Amsterdam was the first destination of a whistle-stop budget tour around Europe for reporter Lauren Everitt and her American companion. Here’s what they discovered.

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Travel in comfort

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WITH its 600,000 bikes, the sound of ringing of bicycle bells – not car horns – lets you know you have arrived in Amsterdam.

The capital of the Netherlands is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe and attracts some 4.6 million visitors a year.

The city’s unique charm was discovered on a large-scale only in 1950 but since then Amsterdam has exploded onto the international travel map. This was the first of four stops on our European tour.

Arriving at Amsterdam Schiphol airport after a night on the tiles with the girls, we were not looking forward to navigating our way to our accommodation.

But after a train journey, tram ride and quick walk we were soon in awe of the magnificent setting of our hostel, StayOkay, on the edge of the Vondelpark.

The vast green space is filled with a multitude of joggers, sun worshippers and performers, people lounging on terraces, playing football or rollerblading.

The best way to explore the cultural city’s narrow streets and tree-lined canals is on two wheels in the fresh air. It is easy to see how the 17th century inner-city is complemented by the up-to-date efficiency of a cosmopolitan metropolis.

Top of the list of our must-see attractions was Anne Frank House – and it certainly lived up to our expectations.

The museum is in the actual building where Anne, a young Jewish girl, and her family were hidden for two years during the Second World War. After her capture and death in a Nazi concentration camp, Anne’s diary, written while she was in hiding, was found and has since become famous around the world.

After this humbling and thought-provoking experience, it was back to the bikes and into the Jordaan district to take in the charming galleries, independent boutiques and artisanal shops.

Another must-see part of Amsterdam is The Nine Streets, located in the heart of the city’s historic canal district.

The “Negen Straatjes”, full of boutiques, vintage stores, book shops and other small emporia that are perfect for browsing in, were built during the 17th century and link the Leidsestraat and the Jordaan district with Dam Square at the centre of the capital. The square also provides the gateway to the city’s red light district . . .

After a comfortable night’s sleep at StayOkay and filling breakfast we were off on our bikes again.

This time our first stop was the Albert Cuyp Market, which offers row upon row of stalls selling Dutch cheese, fresh meat and fish, herbs and spices, flowers and clothing.

To see the cultural centre of the city in Museumplein, with the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art, as well as the Concertgebouw concert hall, it is best to start early.

The Van Gogh Museum, currently housed at The Hermitage, boasts the largest collection of paintings by Vincent Van Gogh anywhere in the world.

It follows the artist’s development as well as comparing his work with those of his late 19th century contemporaries.

Under renovation and set to reopen in 2013, the Rijksmuseum is the place to admire the best of its Golden Age treasures, including Rembrandt’s Night Watch.

It is the city’s atmosphere, its rich history, theatres and museums, cosy outdoor terraces and beautiful parks that make Amsterdam a destination that everyone should take the time to visit. No other city has so many sights per square kilometre and all are within walking or cycling distance.

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