In the province of North Holland, Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands (the seat of government is in The Hague), and has a population of just under 750,000. Half are Dutch natives; the rest of the inhabitants are made up of both western and non-western immigrants, hence its cosmopolitan ambience. The city's fastest growing industry is in the creative sector, especially jobs in advertising agencies, architectural firms, fashion and interior design. Tourism is also a major industry; almost five million tourists visit the city each year. The time zone is GMT +1, the same as Berlin and Paris, and one hour ahead of London. Daylight saving time begins on the last Sunday in March and ends on the Last Sunday in October. Electricity is 220 volts AC/50 HZ and two-pin continental plugs are used. The currency used is the euro. One euro is made up of 100 cents. Notes and coins came into circulation in January 2002, replacing the guilder. Important Telephone Numbers: Emergency services (Police/Fire/Ambulance) 112 Police (non-emergency): 0900-8844 Making phone calls in the Netherlands The country dialing code for the Netherlands is 31. The city code for Amsterdam is 020. When calling Amsterdam from outside the Netherlands, you drop the first zero, i.e. 31-20, followed by the number (usually seven digits). When you are dialing a number in Amsterdam from within Amsterdam, you don't dial the city code, just the seven-digit number. However, when you are dialing a number in Amsterdam from elswehere in the country, you dial the city code in full, i.e. 020, followed by the seven digit number. Apply the same to 06 mobile phone numbers.
Schiphol Airport is the country's major airport and just over 10 miles southwest of Amsterdam. Almost 50 million passengers go through the airport considered one of the best in the world each year. Operationally, this one-terminal airport, ranked a four-star airport by Skytrax, runs like clockwork. And its simple layout, shopping areas, restaurants, cafés and other facilities ensure a relaxed and comfortable experience for travellers. The world-famous Rijksmuseum also has a small satellite museum located behind passport control, between the E and F Piers. It's open daily from 7am to 8pm at night and admission is free. There's a taxi rank outside the Arrivals Hall and there is never any shortage of cabs. They're an ideal option if you have a lot of luggage with you and want to get straight to your hotel. Journey to the city center takes around 20 minutes, depending on traffic and can be quite expensive (approximately €35-€40). A cheaper, and as efficient, alternative is to take a train. The station lies directly below the airport terminal (with escalators and lifts to the platforms), and trains run to Amsterdam every 10-15 minutes, with journey time taking between 15 to 20 minutes. A single ticket costs just under €4.
Amsterdam has a compact center and the best way to experience the city in all its glory is on foot. However, with its typically narrow, brick-cobbled streets and sidewalks, a slow pace is the order of the day. Do also ensure that before crossing a street you check for oncoming traffic; taxis bomb through the city and trams move practically silently (so take extra care near tram tracks). And, as for the ubiquitous bicycles? Well, most cyclists in Amsterdam have the attitude that if it's flat, they can cycle on it, and if it will get them from A to B faster, then it's fair game. So don't be surprised to see a bicycle bearing down on you on a sidewalk, with its bell ringing or horn tooting. Cyclists generally have little patience for pedestrians. And it probably goes without saying, but try to avoid standing in the middle of the road or cycle path reading a map. If you do want to cross town quickly, Amsterdam has an excellent, and efficient, public transport system run by the GVB, comprising metro, tram and bus routes. Apart from more central stops at the Nieuwmarkt square and city hall, metros are used mostly by people living in the city who travel to the perimeters of the city. Trams are the most common way to get around town and generally run from 6am until just after midnight when 'night buses' take over. Most lines begin and end at Centraal Station where there is a GVB outlet where you can purchase tickets and get a free transport map which will come in handy. You can either do what most 'Amsterdammers' do and buy a 'Strip Ticket' which can be stamped onboard trams at the start of your journey (either by a conductor or by yourself in one of the yellow machines when there is no conductor). The number of strips you stamp depends on the number of zones you travel across; tickets are also valid for a certain time so you don't have to stamp them