Shaney Hudson presents the best of the Dutch capital for every budget.
For a bohemian atmosphere on a budget and an added bonus of free walking tours of the city, head to one of the three well-known Flying Pig hostels (428 4934, www.flyingpig.nl) with beds from €14. Stayokay Amsterdam Vondelpark (from €20, Zandpad 5 Amsterdam, 589 8996, www.stayokay.com) is a good option for families, with private rooms and dorm rooms, kitchen facilities, meal packages and bike hire. The centrally located, 42-room Hotel Residence Le Coin in the university district has free Wi-Fi, a kitchenette in every room and family rooms that sleep four (from €119, Nieuwe Doelenstraat 5, 524 6800, www.lecoin.nl).
Sleep with an easy conscience at the art deco Eden Hotel Amsterdam, which has been awarded Gold Green Key certification for sustainable tourism (from €90, Amstel 144, 530 7878, www.edenhotelamsterdam.com). If you'd prefer to rock off to sleep, Blue Wave Houseboat (066 7760, www.bluewavehouseboat.com) is in a quiet central neighbourhood on the canals, sleeps four and has its own floating terrace, with prices starting at €145 a night. The Hotel Arena ('s-Gravesandestraat 51, 850 2400, www.hotelarena.nl), in a quieter part of the city, offers trendy accommodation in a converted orphanage from €109 a night.
For elegance and old-world charm, try the Sofitel Amsterdam The Grand. It is one of the city's most historic hotels, having been used as headquarters for the Dutch Admiralty in the 1600s, the city's town hall and the venue for reigning monarch Queen Beatrice's wedding in 1960s. The tasteful hotel has been recently renovated, with 52 new suites from €265 (Oudezijds Voorburgwal 197, 555 3111, www.sofitel.com). Fusion Suites was rated by TripAdvisor as one of Europe's top 25 hotels in 2009 and you'll have to book early to secure one of only four rooms at this privately owned bed and breakfast, in one of the city's last remaining mansions (Roemer Visscherstraat 40, 618 4642, www.fusionsuites.com, from €245).
Breaking away from the old and embracing the new, the 23-floor Hotel Okura towers over the city and has serious gastronomic credentials, with two Michelin-starred restaurants (from €435, Ferdinand Bolstraat 333, 678 7111, www.okura.nl). The Hotel de l'Europe's new Dutch Masters wing promises "ultra luxury" with its own private entrance, personalised concierge service and 23 suites with bath mirrors that have a built-in TV (from €879, Nieuwe Doelenstraat 2-14, 531 1777, www.leurope.nl). Not to be outshone, the InterContinental Amstel Amsterdam holds court in a stunning building on the Amstel river. Rooms feature antique Dutch period furniture and Delft pottery as well as fresh tulips (from €316, Professor Tulpplein 1, 622 6060, www.ihg.com).
SHOP + PLAY
Perfect for a tulip photo, the Bloemenmarkt flower market sells bulbs and blooms (along the canals, Monday-Saturday 9am-5.30pm, Sunday 11am-5.30pm, Singel between Koningsplein and Muntplein). An Amsterdam secret, the Oudemanhuis Book Market is in an undercover walkway near the university district selling second-hand books, sheet music and movie posters (Monday-Friday, 11am-6pm, Oudemanhuispoort). For second-hand clothes and bric-a-brac, rummage through Waterlooplein Flea Market (Monday-Saturday 9am-5pm, www.waterloopleinmarkt.nl). Albert Cuyp Market (Monday-Saturday 9am-6pm, Albert Cuyp 16, www.albertcuypmarkt.com) is where locals pick up produce, cheese, bread, liquorice and homewares.
