Amsterdam is one of Europe's smallest and at the same time, friendliest capitals. Its unique charm permeates the picturesque canals lined with green lawns, ornamented buildings and boulevards swarming with tourists and locals. However, unlike other cities the Dutch capital is able to combine the daily rush with a certain sense of quietude and thoughtfulness. Whether you’re taking a relaxed stroll, looking out of your Amsterdam hotelroom window, or sipping a coffee at one of the many outdoor cafes, you'll inevitably feel the freshness in the air.
Amsterdam boasts about 30 parks, whose greenness and cleanness constitute a peaceful and pleasant refuge from the busy life of the metropolis. The city's largest park, Vondelpark, is the most popular in the region and receives more than 10,000,000 visitors a year. Many locals choose to spend a beautiful sunny afternoon amid its old, leaning trees and neat gravel paths.
You might want to pack a couple of sandwiches and have a whole-day picnic in one of the quiet corners of this vast stretch of greenery. The amphitheatre often hosts free evening concerts of classical music, as well as theatre plays. Children can have fun at the six enclosed playgrounds. Nearby, municipal botanical gardens dating back to the 17th Century offer a great place to spend a few quiet hours with your family or friends among exotic palm trees and a variety of tropical plants.
If you’re visiting Amsterdam with children, they'll certainly enjoy a visit to the Artis Zoo. It was established in the 18th Century and is home to more than 6,000 animals. Representatives of species from all continents have been gathered over an area of 14 hectares. Rare plants from distant climatic zones occupy four greenhouses. The Artis Aquarium presents reconstructions of various ecosystems, including the natural environment of the Banggai Cardinal Fish, an endangered species inhabiting the coast of Indonesia. Seven aquaterraria exhibit an impressive collection of reptile species, including curious-looking mountain toads and salamanders. The zoo complex also includes a very good geological museum with precious stones, fossils and dinosaur skeletons. The zoo's planetarium hosts a permanent exhibition devoted to space exploration and astronomy. In the evening, the telescope hall opens its doors to all those eager to take a closer look at the night sky.
Amsterdam holds a number of special attractions for sports fans. Interesting sports events take place all year round. Every second Saturday of May, thousands of people mount their bicycles and follow the labyrinth of routes marked out especially for this day. In October, there's the Amsterdam Marathon. January sees the prestigious annual international horse show, including a dressage pageant and horse stadium-jumping competition. Football lovers shouldn't miss the only opportunity to watch the famous Ajax Amsterdam playing at home. One event that’s particularly popular among the locals is the summer car races.
As one of the cultural capitals of Europe, Amsterdam boasts a large number of festivals and annual events related to all forms of artistic life. In mid-April, the city hosts the Fantastic Film Festival, devoted to thriller, fantasy and anime. Commercial and independent productions are screened at the Jeugdtheater De Krakeling, Filmmuseum Cinerama and Melkweg cinemas.
The birthday of the Queen Mother is celebrated as Queensday, every year on April 30. On that day, people in the streets dress in orange, the colour of the royal family. Every May sees the Literary Festival, and in June the city hosts the Amsterdam Roots Festival, presenting a wide range of musicians from all over the world. The colourful and carnivalesque Gay Pride boat parade usually takes place in August.
The Dutch capital skilfully makes use of its dense network of charming canals, which have come to serve as the symbol of the city. Guided boat trips offer the chance to admire Amsterdam from an unusual perspective. Numerous companies organise multilingual theme tours, such as Jazz Cruises, Architectural Sights or Red Light District By Night. Visitors can also rent paddle boats or motorboats and explore the canals on their own. Rental shops stay open until late at night, so you can venture out on a night journey down the city's canals. Contrary to what you might think, rainy days constitute a particularly good opportunity to take a roofed-boat ride and enjoy the delicate hum of rain falling on the canal waters.