Amsterdam city breaks can get a bad rep. For someone who has never been before, it’s easy to picture streets teaming full of rowdy stag dos, dubious-looking coffee shops and hectic bike lanes.
Heck, if no one has ever told you about the best things to do in Amsterdam, you might think that staring into erotica shop windows is as good as it gets.
Well, dear reader, we’re here to tell you that you’ve not even scratched the surface. With the oldest stock exchange in the world, and architecture dating back to the 13th century, the city is steeped in history, making Amsterdam one of the most fascinating places in Europe.
Not only that, but the people are widely-regarded as being some of the loveliest and coolest in Europe. Seriously, a stroll in Amsterdam is akin to scrolling through the street style pages.
There’s also those picture-perfect canals to mention and higgledy-piggledy water-side houses, with a fashionable world of boutiques, bars, galleries, museums and some of the most beautiful hotels we’ve ever seen – all set against a backdrop of liberalism and creativity.
Our Amsterdam city break guide will take you through it all. From last year’s Soho House opening, which is now proving to be one of the best designed hot spots in the city, to under-the-radar local eateries like New York-inspired Carter, which with its buzzy vibe and delicious menu is a must-visit.
So, from sampling local dishes, to walking through the famous Vondlepark, here’s our recommendations for the best restaurants, bars, hotels and things to do in Amsterdam.
Best hotels in Amsterdam
Soho House Amsterdam
Soho House Amsterdam opened its first hotel in the capital just last year, and now it’s hard to imagine the city’s social scene without it. Decorated with the same sumptuously on-trend touches that the London establishments are famous for, all six floors are a pleasure to spend time in.
On the ground floor lies the brand’s Italian restaurant Cecconis, which is already a hit and open to non-members to enjoy. While up above the three floors of (beautiful) hotel rooms you’ll find the guests and members quarters, which take form in a sophisticated lounge, bar and restaurant - not forgetting of course the rooftop dining area and pool.
Rooms come in a wide variety of sizes, from tiny to extra large monumental, so you should be able to find something that suits you. But even if your budget isn’t huge, do not fear: even the smaller rooms come with elegant velvet furnishings and, in some cases, free-standing baths.
Each room has been kitted out with thoughtful details that ensure your stay is as comfortable as possible. From a joyfully large array of Cowshed products in the bathroom, a cleanser, toner and moisturiser set and hair straighteners to fresh cookies, reading material and a well-stocked mini bar, you’re guaranteed to spend the weekend in the lap of luxury.
To ensure you get the full experience, we recommend paying the blush-hued spa a visit, inspired by the Soho House’s original at Babington House in Somerset, which offers a full range of treatments from manicures and pedicures to facials and massages.
Located slap bang in the centre of Prinsengracht (one of Amsterdam’s most iconic and longest canals), Pulitzer Amsterdam is, in a word, magnificent.
The hotel is built across a row of historic canal townhouses, some originating back to 1855, which makes you feel like you’re staying in the heart of the true Amsterdam.
Although the structure is romantically old, the décor is sumptuously modern. Think crushed velvet and emerald green bar stools mixed with industrial wrought iron, plus lots and lots of plants.
However, despite its cool aesthetic and impressive size, Pultizer Amsterdam remains boutique in feel and most importantly, service. In fact, after stepping inside you could quite happily not leave for the rest of your stay, not least of all because of the greenhouse-inspired café that runs through the centre courtyard.
As far as the rooms go, we recommend booking a classic suite. With its balcony view out on to the canal below, tonal mauve sitting room and wall-displayed collection of luxurious coffee table books, it feels like having your own your own apartment in Amsterdam.
In terms of location, Pulitzer Amsterdam is a humdinger. Nestled in the chic Jordaan district laden you’ll be surrounded by independent boutiques and atmospheric restaurants. Oh, and there’s not a stag do in sight.
And now is a better time to visit the hotel than ever, as it is due to launch an artistic new package inspired by the famous Dutch painter, Van Gogh. In partnership with the Van Gogh museum, Pulitzer Amsterdam will be giving guests flexible access to the museum during their stay, as well as a private painting lesson at the hotel and an exclusive Van Gogh inspired cocktail. Creative souls and art buffs, this one’s for you.
