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Amsterdam

Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands with impressive architecture, lovely canals that criss cross the city, great shopping, and friendly people who nearly all speak English well. There is something for every traveller's taste here, whether you prefer culture and history, serious partying, or just the relaxing charm of an old European city. Amsterdam has over a million inhabitants in the urban area, and is in the Province of North-Holland. Amsterdam is not the seat of government (which is in The Hague), but it is the biggest city and the cultural and creative centre of the Netherlands.

Amsterdam has a unique atmosphere that belies the caricature of the conservative Dutch. Radiating out from the Dam Square, the historic centre of the city is ringed by quaint canals and cobbled streets, thronged with bicycles, tourists, houseboats, students, and street performers. Amsterdam wears two faces: on one it smiles and beckons hedonistic youth with its notorious Red Light District and liberal view of marijuana use, while on the other it offers some of Europe's finest museums and art galleries.

The old part of town is a pleasure to explore on foot, strolling across ancient bridges and down narrow lanes past gabled houses, and dropping in to browse inviting souvenir boutiques crammed with blue and white Delft china and wooden clogs and tulips. Pavement cafes and cosy bars offer rest and refreshment. An alternative is to take a circular canal-boat cruise and see the city from the water, peering in on the lives of the locals who live on houseboats lining the waterways.

Amsterdam is a unique city. Despite the obvious presence of thousands of visitors, its life remained authentic. To observe it is enough to stroll along the canal streets or to sit for a while in one of Amsterdam many cafés. Nevertheless, there are places in the city you should not miss during your visit. Here is our list of the best of the best.

Amsterdam's climate is similar to that of Britain and Ireland, combining mildness and dampness, although there are the occasional temperature extremes of a more continental climate, such as that experienced in Germany. Amsterdam's weather is variable and changes can occur quite quickly, so even in the heat of summer it is prudent to take something warm to wear. Spring and autumn in Amsterdam can be particularly changeable but the coldest weather is usually in the months from December to March and clear frosty days can be frequent but snow is unlikely. It is a good idea to carry rainwear and umbrellas at all times.

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