Amsterdam is home to a huge variety of restaurants, with options ranging from French cuisine to Indonesian take-away. Naturally, visitors will find plenty of authentic Dutch dishes, which characteristically use smaller meats such as sausage, and a lot of vegetables. The city also has a very strong tradition of cafeteria dining, including 'brown cafes', so named because of their dark, nicotine-stained walls and wooden fittings. Travellers can sample local beers and staples such as steak and salads in these cosy places. The city's pricey fine-dining establishments contrast sharply with these budget-friendly options.
Visitors should certainly try some local snacks while they're in town, such as savoury pancakes (or pannekoek), pickled herring, frikadel (a snack sausage served with mayonnaise, ketchup and onions), and small windmill-shaped cookies called speculaas.
While breakfast will traditionally be served up until 10am, lunch between 12pm and 2pm, and dinner from around 5pm, the Dutch are flexible in both tastes and preferred eating hours. Indeed, several cafes and restaurants operate into the wee hours of the morning, especially on the city's vibrant Leidseplein and Rembrandtsplein squares, which are dedicated to late night entertainment.
Service is notoriously poor in Amsterdam, as a gratuity is usually included in the bill and waiting staff do not rely on tips. It's polite to round the bill up to the nearest Euro if the service is good, and to leave tips in cash rather than including them on a credit-card payment.
Being the bustling epicentre of Netherlands' trade, Amsterdam is a cosmopolitan city hosting all of the world's leading brands at shopping malls spread across the city. There is an especially impressive variety of fashion and jewellery stores at these centres. What is distinctive about shopping in Amsterdam is the opportunity for informal shopping on a large scale. The main shopping streets are between Central Station and the Leidseplein, including Nieuwendijk, Kalverstraat, Heiligeweg, and Leidsestraat. Some of these areas can be rather seedy, however, so for a more upmarket experience shoppers can head to PC Hooftstraat Street. The Nine Streets area near the main canals hosts a plethora of market stalls selling curios, second-hand clothing, antiques and other miscellany. There are also a number of unique shops in the Jordaan where you can buy popular Amsterdam souvenirs such as wooden clogs or tulips, blue and white Delft china, and Dutch football paraphernalia.
There are a number of street markets in Amsterdam, and while most concentrate on food and fresh produce there are a few with interesting curios for tourists. The largest is Albert Cuyp, while the Dappermarkt behind the zoo has been voted the best in the Netherlands. Another highlight of shopping in Amsterdam is the floating Bloemenmarkt or 'flower market', in which permanently docked barges market exotic flowers from around the world in the Singel Canal.
Most stores in Amsterdam are open until 6pm, with extended hours on Thursdays and reduced hours on Saturdays.
Famed for its wild nightlife, Amsterdam offers visitors something quite unique when the sun goes down. Pubs, clubs, soft drugs and the sex trade feature among the options.
The Red Light District is a major drawcard, with many tourists choosing to simply wander through and see women posing in shop windows, and hear insistent touts push sex shows. Safety is not an issue, though visitors should be wary of pickpockets and other petty criminals. Travellers should also understand that De Wallen (as locals call the Red Light District) is a nightlife hub aside from the sex trade.
Amsterdam is famously tolerant of marijuana use. Visitors can purchase a variety of strains in some coffeeshops, and smoke at these establishments. Tourists should note that while marijuana use is tolerated, it's not strictly speaking legal. Some caution is necessary.
The city's mainstream nightlife centres around Leidseplein, where visitors will find the most popular bars, clubs and restaurants. Amsterdam also has a fondness for live music, particularly jazz, as many of the world's jazz legends have settled here. Music lovers can enjoy performances at fun jazz clubs, or catch world-class rock and pop acts at many venues. Bigger concerts take place at the Koninklijk Theater Carré, Heineken Music Hall, and the huge Amsterdam Arena.
For a more cultured night out, visitors can purchase tickets to a number of highly-regarded orchestras. Or, they can watch the National Ballet and Netherlands Opera. Many theatres produce shows in both Dutch and English, including De Balie, Felix Meritis, Theater Frascati, and the Vondelpark Open-Air Theater.