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Amsterdam's Dam Square is a good starting point for an orientation tour around the city. Here one finds the Royal Palace and the main shopping streets extending beyond it (Kalverstraat and Nieuwendijk).
Beyond this are the bustling Leidseplein and Rembrandtplein quarters where street performers and tourists jostle for space. Locals gather here to enjoy the theatre, cinema or any one of the many popular late nightclubs and bars. A ten-minute walk from Leidseplein takes visitors to the Museum Quarter (Museumplein), a conglomeration of Amsterdam's finest museums. Another area of interest is the Jordaan quarter. Built in 1612, it has become a popular district for students and young professionals. The infamous Red Light District (De Wallen) is located to the left of the Dam Square bordered by the canals Oudezijds Voorburgwal and Oudezijds Achterburgwal. Pijp is an exciting area from which to explore the cultural diversity within the city and to quaff local brew from one of the many pubs perched on the street corners. Amsterdam has long been a city that welcomes visitors with open arms. Historically its appeal lay in trade links and tolerance, and these days its cosmopolitan charms draw more than 1.8 million tourists a year, a large proportion of them British. It's one of the most popular European destinations for a short break. A large attraction is its renowned liberalism, with a blind-eye policy to soft drugs and a thriving sex industry providing curiosity for more conservative nations. But the pungent cannabis smoke clouds the issue, for Amsterdam is far more than a hedonistic playground. When it rains, and it often does, the best place to be is along its famous canals - the watery veins that divide the city centre into 90 islands. Walk for five minutes from the bustle of the Centrum neighbourhood and the grandiose Dam Square and you reach the most famous canals - the 17th-century Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht that ring the city centre in the shape of a crescent. But Amsterdam is more than just a pretty face, offering over 40 excellent museums, including the mighty Rijksmuseum, the state-of-the-art Van Gogh museum and the Heineken museum (where you can taste the exhibits!), world-class orchestras, concert halls such as the Concertgebouw, vibrant galleries and wonderful markets. When night falls the city comes out to play - Amsterdam loves to socialise and there are lively clubs, performances and events to enjoy throughout the city, every day of the year, as well as a typically cosmopolitan restaurant scene that represents practically every world cuisine. Amsterdam is also one of the best shopping capitals in Europe, its outlets ranging from the Bijenkorf department store (Dam Square) and the Magna Plaza (Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal 182) to Noddy-sized boutiques selling anything from toothbrushes to condoms (the latter has a "no fitting room" notice in the window). The best place to browse is in the newly named Nine Streets district, the thoroughfares of which run perpendicular to the main canals.