Amsterdam is not a notably green city, particularly in the Old Center, where the canal water is the most obvious and visible encroachment of the natural world. Still, the city has around 30 parks.
The famous Vondelpark is named after Amsterdam poet and playwright Joost van den Vondel (1587-1689), who's honored with a sculpture in the park. This mosaic of lakes, meadows, and woodland contains 120 tree varieties that include catalpa, chestnut, cypress, oak, and poplar. Vondelpark (tram: 1, 2, 3, 5, or 12) lies generally southwest of Leidseplein, and has entrances dotted all around; the busiest is on Stadhouderskade, adjacent to Leidseplein, where a sculpture of the Maid of Amsterdam, a symbol of the city, sits over the gate.
Some days, there's so much pot smoke on the air here that the trees likely are quite a bit higher than they seem. Otherwise, Vondelpark is a fairly standard park, the site of skateboarding, Frisbee-flipping, in-line skating, model-boat sailing, pickup soccer, softball, and basketball, smooching in the undergrowth, parties, picnics, and arts-and-crafts markets. Topless sunbathing has gone out of fashion, however. Best of all, it's free, or as the Dutch say, gratis. Also free are the many concerts, theater and dance performances, and all kinds of other events, including plenty for children, at the Vondelpark Openluchttheater (Open-Air Theater). These run from June to mid-August.
Rent in-line skates from De Vondeltuin Rent A Skate, Amstelveenseweg entrance (tel. 06/2157-5885; www.skatedokter.nl). Including protective gear, it's 5€ for the first hour and 2.50€ for each subsequent hour, or 10€ for a full day (11am-11pm; but it closes earlier if the weather is bad), for both adults and children. Bring ID and leave 20€ as a refundable guarantee.
Should toting along a picnic bag not be your thing, visit the casual Het Blauwe Theehuis, Vondelpark 5 (tel. 020/662-0254), at the park's center. This functionalist-style circular cafe on two levels, with a park-level terrace and an upstairs balcony terrace, is good at any time of day and a fine place for indulging in a continental breakfast of coffee and croissant. At night, there's dancing and live music.
Amsterdamse Bos (Amsterdam Wood)
To enjoy fresh air and wide expanses of scenery, head out to this giant park in the southern suburb of Amstelveen. This is nature on the city's doorstep, and covers some 10 sq. km (4 sq. miles). The park was laid out during the Depression years as a public works project. By now, the woodlands, grasslands, moors, and marshes, along with their birds, insects, and small animals (and a herd of Highland cattle to keep the moors in shape), are firmly established. The best way to get to the Amsterdamse Bos from the city center is to take bus no. 170 or 172 from outside Centraal Station. The Amsterdamse Bos is open 24 hours; admission is free.
At the entrance on Amstelveenseweg, stop by the Bezoekerscentrum (Visitor Center), Bosbaanweg 5 (tel. 020/545-6100; www.amsterdamsebos.nl), where you can trace the park's history, learn about its wildlife, and pick up a park map. The center is open daily (except Dec 25-26) from noon to 5pm, and admission is free. Across the way is a bicycle rental shop (tel. 020/644-5473; www.amsterdamsebosfietsverhuur.nl), open April through October, with fees starting at 10€ per day.
Then follow the path to a long stretch of water called the Bosbaan, a 2km (1 1/4-mile) competition-rowing course. Overlooking the finishing line, and with a great terrace beside the water, is the fine Grand-Café De Bosbaan (tel. 020/404-4869; www.debosbaan.nl). Beyond the course's western end is Boerderij Meerzicht (tel. 020/679-2744; www.boerderijmeerzicht.nl), a restaurant that sells great Dutch pancakes. It also has peacocks wandering around freely and a playground for kids. South of the course is a big pond, the Grote Vijver, where you can rent rowboats and pedal-boats, and the Openluchttheater (Open-Air Theater), where performances are presented on many summer evenings. The Japan Women's Club donated the 400 cherry trees of the Kersenbloesempark (Cherry Blossom Park) in 2000 to mark 400 years of cultural ties between the Netherlands and Japan.
Horseback riding through the Amsterdamse Bos is available from De Amsterdamse Manege, Nieuwe Kalfjeslaan 25 (tel. 020/643-1342; www.deamsterdamsemanege.nl).
After Vondelpark, the city's other parks are fairly tame, but the following still make pleasant escapes on a warm summer day: Sarphatipark, 2 blocks behind the Albert Cuyp Markt in South Amsterdam; Beatrixpark, adjacent to the RAI Convention and Exhibition Center; Rembrandtpark and Erasmuspark in the west city; Martin Luther Kingpark, beside the Amstel River; Oosterpark; and East Amsterdam's Flevopark, which has two swimming pools.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.