All Amsterdam neighbourhoods are nice and relatively safe. Compared to cities like Paris and London, Amsterdam is a very small city with only 781,000 inhabitants. It is only 13 km (9 miles) from the extreme west to the extreme east of Amsterdam.
Since many individuals who work in Amsterdam commute through the city’s central train station (Amsterdam Centraal Station, CS), this is often considered the dead centre of the city and is a useful navigation point. At the moment, there is a massive construction project underway on the North-South Line, which will eventually provide direct transport from this Northern point of the city to the Southern business centre, which is located in the area called the RAI, where the city’s main business district is located.
Centraal Station is also the largest hub of public transportation, connecting the city to most others in the Netherlands, and feeding directly outward to the rest of Amsterdam and surrounding suburbs, with an intricate, and yet easily charted transport system that works with trams, buses and metros.
Amsterdam’s centre is often compared to an onion. Four large half concentric canals ring the inner city so – on a map – they look a lot like the layers of an onion with Centraal station at its core. Going outwards from Centraal station these canals are Singel, Herengracht, Keizersgracht, and Prinsengracht. The area within these canals includes businesses, residences, and a whole wealth of tourist attractions. Between these four large canals there are, of course, more canals that run perpendicular to, intersect with, and overlap the four large canals. Moving around the city centre by car is limited, with trams and bikes being the most common ways of transportation.
The Jordaan is a very pretty area of the city centre with small houses, quaint little shops and bars, and a very cosy atmosphere. The area is bordered by the Lijnbaansgracht canal to the west, the Prinsengracht to the east, the Brouwersgracht to the north and the Leidsegracht to the south. Originally a working-class neighbourhood, it has become highly gentrified in recent years, currently being one of the most expensive, upscale locations in the Netherlands.
Beyond the canal ring, there are areas primarily residential with the exception of De Pijp (to the southeast) which is a similar mix of residences, businesses, open air markets and cultural attractions similar to the inside of the canal ring.
Though the layout is difficult to get your head around at first, familiarising yourself with the four big canals will help. There are several arterial roads which lead outward from the city centre that can help to get your bearings also.
Running east-west from Centraal station is Prins Hendrikkade which leads out to the east of the city. This area is an inexpensive neighborhood with a relatively large immigrant population; urban renewal projects are underway to improve the living conditions in these neighborhoods. On the other hand, just a minute away, one can find the mostly residential islands that form the district Zeeburg. Specifically, the Eastern Docklands is an upper class neighborhood with some of the highest population densities of the city.
A southeastern suburb of Amsterdam worth mentioning is Diemen. Although Diemen has its own city council and mayor, it is even nearer to the city center than some other parts of Amsterdam.
From the northern end of Singel, Haarlemmerstraat (which becomes Haarlemmerdijk) leads west towards Westerpark and the western part of Amsterdam.
Behind Dam Square, the surprisingly wide Raadhuisstraat turns into Rozengracht which also leads West towards De Baarsjes and de Oude West. Running almost parallel to this to the south is Kinkerstraat which runs from just off of Prinsengracht to the west meeting De Baarsjes and on towards Slotervaart. Further south and roughly parallel again is the Overtoom which accesses the south west of the city.
The south east is best accessed via the Amstel, one of Amsterdam’s only rivers (canals aplenty, but rivers in short supply) that runs from the end of Singel in the east to the south-east of the city.
One part of the city not mentioned above, and too often forgotten by visitors and even residents, is Amsterdam Noord. To the north of Centraal Station is the Ij (pronounced ‘eye’) river which runs East-West and seems to disconnect Amsterdam proper from the rest of the world, but not so. Across the river the city continues. The northern part of the city does not get so much attention for a few reasons; it’s mainly residential or industrial; it’s quite tiny, and the only way to get there from central Amsterdam is by ferry across the IJ from Amsterdam Central Station. There are many different types of accommodation there, ranging from modern high-rise buildings to country cottages. The north is much more easy going and quieter than the city centre.