Pick up something for the rugrats at the Miffy store, filled with plush goodies based on Dutch illustrator Dick Bruna's iconic character (Scheldestraat 61, 664 8054, http://dewinkelvannijntjne.nl). Step back in time at Art Unlimited Postcards, which sells vintage postcards, pin-up girl prints and tin toys (Leidsestraat 57, 624 4225). Flash forward to the future at Droog (Staalstraat 7a/b, 523 5050, www.droogdesign.nl), which showcases innovative design products and conceptual furniture, as well as quirky recycled gifts. For one-stop-complex shopping, Magna Plaza behind the Royal Palace is located in a century-old post office and has 40 stores inside (Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal 182, www.magnaplaza.nl).
A popular hub for improvised concerts since the 1970s, the Bimhaus is considered one of the world's best jazz joints (Piet Heinkade 3, 788 2150, www.bimhuis.nl). The slightly more laid-back Bourbon Street Blues Club has jam sessions with the house band three nights a week (Leidsekruisstraat 6-8, 623 3440, www.bourbonstreet.nl). Like to sing in the shower? Try Hardrock Karaoke — karaoke supported by a live rock band at Cafe Pakhuis Wihelmina on the first Thursday of every month (Veemkade 576, 419 3368, www.cafepakhuiswilhelmina.nl). The Paradiso is in a converted cathedral and attracts international indie rock acts (Weteringschans 6-8, 626 4521, www.paradiso.nl).
Most clubs moonlight as restaurants, bars and performance theatres before transforming in the late evening. One of the best known (and most expensive) is supperclub, which has been open for 20 years and features dinner on giant communal beds, camp and performances (Jonge Roelensteeg 21, 344 6400, www.supperclub.com). Sugar Factory is part experimental theatre and part nightclub, with three shows each night from Thursday to Sunday (Lijnbaansgracht 238, 627 0008, www.sugarfactory.nl). An old faithful on the clubbing scene is Panama (Oostelijke Handelskade 4, 311 8686, www.panama.nl), while Escape is best for big-name acts (Rembrantplein 11, 622 1111, www.escape.nl).
SEE + DO
Tiny Anne Frank House is the most significant and most visited building in Amsterdam. The small attic and office building where the young Jewish girl hid from the Nazis during World War II and wrote her famous diary was converted into a museum in 1957. Queues are long, so buy your tickets online beforehand (Prinsengracht 263, 556 7105, www.annefrank.org). Amsterdam's intricate canal system helped make the city one of the world's richest ports in the 1600s. A simple 75-minute orientation cruise with audio commentary is €13 ($23, Nicolaas Witsenkade 1A, 626 5636, www.amsterdamcanalcruises.com). In spring, the Keukenhof Tulip Gardens are not to be missed, with 7 million flower bulbs planted by hand (from March to May next year, www.keukenhof.nl).
One of the most exciting new galleries to open in centuries has been the Amsterdam branch of the Hermitage Museum, which displays temporary exhibitions from the main Russian collection in a custom-designed gallery (Amstel 51, 530 7488, www.hermitage.nl). The Rijksmuseum is being renovated but a small section remains open, condensed to the best pieces in the collection, including a number by Rembrandt (Jan Luijkenstraat 1, 674 7000, www.rijksmuseum.nl). Just across the Museumplein is the exquisite Van Gogh Museum. The collection consists of more than 700 paintings by the Dutch master, including Sunflowers and Bedroom at Arles. (Paulus Potterstraat 7, 570 5200, www.vangoghmuseum).
When in Holland, do as the Dutch do: hop on a bike. Amsterdam is a city built for bikes with cycle paths, ample bike parking and a friendly attitude to cyclists by motorists. Bikes are available for hire through most hotels; however, Macbike has one-speed bikes, tandems and bikes with child seats available from €7 for three hours uninsured to €19 for three days (plus insurance and deposit). Comb the inner city on your bike on a whim or buy one of their maps with themed bike routes, such as an art ride. Alternatively, choose a longer route that ventures into the Dutch countryside to view Holland's famous windmills and canals.
