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Amsterdam, the “Venice of the North”, is famous the world over for its 165 canals, 600,000 bicycles, 1,281 bridges – and of course its liberal spirit. The city’s distinct cultural mix attracts nearly 4 million visitors a year and, in order to host them all, this capital disguised as a village offers a diverse range of accommodation.

A capital of hospitality

Finding a cheap yet decent place to stay in Amsterdam can prove a challenge, but we’ve come up with a list of low-cost accommodation for those on a tight budget and those travelling in groups. Travellers are spoilt for choice in the high-end category, however, with a bounty of luxurious retreats, boutique hotels and sanctuaries of well-being on offer in the city. Our selection targeting hotels in the new business district of Zuidas, around the station and at the airport gives busy professionals an overview of convenient, well-adapted accommodation solutions, whereas couples will no doubt be seduced by one of the hotels, apartments or houseboats in our pick of Amsterdam’s most romantic accommodation. Those looking for an out-of-the-ordinary experience can choose from our selection of unique hotels, and we’ve even compiled a list of suggestions for families.

Choosing which neighbourhood to stay in

Amsterdam is relatively small for a capital city and by far the best way to explore it is by foot or on a bike. The city is built around a concentric network of canals forming a giant spider’s web of islands connected by small bridges and charming cobblestone streets. Many hotels are set within typical 17th-century canal houses – tall, narrow terraced buildings that are characterised by small rooms, steep stairs (no lifts), old exposed beams and dim lighting. Our selection of central hotels covers a full range of accommodation in downtown Amsterdam. The city’s historic and cultural heart is packed with medieval monuments, typical architecture, and must-see sites such as Dam Square, the shopping street of Kalverstraat, China Town (famous for its Indonesian restaurants) and the Flower Market. Travellers who want to stay in the lively neighbourhood of Wallen (the Red Light District) should pick their hotel wisely; a magnate for night owls and coffee-shop connoisseurs, it’s not the best place to stay if you’re a light sleeper.

Moving away from the centre, the ring of canals that encircles the city is a listed World Heritage Site where you’ll find a good choice of quality hotels. Bohemian Jordaan, leafy Plantage, Waterlooplein with its flea market and Oud Zuid with its museums, designer boutiques and large park, are all neighbourhoods that provide a relatively calm setting within easy reach of the tourist attractions. More affordable rates can usually be found in the area of Pijp, which is known for the Albert Cuypmarkt daily market, a vast sprawl of stalls selling typical Dutch fare such as smoked herrings and eels, and mature Gouda cheese. Zeeburg and the docklands are historic industrial zones that have undergone vast redevelopment in recent years and a number of interesting hotels ranging from new-builds to old warehouses converted into designer accommodation have opened their doors to accommodate the growing amount of visitors to the area.

The district of Zuidas is a new business hub where offices, residential blocks and hotels are sprouting at lightning speed. This thoroughly modern suburb offers a variety of accommodation for travellers who are visiting Amsterdam on business.

Good to know before you reserve

Most hotel rates displayed do not include the 5% tourist tax, which will be added to your bill when you pay. Internet access is often free, or else hotels are usually equipped with their own computer for guests to use. Many Dutch people, especially those working in hotels, speak excellent English, so don’t hesitate to ask for help or guidance.

The majority of hotels rent bicycles, which is the best form of transport to explore the city. Pedestrians need to stay alert as countless busy bike lanes criss-cross Amsterdam’s streets and cyclists rarely break to let people past. Public transport is well developed and the “OV-chipkaart” smart card offers a range hourly or daily passes that can be topped up as needed. Buying a City Card that gives access to public transport as well as a number of popular attractions can also be a convenient, economical option for visitors. Trying to navigate the city by car is not advisable due to its maze-like design coupled with the fact that parking is both difficult and expensive. A better idea would be to drop your vehicle at a park-and-ride centre located on the periphery of the city, where parking is cheaper and includes the use of public transport.

Lastly, it is strongly advised to book well in advance if you’re planning on visiting Amsterdam on popular dates such as New Year’s Eve or King’s Day (Koningsdag) – known as Queen’s Day until 2013 when Queen Beatrix abdicated in favour of her son Willem-Alexander. Generally speaking, youth hostels require a three-night minimum stay at the weekend, and most apartments are rented on a weekly basis.

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Photo credits: http://www.flickr.com/photos/joiseyshowaa/3798069610/ by By joiseyshowaa

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