I'm in the fortunate position of doing some work with a team at the University of Amsterdam, which means that I get to visit at least once a year. We also spent a weekend here for our second wedding anniversary, and have passed through several times since. So if you're planning a city break in Amsterdam, here are a few ideas to keep you entertained.
1. Tour the Canals
Reading a map in Amsterdam involves as many canals as it does roads, so any stroll around the city is guaranteed to take you over a few bridges and along tree-lined towpaths. If the weather is good, it might also be worth hopping on a boat to see the city from water-level.
2. Buy a Museum Card
Like every capital city, Amsterdam is chock full of museums. The prices of these can really add up, so we tend to find it's best to buy a card that allows you to pop in and out at leisure. The i amsterdam card includes a cruise on the canals, and public transport for one, two, or three days. But if you're likely to visit more than once within a year, or to venture beyond Amsterdam to see other Dutch cities, the national Museumkaart may be more economical.
The Rijksmuseum is perhaps the most famous museum in the city, an imposing building which houses some significant art collections. Personally, I love to learn more about a place when I visit, so the historical museums are my favourite.
3. Watch Diamond-Cutting
Amsterdam is the centre of the European diamond market, but even if your budget doesn't stretch to a shiny souvenir, it's free - and fascinating - to watch the process of cutting and polishing. Try Coster Diamonds, in the Museum Quarter, which is also attached to the Diamond Museum. Diamond cutting has recently been added to the Netherlands' inventory of intangible cultural heritage, which is the first step towards possible UNESCO recognition.
4. Eat Indonesian
Indonesian food is as common in Amsterdam as Chinese food in England, and for similar reasons: Indonesia was one of the Netherlands' main colonies. The rijsttafel (literally 'rice table') is a Dutch-Indonesian speciality, and if you only have time to try one Indonesian meal, it's a great way to sample a variety of different dishes in banquet form.
5. See Some Windmills
No visit to Holland would be complete without seeing a few of the famous windmills. The Zaanse Schans museum is on the outskirts of Amsterdam, and features a couple of working mills which you can tour for a small fee.
6. Buy Flowers
You wouldn't want to try and take a bunch of tulips home on the plane, but at the flower markets you can buy a huge variety of bulbs to grow your own. Most also offer a delivery service if you're running short on space in your luggage.
7. Eat Apple Cake
It will come as no surprise to anyone that I think every trip should include a stop (or several) for coffee and cake. In the Netherlands, apple cakes seem to be a particular speciality. We love La Place, tucked into the corner of the V&D department store - everything is really fresh, great quality, and mostly organic.
8. Take A Day Trip
The Netherlands is a pretty small country, and there are great train and bus links, so day trips to other beautiful towns are easy. And there are a lot of very beautiful towns. Edam (above) and Gouda have both been made famous by their eponymous cheeses, but they're also stunning.