Amsterdam Stories and Tips

Guidebook reviews: Rough Guide to Amsterdam

Amsterdam canal Photo, Amsterdam, Netherlands

This Rough Guide is as comprehensive, up to date and well researched as most if not all Rough Guides seem to be. I have used numerous examples of their guides and I found them to be among the best if not the best ones there are. They do seem to have moved upmarket a bit since I first started to use them in the early 90s - but they still provide the best balance in descriptions covering practicalities, context, history, sightseeing, entertainment, drinking, clubbing and even (in Amsterdam at least) dope smoking.

The introduction is to the usual Rough Guide standards, with all general info a traveller to the Netherlands in general, and to Amsterdam in particular might wish to have.

The main guide section, which provides descriptions of the city and its sights is excellent. Amsterdam is divided into several naturally separating chunks and the guide provides a description and historical background to the areas, takes the reader on a walk throughout each of them and informs in fair depth on all significant and many minor sights and attractions.

As most Rough Guides are, and as all good guides should be, this one is opinionated and doesn't avoid giving recommendation nor damning with faint praise when necessary.

In addition to the general, the guide has good sections for visitors with children and an extensive section devoted to gay Amsterdam (though Amsterdam being Amsterdam, this separation perhaps wasn't even necessary).

We used this volume during our visit in February 2009, and I can't think of one part or entry that I would disagree with. Even the practicalities of the museum closures were all covered and up to date, although all prices were already slightly higher (but that is to be expected). The colour maps were incredibly useful.

The only reason I can't possibly give it full five stars and I was even contemplating giving three is the layout. The whole book is divided into sections within sections within sections.

And thus, we have a sightseeing section, accounted for above, and very sensibly, divided into city districts. Then we have accommodation section, and that is also divided into districts. So far, not so bad. After all, accommodation is organised once or twice, the over and done with, while sightseeing is an ongoing process. There is nothing wrong with separating the two.

But then we listings and reviews for restaurants, bars and cafs. And each of those categories is GIVEN ITS OWN SECTION. And each of those is separated into districts. This was really, really impractical, especially as (at least during the day) the difference between restaurant, caf or bar is not that great for practical purposes. In order to find a place to eat lunch or snack or stop for a coffee, I had to first check the bars for a given district, then skip over bars in all other districts to find the cafs in mine, then skip over cafs in all other districts to find restaurants. Finding anything (especially on the go!) means either manipulating several bookmarks/bent pages or furiously thumbing the pages as you walk straight into a canal.

It would have been much better to have all the listings (separated into types of venues) in one place, ideally after the sightseeing text. This is a much more natural system, as it doesn't assume that sightseeing is separate from eating and that eating is separate from drinking. It would also allow a visitor who wished to do so to split the book (physically) into sections to lower the weight to carry on any given day.

With this one caveat, I can still recommend The Rough Guide to Amsterdam to all visitors: it's comprehensive, informative, opinionated and is bound to be useful regardless of what brings you to the city on the Amstel.

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