Use a Map
Don't assume that because Amsterdam is relatively compact you can just wing it and find what you're looking for. A good map is essential to getting around and helps visitors make the most of their exploring time.
I find the maps in most printed guidebooks to be limited; pick up a city map at a tourist office, your hotel or a souvenir shop. Keep these things in mind about the city's orientation:
- Think of Centraal Station as the city's northern landmark;
- Remember the three main canals that make a complete horseshoe are in alphabetical order (inner to outer): Herengracht, Keizersgracht, Prinsengracht;
- Identify main squares like Dam, Nieuwmarkt, Leidseplein and Rembrandtplein;
- Notice that street names often change when the route crosses water.
Make Your MarkOnce you're armed with the map(s) of your choice (I personally love maps and collect as many as I can when I visit a new destination), start circling, jotting and marking things like your hotel location, sights you'd like to see, that funky shop you stumbled upon in the Jordaan neighborhood, the hole-in-the wall café you found that you loved.
This will help you understand where things are in the city, relative to each other, to what areas you've seen and to what areas you'd still like to explore. And you'll have a record of your discoveries for your travel journal as a bonus.
Know the Law of Numbers
So if you find yourself on one of the canals and have no idea which direction you're headed, start looking at numbers. If they're decreasing, you're headed west, with Centraal Station on your right. If they're increasing, you're headed east, with Centraal Station on your left.