Amsterdam; tulips, canals, clogs and bicycles. Lots and lots of bicycles.
Of course there’s much, much more to this city than just stereotypes and clichés. World class art museums, dinky buildings, pretty bridges, boutique hotels and some of the finest restaurants in Europe.
Forget any misconceptions of seedy side streets and smoke, the Dam has an almost village-like charm and the Dutch people are among the friendliest you’ll find.
Take a Walk
And accept you’ll get lost. Laid out in a concentric semi-circular ring of canals, with roads and bridges running from the centre over these canals and towards the outer edges. I’m sure the system is all very logical – if you have a degree in town planning. If not then make sure you bring a map and prepare to take the same wrong road at least twice. You’ve no idea how much canals and bridges all start to look the same especially after dark.
Luckily there’s plenty to see as you wander aimlessly. The tall, narrow houses, ornate buildings and parks give Amsterdam an appeal all of its own.
Cruise the Canals
Possibly the easiest way to get acquainted with the city, explore Amsterdam’s UNESCO protected canal ring and discover places you’ll want to visit on foot later. Canal cruises run regularly from different points and include ‘hop-on-hop-off’ services, child friendly tours and romantic, candle-lit trips.
Soak up the Culture
From museums about cats to an amazing collection of handbags, plus photography, archeology and more; you name it Amsterdam has it. The Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, Anne Frank House and the Stedelijk Museum are among the most popular tourist choices. Non culture vultures could try the Heineken Experience to discover the history of the local lager.
Walk in the Park
Hortus Botanicus, one of the world’s oldest botanical gardens was established in 1638 as a small herb garden until the Dutch East India Company started bringing strange and exotic plants from around the world. There are now over 6,000 plants and in addition to a pleasant cafe, outdoor gardens, and a ‘hothouse’ that emulates three different tropical environments, hundreds of majestic butterflies can be found frolicking inside the Botanicus’ Butterfly Greenhouse.
Stop for a Bite
This is a city of culinary surprises where cosy cafés meet Michelin-starred restaurants and gourmet fare. You’ll find nearly every major cuisine with prices ranging from budget to blow-out. Worthy of note is Bazar, an Arabic restaurant housed in a former church and Bord’Eau, a twice Michelin-starred restaurant with a down to earth attitude to high-end cuisine.
Drink it In
Amsterdam’s bar scene is, perhaps surprisingly, sophisticated. The number of cocktail bars is ever increasing with the likes of the Sky Lounge at the Hilton offering views out over the city from its top floor balcony. Vesper in the Jordaan neighbourhood is a laid-back spot with an extensive choice of beers, wines and cocktails. If you’re feeling adventurous opt for the ‘Leap of Faith’ and let the bartender design your drink based on your personal preferences. For a more low-key option the sailor bars in the Red Light District are ideal for people watching in what is undoubtedly Amsterdam’s most infamous street.
Much like it’s restaurant scene, when it comes to hotels Amsterdam has something for everyone, from the most basic of hostels to the utmost in luxury. Walk past and you could easily miss it but located in the heart of the city centre, just a short stroll away from attractions like the Anne Frank house and the flower market is The Dylan (dylanamsterdam.com), one of Amsterdam’s best kept secrets. With a history dating back to 1613 it opened as a luxury hotel in 1999. With 40 rooms and suites all individually designed in different styles the emphasis at The Dylan is very much on individualism and intimacy. In 2014 Dutch interior designer Remy Meijers completely renovated 16 rooms to create a tranquil haven in this unique building overlooking the Emperor’s canal. Designed to be a home away from home we stayed in a loft style suite with original wooden beams. Minimalist but luxurious and perfect for discovering the authentic Amsterdam in style. Other room styles include the Oriental-inspired Kimono and romantic Klassbol.
Hints and Tips
Spring is an ideal time to visit but it rains a lot in Amsterdam so a decent coat and waterproof shoes are a must whenever you do visit.
It’s worth purchasing an I Amsterdam City Card which offers unlimited free public transport, free canal cruise and significant discount into most museums and attractions.
On an end note, trams and bikes really are everywhere so keep your eyes peeled when crossing the road.
Fly from Belfast with Easyjet or Dublin with Ryanair and then take the train from Schiphol Airport into the city centre.