One city where you can immerse yourself in the old and new, appreciating both its classic and contemporary assets is Amsterdam. Most famous for its canal neighbourhood that encircles the town’s medieval centre, this is where you can soak up all that rich Dutch colonial history and visit icons of its 17th century Golden Age, like the Royal Palace in Dam Square and Rembrandt’s House. But branch out into regenerated neighbourhoods like the trendy Amsterdam-Noord, which has gone from industrial shipyard zone to creative hub and the Eastern Docklands – home to a slew of daring architectural builds like the Bimhuis jazz venue – and you can experience the city in an entirely different way. The Dam’s ability to effortlessly blend past and present ensures both hipsters and history buffs never get bored – you can dine on some of the best food in town at Balthazar’s Keuken, a converted blacksmith’s forge, or sleep in a former diamond factory-turned luxe hotel, Sir Albert.
From shopping to sleeping, museums to movie theatres and boat trips to bike tours, here’s our guide to exploring the city’s classic character and uncovering emerging places that aren’t on the tourist map:
Apart from big hitters like the Rijksmuseum, where you can marvel at world-class art, there’s a burgeoning contemporary gallery scene that is cementing the city’s image as an all-rounder for art lovers.
The Classic: Rijksmuseum
The Rijksmuseum is the jewel in Amsterdam’s crown, home to famous masterpieces and the world’s largest collection of Rembrandts
Some things are worth the wait, like the magnificent Rijksmuseum, which made a dazzling return to form in 2013 after a decade-long renovation. Housing 800 years of Dutch art and history displayed over 1.5km of galleries, it hosts people who flock here to ogle at the world’s largest collection of Rembrandt paintings. But with its centuries-old doll’s houses, model ships, Asiatic art and exquisite Delftware (blue-and-white pottery), there is far more to see than just Dutch grand masters. Tickets cost €17.50 (about Dh72) for adults; free for under-18s. Visit www.rijksmuseum.nl.
The Newbie: Moco
Art is ingrained in the city’s heritage, and new-age galleries such as Moco are a source of pride. Catch the world’s first Banksy museum exhibit here
Shaking up the city’s contemporary art scene is the Modern Contemporary Museum, which only opened its doors in March amid much hype and keeps good company, sandwiched between Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum. Catch pop art icon Andy Warhol’s Royal exhibition until July 3, which features his famous Monroe images, as well as street art legend Banksy’s Beanfield painting (which hasn’t been on display since 2009), as part of his Laugh Now exhibit, on until September 4. This is the first time that Banksy’s works have been displayed in a museum. Tickets cost €12.50 for adults. To book online, visit www.mocomuseum.com.
Boasting over 30 parks, public green spaces in Amsterdam are more like residents’ backyards where you can picnic, admire art, play tennis, or even catch a concert.
The Classic: Vondelpark
Probably the city’s most beloved green oasis, the Vondelpark’s gardens span a sprawling 120 acres. Here you can inline skate, run, walk and cycle, graze on some of the best poffertjes (small fluffy pancakes) in town at the large Milkhouse cafe, and soak up the festival-like atmosphere at the open-air theatre during the summer months. www.grootmelkhuis.nl
The Newbie: Oosterpark
There aren’t many parks that can say their wild bird population outnumbers the people! A peaceful haven filled with locals, Oosterpark is located just behind Tropenmuseum in the up and coming Eastern neighbourhood. Chill out on the huge grassy field with its serpentine duck pond or meander along one of the forested paths.
From selling flowers to knick-knacks, fresh organic produce and European antiques, Amsterdam’s open-air markets are one of the best ways to soak up its culture and charm.
The Classic: Albert Cuyp
At more than 100 years old, this mile-long street market peddles everything from giant wheels of cheese to bike accessories. The largest daily market in Europe, its raucous, carnival-like atmosphere has made it an tourist attraction in its own right. Come with an empty stomach and graze on Dutch herring, Vietnamese spring rolls and freshly baked stroopwafels. albertcuyp-markt.amsterdam
The Newbie: Zuider Markt
A smaller version of Noordermarkt, Zuider’s neighbourly charm makes for the perfect, alternative Saturday supermarket shopping experience. Run as a cooperative by locals, you can load your grocery bag with artisan cheeses, bio fruits and veggies, olive oils and farm-fresh meats knowing that you’re buying 100 per cent sustainable produce. www.zuidermrkt.nl
On Yer Bike
The Dutch really like to pedal, come rain or shine! Ranked as the most bicycle-friendly city in the world, there are more bikes than residents in the Netherlands, so join them.
The Classic: Velox
Vintage bikes don’t get cooler than Velox’s retro, up-cycled folding bikes from the 60s and 70s. Based in Noord, around the corner from the ClinkNoord hostel, you can rent your own wheels or join an interactive tour to get to know the waterside area. Rents start at €8.50. Visit www.veloxbikes.nl.
The Newbie: Segway
If traditional cycling sounds like too much hard work, you can cheat with these electric-powered two-wheel self-balancing devices that you can manoeuvre through Dam’s historic streets, alleys and antiquated bridges. Go for a two-hour tour, which includes the old canal belt, Westerkerk, the shopping street PC Hooftstraat and Dam Square. The best part is you can ride on roads as well as designated bike lanes (#smugface). Tours from €65 per person. To book, visit www.amsterdamsegway.com.
Dining in Dam is delightfully multicultural. Take your pick from traditional canal-side cafés or hipper-than-hip restaurants in the trendier parts of town.
