valuable things in your car when parking it!
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