Amsterdam is one of the world's best hangouts, a canny blend of old and new: radical squatter art installations hang off 17th-century eaves; BMWs give way to bicycles; and triple-strength monk-made beer is drunk in gleaming, minimalist cafes.
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Ideally located right next to Centraal Train Station, this hotel offers easy access to many shopping and cultural heritage sites in this historic city.
What To Do
Amsterdam has many fascinating neighbourhoods to explore, from red light sleaze to bohemian chic to stately grandeur. The landscape is riddled with graceful bridges and eccentric churches, the air laden with carillon chimes. Most attractions are within the canal belt, so sightseeing is a breeze.
What To See
Amsterdam has specialised in flower markets since the 17th century, so if they interest you, make your way to the southern side of the Singel between Koningsplein and Vijzelstraat for the Bloemenmarkt, which offers bulbs galore.
The Rijksmuseum is the premier art museum of the Netherlands, and no self-respecting visitor to Amsterdam can afford to miss it. Though most of the building is closed for renovations until 2013, there is an excellent collection of around 200 masterpieces – a sort of 'best of’ group – exhibited in a side section, the Philips wing.
Van Gogh Museum
The Van Gogh Museum is one of Amsterdam’s must-sees. Opened in 1973 to house the collection of Vincent’s younger brother Theo, it consists of about 200 paintings and 500 drawings by Vincent and his friends and contemporaries, such as Gauguin, Monet, Toulouse-Lautrec and Bernard.
Vincent van Gogh was born in 1853 and had a short but astonishingly productive life. Through his paintings, the museum chronicles his journey from Holland, where his work was dark and sombre, to Paris, where, under the influence of the impressionists, he discovered vivid colour. From there he moved to Arles, where he was incredibly productive, often completing a canvas every day. Astoundingly Van Gogh was self-taught as a painter and had a career that spanned less than a decade. A volatile character liable to mood swings, he famously cut off his ear after an argument with Gauguin. In 1890, while in the depths of depression, he finally committed suicide. He would come to be regarded as a giant among artists, but during his lifetime Van Gogh sold only a single painting.
Famous works on display include The Potato Eaters (1885), an example of his sombre Dutch period, The Yellow House in Arles (1888), The Bedroom (1888), several self-portraits, and still lifes of sunflowers and other blossoms that shimmer with intense Mediterranean light. One of his last paintings, Wheatfield with Crows (1890), is an ominous work finished shortly before his suicide. The permanent collection also includes many of the artist’s personal effects. Van Gogh received a milk jug from Theo and used it in several works. You’ll also see family bibles that he used as subjects for his canvases. Van Gogh’s paintings are on the 1st floor; several other floors display his drawings and Japanese prints, and works by his friends, contemporaries and others he influenced, some of which are shown in rotation.
The library (Museumplein 4; 10am-12.30pm & 1.30-5pm Mon-Fri) has a wealth of reference material for serious study. The museum’s main building was designed by Gerrit Rietveld, the seminal Dutch architect. Behind it, reaching onto Museumplein, is a separate exhibition wing (1999) designed by Kishio Kurokawa, commonly referred to as ‘the Mussel’. Entrance queues can be long, as only so many visitors are allowed inside at a time. Come before 11am or else on a Friday night, when the museum hosts special cultural events. I Amsterdam Card holders have a separate ‘fast’ lane for entry, but it can be almost as long as the regular queue. Advance ticket holders and Museumkaart owners fare the best in their quick-moving lane.
Established way back in 1638, this venerable garden became a repository for tropical seeds and plants brought in (read: smuggled out of other countries) by Dutch trading ships. From here, coffee, pineapple, cinnamon and palm-oil plants were distributed throughout the world. The 4000-plus species are kept in wonderful structures, including the colonial-era seed house and a three-climate glasshouse (1993).
Ah, the iconic 'Skinny Bridge:' this undeniably picturesque spot is the site of many a Dutch wedding photo. Dating from the 1670s, the nine-arched structure has been rebuilt several times in both concrete and timber. It's still operated by hand and remains photogenic even at night, when 1200 tiny lights make the bridge look like a Christmas confection. You can spot it in many films, including the 1971 James Bond thriller Diamonds are Forever. Stand in the middle and feel it sway under the passing traffic.
Built in 1895 to a neo-Renaissance design by AM Weissman, the Stedelijk Museum is the permanent home of the National Museum of Modern Art. The modern classics here are among the world’s most admired, amassed with great skill by postwar curator Willem Sandberg. The permanent collection includes all the blue chips of 19th- and 20th-century painting – Monet, Picasso and Chagall among them – as well as sculptures by Rodin, abstracts by Mondrian and Kandinsky, and much, much more.
