Taking a city break to Amsterdam? You will love it even more if you follow our guide on the best restaurants, hotels and things to do in the Netherlands’ capital.
When you think of Amsterdam, what first springs to mind? Is it images of rowdy stag dos, dubious-looking coffee shops and hectic bike lanes?
Well, dear reader, 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.
But as well as picture-perfect canals and those higgledy-piggledy water-side houses, there’s 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.
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
The infamous members club opened its first hotel in the capital just last year, and now it’s hard to imagine Amsterdam’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 brand’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.
Nestled in the museum district, the luxurious Conservatorium is the perfect place to stay if you’re planning on maximising on culture during your trip. Indeed, just a stone’s throw away lies the Van Gogh museum (definitely worth a visit), the sprawling Rijksmuseum and a myriad of shopping streets.
Conservatorium may be a landmark heritage building, but inside it’s contemporary luxe all the way. Between the internal light, bright glass courtyard brasserie and the seductively lit, moody Asian-inspired eatery, you’ll want for nothing when it comes to dining.
Choose between guest rooms, suites and signature suites for your sleeping quarters, all of which are impeccably designed with a fresh, modern feel. There’s a huge variety of rooms available, all of which can be browsed on the website, so whether you fancy a room with a view, a balcony, a free-standing bath or your own kitchenette for an extended stay – it’s all possible.
Kimpton De Witt
If you’re looking to be as central as possible, Kimpton De Witt is pretty much as good as it gets. Sitting almost in front of Amsterdam Centraal, you’re a stone’s throw away from all the transport links and the districts Amsterdam is most famous for. This is a great place to stay for your first time in the city when you’ll no doubt want to try out the tourist routes, explore the red light district and see what the coffee shop buzz is all about.
Stylish and sleek, it has a lovely atmosphere within. There is also a small indoor conservatory which is the perfect spot to take a break and read a book, if all of that exploring has gotten too much.
The Sir Hotel group is known for its quirky touches and an out-of-the-box approach to holiday accommodation, making it a great option for a trip to cultural Amsterdam. Favouring all things design-led, the hotel is plonked in the cool De Piijp district and next to Albert Cuypmarket, one of Amsterdam’s most famous outdoor markets.
To help you explore the rest of this creative city, Sir Albert offers a kind of buddying up service, which connects guests to Amsterdam locals who are able to show you around. From a crash course in rolling the perfect joint to an expert guide in vintage shopping, there’s plenty of choice in activities. Each guide sets their own price, but on average you’re looking at over £100 an hour.
Best restaurants in Amsterdam
Tall sash windows flanked by blush pink curtains. Moss green velvet seating. White marbled tables and metallic, hanging pendant lights… Jansz. restaurant is every millennial’s dream come true.
By day, your Instagram snaps will be flooded with natural light and by night, the soft glow of candles creates the most romantic of ambiances. But this is no case of style over substance, because the food at Jansz. will have you coming back again and again, too.
The menu comprises of modern classics that have been given a Dutch twist: we recommend the diver scallop to start, and the truffle pasta as a main. Whatever you do, don’t leave without trying Dutch custard, a native dessert that you’ll want to take all the way home with you.
If an authentic Dutch experience is what you’re after, make your way into the centre of town and bag yourself a table at this unassuming eatery.
The dark wooded façade doesn’t give away much, but the place is full of locals, with Dutch memorabilia hanging from the walls and traditional fare on the menu. We recommend tucking into a hearty portion of the mussels in herb butter, served with fries.
Pink walls, pink floors, pink seats… Mamma Kelly is the home of millennial pink.
But it’s not just the décor that’s a novelty (and we mean that in the most positive sense): 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.
Coffee and Coconuts
Housed in a former Twenties cinema, Coffee and Coconuts stands out because of its breathtaking aesthetic of white washed walls, suspended plants and bare brick, spread out across three floors. Although the building’s theatrical history is behind it, the varying levels and lofty spaces show the remnants of its former life.
This is a great place to head from morning til night, serving up delicious brunch and cocktails alike. The menu takes on an Aussie vibe with healthy, superfood-filled recipes and speciality coffees: we recommend the coconut pancakes.
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.