Discover Historic Amsterdam
The city’s origins lie in the 12th century and much of the city is actually below sea level. Built on reclaimed land, it’s a real feat of engineering, but that does explain why many of the older merchant’s houses now tilt – some rather precariously – and its spider’s web of canals, cobbled streets and quirky quarters, from the historic Canal District, to the trendy De Pijp and cultural Zuid.
There are plenty of world-class museums to explore here (book in advance to avoid any last-minute queues) including the mesmerising Van Gough and unbearably moving Anne Frank museums, which are must-visits. Broaden your thinking at the Embassy of the Free Mind, a museum, library and platform for free thinking which is home to more than 25,000 books, or head to The House of Stories, a cultural centre on Veemkade where you’ll find free storytelling and comedy evenings from new and rising talent. Discover works by Rembrandt and Vermeer at the Rijksmuseum (the guided tours are a must) and modern art at the Stedelijk. For something unusual head to Electric Ladyland, the first and only museum in the world dedicated to fluorescent art. It’s a shrine to rocks, minerals and art, all of which glow under ultra-violet light, and it is simply quite astonishing.
Wander down Haarlemmerstraat, Amsterdam’s hipster hangout where you’ll find quirky independents and plenty of vintage and bric-a-brac shops, or wander through the Spiegekwartier arts and antique district, or head to Albert Cuyp Market in the heart of De Pijp – a street-length market offering an incredible range of food, clothes and knick-knacks. Need some green space? Amsterdammers love Vondelpark – once the only public park in the world where one could legally barbecue, smoke joints and have sex (the latter has since been made illegal), which means it is always quite busy, but that simply makes it perfect for people-watching and there’s a great sense of community spirit amongst the locals who frequent this space. In the middle of the Canal District, De Negen Straatjes (Nine Street) is a little corner of old Amsterdam full of artisan food shops, cosy cafés and plenty of independent shops to seek out something special, and it’s the place to go to just sit and watch the neighbourhood goings on.
Coffee lovers will be spoilt for choice as there are so many corner cafés to duck into where the local baristas take pride producing their own speciality brews, accompanied by a warm and gooey Stroopwafel, a Dutch delicacy. Wander over the many bridges criss-crossing the canals as you follow the narrow passageways and cobbled streets which bisect the city, dipping in and out of the tempting shops which jostle for space here.
Amsterdam is of course famous for its nightlife and you’ll find plenty of places in which to eat, drink and be more than merry, but many visitors will want to see the notorious De Walled, the Red Light District with its famous red-lit shop windows – you can join an official walking to tour help you make the most of the ‘sights’. If you can drag yourself away from the ‘action’ then this area is also one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Amsterdam and is home to lots of quaint, monument-filled squares.
Janz is where you’ll find classics served with a modern twist in a canal-side former apothecary shop. They serve lunch, and will happily cater for kids too, but head here for dinner for some of the best food and atmosphere in the city. Prinsengracht 323
Contemporary and shabby- chic best describes the interior of Wilde Zwijnen (Wild Boar) but the always changing daily menu is the main attraction. As the name suggest, game is the name of the – well, game – here but the kitchen prides itself on seasonal and regional dishes and it’s fast becoming the ‘in’ place in Amsterdam. Javaplein 23 Amsterdam
A free ferry will take you across the water to Noord where you’ll find fabulous fresh fish and seafood in this former factory. Make sure to check out the daily specials and the seafood platter to share. If the autumn sun is on the terrace you can happily stay all afternoon (Wednesday to Sunday) and watch the busy boats ploughing back and forth. Gedempt Hamerkanaal 201
Amsterdam’s De Pijp district stretches to the south of the city centre and has long been known as the home of the city’s creatives. It’s trendy without being overwhelmingly bohemian and you’ll find some of the best local eating (head to Cannibale Royale for the best burgers) and drinking (Bar Mokhum is the place for chic cocktails). You’ll love it so much you’ll want to hang out here so book into the Sir Albert. The former diamond factory is home to 90 rooms and has close ties to the City Street Spa nearby should you be looking for added pampering. There’s a great bar here too with an impressive choice of Japanese shochu. 2-6 Albert Cuypstraat
Spread across 25 canal houses, few hotels match the real glamour of the ultra-modern Pulitzer (and its where you’ll find restaurant Janz). A reinvented Dutch masterpiece itself, the hotel is within the Unesco-protected Canal Ring. There are 225 rooms and 19 suites which are crammed with art, antiques, books and music. Try and bag a trip in the hotel’s vintage canal boat for some refined sightseeing, before enjoying an evening drink on the canal-side terrace. Prinsengracht 323
For something a little different check out the bridge houses now repurposed as hotel suites. Once used by operators opening and closing the town’s drawbridges, these 28 spaces have been reimagined into quirky rooms on the water. Many are small, one or two however are rather grander, some are national monuments, but all the interiors reference their history, from 18th century grandeur to Art Deco curves and even 21st century modernity, and you can choose between a bustling intersection on a canal and be (literally) in the middle of the action, or a quiet neighbourhood lake. sweetshotel.amsterdam