Golden Age canals lined by tilting gabled buildings are the backdrop for Amsterdam’s treasure-packed museums, vintage-filled shops and hyper-creative drinking, dining and design scenes.
Amsterdam’s canal-woven core is laced by atmospheric narrow lanes. You never know what you’ll find: a tiny hidden garden; a boutique selling witty, stylised Dutch-designed homewares and fashion; a jewel-box-like jenever (Dutch gin) distillery; a flower stall filled with tulips in a rainbow of hues; an old monastery-turned-classical-music-venue; an ultra-niche restaurant such as an all-avocado specialist or one reinventing age-old Dutch classics. Fringing the centre, post-industrial buildings in up-and-coming neighbourhoods now house creative enterprises, from art galleries to craft breweries and cutting-edge tech start-ups, as well as some of Europe‘s hottest clubs.
You can’t walk a kilometre without bumping into a masterpiece in the city. The Van Gogh Museum hangs the world’s largest collection by tortured native son Vincent. A few blocks away, Vermeers, Rembrandts and other Golden Age treasures fill the glorious Rijksmuseum. The Museum het Rembrandthuis offers more of Rembrandt via his etching-packed studio, while the Stedelijk Museum counts Matisses and Mondrians among its modern stock. And for blockbuster displays, the Hermitage Amsterdam delivers: the outpost of Russia’s State Hermitage Museum sifts through its three-million-piece home trove to mount mega exhibitions.
Bike & Boat Travel
Two-wheeling is a way of life here. It’s how Amsterdammers commute to work, go to the shop, and meet a date for dinner. Abundant bike-hire shops make it easy to gear up and take a spin. If locals aren’t on a bike, they may well be on the water. With its canals and massive harbour, this city reclaimed from the sea offers countless opportunities to drift. Hop aboard a canal boat (preferably an open-air one) or one of the free ferries behind Centraal Station, or rent your own for a wind-in-your-hair ride.
Amsterdam is famously gezellig, a Dutch quality that translates roughly as ‘convivial’ or ‘cosy’. It’s more easily experienced than defined. There’s a sense of time stopping, an intimacy of the here-and-now that leaves your troubles behind, at least until tomorrow. The easiest place to encounter this feeling is a bruin café (brown cafe; traditional drinking establishment). Named for their wood panelling and walls once stained by smoke, brown cafes have gezelligheid (cosiness) on tap, along with good beer. You can also feel gezellig lingering after dinner in snug restaurants while the candles burn low.
What to Visit in Amsterdam?
The Rijksmuseum is among the world’s finest art museums, packing in works by local heroes Rembrandt, Vermeer and Van Gogh as well as other masterpieces in the 8000 works on display over 1.5km of galleries. To avoid the biggest crowds, come before 10am or after 3pm. Start on the 2nd floor in the Gallery of Honour with the astounding Golden Age works. Prebooking tickets online provides fast-track entry.
The Van Gogh Museum is one of the many art museums in the Netherlands dedicated to the works of Vincent van Gogh and his contemporaries in Amsterdam in the Netherlands. The Van Gogh House can be visited in Zundert, a museum in Van Gogh’s old residence.
While you can try your luck for tickets at the entrance, it’s highly recommended to book online and choose a time slot to avoid missing out, as tickets can sell out a few days in advance. I Amsterdam cardholders must reserve online at the I Amsterdam website (www.iamsterdam.com). The museum gets packed and the best times to visit to try to avoid the crowds are before 11am and after 3pm.
There have long been links between Russia and the Netherlands – Tsar Peter the Great learned shipbuilding here in 1697 – hence this branch of St Petersburg’s State Hermitage Museum. Blockbuster temporary exhibitions show works from the Hermitage’s vast treasure trove, while the permanent Portrait Gallery of the Golden Age has formal group portraits of the 17th-century Dutch A-list; the Outsider Gallery also has temporary shows. I Amsterdam and Museum cards allow free entrance or a discount, depending on the exhibition.
A private park for the wealthy until 1953, Vondelpark now occupies a special place in Amsterdam’s heart. It’s a magical escape, but also supplies a busy social scene, encompassing cycle ways, pristine lawns, ponds with swans, quaint cafes, footbridges and winding footpaths. On a sunny day, an open-air party atmosphere ensues when tourists, lovers, cyclists, in-line skaters, pram-pushing parents, cartwheeling children, football-kicking teenagers, spliff-sharing friends and champagne-swilling picnickers all come out to play.
Canal Cruises in Amsterdam
The history of Amsterdam is intimately connected with water. Its 165 canals were created over the centuries to stimulate trade and transport and reclaim land to expand the city. They continue define the city’s landscape and in 2010 Amsterdam’s canal ring was recognised as a UNESCO world heritage site.
Besides providing a stunning backdrop to the city’s historic centre, Amsterdam’s canals offer one of the most memorable ways to discover the city. Whether you’re a first-time or frequent visitor, everything in Amsterdam seems that little bit more magical when viewed from a boat.