The Best of Amsterdam: Guide to Canals, Museums & More
Arts & Culture
Food & Wine
Amsterdam is one of the most unique and charming cities in Europe. With its canals, picturesque bridges and quaint narrow houses, Amsterdam is unlike any other city. Amsterdam is also known for its lively nightlife, its many museums and art galleries and its relaxed atmosphere. During spring, one can witness the most spectacular tulip displays in the entire world, located just a short drive from the city. Amsterdam is a vibrant destination with a wide array of cultural and gastronomical attractions to suit all tastes.
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Where to stay in Amsterdam
A longtime favorite and award winner for its striking architecture, modern style and central location in the Museum Square district.
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Overlooking the Prinsengracht and spanning 25 17th-century homes, this is a hotel lover’s hotel.
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Luxury boutique hotel with opulent rooms and suites, plus an upscale restaurant, in the heart of Amsterdam's Dam Square.
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Things to do in Amsterdam
Walking Around Amsterdam:
Take a stroll around the bohemian neighborhoods of Jordaan and De Pijp. Get lost in the streets, browse unique shops and sit by a cozy cafe overlooking the area's many canals.
Search for secret gardens. Named "hofjes" in Dutch, these gardens are scattered throughout De Pijp and Jordaan neighborhoods. These are hidden courtyards where locals usually go for some peace and quiet while still being in the center of a bustling city. Hofjes were mostly built around the 17th century by wealthy individuals wishing to shelter elderly widows in their last years of life. Hofjes can be difficult to find. They are sometimes tucked away behind closed doors, making them easy to miss to the untrained eye. These are quintessential symbols of "gezelligheid", the Dutch art of coziness, and visiting one of these gardens is a must. Some of the best ones include Van Brienenhofje, Sint Andrieshofje and Karthuizerhofje.
While in De Pijp, visit the renowned Albert Cuypmarkt, Amsterdam's largest outdoor market. Here you will find everything from Vietnamese food, gooey stroopwafels, raw herring (a classic Dutch delicacy) and an infinity of Dutch cheeses.
Visit the De Wallen neighborhood (aka the Red-Light District). Anywhere else in the world, visiting an area like this would be taboo. Not in the Netherlands. The Dutch are famously open-minded and accepting, and this area of Amsterdam is a perfect example of this way of thinking.
Here you will find sex shops, peep shows, strip clubs and even a prostitution museum. All very casually showcased along the cobblestoned streets. This area is where visitors can also find many of the city's famed coffeeshops, where marijuana can be legally purchased.
Heineken Experience - Self-explanatory. Watch and learn the process of making one of the world's most famous beers. Then finish off the tour with a beer in hand while overlooking the city of Amsterdam from the rooftop terrace. The views here are breathtaking.
Museums in Amsterdam:
The Dutch are crazy about museums - and for good reason. They are extremely well organized and diverse. There are more than 450 museums in the entire country, with over 50 of them located in Amsterdam alone. Some types of museums include history, arts, culture, media, prostitution, science and maritime.
A word of caution: Keep in mind that most museums in the Netherlands require a ticket to be purchased in advance. This is not only important, but essential when visiting some of the most famous museums, where tickets can sell out WEEKS in advance. Don't let this happen to you and plan ahead.
Rijksmuseum - National Museum of the Netherlands, boasting artworks from Dutch painters such as Vermeer (The Milkmaid) and Rembrandt (Night Watch). The Rijksmuseum also showcases loaned artwork from around the world and has an interesting exhibition on the history of the Dutch colonial period, which is by far my favorite part of this museum. At least three hours is needed to visit -more if you are true art fan.
Anne Frank House - This is the actual house featured in the book "The Diary of Anne Frank". The book is an account of the daily life of a Jewish girl living in hiding during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. Visitors can enter the secret cramped quarters where Anne and 7 other people lived in for 761 days.
Van Gogh Museum - Museums housing the largest collection of artworks by Vincent Van Gogh. Some works include "The Starry Night" and "Sunflowers".
