AMSTERDAM — When you need a break from the crowds in the great cities of Europe there are several economical options.
You can try hiking or cycling or, especially if you are near the Netherlands, boating. Opportunities range from canoeing on canals to sailing an inland sea. Ask at local tourist information offices (identified by VVV signs) or the Dutch student travel service, NBBS.
Through NBBS you can join one-week sailing holidays, which start each Saturday between July 5 and Aug. 9. A traditional ship has been restored and outfitted to carry passengers. Guests help the crew with sailing and preparing meals. The price is $180.
Renting traditional ships is a popular holiday activity on Ijsselmeer, a freshwater inland sea created when a 19-mile-long dam was built in 1932. The dam has helped reclaim more than 400,000 acres of land from the sea. Along the coast you'll find fishing villages such as Volendam and Marken, where residents still wear traditional costumes.
NBBS has 29 offices throughout the country. In Amsterdam they are at Dam 17, Dam Square (telephone 020 799337).
The VVV offices can tell of other boating programs. For example, in Overijssel, where there are 165 miles of waterways, we found a three-day do-it-yourself canoeing package offered for $53. It included a two-person canoe and tent for two nights. You may choose a route to Germany. Campsites, hostels and hikers' huts are located in the area.
In the Friesland area, where canals link about 30 lakes, you can rent a 20-foot sailing boat from a local sailing school for $28 a day or $141 a week. For $12 you can also rent a "boat tent."
When it's time to head back to the city, Amsterdam itself has more than 60 miles of canals. Several services cater to the traveler who prefers to explore by water.
For three years it has been possible to explore some of the central canals by paddle boat. There are four rental areas around the city; you can start at one and drop the paddle boat off at another. One rental area is at Leidseplein, between the Marriott and American hotels. A two-seater costs $7 an hour; a four-seater is $11 an hour. A deposit of $1 is required. A guide book for canal tour routes costs $1.
New this year is a shuttle boat between major city museums. Between April 15 and Sept. 30 the shuttle will operate five times a day starting at 9:30 a.m. from the central railway station. Stops include Anne Frank's house, Madame Tussaud's, the Amsterdam Historical Museum, the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, Rembrandt's house and the Maritime Museum. A one-day ticket is $2.25.
To visit a variety of museums, visitors under age 26 can buy a Youth Museum Card for $3. It is valid for admission to about 250 museums throughout the country. You can get further information from VVV offices. Make sure the museums you want to visit are included before you buy. You'll find a VVV office outside Amsterdam's central railway station.
At the VVV office ask for a free copy of "Use It" magazine. This youth guide to the city includes a map and addresses for budget lodgings, emergency services and rental companies.
The NBBS office will also help you find budget accommodations. Recently their arrangements included special rates at the Hans Brinker Hotel at Kerkstraat 136. Rates ranged from $18 per person for a single or twin to $10 for a dormitory room with nine to 12 people. There is a two-night minimum stay, and a breakfast of coffee and rolls is included.
You do not have to be a student to use NBBS, although in some cases students get a better break. For example, NBBS offers two-night Amsterdam packages with sightseeing for $61 per person, twin accommodation. Students with International Student Identity Cards get a 5% discount.
The NBBS also offers reduced international rail fares for persons under 26, copies of the budget lodging directory "Sleep Cheap Guide to Europe" and seven-day cycling, camping packages for $120. You can start the packages any day between April and the end of September. Two days are spent in Amsterdam and five days out of the city.
For further information on the Netherlands contact the Netherlands National Tourist Board, 605 Market St., San Francisco 94105, phone (415) 543-6772.