Hop on the ferry behind Centraal Station and set sail for a different world. NDSM-werf looks like the set from a postapocalyptic film – abandoned boats and trams rust by the water’s edge, graffiti scrawls across every surface, smoke stacks belch in the distance, and huge carved wooden tiki heads gaze over it all. The area is actually a city-sponsored art community called Kinetisch Noord that has taken over a derelict shipyard. Participants converted a mondo old warehouse to hold more than 100 studios, theatres and a skateboard hall, and it has quickly become a centre for underground culture and events, such as the Over het IJ Festival. MTV thought the area was so cutting-edge that it, too, revamped one of the old industrial buildings and made it its European headquarters. Café Noorderlicht (Neveritaweg 33), in a Tibetan-prayer-flag-draped greenhouse, provides food and drinks in a funky ambience; it's open from 11am to late. To find it, look for signs posted from the ferry dock. Speaking of which: the free ferry to NDSM-werf leaves from Platform 1 behind Centraal Station from 9am to midnight, at 15 minutes and 45 minutes past the hour. The trip takes 15 minutes and you can bring your bike (also free).
Waterlooplein Flea Market
The best of the Nieuwmarkt bunch for browsing.
Specialising in antique Dutch tiles, this tiny store is also crammed with lots of other interesting stuff – silver candlesticks, crystal decanters, jewellery and pocket watches.
This fascinating (and trippy) collection of holographic pictures, jewellery and stickers will delight even the most jaded peepers. You can even get a hologram custom-made of yourself.
Chocolate is a standout lounge bar. It's nestled among a clutch of other bars on a great little pedestrian street, all of which attract a lively local crowd, especially on summer evenings. And while Chocolate's terrace is the most popular, we really love the vibe inside.
The graffiti-covered squat OT301, in the former Netherlands Film Academy, hosts an eclectic roster of bands and DJs, as well as the vegan restaurant De Peper
Join the city's cultural cognoscenti imbibing in this high-ceilinged, quietly refined (think theatrical lighting) cafe in the Felix Meritis Building. Huge windows and clever outdoor seating (you'll see) overlooking the canal make it a stylish spot for a coffee or cocktail. Sit and ponder the society's motto carved above the entrance: 'Happiness through Achievement'.
The slickest wine bar in town employs knowledgeable staff who’ll guide you in the right direction, no matter what your budget.
The large windows, minimalist furnishings and funky art might make you think you've stumbled upon an airy museum-cafe. But this coffeeshop on a leafy residential corner of De Pijp is all about organic weed and quiet reflection.
It doesn't happen every year, but when it does it's legendary: if the canals freeze right, you can't miss the 'Eleven Cities Journey', a gruelling skating marathon through the countryside of Friesland, held in January. In March, Catholics walk along the Holy Way in the Silent Procession, which commemorates the Miracle of Amsterdam.
Queen's Day, on 30 April, is the day to be in Amsterdam - there's a free market, street parties, live music and lots of beer. National Windmill Day is in May and open garden days are held the same month. The Holland Festival, the country's biggest arts festival, runs throughout June, and in August (the busiest time of year for festivals) local theatre groups and orchestras perform free throughout the city. August also hosts the Amsterdam Pride Festival, a week long party culminating in the Canal Parade.
In November Sinterklaas arrives by ship from Spain. Also in November, the Cannabis Cup celebrates the sacred herb. Sinterklaas, the traditional Dutch Christmas, is held on 6 December, although gifts are handed out the evening before. The standard-issue Christmas is also celebrated on the 25th.
Food and Drink
Admired by gourmets citywide, De Kas has an organic attitude to match its chic glass greenhouse setting – try to visit during a thunderstorm! It grows most of its own herbs and produce right here (if it's not busy you might be offered a tour), and the result is incredibly pure flavours with innovative combinations. De Kas keeps the selection simple – one set menu each day, based on whatever has been freshly harvested. Reserve in advance.
A Michelin star and a formal dining room with graciously spaced tables and views over the Amstel make La Rive the perfect venue for an out-to-impress lunch or dinner. The menu changes frequently, but standbys include turbot and truffle in potato pasta and, as you'd expect, a starter of caviar.
Run by an unlikely yet vastly experienced pair – an English chef and a Colombian maître d' – this restaurant in the Western Islands has an army of devoted fans. You can expect reasonable prices, an excellent wine menu and attentive service, plus an artsy interior with mosaics of Venetian glass. The set meals change weekly and feature seasonal ingredients.
Elegant Greetje will make you reconsider Dutch cuisine. Never mind <em>stamppot</em> (mashed pot with potatoes, vegies and bacon) – here you'll see dishes like leek soup, pickled mackerel and Dutch venison, all composed of market-fresh ingredients and beautifully presented. Sweet tooths can finish with the Grand Finale: a combo plate of six creamy, fruity, cakey desserts.
The popular white-walled 'Daredevil' is stylish enough that even non- vegies may re-examine their dining priorities. The menu concentrates on one country each month – say, Thailand or Italy – plus a rotating array of inventive seasonal, organic dishes. Book ahead (it takes online reservations, too).