Places to eat & drink in Amsterdam
Amsterdam has a wide variety of restaurants and cuisines to suit all tastes. Something I really love about the Dutch restaurant scene is that almost any eatery will have vegan and vegetarian options on the menu, making Amsterdam a true vegan's paradise. Many eating establishments also take seasonality into account when building menus and they strive to use the freshest ingredients available.
Graphite by Peter Gast - Michelin-starred restaurant with dark interiors, lights dimmed to a soft glow and a chic atmosphere. An a la carte menu is available, but you should definitely go for one of the set menus (8, 10, 12 or 15 courses). Some highlights include veal steak tartare and lobster in a mussel curry. By reservation only.
Foodhalen - It is hip, it is huge and it serves delicious food. Think Time Out Market. This eclectic space boasts diverse eateries, bars and live music on select nights. Choose from 21 different stands, such as the Ballenbar, which serves up the quintessential Dutch snack, bitterballen. Other options include Asian, Seafood, Spanish Tapas, Gourmet Burgers and desserts. Open until late.
Pulitzer Garden - Beautiful restaurant set in an enclosed courtyard surrounded by traditional Dutch buildings. During the winter months, guests can sit in the indoor dining area while still admiring the garden through wide glass windows. The Pulitzer Garden is open every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Reservations highly recommended.
Heertje Friet - You haven't really been to Amsterdam unless you've tried some of the french fries. At Heertje Friet you can sample some of the best in the entire country. They are perfectly crisp and salty, and always made to order. Served in a paper cone, they are traditionally served with mayonnaise (loads of it!), or you may choose from a selection of dipping sauces such as Belgian Mayonnaise or Joppie sauce.
Gartine - Fancy a delicious eggs benedict breakfast or high tea? Then you must visit this cute spot in the heart of Amsterdam. Gartine's menu items are made from organic ingredients from their own garden, and desserts are made in-house. The restaurant is small, with only about ten tables available, so reservations are highly recommended.
Pulitzer's Bar - Put that fire-red lipstick on, slip into your favorite little black dress and head over to Pulitzer's Bar. This place can be described in one simple word: sexy. The leather chairs, dim lighting and dark walls adorned with timeless art pieces scream glamour. The cocktails here are not cheap, but they will delight your tastebuds in ways you never thought possible. Reservations are encouraged.
Sky Lounge Amsterdam - If you are searching for a place to sip on a great cocktail while watching the sun setting over Amsterdam's canals, this place is a must. The bar is located on the first floor of the DoubleTree by Hilton Amsterdam Centraal Station and reservations are not needed. The cocktails are diverse, and the small bites are delicious.
Flying Dutchmen Cocktails - Catering for the true cocktail connoisseur, this bar has the largest selection of spirits in the entire country. The cocktails are made by some of the most talented bartenders in the city. The bar is also open until 4am, a rarity in Amsterdam.
Day Trips in Amsterdam
Zaanse Schans - Traditional Dutch windmill village with museums, shops and restaurants. Here you can sample delicious Dutch cheeses, see windmills at work and try on some clogs. Zaanse Schans can be reached by train in under 30 minutes from Amsterdam Centraal Station.
Peace Palace, The Hague - Home to the United Nation's International Court of Justice. Visitors may attend a live hearing with advance reservation or tour the Palace grounds. The Peace Palace can be reached in under one hour from Amsterdam.
Tulip Blooms - there are two options for visiting the Bollenstreek, which is the Netherland's tulip region:
1) Spend a day cycling at the tulip fields - Tour the tulip fields between the end of March and beginning of May for one of the most stunning visual spectacles in the world. Additionally, some of the cycling routes will wind through the gorgeous sand dunes of Noordwijk. Rent an electric bicycle from Van Dam Rent-a-Bike or rent an electric Renault Twizy at Renzy to experience the tulip fields.
2) Visit the gardens of Keukenhof - If you are not a fan of riding bicycles, you can still witness tulips in bloom at the Keukenhof Gardens. It is a visually magnificent experience, and the gardens are open from end of March until mid-May.
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