Best restaurants in Amsterdam
Far, far away from the tourist belt, red lights and even boutiques of the ninth streets is Carter, a neighbourhood bar and restaurant in the old Southern part of the city where – gasp – real Dutch people hang out.
Sitting on the corner of Valeriusstraat, surrounded by beautiful residential buildings and not far from the museum district, you get the sense you’ve struck gold when happening on this local gem. And it’s something co-owner and manager Josh Harris sees reflected in the clientele. “We have a lot of regulars, with our guests being mostly people from the area,” he says. “A big group of our guests are expats and it’s a big honour to see them come back even when they moved to a different country – hence our slogan: ‘Our time together is never enough’.”
With regards to the vibe, this is the kind of place that you could nip into for a quick bite or spend your entire evening. Getting through the door on a Friday or Saturday can be a struggle, as effortlessly cool patrons stand around drinking, laughing and enjoying life in that typical European way. It’s a sight that once encountered, you’re dying to be part of.
Dinner is served in the back of the venue or up on the mezzanine (a great spot for people watching), so you can enjoy the buzzy atmosphere with a little bit of seclusion. The restaurant changes its menu four or five times a year, but some old favourites are a permanent. The rotisserie chicken, for example, isn’t going anywhere. The chicken goes in a brine for at least 24 hours, it’s then slowly cooked in the rotisserie for two hours, before being served in a homemade grandmother-style gravy, that tastes mostly like butter with a hint of caramel. Genuinely, one of the best things we’ve ever tasted.
Let’s just say once you’ve been seduced by Carter, it’s a love affair you’ll indulge in every time you go back to Amsterdam.
Gs Really Nice Place
Gs is, as the name suggests, a really nice place to just generally be. Cosy, warmly-lit and filled morning ‘til night with cool Amsterdammers, it’s the ideal place to enjoy a mid-morning brunch, but the staff also know how to knock up a killer cocktail.
There’s no stand-out theme when it comes to this cute eatery. In fact, grabbing a bite here feels like going over to stylish friend’s pad and enjoying a delicious morsel in a cool but comfortable living room. This is why, we reckon, the place is crammed full of those enviably nonchalant types. You know, the ones who somehow throw on a pair of overalls and arrive looking like an off-duty model.
If you do try Gs for brunch, we recommend going all out and feasting on the Dirty South, a mixture of homemade cheddar waffles, laden with fried chicken and bacon, served with sour cream and Frank’s red hot sauce. Oh, and be sure to wash it down with a Bloody Mary: it’s the specialty.
Although the picture above depicts Gs Jordaan restaurant, there’s also a branch in the hipster De Piijp area and a, wait for it, brunch boat. Setting sail every weekend, for £37 you and your pals can enjoy some brunchin’, a ‘tipsy drink’, a coffee and a small dessert for an hour and a half. We know what our next birthday plans are going to be.
Neon signs, blue and pink walls, a motif of a badass woman and a hell of a lot of plants: hipster cafe Betty Blue has got the zeitgeist just right.
A venue about as Instagrammable as they come, this place is imbued with creativity, art and fashion, and was originally a boutique and cake shop before turning into a full-time restaurant. From the laid-back sofas to the clusters of tables, it’s the perfect place to hang out on a Sunday afternoon with friends.
The cake display is a thing of wonder, and the eatery is known in particular for its red velvet and cheesecakes but we have to admit, all the sweet treats encased by the till look to-die-for. But before you start snacking on enough tarts and cupcakes to see you into next year, take a look at the brunch and lunch menus, which are brimming with savoury must-tries.
The cafe’s signature dish comes in the form of a plate stacked high with steaming waffles, maple syrup and lashings of bacon, which together nails that tangy sweet and salty taste that almost no one can resist. If you don’t fancy that, we recommend getting stuck into the tacos, which are a real treat for the taste buds.
