Bikes, bikes, bikes!! That’s probably one of the first things that will strike you about Amsterdam, as they’re everywhere. The best advice I can give anyone is to seriously watch where you’re going. If you’re not being run down by bell-ringing cyclists, you’re probably going to get wiped out by a tram. Seriously, it was quite hard for me to tell who was supposed to be where, and it seems that pedestrians are lowest on the food chain. A good rule of thumb: if there is slightly higher pavement next to where you are, you’re probably in the road or in a bike lane, so MOVE! There’s not as huge a distinction between the roads and the pavement as you’d find in the US or even the UK, and the bikes basically go anywhere they want. I never did end up riding one while I was there, and contrary to popular opinion, I don’t feel like it diminished my experience. My husband hired a bike from Mac (either side of Centraal Station) for the week for 38€, so it is only slightly cheaper than buying day travel cards at 6:30€.
Trams are really the best and easiest form of public transport around central Amsterdam. The main problem with 24-, 48-, and 72-hour travel cards is that, despite all guidebooks telling you they’re available on the tram, they actually aren’t. I suppose some lucky early risers do get them, but the tram conductors are only given about 10 each day, and once they’ve run out, you have to pay the single fare to get where you’re going. We were able to buy one at our hotel, but it was the last one she had. The tourist information places are generally well stocked, so they are your best bet. Don’t use these time-limited cards until you have to, as your time doesn’t start until the first time you ride somewhere and get it stamped.
Strip cards (strippenkart) are another option, like prepaying for several journeys. They come in strips of 15 or 45. You can’t buy strip cards on the trams either; you have to buy them elsewhere, like tobacconists or other shop. Each journey you make is worth a certain number of strips. The rule is that the number of strips needed is one more than the amount of zones you’re traveling through. Most tourist stuff will be in the central zone, along with lots of hotels, so basically every journey you make will cost two strips. A single journey on the bus or tram will cost you 1.60€, so if you think you’re going to use public transport, you should try to estimate how many journeys you’re going to make in your time there and see if it’s worth buying a 24-, 48-, or 72-hour travel card or strip cards (strippenkart). Keep in mind that central Amsterdam isn’t that big and a lot of the sights will be in close proximity to each other. If you plan it right, you won’t make that many journeys.
The quality of the transport is good, with trams running frequently and pretty well on time. When you get on, you’ll need to show your travel card, or give the conductor your strip card for stamping. If you want a single journey, just say exactly that and hand over 1.60€; you’ll receive a small paper ticket that the conductor will stamp. The trams do jolt you around quite a bit, so find a seat or hang on tight. Even though the electronic signs are in Dutch, you’ll figure it out fast. The signs will tell you the current time, what tram line you’re on, to which station you’re headed (final destination), and what stop is next. Some trams even have extra electronic signage that shows you what the next five stops will be. When the stop you want is coming up, press the red button and the "stop" sign will light up. To exit the tram, you have to press the green buttons near the doors to get them to open; they won’t open automatically, which I found out the hard way.