The Classic: Haesje Claes
A tryst with old-fashioned Dutch food awaits at Haesje Claes, which is over 100 years old, while modern fine dining is the mainstay of Hangar
Haesje Claes is something of an institution in the city. Housed across six historical buildings between the Spui and Dam Squares and exuding a centuries-old charm, this is the place for old-fashioned Dutch fare. Dishes like pea soup, blinis and chicken liver make their mark on the menu, and it even does gluten-free – that’s definitely a win-win. Reasonably priced with dishes from €4.25. Visit www.haesjeclaes.nl
The Newbie: Hangar
Situated in Amsterdam-Noord, Hangar is the new kid on the block in this now-trendy district. Housed in an abandoned warehouse, its southern Mediterranean fare is served up with tropical vibe, vintage-meets-industrial details and greenhouse-like architecture. Visit www.hangar.amsterdam.
A maritime city, Amsterdam has always been intimately connected with water. And with over 165 canals, there’s no better way to explore the city than on the water.
The Classic: Canal Bus
Just like the hop on, hop off bus, you can do your own sightseeing around Amsterdam’s Unesco World Heritage Site, Canal Ring, aboard a hop on, hop off vessel. Highlights of the 16 stops include Anne Frank’s house, Rembrandt Square and a visit to the city’s narrowest home. Tickets from €19. Visit www.canal.nl.
The Newbie: Miniport World
A great one for families, budding sailors can now captain a four-seater electric mini vessel – cruise ship, police boat or marine fire-fighter – for up to half an hour across calm waters at the Amsterdamse Bos park! Onshore, your toddler or teenager can learn how to tie sailor knots, see how a propeller works and take home a captain’s diploma certificate. Prices start from €10 per boat. For more information, visit www.miniportworld.com.
From arthouse cinemas and state-of-the-art screenings to multiplexes showing the latest blockbusters, Dam has a movie experience to tick every filmgoer’s box.
The Classic: Pathé Tuschinski
Apart from being a theatre, this spectacular art deco cinema is a protected monument. Just steps away from Rembrandt Square, its two striking towers that flank the entrance lead to an opulent foyer, complete with swirling carpets, stained glass windows and even exotic art. Turn up for its Sunday matinee screenings of classic movies and you won’t be disappointed. Visit www.pathe.nl for tickets and details.
The Newbie: The VR Cinema
The Dutch capital offers diverse visual experiences at the world’s only permanent virtual reality cinema as well as in the old-world Tuschinski Theatre
Where can you watch a 30-minute feature film with a virtual reality set strapped to your face and a pair of Sennheiser headphones in a 360-degree swivel chair? The VR Cinema is where! Formerly a pop-up concept touring Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands, it is the world’s first permanent virtual reality cinema. The cutting-edge technology means even sound moves in the same direction as your head. Tickets cost €12.50. Visit thevrcinema.com.
Shop Till You Drop
From luxury shopping at Beethovenstraat, to antique trawling in Spiegelkwartier, and brand hunting at the iconic De Bijenkorf department store, Dam caters to every type of material girl.
The Classic: De 9 Straatjes
Plastered all over postcards and besieged by tourists, Amsterdam’s Nine Streets are much more than a shopping destination. Set between the old city centre and Jordaan, the cluster of cafés, delis, boutiques and galleries is housed in beautiful buildings in some of the most picturesque canal-connected streets in the city. Hit up Mendo on Berenstraat for books on fashion and architecture and Nikki Nik on Gasthuismolensteeg if vintage finds are more your thing. Visit www.de9straatjes.nl.
The Newbie: Gerard Doustraat
Formerly a suburban street, Gerard Doustraat is now The Street to hit up for emerging brands and designers in Amsterdam. Crammed with independent boutiques like Anna + Nina – a treasure trove of beautiful jewellery – it’s situated in the heart of bohemian neighbourhood De Pijp. Head to Charlie + Mary for all your sustainable fashion needs – it stocks brands like O My Bag and Studio JUX – and Miuse, which is an achingly cool concept store that sells everything from brass vases to beautiful leather bags. Hit up www.anna-nina.nl; www.charliemary.com; www.miuse.nl for more information.
Slumber in Style
Whether you want to bed down in a cosy canal boutique bolthole, or splurge on a luxury landmark hotel, Amsterdam throws up an electic range of options of where to catch some zzzzs.
The Classic: Seven One Seven
Located on tree-lined Prinsengracht in the heart of town, less than a 10-minute walk from the Van Gogh Museum, the former sugar mill is now a stately 19th-century canal-side house. An upmarket but quaint property worth splashing out on, you can choose to put up in deluxe rooms or one of the five spectacular suites named after greats such as Von Goethe, Tolkien and Schubert. They’re all elegantly upholstered in classic fabrics, while the lavish-in room breakfast is alone worth it! Rooms from €300 a night. For reservations, visit www.717hotel.nl.
The Newbie: W Amsterdam
Not many properties can boast occupying two of the city’s most iconic buildings and having a rooftop lounge bar and pool, which is a rarity in Amsterdam. The 238-room, five-star, located just off Dam Square, drips signature W glamour and style. Its rooms are decorated with quirky murals by Dutch street artist Parra and the original copper piping has been reimagined into quirky light fixtures. The place to be seen, though, is the Mr Porter restaurant on the sixth floor, where you can dine on sublime steak surrounded by locals. Rooms start from about €300 a night. For reservations, visit www.wamsterdam.nl.