The most elegant area within the city center, Grachtengordel South features opulent residences, mansion-lined streets and a hot nightlife scene. The area boasts both Rembrandtplein (the city's one-time butter market) and Leidseplein (a former horse and buggy drop-off point). Both squares have been reborn as hot spots for bars, clubs, restaurants and no small number of tourist traps.» See hotels in Grachtengordel South.
Grachtengordel West is an expansive area in the center of town, near the Dam and the Old Center. It's also home to gorgeous 17th-century canal houses, Westermarkt, the Homomonument, the Westerkerk (Amsterdam's grandest church and the final resting place of Rembrandt) and Anne Frank's House.» See hotels in Grachtengordel West.
During the 17th century, Jordaan represented the outskirts of Amsterdam—and the smelly, squalid home of the city's immigrants and working class. Despite a gritty past, today it's a sought-after 'hood, replete with trendy restaurants and leafy canals. But the alternative community spirit for which Jordaan has always been known is still very much intact, in everything from eccentric architectural details to funky shops and galleries.
There aren't many tourist sights here, with the exception of the Houseboat Museum and Electric Ladyland, a quirky museum of fluorescent art. The former is situated across from a colorful square (Johnny Jordaanplein) that pays tribute to a popular 1950s singer (Johnny Jordaan) whose songs extolling the neighborhood's poor but spirited community can still be heard in local cafés.
The most popular neighborhood outside the city center, the Museumplein is a residential area crowded with museums, parks and 19th-century buildings. The Rijksmuseum, possesses an impressive collection of Dutch paintings from the 15th through the 17th centuries (including an enormous Rembrandt collection), the Van Gogh Museum is (surprise) devoted to Van Gogh and the Stedelijk Museum houses modern and contemporary art.
The vast green space that is Vondelpark was the celebrated playground of sex, drugs and rock'n'roll in the 1970s. Today, however, Museumplein & Vondelpark is a an upscale commercial, full of pricey little boutiques and shops. It's also home to some great hostels.
The Old Center is home to Amsterdam's Red Light District and main tourist attractions (with the notable exception of Amsterdam's most important museums). Dam Square, the Royal Palace, Nieuwmarkt, startlingly graphic storefronts and a seemingly endless supply of "coffeeshops" keep the area packed with eager—and often gawking—tourists. This is Amsterdam's touristy nerve-center. It's dirty, chaotic, crowded and, for some, enthralling.» See hotels in Old Center.
De Pijp may sit just to the east of Museumplein, but it's very different in temperament and culture. While Museumplein is upscale, De Pijp is scrappy. It was Amsterdam's very first suburb, and today it's home today to large numbers of immigrants from Suriname, Morocco and Turkey.
De Pijp is also home to the Albert Cuyp Market, which is not merely Amsterdam's largest and best-known public market, but also the largest public market in all of Europe. Another must-visit attraction is De Pijp's Sarphatipark, a lovely green oasis of a park plopped down in the center of the neighborhood.
Located 10 minutes from the center of Amsterdam, the Plantagebuurt is a quiet, green neighborhood with a troubled past. A Jewish neighborhood from the 16th century until World War II, the Plantagebuurt was once bustling with factories and commerce. But its location, completely surrounded by canals, allowed German forces to isolate the area and create a Jewish ghetto.
During the cold winter following the war, many of the tragically deserted homes were dismantled for firewood. The area was renovated in the 1970s, and today only the synagogue and the Jewish Museum remind visitors of the its troubled past. Plantagebuurt is, however, home to several museums (including the Rembrandt House Museum) and a zoo.
Amsterdam's (in)famous Red Light District lies within the "Old Center," a short walk from Centraal Station. True, the area is home to those notorious red windows, live sex shows and marijuana-peddling coffee shops, but it's hardly a dangerous free-for all. A heavy police presence and corner cameras keep the area safe.
As night falls, the narrow streets become increasingly crowded (and increasingly noisy) with happy-go-lucky tourists out for a fun night. Perhaps ironically, the Red Light District also boasts some traditional attractions, such as the Oude Kerk (The Old Church), cool shops and many affordable hotels.