Follow the leader
If you're curious about Amsterdam's famous Red Light District but uncomfortable about heading there alone, take a tour through the colourful area, which explains the history and dynamics of the place known to locals as de Wallen (€12, 6.45pm everyday, www.neweuropetours.eu). Guided bike tours of the city run twice daily through Yellow Bike Tours and last for two or three hours (from €18.50, Nieuwezijds Kolk 29, 620 6940, www.yellowbike.nl). For serious photo lovers, Viator runs four-hour specialist photography tours through the city, with a professional photographer who takes you to some of the best places to shoot the city's classic architecture (from €125, www.viator.com).
EAT + DRINK
Wijs & Sons' famous teahouse, established in the 1700s, has a garden terrace, canal views, friendly service and a caramel-coloured cat overseeing operations, which include supplying the Dutch royal family (Zeedijk 43, 624 0436, www.hofjevanwijs.nl). Cafe Restaurant de Jaren has one of the most idyllic canal-side terraces in Amsterdam but its three-story indoor cafe with international papers also makes it a good place to hide from Holland's temperamental weather (Nieuwe Doelenstraat 20-22, 625 5771, www.cafedejaren.nl). Cafe Restaurant Amsterdam, in a former warehouse, has 30-metre ceilings and fantastic brassiere-style food (Watertorenplein 6, 682 2666, open 11am-1am, book ahead).
Open since 1887, Vleminckx Sausmeesters (Voetboogstraat 31, open daily noon-6pm) serves the city's best frites or hot chips covered in peanut sauce and mayonnaise. If you're feeling brave, slip in a euro coin and take a hot croquette from one of the many hole-in-the-wall machines to eat on the go. Not to be missed is a plate of spicy, affordable Surinamese food, a fusion of Caribbean and Indonesian influences. Stalls can be found at Albert Cuyp Market. In colder months, warm up with butter- and icing sugar-covered poffertjes at The Pancake Bakery (Prinsengracht 191, 625 1333, daily noon-9.30pm).
Top of the town
With two Michelin stars and stellar views, Ciel Bleu is the city's slickest gastronomic affair (Ferdinand Bolstraat 333, mains from €59, bookings essential, 678 7450, www.cielbleu.nl). Try the signature dish of grilled sandwich of Frysian sugar bread with home-style duck-liver pate and apple sauce at locals' favourite Restaurant Greetje (Peperstraat 23-25, 779 7450, www.restaurantgreetje.nl). The canal-side Restaurant Christophe offers sophisticated French cuisine. In the summer its boat boxes, filled with gourmet goodies, are a great accompaniment to a private canal cruise (Leliegracht 46, 625 0807, www.restaurantchristophe.nl).
By the glass
On a Friday, head to the Van Gogh Museum, which transforms its foyer with a bar and DJ. Dress to impress at trendy lounge bar-restaurant Momo , with its question mark-shaped bar and high-end cocktail list (Hobbemastraat 1, 671 7474, www.momo-amsterdam.nl). For something more relaxed, head to one of the city's "brown cafes" — cosy pubs so named because the walls are stained from decades of smoking. Try Cafe Gollem, with its 200 types of specialist beers (Raamsteeg 4, www.cafegollem.nl). Wine buffs should head to Vyne (Prinsengracht 411, 344 6408, www.vyne.nl).
The city's i amsterdam card is aimed at tourists and includes free museum entry, a canal cruise, discount offers and public transport for between 24 hours and 72 hours, starting at €38. The Museum card, originally designed for Dutch locals, is an increasingly popular (and cheap) alternative for visitors not wanting to rush their visit. The card costs €39.95 (plus €4.95 admin fee), is valid for one year at 400 museums across the Netherlands and allows you to skip the queue at most museums. You can buy it at any participating museum, including the Hermitage, Van Gogh and Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
Emirates recently began daily flights to Amsterdam's Schiphol airport connecting in Dubai, with fares from $2252. See www.emirates.com, 1300 303 777. The train is the most convenient way to get into the city centre from Schiphol airport.
Visa and currency
The Dutch currency is the euro (€1 = 67¢) and a 90-day visa scheme is available for Australians upon entry.
The Netherlands' country code is +31 and 20 for Amsterdam. To call Amsterdam from abroad, add +3120 to the numbers listed.