With a good escorted group tour, you'll know ahead of time what your trip will cost, and you won't have to worry about transportation, luggage, hotel reservations, communicating in foreign languages, and other basics -- an experienced guide will take care of all that and lead you through all the sightseeing. The downside of a guided tour is that you trade much of the freedom and personal free time independent travel grants you and often see only the canned postcard-ready side of Amsterdam through the tinted windows of a giant bus. You get to see Amsterdam, but rarely do you get the chance to really know it. Consult a good travel agent for the latest offerings and advice.
Some unique escorted tour offerings exist in the city, too. Artifex (tel. 020/620-8112; www.artifex-travel.nl) offers everything from architecture walks to painting classes on canal boats in the city. Its tailor-made tours aren't exactly cheap (the price depends on what you want to do), but the multilingual guides -- trained art historians -- can get you into private collections, the Royal Palace even when it's closed to the public, the Amsterdam School's Scheepvaarthuis (never open to the public), and plenty more places. Some clients wind up spending half their day in a cozy brown cafe.
Volunteer travel has become increasingly popular among those who want to venture beyond the standard group-tour experience to learn languages, interact with locals, and make a positive difference while on vacation, and there are a number of options for this type of sustainable travel in Amsterdam. Volunteer travel usually doesn't require special skills -- just a willingness to work hard -- and programs vary in length from a few days to a number of weeks. Some programs provide free housing and food, but many require volunteers to pay for travel expenses, which can add up quickly.
For general info on volunteer travel, visit www.volunteerabroad.org and www.idealist.org. Also see the options listed under "Special Interest & Escorted Trips" below.
Here's a list of companies offering educational and volunteer opportunities in Amsterdam:
- www.jobsabroad.com: Listings for jobs throughout Europe, as well as links to study and volunteer options.
- www.idealist.org: Resources and tips on volunteering abroad, along with volunteer and paid postings.
- www.volunteerabroad.com: Extensive listings for European volunteer opportunities.
Language & Cooking Classes
Maybe you've always dreamed of learning Dutch, of dazzling friends with your nonchalantly correct pronunciation of Van Gogh, Schiphol Airport, and the many other little delights of the tongue that goes by the name of Nederlands. Beware. You'll need to perfect a mode of delivery that will lead both friends and beloved to believe you're choking on a chicken bone. The good news is that it can be done in Amsterdam. All three of the city's universities offer Dutch courses:
- Universiteit van Amsterdam, Spui 21, 1012 WX Amsterdam (tel. 020/525-9111; www.uva.nl).
- Volksuniversiteit, Rapenburgerstraat 73, 1011 VK Amsterdam (tel. 020/626-1626; www.volksuniversiteitamsterdam.nl).
- Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, De Boelelaan 1105, 1081 HV Amsterdam (tel. 020/598-9898; www.vu.nl).
You can even learn the lingo and whip up some Dutch dishes on the same vacation. "Dutch cooking is not a widely known cuisine," admits a reviewer of The Art of Dutch Cooking (1997) by Corry Countess Van Limburg Stirum. This is akin to pointing out that the Pope is a Catholic. Yet all is not lost, as you can discover by making contact with De Kookfabriek, De Flinesstraat 2-4, 1099 CB Amsterdam-Duivendrecht (tel. 020/463-5635; www.kookfabriek.nl), which (among other things) organizes Dutch cookery classes.
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.