Pink walls, pink floors, pink seats… Mamma Kelly is the home of millennial pink. But it’s not just about the décor here: the food is designed to wow too. In a bid to match the over-the-top glamour of the surroundings, the menu flaunts dishes known for their luxury, from oysters to lobster.
Before you make a pink-lead pilgrimage, though, we recommend checking your route as it’s not exactly central: in fact, it is located near the Olympic stadium, with not too much else around. The daytime menu halts at 3pm, and the venue can get pretty quiet around this time, so we recommend going later in the evening to maximise on that buzzy atmosphere.
You might think that the above is a picture of sweetcorn. Wrong! In fact, it is an intricately replicated corn on the cob made of ice creamy crème fraîche, bergot and coconut. Oh, and it’s absolutely out-of-this-world delicious.
This is just one of the seven dishes that Restaurant Daalder serves up as part of its lunch time tasting menu, each one more innovative and just as delicious as the last. Other examples include a deconstructed stroopwafle (a Dutch favourite), a box of Nespresso capsules carved out of chocolate and a caviar encrusted lobster dish.
The food is the craft of Chef Dennis Huwaë, who throughout his career has mostly been at the helm of 2 Michelin** star kitchens. It’s something that the menu and the impeccable service keenly reflects. The vibe of Restaurant Daalder, however, is not what you might expect.
The restaurant sits in a small, unassuming cafe-like building among some of the beautiful residential houses of the Jordaan district. Inside, the decor is smart and sleek, but relatively low-key. It’s something that Huwaë has striven to achieve on purpose, after working in high profile environments that came with a stuffy atmosphere, he dreamed of a place that was inclusive and relaxing to be in but also served amazing food.
The unique combination of really stand-out food and an intimidating atmosphere makes Restaurant Waalder the must-visit venue for any foodie taking a trip to the city of canals.
Best bars in Amsterdam
Twenty Third Bar
Any Londoner worth their salt can name five rooftop bars at the drop of a hat, such is the UK’s obsession with them. So, when venturing to Amsterdam, we were keen to see what our Dutch counterparts made of the trend.
Amsterdam is known for its historic architecture, and not so much for its skyscrapers, so it turns out rooftop bars aren’t a huge thing in the Netherlands. This is what makes Twenty Third Bar all the more special.
Hiding atop the (very) swanky Okura hotel, the bar boasts similar clientele to an up-market Mayfair hotel and cocktail prices start at £15, but the service, presentation and taste all reflect that too. If you have time for dinner, we recommend enjoying the views over a meal at the adjoining Ciel Bleu Restaurant awarded with two Michelin stars which is divine.
Tales & Spirits
If you’re in it for the drinks, Tales & Spirits will be right up your street. The extensive cocktail menu and knowledgeable staff inspires even the most devout wine drinkers to try something out of their comfort zone. And it’s not just about what’s in the glass, it’s the entire experience that makes this place memorable.
An ode to one of the Netherland’s most famous painters, Vincent van Gogh, Drop or Art is an artist’s palette with edible paints and liqueurs you can actually draw with. While The Book of Life is served in the cut out middle of a bible, like something a wayward priest might have stored away. As we said, it’s all about the experience.
Sultry lighting, Art Deco design, darkly glimmering metallics and comfortable arm chairs by a fire - Pulitzer’s Bar is the snuggest hideaway a weary shopper could wish for after a day of hitting the Ninth Streets boutiques. Cuddle up with a confidant in a corner and order yourself a stiff drink: we recommend the Bohemian Evening, a cocktail described as herbal, aromatic and sparkling.
If millennial pink and plants are your decor bread and butter, get yourself to Bar Bontanique. Located out in Amsterdam-Oost, you’ll have to stray out of the central canal hub to get there, but if you make a night of it, it’s worth it.
The Instagram opportunities are the main pull here, but if you hit this spot on a Friday or Saturday night you could also stand to make a few new Dutch friends as the bar gets pretty packed. As well as serving all the classic drinks, Bar Botanique also has a snacking menu that features traditional fare such as Bitterballen, which these guys serve up a particularly delicious version of.
