With dozens of museums, theatres and concert halls, more than 150 art galleries, and close to a thousand cafs, Amsterdam has got something for everyone. The only thing missing are bargains, especially now that the dollar is down about 45% against the euro. Still, there are good deals to be had in Amsterdam, and here are 10 of 'em.
1. Buy the I Amsterdam card. It's not free, but for 53 (about $64) you get free access for three days to public transportation, all city museums, and many tourist attractions. The card also entitles you to discounts (average 25%) at more than a dozen terrific restaurants.
2. Stroll beside the canals of the Jordaan. Once home base for Rembrandt, this lively neighborhood is now the place to find many of Amsterdam's most interesting shops and galleries. This is also where you'll find Amsterdam's best "brown cafs," so-called because their interiors have been tinted brown with age and cigarette smoke. Have a beer at Caf Chris (Bloemstraat 42), which opened in 1624. If you need to use the facilities, note that the toilet is flushed by a handle on the wall in the bar.
3. Hang out in Vondelpark, 120 acres of gardens traversed by footpaths and waterways. Here, tarot and palm readers will help you peek into the future, jugglers and fire-eaters and other entertainers will amuse you, and from the beginning of June to the end of August there are free concerts, open air theatre, and other performances in the small amphitheatre on the island near the centre of the park.
4. Visit Dam Square. All streets seem to lead here. It's near the Royal Palace, the Nieuwe Kerk, and the War Memorial, not to mention many shops and restaurants, so don't expect solitude. But you don't need to spend a cent to be entertained here. The people watching is superb, and the square is a stage for many festive street entertainers. Do remember, though, to tip the "living statues" before you take their picture---they can get very cranky if you forget.
5. Visit the Red Light District. This is where the ladies of the evening conduct their business. At night, the district is packed with tourists---and those who prey on them---but it's relatively safe as long as you mind your wallet and stick to busy, well-lighted main streets. Walk down Trompettersteeg Alley, proud home to the greatest concentration of brothels in the city, and Oudezijds Voorburgwal, once the site of 16 different convents and monasteries and now filled with brothels, novelty shops and theaters. Don't take any pictures of the ladies or your camera will likely be promptly tossed into a canal by a very large man.
6. Check out the art scene. Spui (pronounced "spow") Square has a book market on Fridays and an art market on Sundays where local artists show their work, much of it affordably priced. It's a pretty, peaceful place to relax and browse. Nearby is The Begijnhof, a medieval courtyard that functioned as a sort of convent. Inside the enclosure, look for house Number 34, the oldest house in Amsterdam and one of only two remaining wooden houses in the city (after a series of devastating fires, laws were passed in 1521 outlawing structures made entirely of timber).
7. Stop and smell the roses. Amsterdam's Bloemenmarkt is the world's only floating flower market. The flower stalls are all on houseboats, and besides the fresh blooms there are bulbs and sacks of seeds available for export directly to your home garden or terrace. But you don't have to buy anything to enjoy the market---just sit on one of the terraces for a while and enjoy the extravagant colors and fragrance.
8. The ferries crossing the IJ channel between Centraal Station and Amsterdam-Noord are free; so come aboard for a short harbor cruise. When you disembark, take a walk along the North Holland Canal. You'll pass the canal's entrance basin where ships wait to enter the locks. Make sure to stop for a snack or meal at waterside resturant Het Tolhuis at 7 Buiksloterweg, near the ferry landing, before you head back to the city.
9. The Concertgebouwand the Muziektheater have free 30-minute rehearsal concerts once a week (most weeks) from 12:30-1 p.m. You can hear the resident (occasionally guest) orchestra play at the Concertgebouw on Wednesday and the Muziektheater on Tuesday.
10. The Amsterdam Arts Adventure is an assortment of festivals and events taking place in Amsterdam from June through August. Some events are free, and all are gently priced. Expect musical revues, magic shows, comedy, film, and much more. The annual Amsterdam Canal Festival, in August, brings together more than 70 classical-music concerts along two of the city's main canals. Check with the tourism bureau (www.amsterdamtourist.nl)for information and discount packages for Arts Adventure events.