Why go to Amsterdam?
If you're reading this, you're probably after a quick, clear steer on why you might want to visit Amsterdam. Ok, here are my 10 top reasons.
For the canals
Amsterdam has 65 miles of them, crossed by some 1,300 mostly curvaceous little bridges. The most pleasing waterways are lined with gabled merchants' houses dating from the Golden Age - the 17th-century canal ring was put on UNESCO's World Heritage List in 2010. You can, by the way, stay in many of those lovely old canalside buildings, for not necessarily a lot of money.
For world-class art
Think Rembrandt and Co in the Rijksmuseum, and Van Goghs galore in the Van Gogh Museum. That's not all. There are also impressive exhibitions of treasures from St Petersburg's State Hermitage Museum in Hermitage Amsterdam, and the Stedelijk Museum (www.stedelijk.nl), the city's modern art collection, is gradually re-opening after a seven-year renovation programme. Its latest major temporary exhibition opened on 2 March.
For the multitude of cosy cafés
I know of no city better supplied with inviting places to drink. Take your pick from candlelit "brown cafes" (like traditional English pubs, but cosier), to historic little tasting houses where you can sample Dutch gin and liqueurs, and easy-going "grand cafes", with their civilised, library-style communal reading tables. See my recommendations under Amsterdam nightlife and Amsterdam cafés and restaurants.
For trundling trams and trilling bikes
Getting around Amsterdam is fun. Trams are ubiquitous and efficient. Bikes are everywhere - there are said to be 600,000 in the city - as are cycle lanes, and renting two wheels is easy. See more advice on How to get around Amsterdam, and Amsterdam insider tips.
For the wacky backy
There's no getting away from it: for many visitors, the city's unusually liberal attitude to soft drugs is a, if not the, big draw. If you want to spend the weekend stoned, there are a couple of hundred confusingly-named "coffeeshops" where you can buy, and smoke, cannabis with impunity. For the time being anyway - plans are afoot to stop tourists indulging - read more on my Amsterdam nightlife page.
It's not all sex 'n' drugs
Yes, the coffeeshops, the sex shops, the Red Light District are all very visible. But at the same time, it's easy to avoid Amsterdam's sleazy aspects altogether. I have spent happy, wholesome days pottering around the city on bikes with my young children, who are to this day oblivious of Amsterdam's seamier sides.
For the Avant-Garde architecture
There is more to see than old gables. Head out to the regenerated Eastern Docklands for eye-catching, misshapen and multicoloured blocks of flats, and 21st-century versions on canal houses.
I don't just mean that prostitutes tout their wares openly, and that you can smoke a joint in public with impunity. Other little eccentricities include the pissoirs - the very public outdoor urinals - and that stairs are so steep on many of the old canal houses that the only way to get large items to the upper floors is by winching them up.
For the food
Come for great chips served with a dollop of mayo, and for raw herring from a street side kiosk, or for a blow-out rijsttafel in one of the city's many Indonesian restaurants. Dutch cuisine used to be something of a joke, but there are now several top-notch restaurants in the city dedicated to it.
Because Amsterdam is an easy city to visit
Part of Amsterdam's appeal is that it's an easy place to visit, and get to know. With a population of just 750,000, it's not a big city: in fact, you can stroll from effectively one side to the other in half an hour. Everyone speaks English. And while the art on show in the major, must-see museums is top drawer, unlike, say, at the Louvre, there's not a daunting amount of it to take in.
I'm going to stop there. I hope now you'll click through to my carefully selected suggestions of places to stay, eat, drink and explore, and my insider tips - see the links on the left-hand panel of this page. They should help you get the best out of this thoroughly likeable, laid-back little city.