When covering Europe, I enjoy raising awareness of public transportation routes that fit the needs of travelers. In Amsterdam there’s a sightseeing spine right through the city center that goes past the Rijksmuseum and this “I amsterdam” sign. Conveniently, this spine is a tram corridor: Trams #1, #2, and #5 come by every two minutes. Taking advantage of this route empowers any visitor. Here’s a new sidebar I wrote for the next edition of our Rick Steves Amsterdam guidebook about this transit spine:
Amsterdam’s Spine by Tram
Tram #1, #2, or #5 from Central Station to Leidseplein (and Museums)
Amsterdam becomes much easier to get your brain around when you master the tram #1, #2, and #5 corridor. As if made for the sightseer, this main tram thoroughfare makes connecting the main train station, the Jordaan neighborhood, my recommended hotels, and the museum zone amazingly easy. The entire ride takes about 20 minutes, with trams zipping by about every two minutes. Use this route for an overview and to lace together major sightseeing spots in the city. At any point you can simply hop off, cross the street, and catch a tram heading back exactly where you came from. A single €2.80 ticket is good for an hour–or you can get the all day or multi-day passes (all sold on the tram). Starting at Amsterdam’s Central Station, here are the stops (and what you need to know about each):
This is the first and last stop. All #1, #2, and #5 trams starting here are heading in the correct direction. Nearby: The free ferry across the IJ, the starting point for the Rick Steves Audio Europe Amsterdam City Walking Tour, a transportation hub (airport shuttle, bus station, trains, many other trams, subway), bike rentals, the Red Light District, and the start of Damrak (the city’s main drag).
Notice how the street is wide: Wide streets are generally former canals filled in. (Hint: “gracht” means canal.) Nearby: The Haarlemmerstraat shopping district.
(nothing of interest nearby)
You’ll roll by the back side of the towering New Church and Royal Palace on the left. Nearby: Dam Square, Anne Frank House, and the starting point for two Rick Steves Audio Europe tours: Jordaan and Red Light District.
Pronounced “shpou” (rhymes with cow)–which meant “spew”–this square is where water was once pushed away over a dike. Nearby: Amsterdam History Museum, Begijnhof, University District, bookstores, and the Nine Streets (elegant shopping zone).
From Spui, the tram turns right. Over the next few stops it crosses four canals: Singel, Heren, Keizers, and Prinsen. Remember the memory aid: “A Single Hairy Kaiser’s Prince really knows his canals.” Nearby: Mint Tower and the flower market.
Here the street fills with people and gets so narrow that trams share one set of rails, and bikers are required to walk their bikes. Nearby: The vibrant shopping district of modern Amsterdam.
You’ll roll past more shops and more pedestrians.
This is the tourists’ nightlife center with the famous Bulldog Café and Coffeeshop (a former police station that now sells pot). You’ll find venerable, edgy nightclubs and concert venues like the Melkweg and Paradiso, plus the city theater (Stadsschouwburg). From here, trams #2 and #5 leave the old town, cross the outermost canal, pass an entry to Vondelpark, and head for the Rijksmuseum. (If you’re on tram #1, hop out at Leidseplein.)
Rijksmuseum (tram #2 and #5 only)
This is the start of the museum zone with a popular park (with a pond and much photographed “I amsterdam” sign) and several great museums. Nearby: Rijksmuseum, House of Bols Cocktail & Genever Experience, and Costers Diamonds (diamond cutting and polishing).
Van Baerlestraat (tram #2 and #5 only)
Jump out here for the Van Gogh Museum or the Stedelijk Museum.
Jacob Obrechtstraat (tram #2 only)
Here you leave the commotion of the city–and its tourists–and are in a district of high-end apartments. The inviting Café Gruter faces the tram stop. Nearby: The entry to Vondelpark (with the recommended Blue Tea House).