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Amsterdam

Canal Boat Cruise: A cruise aboard a glass-topped canal boat is the best overview of the fine gabled homes and many picturesque bridges that make this city unique. Boats also take you into the busy harbor. The ride is romantic on nights, in season, when the bridges and facades are lit. Tours last about 1.5 hours and depart frequently from the harbor in front of Central Station.

amsterdam rijksmuseum Rijksmuseum: This world-class museum always seems to be under renovation, but most of its collections can still be viewed in its nearly 80 galleries. On display, you'll find favorite paintings by Hals, Vermeer, Steen and Rembrandt (including the latter's "Night Watch"), as well as highlights of the Golden Age like silver, delftware and exquisitely furnished dollhouses. The Rijksmuseum also maintains a gallery that's well worth visiting at Schiphol Airport.

Van Gogh Museum: The world's largest collection of works by the Dutch master is found here, along with paintings by Van Gogh's contemporaries -- Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec, Monet, Sisley and others. Highlights are 18 paintings from the two years when Van Gogh lived in the south of France. It is generally considered his best work, with familiar images such as "The Yellow House," "Vincent's Bedroom at Arles," "Sunflowers" and "Self Portrait with Pipe and Straw Hat."

Anne Frank House: Many decades after World War II, a line still forms almost every day with visitors waiting to view the small, hidden rooms where 13-year-old Anne Frank wrote her famous diary. Eight people, family and friends, lived in this space, hardly daring to speak aloud for more than two years, hoping in vain to escape the Nazis. The bare rooms have lost none of their impact or poignancy with the passage of time.

Historic churches: Three of the city's oldest churches are worth looking into. The Oude Kerk dates to the 13th century and has beautiful stained-glass windows. The 14th-century Nieuwe Kirk -- which means "new church" -- is anything but! The late-Gothic-period church has many features of note, including a handsome pulpit, and hosts revolving modern art exhibits and music concerts. Westerkerk, built between 1620 and 1630, is considered a masterpiece of Dutch Renaissance style, and is the scene of summer concerts played on a 300-year-old organ. Visitors can go up into the tower, a landmark in the shape of a crown, for a clear city view.

Rembrandt House Museum: This is an atmospheric reconstruction of the 1639 home built when Rembrandt was at the height of his fame, furnished with items and works of art from the master's time. Rooms include his kitchen, his studio, the workroom where he did his meticulous etchings and a gallery displaying dozens of them. Demonstrations show how pigments were ground into paint in earlier days, and a modern-day master is on hand to show the painstaking techniques of etching, guaranteed to leave you with a greater appreciation of this art.

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Royal Palace: This one-time city hall, built in the mid-17th century, was transformed into a palace by Napoleon Bonaparte's brother, Louis, when he was king in the early 19th century. Though it is the official royal palace, no one lives there. The palace is used today only for ceremonial events.

Other museums: It would take at least a month to visit Amsterdam's 40+ museums, but depending on your interests, there are several more major attractions. Along with interesting displays, the Jewish Historical Museum has a beautiful setting. It's in a restored building that is the oldest public synagogue in Europe. The Hermitage is small, but often brings rare traveling exhibits from its home museum in Russia. The Amsterdam Historical Museum, housed in the 17th-century buildings of the former city orphanage, illustrates how a small fishing village became a world power and offers paintings by many Dutch masters in the context of their time and place. Paintings also are hung in the covered street between buildings; this passage is free and also connects to a fascinating little religious enclave of 14th-century homes, the Begijnhof, which is also free.

red light district amsterdam night The Red Light District: You've heard about it, so you might as well see the area, just behind the Oude Kerk (old church), where ladies of the night dressed in scanty underwear are sitting in the windows, waiting for customers. Prostitution is legal in Amsterdam, and the ladies enjoy police protection (still, behind many ladies is a pimp). While more unsavory at night, the narrow streets are safe to walk in daytime and the windows seem to be occupied around the clock. Just watch for pickpockets -- and remember that taking pictures of the women is forbidden.

Those interested in learning more about the district can book a tour, day or night, through a private operator like Randy Roy's Redlight Tours.

The Aalsmeer Flower Auction: The world's largest flower auction takes place Monday through Friday in Aalsmeer, not far from Schiphol Airport. Visitors' hours are Monday - Wednesday and Friday from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. and Thursdays from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. Get up early to see the best of the action. Thirteen mammoth bidding clocks go at once in five buildings as millions of tulips and daffodils are wheeled by; buyers must be quick, as the first bid stops the clock. Bus No. 172 from the central station will take you to Aalsmeer; allow an hour for the trip.

Keukenhof Gardens: Especially in April and May, this 20-acre park, maintained by an association of Dutch bulb growers, is one of the world's most glorious gardens, featuring some seven million colorful tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and other bulb flowers in artistic array. Tours from Amsterdam are usually available to the garden, located about an hour away in Lisse.
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