The checklist for Amsterdam typically includes the Red Light District, a visit to a coffee shop (for something stronger than a coffee), a stroll around Dam Square and a trip to the nearby flower markets. All of these jaunts can be made in the city centre but step beyond the canal ring – the horseshoe shape formed by Amsterdam’s innermost waterways – and you’ll see what the city really has to offer.
Actually, don’t step, cycle; you can traverse the entire city by bike. It’s how the 810,909 locals get around, some carting their entire families in containers at the fronts of their bakfiets (traditional cargo tricycles).
The city’s small size and dead-flat terrain mean it’s possible to see it in a day. It takes just half an hour to cycle from the grand houses in the Old South to the less-refined neighbourhoods of the north. In the last few years, North Amsterdam (or Amsterdam Noord), a short, free ferry ride from Central Station, has changed from an industrial wasteland to a hive of design. Graphic designers, architects and web developers have transformed derelict spaces into studios and are happy to open their doors to visitors. Also, the area hosts a yearly music and culture festival.
The kitchens and restaurants of Amsterdam are also changing. A food culture based around stamppot (a mashed-potato, cabbage and smoked sausage dish), cheese sandwiches and pickled herring has lately broadened its horizons: you can order hotdogs topped with foie gras and truffle mayonnaise at The Fat Dog, Michelen-starred chef Ron Blaauw’s foray into fast food; at Franklin, Wagyu beef is paired with turnip and smoked almonds; and, at French-inspired Foyer, pork with squid, fennel and sea lavender is on the menu.
When the sun comes out in Amsterdam, so do the residents. Vondelpark – the city’s equivalent to New York’s Central Park – is filled with bright bunting and sizzling barbecues. Dodge the throngs of tourists at the Leidseplein end and cycle to the west. Or chose another park; there are more than 50 in the city, some of which host organic food markets in the weekends.
AMSTERDAM INSIDER’S GUIDE
EAT & DRINK
Lot Sixty One Coffee Roasters: Have a haircut or your bike fixed while drinking one of Amsterdam’s finest flat whites at this outpost of an Australian-owned coffee roaster.
Tales & Spirits: Traditional Amsterdam ‘brown bar’ (the Dutch equivalent of a British pub) meets a classic cocktail joint at this cosy establishment in the central city.
Restaurant Moeders: See the kitsch side of Amsterdam at ‘Mothers’, where you can add a photo of your mum to the wall while tucking into typical Dutch fare.
Restaurant De Kas: The eight-metre-high glass greenhouse that once belonged to Amsterdam’s Municipal Nursery is now a restaurant on the outskirts of the city.
Hannekes Boom: Out on a boat ride? Dock at café/bar Hannekes Boom and grab a beer on the huge outdoor terrace. On foot? There’s also a pedestrian bridge that takes you to the eatery from near the city’s main library.
Café Brecht: Modelled on the living-room-style cafés found in Berlin, this bar is jam-packed with mismatched furniture and is a good spot for a drink, day or night.
Rijksmuseum: After a 13-year-long renovation, the museum of the Netherlands has reopened to great acclaim and is expansive and impressive.
Eye Film Institute:This architecturally intriguing building on the shore of Amsterdam Noord hosts film-related exhibitions and movie screenings.
Overtoom 301: A former squat occupied by artists, OT301 is an experimental, non-profit collective with 24 members who offer, among other things, fresh vegan food, yoga classes, live music and ping-pong nights.
Utrechtsestraat: Duck in and out of boutique clothing shops and patisseries before finishing with some Indonesian food at one of the many restaurants along this less-frequented shopping street.
Amsterdamse Bos: Bigger than New York’s Central Park, this ‘forest’ in Amsterdam South hosts performances at its open-air theatre, has a pancake house and includes a few swimming spots just 15 minutes by cycle from the central city.
GALLERIES & SHOPS
Hôtel Droog: The brand that’s said to epitomise Dutch design recently transformed its central store into a destination in which you can shop, eat, visit exhibitions, receive beauty advice and even attend a design-related lecture.
The Otherist: You’ll find framed insects, medical paraphernalia and other curiosities in this small canal-side shop.
Mediamatic: Exhibitions, workshops, lectures, performances, concerts and conferences – all of which tend towards the alternative – are hosted in this space east of Central Station.
Koko Coffee & Design: Grab a latte and peruse the mix of European fashions, vintage furniture and contemporary design in this Red Light District destination.
SMART Project Space: A former pathology laboratory in the west of Amsterdam, this space has been transformed into an arts venue, complete with a cinema, restaurant and 15 ateliers.
Matter of Material: A brand-new addition to the museum district, this shop emphasises impeccable craftsmanship with its selection of ceramics, glassware and furniture from mostly Dutch designers and artists.