Amsterdam is one of the true postcard cities. Encircled by 165 canals and covered with endless criss-crossing bridges, its picturesque streets are hard to beat. From cutting edge design to hip bars, excellent markets and gastronomic delights, this buzzing metropolis is bursting with character and each city quarter has its own distinct personality.
Start at the area known as De 9 Straatjes (The 9 Streets). Explore its trendy shops such as Zipper, and stop for great coffee at Screaming Beans. To the south, make for bohemian De Pijp and the chic fashion district around PC Hooftstraat. Head west to trendy Jordaan for excellent pubs and beautiful humpback bridges and houseboats. Spiegelkwartier (the Mirror Quarter) is an absolute must for lovers of art and antiques and be sure to save some time for the Museum District for an injection of culture.
Where to stay
Each room is unique at The Dylan on Keizersgracht Canal
For a special occasion or just a treat, stay at The Dylan. The hotel is housed in a magnificent 18th century building (a former concert hall where Vivaldi once conducted his orchestra), and overlooks the gorgeous Keizersgracht Canal. The Dylan takes a minimal approach to each of its enormous and individually styled rooms, and has a keen attention to detail. Spend the afternoon in the hotel where they offer the best alternative to High Tea - High Wine. Book a table at Vinkeles, The Dylan's Michelin-starred French restaurant, or check out its homely bar kitted out with open fires, leather armchairs and a Fendi sofa.
For a longer stay make for Okura, located on the Amstel Canal in one of the tallest buildings in the city. The influence of its Japanese owners can be felt throughout the hotel, with elegant furnishings, muted tones and a relaxed ambiance. Alongside great views, Okura has an impressive line-up of facilities including French Restaurant Le Ciel Bleu (two Michelin stars) and Yamazato (one Michelin star), and a stunning cocktail bar, spa and fitness area.
Amsterdam's unusual museums
Rembrandtplein - or Rembrandt square
- Zaanse Schans Museum: the history and symbolism of the clog
- The Tulip Museum: no more information required
- Kattenkabinet: a collection dedicated to the role of cats in art and culture throughout history
- Houseboat Museum: all the questions you might have concerning the practicalities of living on the water in Amsterdam are answered here
- Spectacles Museum: 700 years of spectacle fashion and history
- Museum of Bags and Purses: the biggest collection of bags in the world, dating from the late Middle Ages to modern day
Food and drink
Gourmands will delight in organic restaurant De Kas
The Netherlands has 98 Michelin starred restaurants to its name, most in Amsterdam, and the city is increasingly being spied as a foodie Mecca. With this dizzying choice, start with a meal at the organic restaurant, De Kas. A municipal nursery in Amsterdam was due to be demolished in 2001 until the owner of De Kas stepped in and converted the glass greenhouse into a stunning restaurant. Adjacent to the dining area is another greenhouse where vegetables, herbs and edible flowers grow and the daily menu is based on the harvest of their own nursery, their fisherman and local stock.
Due to the former Dutch colonization, there’s a huge Indonesian influence felt throughout Amsterdam and Michelin starred Blauw Restaurant is an excellent starting point to take on Indonesian cuisine. Order the ‘rijsttafel’ - an Indonesian tasting menu - for a selection of small dishes to share. There are also loads of cheap Surinamese-Indonesian-Chinese snack bars dotted around the city; the spiciest can be found at Kantjil & de Tijger.
Fruit tart, anyone?
For modern Dutch cuisine Wilde Zwijnen is a top choice serving up delicious, fresh and experimental dishes. The atmosphere here is relaxed and its concrete floor, exposed light bulbs and mismatched furniture give it an edgy and industrialized feel. Order the cod with langoustine sauce and if you’re feeling brave start the night with Wilde Zwijnen's prosecco/cider combination – delicious but dangerous.
A visit to Vesper Bar is like entering a scene from Mad Men with its kitsch and sophisticated décor, and it serves some of the best cocktails in the town. Go on a Sunday for their "high tea cocktails” and cakes. If whiskey takes your fancy, head to the aptly named Whiskey Café L&B, which boasts over 1,400 different types of whiskey and bourbon sourced from all over the world. Chet’s, a retro jazz bar on Hazenstraat, is filled with elegantly dressed punters and serves up delicious Italian tapas.
Things to see and do
Bargains of all kinds await on the streets of Amsterdam
Amsterdam's fine quota of galleries and museums count as definite must-visits. The Rijksmuseum is the top choice, especially after its decade long closure for refurbishment. It contains over 40 Rembrandts, including The Night Watch, and four Vermeers. The Van Gogh Museum is another highlight, housing more than 700 of his works. The bathtub-shaped Stedelijk Museum has an outstanding collection of 20th and 21st-century artists and holds pre-war works by Cézanne, Picasso, Matisse and Chagall. For brilliant photography pop Foam on your radar, and of course take the time to spend a reflective moment at Anne Frank’s house.
For excellent coffee and people watching on a Monday morning get yourself to the fabulous Noordermarkt for everything vintage. A great general market to visit is Albert Cuypmarkt in the heart of the Pijp. For Dutch designers, head to the Jordaan's alternative shops or pop by the quaint Nine Streets for designer boutiques – Lady Day, Leafde and Spoiled are all worth a rummage.
Vondelpark: an oasis of green
Vondelpark, Amsterdam's answer to New York's Central Park, is the largest green space in the city and is named after poet Joost van den Vondel. Another lovely spot is Amsterdamse Bos; with thick clusters of trees, open fields and lakes, it's perfect for cycling, walking and kayaking. If you're in Amsterdam in the summer months, look out for the Open Garden Days. Dozens of canal-side houses and museums open their doors to the public to share the hidden gardens behind their tall brick facades. Also worth looking out for are Amsterdam Roots Festival and Appelsap Fresh Music festival, both of which take place in the city's green spaces.
Know before you go
- The currency used here is the Euro
- The website: iAmsterdam - iamsterdam.com - the official website and app for the City of Amsterdam. This resource provides all the latest information on festivals, attractions, museums, nightlife, hotels and events in the city
- The book: Amsterdam 2013 Wallpaper City Guide (Wallpaper City Guides, £4.99, Amazon.co.uk) includes in-depth information about Amsterdam and the surrounding area
Getting there and away
The delights of the city are just a Eurostar trip away
Schiphol International Airport is just 15 kilometres from the city centre. Better still, take the Eurostar from London St Pancras. Trains run up to five times per day with a change in Brussels and fares start from just £99 return.
Another option for travel is the day or night ferry from London with the Stena Line ferry company. The overnight option is a useful one - wake up in Holland early the following morning with the whole day ahead to explore.
Words and photos: Kate Vandy