People come to Amsterdam for all kinds of reasons: to see paintings and to get stoned, to admire the 18th century canal houses and to see the best examples of the modernist style, to eat Indonesian food and to sample the dubious delights of the Red Light District.
Many days are needed to see everything – but some things are unmissable for anybody who wants to get the taste of the city in all its variety: thus the top ten things to see and do in Amsterdam, in no particular order, and probably more suited to a slightly more mature kind of visitor than a member of a 20-something stag or hen party.
1) Walk the Grachtengordel: a sequence of five canals that extend from Brouwersgracht to the River Amstel in a "belt of canals" or Grachtengordel.. This is how Amsterdam is often imagined and this how – surprisingly, as the reality is often different from the images – it really looks like. It's a strikingly attractive townscape, with grey-green canals overlooked by rows of beautiful canal houses, mostly dating to 17th and 18th centuries. The three main canals are Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht , and the picturesque canal-land stretches to hip area of Jordaan, west of the very centre.
2) Still on the aquatic note, take a canal boat tour (or use it as a means of transportation combining practical with the pleasurable). Canal Bus is the best, offering three routes through three different parts of the city. If you already covered the south and the west as per previous tip, take the blue line that will take you to the eastern docks and the heart of maritime Amsterdam. Tickets cost 20 euro and allow for unlimited usage for 24 hours.
3) See some art: Holland produced some of the best known and most influential painters of the Western world, and Amsterdam has a fantastic selection of museums devoted to art ancient and modern. Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum (with Rembrandt and Vermeer) and the Stedelijk (with Mondrian) are the most obvious – for a good reason – picks.
4) Eat Indonesian food. The most popular "exotic" cuisines come from the former colonies in all countries that had those, and Holland had Indonesia with its spice trade. The colony is no more, but Amsterdam has a wonderful selection of Indonesian restaurants. Ask for a rijsttafel – a sample menu vaguely reminiscent of Southern European meze of tapas.
5) See some modernist and newer architecture, for example 1920 de Klerk's Het Schip housing complex (now a museum) or the science centre Nemo and nearby ARCAM building. If you are particularly interested, set out to Java Island to see a contemporary take on the canal house, or the almost brutalist housing complex The Whale.
6) Have a beer or a cup of coffee and an apple tart with cream in one of Amsterdam's "brown cafes" (cafe bruin) – they are as much pubs as cafes, actually, and provide the most traditional, cosy and inviting place for a quiet break in a touring schedule. A beer will likely set you back about 4-5 euro, so it's not a cheap past-time.
7) Have a walk through the Red Light District: not to sample the wares on offer, but to see what is, after all, a tourist attraction in itself. Still sleazy and seedy, despite great inroads made for the working rights of the working girls, and perhaps not a place to hang around for long, but worth a stroll in the early hours of the evening even if just to say you have been there and done that.
8) Visit the Resistance Museum: it's more better than the slightly overrated Anne Frank House and presents the story of the Dutch people during the Second World War in an admirably clear, informative and moving display combining historical facts and personal accounts: and the fate of the Dutch Jews is extensively covered too.
9) Walk along the Flower Market by the Singel canal: you can admire the countless varieties of the tulips (and few others) and fulfil all your souvenir and tourist tat buying needs here as the stalls and shops sell bulbs, porcelain clogs and various windmill-decorated items galore.
10) Have a peek into a coffee shop. Amsterdam is unique and well known in that allows licensed and legal use of cannabis. Even if you have no intentions of using any hash or marijuana, a look at one of those establishments (with menus listing the wares by name, origin and price) which for many -especially young - visitors are the main draw of Amsterdam.