Renting an apartment for your visit can be a really smart move in Amsterdam, where the accommodations stock includes dreamy canal-side townhouses, spacious studios, houseboats out in the IJ, and barges moored up along the Canal Ring. Generally, renting an apartment, private room, or houseboat will cost less than staying a hotel, but demand for properties soars during the busy summer months; that means you will likely have to book a multi-day or even week-long stay in order to get this type of accommodation. Also keep in mind that most residential buildings in the city do not have elevators and stairs can be steep.
Airbnb (www.airbnb.com), HomeAway (www.homeaway.com), and VRBO (www.vrbo.com) have thousands of Amsterdam properties on their sites; most are apartments in canal houses but you can also find the occasional full townhouse or houseboat. Prices typically range from 120€ to 210€ per night for a studio or cozy one-bedroom apartment. If you don’t mind sharing an apartment, AirBnb is your best bet for booking a private room, often with a shared bathroom; prices run the gamut depending on the property and location, but most average around 80€ per night.
If you have your heart set on staying on a houseboat, the sites www.houseboatrental.amsterdam and www.houseboathotel.nl both rent either studio apartments on boats or entire boats. Rates are similar to those for the houseboats found on Airbnb, HomeAway, and VBRO, but there are far more properties listed one these two sites. Studios average around 150€–200€ per night while entire houseboats, which usually sleep 4 to 6 people, start at around 250€ and go up to 700€ per night for a luxurious five-bedroom boat.
A final option for very friendly travelers: Couchsurfing (www.couchsurfing.org) and GlobalFreeloaders (www.globalfreeloaders.com) connect travelers with folks willing to share their room/sofa/apartment for free or a very minimal charge.
There are also several aparthotel and serviced apartment options in the city, which offer a bit more space than the average hotel room (an especially good option for families), come equipped with kitchens and usually include daily maid service. Dutch Masters (http://en.dutch-masters.com; tel. 06/1020-5504) are 9 upscale contemporary apartments tucked inside a 17th-century building on the Keizersgracht canal. Sleeping 2 to 4 persons (though bedrooms are small), the one- to three-bedroom flats feature subtle decor inspired by Dutch artists like Karel Appel and Mondrian and offer fully equipped kitchens, washer/dryers, and free Wi-Fi; some have access to a private garden. The minimum booking is generally one week and prices range from 1,200€ to 2,400€ weekly. A more flexible choice, allowing for single-night stays, is Eric Vökel Amsterdam Suites (www.erikvokel.com; tel. 020/808-0487), located on Oosterdok island, just a stone’s throw from Amsterdam Centraal station. Decked out with sleek, Scandinavian-inspired furnishings, the spacious one- to three-bedroom apartments sleep 4 to 6 people and feature huge windows (many with views of the IJ River) and a 24-hour manned reception desk. Rates average 190€–450€ per night.
A major hurdle in upgrading low-cost hotels is squeezing bathrooms into guest rooms in the city's canal houses and older buildings. The term bathroom, by the way, is used whether the facilities include a tub, tub/shower combination, shower stall, or even one of those silly shower/toilets in the same space that inevitably results in lots of soggy toilet paper. If having a full bathroom is important to you, verify in advance that all you need is included.
Dutch TV channels air American and British programs in English with Dutch subtitles. Cable TV offers CNN International, BBC World News, MTV, Sky, and others. If you're traveling with kids, be warned that some Dutch, German, and Luxembourg stations broadcast soft (and some not-so-soft) porno shows late at night.
Rates -- Hotels vary their rates from day to day according to the level of demand, and whether it's an advance-purchase or a last-minute reservation. A particular hotel reviewed on this site might be categorized as "Expensive" even when its lowest possible rate would fit into the "Moderate" or even "Budget" range. If you manage to secure a room at that rate, rejoice in your luck or acumen, but be aware that plenty of your fellow guests will be paying at the higher end of the range.
Taxes -- Value-added tax (BTW) of 6% and service are included in hotel bills. In addition, a 5% city tax applies to rooms at all Amsterdam hotels. Most hotels add this tax separately to the room rate; others include it in the rate. Be sure to check this when reserving.
Vexations -- Mosquitoes, which thrive in the damp conditions on and near the canals and on marshy reclaimed land around the city, can be a major nuisance. You can buy various plug-in devices to hold them at bay, and a fly-swatter to bring 'em down, but it's best not to let them into your room in the first place.
The lower down the price scale you go, the more likely you are to find yourself subject to "amenities" such as tiny sinks in which you can just about wash one hand at a time, no soap or shampoo in the bathroom, or a supplementary charge for orange juice at breakfast -- talk about being nickel-and-dimed (or dollar-and-pounded).
Complaints -- Standards of service can be, aah . . . "relaxed" . . . in Amsterdam. That doesn't mean you won't get good, friendly service -- you will -- but there's a subtle subtext: Dutch service providers just naturally assume they're doing you a favor, rather than their job. This attitude surfaces most clearly when you make a complaint. You may be astonished to discover that if you have a problem, you might be blamed for not being satisfied with what's provided.
If you dare to make a heated complaint -- such as rearing up on your hind legs and hollering until the staff person gets his or her butt into gear -- your effort goes down like the Titanic. In big international hotels, where staffers are accustomed to the demanding "foibles" of global business travelers, the response is likely to be glacial but correct. But in a hotel farther down the financial food chain, watch out: You may have a stand-up fight on your hands.
Breakfast -- If breakfast isn't included, expect to pay up to 30€ for a continental, buffet, or full breakfast, depending on the hotel category. A typical hotel morning begins with a selection of breads -- whole-grain, nutty, or rye -- fresh from the warme bakker; rusks (crunchy toasted rounds, like Zwieback); ontbijtkoek (spicy gingerbread cake); a platter of cheese and sliced meats (ham, roast beef, salami); coffee (thicker and stronger than American or English coffee, and often served with koffiemelk -- gunk similar to condensed milk) or tea. Some hotels throw in a boiled egg, yogurt, fruit juice, or all three.
This, at any rate, is the ideal spread, but cheap hotels may present only a few sorry-looking, curled-up-at-the-edges cheese slices, assorted cold meats of indeterminate provenance, and eggs boiled hard enough to sink an enemy sub. You might do better simply breakfasting outside the hotel.
Summer Stays: Reserve Ahead -- July and August are tough months for finding rooms in Amsterdam; you're advised to reserve as far ahead as possible.
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.