Antiques -- There are hundreds of reputable dealers, and you're sure to find something worth shipping or carrying home. Antiques -- maps, prints, old-fashioned clocks, Chinese urns, silver boxes, books, furniture, old pewter, porcelain, crystal, and jewelry -- are a major attraction here.
Art -- Contemporary art is a vibrant activity in this city of young artists. Galleries abound, particularly in the canal area near the Rijksmuseum. Posters and reproductions of famous artworks are other excellent items to buy in Amsterdam. The Dutch are known for their high-quality printing and color-reproduction work, and one of their favorite subjects is Holland's rich artistic treasure-trove.
Cheese -- Gouda (khow-duh) and Edam (ay-dam) are the two most familiar Dutch cheeses, among dozens of varieties. You have the choice between factory cheese, made from pasteurized milk, or boerenkaas, farm cheese produced the old way with fresh, unpasteurized milk straight from the cow. Boerenkaas is more expensive, but has more taste. Another choice is between young (jonge) and old (oude) cheese. Young cheese is sweeter, moister, and has that melt-in-your-mouth quality, while old cheese has a sharper, drier taste, and a crumbly texture.
Chocolate -- Droste, Verkade, and van Houten are three of the best names to look for. Or seek out small specialty stores that still hand-fill bonbon boxes.
Crystal & Pewter -- If you recall classic Dutch still-life paintings portraying scenes of 17th-century family life, you'll know that crystal and pewter objects are part of Holland's heritage. Crystal has long been associated with the towns of Leerdam and Maastricht (to spot the genuine article, look for the four triangles of the Royal Leerdam label), and pewter with Tiel. Note: The Dutch government bans the use of lead as a hardening agent, but this assurance only protects you from toxicity in new pewter, so don't buy any antiques for use with food or drink.
Delftware & Makkumware -- Porcelain from the royal factories at Delft and Makkum can be wonderful. None of it is cheap. With a lowercase d, delftware is an umbrella name for all Dutch hand-painted earthenware pottery resembling ancient Chinese porcelain, whether it is blue and white, red and white, or polychrome, and regardless of the Dutch city in which it was produced. Delftware, or Delft Blue (with a capital D) refers to the predominantly, but not exclusively, blue-and-white products of the Delft-based firms De Koninklijke Porceleyne Fles and De Delftse Pauw. Similarly, makkumware is synonymous with polychrome pottery, whereas Makkumware is the hand-painted polychrome earthenware produced only in Makkum, a town in Friesland province, by the family-owned firm Koninklijke Tichelaars, which was founded in 1594.
Genuine Delftware and Makkumware are for sale in specialized stores (De Delftse Pauw sells its pottery only from its factory and by mail order), but it is far more interesting to go to the workshops in the towns and see how they are made. Little has changed over the centuries, and all the decorating is still done by hand. This makes it quite pricey, but each piece is a unique product, made by craftsmen. Some of the numerous copies of De Porceleyne Fles and Tichelaars products are nearly equal in quality, while others miss by miles the delicacy of the brush stroke, the richness of color, or the sheen of the secret glazes that make the items produced by these firms so highly prized.
To be sure that you're looking at a real Delft vase from De Koninklijke Porceleyne Fles, look on the bottom for the distinctive three-part hallmark: An outline of a small pot, above an initial J crossed with a short stroke, above the scripted word Delft; for De Delftse Pauw, look for three blue stars separated by a drafting compass, above the scripted text D.P. Delft. To distinguish Koninklijke Tichelaars's Makkumware products, look for two scripted Ts overlapped like crossed swords.
Diamonds -- Since the 15th century, Amsterdam has been a major diamond-cutting center. Diamonds are a big industry, and prices are competitive, but make sure you take your time to decide on a purchase. Diamond-cutting houses generally give you a brisk tour, deposit you in the salesroom, and wait for the pressure to build.
Drinks -- Inexpensive products primarily or exclusively for immediate consumption include Dutch beer, gin (jenever), and white wine (yes, it does exist, from vineyards in the southern province of Limburg, but not in quantity).
Fashions -- Paris may set the styles, but young Dutch women -- and some of their mothers -- often know better than the French how to make them work. Whatever the current European fashion rage is, you can expect to see it in store windows all over Amsterdam, and in all price ranges. It's fun to ferret out the new, young crop of Dutch designers who regularly open stores in unpredictable locations all over town.
Flower Bulbs -- Nothing is more Dutch than a tulip -- even though the flower's natural home is on the high plains of Turkey and Iran. You may have a problem making your choices, however, since there's an incredible array of colors and shapes among the hundreds of varieties of tulip bulbs available. Some tulip bulbs are named after famous people -- Sophia Loren, President Kennedy, Queen Juliana, even Cyrano de Bergerac. Not all bulbs are certified for entry into other countries, so look for the numbered phyto-sanitary certificate attached to the label -- these allow you to import bulbs. Among other popular flower bulbs are those for daffodils, narcissi, hyacinths, and crocuses.
Tobacco -- Some of the world's best cigars and pipe tobacco are available in Amsterdam. Serious smokers know that Dutch cigars are different, and drier, than Cuban or other traditional cigars. It's partly because of the Indonesian tobacco and partly because of how the cigar is made.
Traditional Clocks -- Two types of handcrafted clocks have retained popularity through the centuries. One is the Zaandam clock, or Zaanseklok, identified by its ornately carved oak or walnut case, brass panels, tiny windows on the dial face, and the motto Nu Eick Syn Sin ("To each his own"). The other is the Frisian clock, or Friese Stoelklok, which is even more heavily decorated, customarily with hand-painted scenes of the Dutch countryside, a smiling moon face, or ships at sea that may bob back and forth in time with the ticks.
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.