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Amsterdam

Amsterdam has shops to appeal to everyone. Traditional, large department stores, such as the Bijenkorf, are near the Dam Square, and Magna Plaza (just behind the Royal Palace) is a historic building that has been converted to a luxurious shopping center. Exclusive designer fashions are found on P.C. Hoftstraat and other streets near the Rijksmuseum, while Rokin Street and the Spiegelkwartier are centers for the city's many antique shops.

Most fun for browsing are the small streets between the main canals, lined with intriguing little shops and galleries that have made the city increasingly known for its young, cutting-edge fashion and design. The Frozen Fountain and Droog Design are good places to see some of the best work of new interior designers.

Many of the diamond dealers offer demonstrations of how a diamond is cut and polished, fun to see even if your budget doesn't allow for a solitaire on this trip. The "Shopping in Amsterdam" brochure available at the tourist office offers a plan of numerous shopping areas around town.

Amsterdam is home to a number of excellent markets. The Floating Flower Market on the Singel Canal is a colorful sight, packed with fresh-cut flowers year round. The Kunst & Antiekcentrum de Looier is a big indoor market, held on weekends and Wednesdays in old warehouses along the canals in the Jordaan section. The Thorbeckeplein Art Market offers a mix of paintings, sculpture and jewelry by local artists. The Book Market on Fridays at Spui features second-hand books, the stamp market on Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal takes place on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons, the bird market at Noordermarket is a colorful sight on Saturday mornings, and the Waterlooplein Flea Market has a little bit of everything, including junk; some vendors are out almost daily, but summer Saturday mornings are the time to snag better antiques and books.

Looking for souvenirs? Delicate Delft china is one of Holland's best-known products; it can be found both in traditional blue and white and in multi-color designs. Gardeners will want to order famous Dutch tulip bulbs, which are shipped to buyers at the proper planting time. Delicious Dutch cheeses can be bought at the airport, as well as in town. The hand-worked, aged Gouda is a special treat. Amsterdam is also an international diamond-cutting center, with many showrooms offering competitive prices on diamonds.

Editor's Note: If you spend more than 50 euros in a store and are not a European Union resident, you are entitled to a refund of the value-added tax (VAT), which amounts to 19 percent of the bill (shop where you see the Global Refund Tax-Free Shopping sign and remember to ask for the Global Refund Cheque). A lower rate of 6 percent applies for certain goods and services, such as food products, books, medicines, art, antiques, entry to museums, zoos, theatres and sports. When leaving the country or the European Union, show your purchases, receipts and passport to customs officials and have your Global Refund Cheques stamped.
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