For some reason in the past 4 years I've managed to go to Amsterdam 4 times, mostly on long weekends. Amsterdam is a definite favourite of mine - the city, apart from being beautiful and culturally rich is easy to navigate and full of things to do.
Apart from a few trips with family when I was younger, my first proper trip to the Dam was in my first year of uni. Me and my friend booked a £99 all in trip with Outgoing - a travel operator aimed at students. The trip consisted of an 18 hr coach ride from Manchester to Amsterdam, 2 nights accommodation in a hostel in the city centre and a free bar crawl. As you can imagine, the coach ride is pretty much carnage and everybody gets straight on it when they arrive. We had such a good time that we decided to organise our own trip the next year, again with lots of drinking, drugs and sex (shows). The main area for bars and clubs is called Leidsplein - at the tram stop of the same name. It is basically all restaurants, bars and takeaways and is probably quite a touristy but fun night out. The Sports Bar on the corner serves 10 shots of Jagermeister for 10 Euros. Enough said.
The red light district is also a great night out. The sex shows are a must see in my opinion - I have always been to the Moulin Rouge where you can see a show for 25 Euros and get 3 free drinks. The shows last about an hour and are the least sexy thing you can imagine. Most of the women are older (but they do have good figures) and they basically do tricks on stage with audience participation. The second time I went we were cheering so loud we got called up on stage and had to eat a piece of banana off the...lady. Be warned though - don't try to touch!
There is a good bar called Excalibur in the red light district which plays good rock music and serves pints of Heineken, and a few others I cant remember the names of, but the red light district as a whole is a fun place to explore - as well as bars and sex shops they have loads of takeaways that stay open all night.
My absolute favourite (but pretty unhealthy) place to eat in the Dam is a chain of fast food places called Febo. They sell things like burgers etc but they are all in little drawers in the wall and you have to put your money in at the top to open the drawer and get the food out! Sad, I know, that I should be that amused by that but I am - everytime! There are also a couple of really nice pizza places where you can get a big slice of pizza for a few Euros. Perfect after a heavy night.
My experience of clubbing in Amsterdam has always been good. There are quite a few big clubs that place an array of dance music, and host djs and bands etc. I have heard only good things about Paradisio, but unfortunately have never been. I have been to Milkweg though (and been very kindly asked to leave..) and Escape, which were both good! I wish I could give a more thorough review, but I cant remember many details, just that I had a good time and would go again...I have a feeling that that wont be the last time I admit that on this blog!
Amsterdam Highlights: shrooming all over the city - "look at all these jeans"/Milkweg, Escape and all the other clubs I cant remember/Canal tours/Erotic Museum/sex shows/red light district/10 shots of Jager for 10 Euros
Accommodation: Amsterdam has lots of cheap hostels in the city - Hostel Janson is about 3 stops away from all the bars in Leidsplein and just around the corner from the Rijksmuseum, and the Hans Brinker hotel is about 2 minutes walk from Leidsplein and has a bar with a happy hour...downside, the blue hospital bunk beds are pretty grim.
Budget: I think you can do the Dam pretty cheap. For 3 nights I spent £100 on flights and accomodation in November and think I must have spent around £250 on everything else, but I probably could have done that cheaper.
Travel Essentials: Warm clothes and an umbrella depending on the time of year. Camera. An open mind?
Must see: Canal boat ride, sex show, red light district, Leidsplein. Probably the Anne Frank Huis and the Rijksmuseum.