again if you change trams (as long as you're within the time limit and designated zones). Stops are usually announced by drivers; do take care when getting off as many stops are in the middle of the road. Children under four travel free and there are reduced-fare strip tickets for 4-11 year olds. Strip tickets are valid for metros and buses, too; as well as at GVB outlets, they are sold at post offices, tobacconists and Albert Heijn supermarkets. The system can be a little complicated for visitors, however, so consider buying one of the various one-day, two-day or three-day tickets offering unlimited travel on GVB trams, metros and buses (some packages also include discounts to museums and other attractions). These can be purchased from GVB outlets or tourist offices. Bear in mind however, that the strip ticket is gradually being phased out and the OV-chipkaart (Openbaar Vervoer/Public Transport chip card) has been introduced. The size of a credit card, it can be loaded with 'money' and will soon be the only way to pay for public transport in Amsterdam and the rest of the Netherlands (including on trains). The switch to the PT Smart Card (when strip tickets will no longer be valid), was originally supposed to take place in 2007, but was postponed to 1 January 2009. Now it seems it won't come fully into play until 2010. If you need a cab, the most reliable firm in town is TCA (Taxi Centrale Amsterdam; look for the sign on the roof). Generally speaking, you're not supposed to hail them in the street but if you need to, you'll find they will stop. You can pick them up at the various taxi ranks dotted throughout the city, especially near busy squares or by phoning 677-7777 or 777-7777 (if you're using a mobile from abroad, add the dialing codes 31-20 in front). Finally, the most enjoyable way to navigate this unique city often called 'the Venice of the north' is from onboard a boat on the canals. Make sure this is top of your list of things to do.
The city has a free English-language newspaper, Amsterdam Weekly, which is distributed throughout the city every Wednesday, and can usually be picked up at bars, cafés and cultural establishments. You won't find hard news inside, but instead an interesting and offbeat take on city life, along with details on events taking place. For fuller listings on cultural events, the Uitkrant comes out once a month and, although it's in Dutch, the listings are quite easy to follow for non-speakers. For actual news on Amsterdam and the rest of the country in English, you'll have to resort to the internet: try www.dutchnews.nl and www.nieuwsuitamsterdam.nl
Conventions & Tourism
Amsterdam's main tourist office is handily located on the forecourt of Amsterdam Centraal Station, within a characterful former 'coffee house.' Here you can pick up a wealth of brochures, maps and other info. There are also nine counters where you can queue to buy tickets to attractions, book hotels and tours and ask any questions. Visitors can also look up information themselves using their internet facility. Additionally there are also smaller tourist offices within the station itself (on Platform 2b), at Schiphol Airport (Arrival Hall 2) and a small kiosk by the Leidseplein, opposite Stadhouderskade 1. Stationsplein 10 Tel: 0900-400-4040 (from within NL only) Fax: 31-20-625-2869 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.amsterdamtourist.nl Do make sure that the first thing you do when you arrive in the city is buy a map! It will prove invaluable. And if you get lost, don't hesitate to ask a local for help; most speak fluent English.
Tipping is completely at individual discretion in Amsterdam; the most you'll get if you don't leave a tip is a dirty look. But if, for example, the service at a café or restaurant has been warm and friendly, you can always leave a tip of approximately 10% of the bill (even though a service charge is already included in the bill). When it comes to taxis, most people either round up to the nearest euro or add 10%. Perhaps surprisingly, restrooms in some establishments especially clubs have an attendant present who expects a tip of 50 cents. Appreciate that the toilets will be clean and toilet paper in plentiful supply. Plus the attendants usually have a bowl of sweets to offer customers; but be sure to pick out the ones wrapped in paper! And if you need the toilet while walking around the city, be warned that Amsterdam has few public toilets. And while men can relieve themselves in 'European style' urinals (modesty allowing; they can take a bit of getting used to), women will have to dash into the nearest bar or café. Although they shouldn't have to pay, they'll often be asked to buy a drink. It's wrong, but when you gotta go, you'll buy that drink.