The locals' guide to...Amsterdam

Amsterdam's not all sex, drugs and Edam cheese. There's a tempting underbelly of civilised culture to explore.
Our top tip - sit back and relax on a canal diner cruise.

For more ideas on what to do on your Amsterdam trip, check out our
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How do I get away from large tour groups wearing matching caps?

Tourists are pretty easy to avoid in Amsterdam, as they're split into easily identifiable raucous stag parties and bumbling retired history buffs. It's worth braving the crowds and briefly checking out the Red Light District, Anne Frank's House and the main floors of the Van Gogh Museum, but for a quieter, more considered city ramble, head down to the Jordaan district. There are plenty of small galleries and boutiques to discover along the Bloemgracht canal walk.

Where do the locals party?

Go to church early on Sunday, very early, like Saturday night. The Paradiso nightclub is built inside an old church, making use of three impressive stained glass windows above a stage hosting DJs and musicians.

Restaurants without an 'all-you-can-eat tourist buffet'?

Balthazar's Keuken on Elandsgracht is cosy and real with an unpretentious interior with an eclectic mix of crockery and furniture. The focus is on the food, which is organized into set meals with a meat or fish option to ensure the freshness of the produce.

The locals' absolutely secret number one tip : Take a bike trip out of Amsterdam - the countryside is so close to the city centre and there's no hills to contend with. Head for Zaanse Schans, a hamlet on the river Zaan that's a glimpse of Dutch history.

A quick guide to where the locals hang out


The pick-me-up: An Amsterdam holiday wouldn't be complete without a visit to one of their notorious cafés. Rokerij - there's four branches - is as classically hippified as they come, with an OTT mock-Indian interior.

The breakfast: The cute and kitschy De Bakkerswinkel on Warmoesstraat smells fabulous and boasts a mouth-watering array of freshly baked breads, cakes and pastries. They're all served by happy staff from breakfast to high tea time.

The flicks: The Filmmuseum in the scenic Vondelpark, right on the lake, holds an impressive film library from which it runs themed programmes of screenings.

The shops : You can have a haggle over antiques and vintage clothes at the huge Waterlooplein Flea Market. Also the European-born H&M stores in the city hold some unique fashions you won't find elsewhere.

The gallery: Get to the Van Gogh Museum and go straight to the basement for a great selection of sketches showing the development of the artist's most famous works.

The cocktail: Café Cuba on Nieuwmarkt is a beautiful 50s-style bar. Take an in-keeping cane seat outside and sip Hemingway's favourite cocktail, La Caipirinha.

The coffee: Café Chris is a delightful old time experience. Opened in 1624, it's one of the city's first 'brown' cafés, the Dutch equivalent to our dark and cosy 'old man pubs'.

The view: Take a canal boat tour. Although popular with anyone on a short break to Amsterdam, the alternative view of the city is worth braving the scrum. Just look up for some amazing architecture you'd otherwise miss.

Why not try? An Amsterdam city sightseeing tour

Can I drink the water?

The eight essential questions you'll need answering

Which local animal is likely to hospitalise me?

It's not the animals as such you need to watch out for, but steer clear of the herds on a cheap break to Amsterdam who surge through the Red Light District at weekends.

Which native liquor will make me think I am attractive?

The Dutch like their gin, but take care with those canals, especially if you're biking back to your hotel in Amsterdam.

How can I avoid a beating by the local hard nuts?

Don't don a pair of clogs, dress up in orange, put tulips in your hair and wander the streets with a spliff. The police will take away your cannabis and the locals will take away your clogs and then beat you with them.

Will I get lost?

A distinct possibility in the winding maze of lanes, but the city is dissected by rings of canals that help you get your bearings.

Will I find myself?

If you slip into a local café, you might feel like you have for an hour or so, but you'll soon get over it.

Should I take an umbrella?

It's not far from London to Amsterdam, so expect temperamental weather that veers from bright sunshine to heavy downpours.

What should I order in a restaurant to impress the locals?

Uierboord, a sausage made of cows' udders, would make an heroic gesture.

Can I drink the water?

Yes, but the canal-type is best avoided.

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