The Dutch capital has clearly come a long way since it was founded, as legend has it, by two fishermen and a seasick dog. The story goes that the dog jumped ship to deposit the contents of his stomach, and the two fishermen became the founders of Amsterdam. The reality might have been slightly more prosaic, with the River Amstel being dammed in the 13th century and spawning the settlement of Aemstelledamme.
The lifeblood of Amsterdam has long been its aquatic locale, close as it is to the North Sea and built on myriad canals, which neatly divide the city into easily navigable districts and imbue it with a small town ambience. There seems to be a canal around every corner in Amsterdam - not too surprising, considering that the city is home to a staggering 165 of them (more than Venice).
The best way for visitors to get a real feel for the city is to head straight out on a canal tour, or enjoy a cycle.
The most visited sites in Amsterdam are the many excellent museums, such as the Rijksmuseum, Anne Frank Museum and the Van Gogh Museum to name a few. The new kid on the cultural block is the Hermitage Amsterdam, opened in 2009.
Less cerebral pursuits are also on offer among the grand facades and elegant museums, with brown cafés and prostitutes adorning windows all day and night in the red light districts.
Away from these busy places, the city is also blessed with quiet canals and leafy parks, which provide an escape all year round, especially Vondelpark, with its open-air, free concerts during summer.
Breaking away from the main tourist throng is the best way to discover the ‘real' Amsterdam of grand old canal-side merchants' houses where modern Amsterdammers still live, in an almost bucolic setting.
VVV Amsterdam Tourist Office
Stationsplein 10 (opposite Centraal Station)
Tel: 0900 400 4040.
Opening hours: Daily 0900-1800.
In total there are six VVV offices, including this location, Leidseplein/Leidsestraat and the airport. Services provided include excursions and canal cruises, walking tours, theatre, concert and museum tickets, telephone cards and VVV gift vouchers.
The 'I amsterdam Card' offers tourists the use of public transport, free or reduced admission to many of the city's top museums, a voucher booklet for discounts on several attractions and restaurants, a full-colour pass guide and a free canal boat trip. Valid for one, two or three days, the card is available for purchase from VVV Amsterdam tourist offices, as well as a number of hotels.