Cafe de Wetering
Brown bars or cafes are how locals describe a traditional Dutch pub. Stereotypically such haunts are identifiable by their dark wooden panelling, slightly creepy-looking paintings, smoke-stained walls walls and miscellaneous taxidermy. If walls could talk and all that.
The first thing you need to know about brown bars is that they are a lot of fun. Full of jostling locals, airs and graces absolutely stay at the door here: everyone has a pint in their hand and a stranger can become a best friend within minutes.
We urge you to pop your head into one of the city’s best brown bars, Cafe de Weterong, and enjoy a beer (or five). This isn’t the most professional of establishments (in fact, they don’t actually have a website, just a Facebook page), but turn up any night of the week and you’re bound to have fun.
Best things to do in Amsterdam
Take the badass women of history walking tour
If there is one single thing that you must do in Amsterdam, this is it. As Elyzabeth, your positively effervescent host perfectly puts it, it’s the opportunity to learn the history of Amsterdam through the stories of the badass women who helped create it.
Learn about the legend of the woman who opened the first modern gay bar in Amsterdam despite its “morality laws” (she also cultivated an oasis of liberation, hid Jews from the Nazis and defied the soldiers who banned paintings of Dutch royals) and be regaled with tales of the Countess who fought for independence for women and the merchants, only to see all the men she helped in her life turn against her.
Elyzabeth, who moved to the Netherlands from the USA a few years ago, is literally bursting at the seams with knowledge, passion and enthusiasm and makes taking the tour even more of a delight. If you’re lucky, you might even make your first friend in Amsterdam!
Visit Hortus Botanicus
If you love visiting the beautiful greenhouses we have in the UK, then you’ll love Hortus Botanicus, a greenhouse and garden that’s been a place of research, contemplation and beauty since it was established in 1638.
There’s loads to see, from a tropical butterfly house to the three climate zone drieklimatenka. You can also sign up to one of the many activities, so why not try a guided tour or museum night lecture, too?
Hortus Botanicus is open every day from 10am to 5pm.
Visit the Moco Museum
Amsterdam has lots of good museums. Seriously, from the renovated, sprawling Rijksmuseum and Anne Frank’s former hiding place to a gallery dedicated to Van Gough’s work, to say this city is known for its cultural gems would be an understatement.
But if you want to take a detour from the well-trodden tourist path, try getting your culture kicks somewhere else. Having only been open for two years, you won’t yet find the Moco Museum at the top of every must-visit list, but as much as there’s a place for the works of Rembrandt in Amsterdam’s Museumplein (a square where many of the museums sit) we like that Moco does things a little differently.
Choosing to focus on modern artists that use irony in their iconic pieces, such as Banksy, Basquiat and Andy Warhol, Moco houses bright, engaging and satirical exhibitions in its charming townhouse structure that will stay with you for months, or years, to come. Right now the museum has a huge display of Banksy’s work on display, including Laugh Now, Barcode, Girl with Balloon, Kids on Guns, Pulp Fiction, Flower Thrower, Monkey Queen, Kate Moss, Bomb Hugger, Soup Can and many more.
Visit the Bloemenmarkt
It makes perfect sense that the world’s only floating flower market should be found in Amsterdam, a city famed for its blooms and canals. The Bloemenmarkt was founded in 1862 and consists of 15 florists, selling not only beautiful flowers but lots of pretty souvenirs to take home with you, too.
The market is open from Monday to Saturday from 9am to 5.30pm and on Sundays from 11.30am to 5.30pm and is an integral part of the city, so you’ll find all sorts of customers nosing their way through the sweet-smelling wares.
Hire a bike and cycle through Vondlepark
Vondlepark is one of Amsterdam’s most famous spots, stretching out over 47 hectares and decorated with water fountains, bridges and small lakes.
In the summer it is absolutely the place to be, with groups of friends lying out on the grass, listening to music and enjoying a few cold ones as the warm days while away.
Get yourself a picnic together and enjoy a cycle through the park, exploring it as you go, before stopping to enjoy your feast. It’ll make you feel like a local.