Trams, buses, Metro
Trams are the best and most enjoyable way to cover any distance effortlessly, at speed and at little cost. With routes radiating out from the Centraal Station, the tram network will get you in strolling distance of pretty much anywhere you're likely to want to visit. At most stops, there are electronic signs indicating the number of the next tram, where it's heading, and when it's due to arrive.
There are also various bus services, including an extensive network of night buses from 12.30am-7am. (Sadly, the fun and useful Stop/Go minibus service, which ran the length of the Prinsengracht in both directions, has stopped).
You're unlikely to see the need to venture on to the Metro at all, though a line does run south-east from Centraal Station through the city centre. A more useful line for visitors - the Noord-Zuidlijn - is under construction, but will not be completed for some years to come.
Single fares on the public transport system are generally expensive: for example, 2.60 euros for one hour's worth of travel on the trams and buses. It's likely to work out much better value buying a pass providing unlimited travel for a longer set period of time on the trams, all types of buses, and Metro. In 2011, passes valid for 24/48/72/96 hours cost 7/11.50/15.50/19.50 euros respectively. Note that if you buy an I amsterdam Card (www.iamsterdamcard.com), it will include a travel pass.
The passes are available from the GVB ticket and information offices by the Centraal Station, from ticket machines outside Metro stations, and some hotels. The main GVB office is on the concourse outside the station, and is open Mon-Fri 7am-9pm, and weekends 10am-6pm. See queue-avoiding tips here - Amsterdam insider tips. You can also buy the one-hour and 24-hour passes on trams and buses. You need to check in and check out when using trams by swiping your pass at the sensor inside the door.
Note that the 24/48/72/96-hour passes are more straightforward to use, and for short visits are better value than the recently introduced "OV-chipkaart", which is aimed at locals. However, there are no discounted prices for children.
Good information in English on all aspects of Amsterdam's public transport system can be found on www.gvb.nl.
Tootling around Amsterdam on a bike is very enjoyable. The city is flat, compact, has some 250 miles of cycle lanes, dozens of sets of bike-only traffic lights, and motorised traffic on most canal-side streets is light. Also, on a bike you feel part of the fabric of the city, and rather like a local - four out of five Amsterdammers have a bicycle. Having two wheels is also a good way to see more in a short space of time, and is the best option for exploring the further reaches of the city, such as the Eastern Docklands or the southern end of the Vondelpark.
- Be sure to use the locks provided by the rental company, even for the briefest of stops, as bike theft is rife. Where possible, chain the bike to a solid and immovable object.
- Only children wear helmets: most rental depots do not even have adult helmets to rent out.
- Cheapest bikes have back-pedal brakes - initially somewhat challenging, but you soon get used it.
- Don't be as cavalier as locals are with one-way streets and red traffic lights.
There are lots of rental outfits dotted across the city. I always use MacBike (www.macbike.nl). It's not the cheapest, but I have found its bikes to be 100 per cent reliable, and it offers three convenient depots, by the Centraal Station, Leidseplein and Waterlooplein. Three hours' rental of a no-gears, pedal-brake, sit-up-and-beg bike costs 7 euros, while a bike with handbrakes and gears costs 10.50 euros; insurance is 3 euros a day extra. As with all companies, the longer you rent, the more affordable the rate. You can also rent a "bakfiets", "cargobike" or "box bike" from MacBike. Ubiquitous in Amsterdam, these wonderful contraptions have sturdy wooden boxes in front of the cyclist, designed for young children to sit in.
Eight or so companies offer canal tours that ply various routes, but most include sections of the western canal ring, the Oosterdok harbour, plus a short stretch of the IJ waterway behind the Centraal Station. Non-stop trips lasting 60 to 90 minutes cost around 8-12 euros. The cost of a tour is included in the I amsterdam Card (www.iamsterdamcard.com). With so many tours on offer from main departure points such as in front of the Centraal Station, there's no need to book in advance for a bog-standard trip - just turn up.
As well as the basic non-stop tours, there are various other options for getting out on the water. These include:
- Hop-on, hop-off boats. More expensive than non-stop cruises, these run on set routes and schedules, with stops near the main museums and sights. Check out options with Lovers (www.lovers.nl) and Canal Bus (www.canal.nl).
Evening candlelit, Red Light District and dinner cruises - see www.lovers.nl for the type of thing.
- See also my advice on Canal Cruises.
"Canal bikes" (www.canal.nl). You can rent these four-seater pedal boats by the hour from moorings on the canal ring, and close to the Leidseplein and Rijksmuseum. You can drop off the pedalo at another location. Water taxis (www.water-taxi.nl). An expensive option, with fares starting at 60 euros for the first 30 minutes. Ferries. The cheapskate option: it costs nothing to ride on the ferries that pop across the IJ from behind the Centraal Station - see timetables and routes on www.gvb.nl. You can take a bike on the ferries, by the way.
Cabs are expensive. The minimum you will pay is 7.86 euros, which covers journeys up to 2km; for each additional kilometre, you pay 2.30 euros maximum. Tariffs should be displayed inside and outside the cab. Note that cabs waiting at the rank outside the Centraal Station are not allowed to refuse short trips (which they often would do in the past). More information on www.taxi.amsterdam.nl.
When in a recent survey Amsterdam residents were asked what they would tackle if they were mayor, the second most common response was creating more, and cheaper, parking. www.iamsterdam.com has good advice on parking. But clearly the best thing to do is avoid, if you can, having a car while in Amsterdam. Otherwise, ask your hotel for advice on where to park. See my Amsterdam car hire page.
Getting to the city from the airport
Find help here - Amsterdam flights.