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As a city with a long history of trading, Amsterdam is loaded with tempting wares, at premium prices, from all over the world, and homegrown products both traditional and contemporary. The best Dutch porcelain comes from nearby Delft, or from Makkum in Friesland. Much ado is made of mock-antique pewter wares and grandfather clocks, but the less said about these the better (unless you're into high kitsch).

The Dutch flower and plant industry is a booming business indeed, but foreign visitors can take home only certain certified bulbs. Nonetheless, there are plenty of creative ways to spend your euros.

Adding a contemporary dimension to this tradition-laden scene are the funky boutiques scattered around Amsterdam, and adding sparkle are the diamond cutters. The city has a full range of shopping options, from small and highly individualistic -- perhaps eccentric -- boutiques showcasing a growing number of highly regarded local designers to chains, department stores, and malls.

The Shopping Scene

Shopping can be an interesting extension to your Amsterdam experience, because the city center is small enough that stores and attractions are often right beside each other. Rather than going on dedicated shopping expeditions, it may make more sense to simply drop into close-by stores while you're touring.

Opening Hours -- Regular store hours are Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday from 9 or 10am to 6pm (some stores don't open until as late as 1pm on Mon), Thursday from 9 or 10am to 9pm, and Saturday from 9 or 10am to 5pm. Many city stores open on Sunday too, usually from noon to 5pm.

Pprices -- All applicable taxes are included in amounts shown on tags. End-of-season and other special sales occur occasionally throughout the year.

Tax Return -- If you live outside the European Union (E.U.), you're entitled to a refund of part of the value-added tax (BTW/omzetbelasting) on goods purchased in the Netherlands for personal use, and totaling 50€ or more per shop in a day. Savings of up to 18% of the purchase price can be garnered. Your purchases need to be made at a store that subscribes to the refund system, identified by a TAX FREE sticker, and exported in your hand baggage or checked baggage.

To obtain the refund, ask the store for a refund check. When you leave the E.U., present this check along with your purchases and receipts to Customs. They'll stamp the check, and you can get the refund in cash or paid to your credit card at a refund office. Schiphol Airport has two such locations: Global Refund in Departures Lounge 3, and ABN-AMRO in Departures Lounge 2.

A Europe-wide list of refund offices, and more information on tax-free shopping, are available from Global Refund (tel. 421-232/111-111; www.globalrefund.com). Local toll-free phone numbers and an e-mail address for inquiries can be found on the website. For a cut of your savings, VATfree.nl (tel. 084/836-7640; www.vatfree.nl) will handle the bureaucratic details.

Duty-Free Items -- If you are traveling from one E.U. country to another, you can't buy duty-free goods at airports, on ferries, or at border crossings; you can make duty-free purchases only when traveling to or from the E.U. from a nonmember country. Schiphol Airport's duty-free shopping center offers reduced prices for intra-E.U. travelers.

Night Owls

A local avondwinkel (evening store) is a resource not to be ignored for keeping you stocked with after-hours munchies. Suppose you feel like an evening in your hotel, and you either don't fancy the room-service menu or your hotel doesn't provide one. Not to worry: There's bound to be an evening store close to the hotel (ask the front desk). Many can prepare takeout meals to about the same standard as you would find in a typical Dutch eetcafé, for 10% to 20% less than restaurant prices. Hours are usually from 5 to 11pm or midnight.

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.