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Personal Recommendations from Your Guide to Amsterdam Travel

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Readers of this site often write in for advice, not only when it comes to practical information and top attractions, but also for personal recommendations - in other words, what aspects of Amsterdam I consider most precious, unique, or otherwise unmissable. Here are just a few choices from the vast inventory of recommendations I've accumulated over the years. While these may not be everyone's picks for the best of Amsterdam, the selections below represent some of my personal favorite sides of the city.

Favorite Museums:

When it comes to museums, my tastes run toward specialized collections that let visitors experience a subject in remarkable depth, more so than collections that are noted for their breadth. While both are amply represented in Amsterdam, museums of the former type make the top of my favorites list. Off the beaten track in the Spaarndammerbuurt, Museum Het Schip is one such specialized museum, dedicated solely to the early 20th-century Amsterdamse (Amsterdam) School of architecture. The meticulous attention to detail on this brick behemoth, the opus of prominent Amsterdamse School architect Michel de Clerck, is characteristic of the movement, which routinely controlled the details of its projects down to the finer points of the interior décor. A 90-minute tour acquaints visitors with the architectural school and the importance of Het Schip, a residential complex that aimed to house city workers in a more humane environment than the typical tenement homes.

Another specialized museum, the Amsterdam Tattoo Museum is one of the city's most impressive acquisitions in recent years, a multi-storey celebration of body art across periods and cultures. Carefully constructed, walk-in replicas, like a Dayak hut from Borneo or an urban Japanese street, transport visitors to cultures where body art assumes a distinctive (if not always esteemed) role. While the museum opened in November 2011, much of the collection comes from tattoo artist and founder Henk Schiffmacher's personal collection, amassed over decades of travel to tattoo-centric lands; Schiffmacher himself maintains a studio upstairs where visitors can witness him at work.

Favorite Restaurants & Cafes:

Amsterdam is so loaded with fantastic food that it's difficult to short-list a handful of favorite restaurants. Still, one spot where the atmosphere is cozy (and colorful), the service warm and attentive and the food novel and delicious is Restaurant Tibet, on a narrow alley in De Wallen. Photos of satisfied customers look down from the walls as diners are introduced to this cuisine from the "roof of the world" which, despite discernible traces of Chinese, Indian and Nepali influence, is entirely unique. (But there are also Han Chinese dishes on the menu for the less adventurous.) On another side of Asia - and Amsterdam - Japanese Pancake World is a temple to the dish of okonomiyaki, a specialty of Osaka that most closely resembles a loaded pancake or pizza. The German owner of the restaurant is dedicated to the mastery of this low-brow Japanese favorite, for a result that rivals some of the best okonomiyaki vendors in Kansai. Amsterdam's cafes deserve their own article (see "Best Cafes in Amsterdam"), and while I couldn't choose between the excellent cafes rounded up there, it's certainly a favorite activity of mine to duck into a superior espresso bar in the middle of a day out on the town.

Favorite Shops & Markets:

Shops are similarly difficult to narrow down to a list of favorites, but two whole areas really stand out for their concentration of excellent, one-off stores that can only be found in Amsterdam. Haarlemmerstraat is one such street, just west of Central Station, a densely-lined row of independent stores that sell specialty foods (chocolate, tea, olive oil, import foods), clothes and accessories from the retro to the contemporary, and more. To the south, the 9 Straatjes (9 Streets) is one of the most concentrated centers of fine stores (not to mention cafes and restaurants) in the city, while to the west, just about the entire Jordaan district is full of fantastic shops on its narrow canal streets. When I'm in a bookish mood, I often head down to Het Spui, which boasts some of the best bookstores in the city (the beautifully-appointed American Book Center, and the intellectual Athenaeum) as well as an antique book market every Friday. These outdoor markets of Amsterdam are one of the city's most special perks; beside the Boekenmarkt aan (Book Market on) Het Spui, there are several food-centered markets, like the Dappermarkt (Dapperstraat; open Mon. - Sat., 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.), that are at once fun to browse and quintessential of the Dutch capital.

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