We need to set the record straight: Amsterdam has come a long way since the 1980s-1990s. In fact, nowadays, you’ll hardly come across any private-house brothels or coffee shops. Yes, they still exist, but it should be pointed out that it’s mostly the tourists who frequent them. In the past 10-15 years, the local residents have worked very hard to get rid of this persistent stigma.
By Christine Elizabeth Laprade
Amsterdam, Europe’s crown jewel of architecture, is quite mesmerizing, vibrant and extremely safe. There are throngs of festivals year round to choose from, like the Amsterdam Light Festival in December to cultural, musical, culinary and sporting events. In the old part of town, biking and walking are your main two options – perfect for admiring its stunning views at your own pace.
The striking canal houses and 1500 bridges are infamous around the globe, however very few are familiar with the story behind the impossibly slender facades. There’s a reason why some residents are able to touch both walls from one spot: 400 years ago when Amsterdam was the biggest city in the world, Dutch authorities used to levy taxes from their citizen based on the width of their houses… Several canal houses measure just 6.5 feet at their widest point, and these stunning examples of architecture can be found along the City’s Canal Ring.
As for the plethora of canals and quays, they were dug during the Dutch Golden Age for purpose of defense and water management.
Here are our fave hangouts while in the Venice of the North
As soon as you get off the plane…
Take a stroll or go for a run, no matter what time it is. The entire city is picturesque and incredibly peaceful early in the morning when the streets are empty and time stands still… If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to gently stretch your muscles and oxygenate your blood (which will ease off any signs of fatigue) and partake in an outdoor yoga session.
If you’re looking for a good sweat sesh….
Don’t let the bike-crazed culture fool you: Amsterdam is definitely for runners. The weather is never too hot or humid, there are a ton of bridges to gently get your heart rate up, and barely any cars. Just keep an eye out for all the bike traffic before you cross the street, which can take a little used to!
Our favourite running loop(3 miles, if you’re up for it) might just be alongside the Amstel River, in the city center.
Or perhaps something a little more leisurely….
The history of Amsterdam is intertwined with water. Its 165 canals were created over the centuries to stimulate trade and transport and reclaim land to expand the city. In 2017, they continue to define the city’s landscape and now Amsterdam’s canal ring is recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site. Admire the beautiful traditional merchant houses, the picturesque bridges, the typical houseboats, and experience the unique vibe of Amsterdam by boat! The 75-minute daytime City Canal Cruise (departures between 10 am & 6 pm) is free with a valid I amsterdam City Card. You won’t regret it.
When you need to refuel…
Head over the brand new Beurspassage, a sort of beautifully decorated passageway with painted high ceilings and featuring an Italian glass mosaic. On display: the longest coffee bar in the world, a broth bar (fish broth, bone broth, etc), pastries, organic smoothies & made to order juices, along with a choice of healthy snacks and an array of whole foods for when you’re on the go in the city center.
So much room for activities….
10 billion dollars was invested in the city over the last few years. Many museums and attractions were renovated. Needless to say, the Rijksmuseum is a must. Its collection of Dutch art, along with the premises themselves, will floor you.
The newly inaugurated Noord/Zuidlijn (North-South metro line) counts among the city’s many outstanding art installations and is well worth a visit. There are art tours available to guide you thru the 8 radically different metro stations who pay homage to the millennial city’s incredibly vibrant arts scene. We are talking video installations based on the next day’s weather forecast, archaeological finds displayed the same way one would find at any museum, platform walls covered with 100 000 tulip petals, excerpts from a film noir – once again Amsterdam has taken pole position for urban planning. Super cool art in metro stations? Colour us impressed.
You simply cannot go wrong by exploring the city by bike or on foot. Many bikes tours are available to choose from.
Not far from Hotel Doelen lies The Begijnhof, a group of historic buildings in one of the oldest inner courts. The old Begijnesloot gate dates from 1574. The feel is eerie, romantic, peaceful. A lucky few still live in the private dwellings. Here can be found the Wooden House, the oldest house in Amsterdam.
If you get tired of exploring…
The Pulitzer Hotel, dubbed the art hotel, offers the most memorable, opulent and authentic Dutch experience, thanks to its intricate maze spread across 25 canal houses on Prince’s canal. Each room and suite offers a residential feel, taking us back to the Golden Age. A green oasis is nestled at the center of the hotel and offers a tranquil stay away from the daily hustle & bustle. Hotel Pulitzer is also one of the greenest boutique hotels in town, having been awarded Gold by the international eco-label Green Key for its waste and water reduction and CO2 minimizing initiatives. The downstairs bar serves sustainably-sourced wine, the hotel uses low-flow shower heads to conserve water, etc. Rooms for $400+ a night.
Another option would be theDoubletreeHilton Amsterdam Centraal Station, located along the River IJ. One of Amsterdam’s most contemporary hotels, the Doubletree is set in a prime location and offers stunning views- his award-winning rooftop, the SkyLounge, boasts the most stunning vistas in town. Perks of staying at this 4-star boutique-style hotel include 3 great restaurants on the main floor, a Starbucks coffee shop in the lobby, modern & quite elegant rooms, an Apple TV in each room, on top of being located right beside the train station and the historic city center Rooms from 235$ a night.
Human Beauty is a holistic wellbeing salon where you can both shop for specialty organic skincare and get a facial – and a brief respite, especially when you’re still jet-lagged. After a long stroll through the meandering narrow streets of Amsterdam’s uber trendy Jordaan district, we recommend that you opt for the signature skin calming treatment.
Sightseeing makes us hungry….
Amsterdam offers plenty of outstanding, gluten-free, vegetarian options. The city itself counts 16 Michelin star restaurants, many of them being surprisingly affordable! At RIJKS, 1 Michelin star chef Joris Bijdendijk chooses to cook with local & seasonal ingredients. Enjoy a 4-course menu for €47.50 per person in an astounding setting.
Flexitarian restaurant Swych, is intimate and offers a prime view of the canal banks. Patrons can expect vegetables and herbs to be the stars of the menu!
For a casual yet elegant feel, tasty salads and delicate fish, (plus plenty of vegetarian and gluten-free options), head over to Jansz for lunch.
Guilty treat alert: Bitterballen is a peculiar Dutch specialty you will keep hearing about. These meat-based snacks are usually served with mustard and can be sampled with a bitter beer at the Ballen Bar, one of the city’s notorious food halls.
Cannibale Royale in the Centrum district is a brasserie extraordinaire and the epitome of cool. Comfort food, great cuts of meat, tattooed servers, great music.
Amongst Bill Clinton’s local favourites: Papeneiland’s Dutch apple pie (he always makes a point to stop and makes sure to leave not with one, but two apple tarts every time he’s in town). The café is listed as one of the city’s oldest institutions. One look at that crust and we can completely understand why.
Pllek located in NDSMis a crowd favourite for several reasons. The chic surf-industrial décor, its coveted sand beach, lounge chairs displayed along the river banks, meticulous presentation, mostly organic, vegetable-centric dishes and bold flavours make it entirely worth it! The (completely free) 10-minute ferry ride and breath-taking views are an added bonus. NDSM is the Dutch capital’s newest hip neighbourhood and non-touristy (at least for now!). A creative hub, it hosts several start-ups, bars, and industrial buildings are completely covered with graffiti (the former shipyard has attracted major artists from all over the world for this very reason). Hip-hop blasting, artful displays, a sense of community, man-made beaches and palm trees- NDSM Wharf is decidedly a district unlike any other!
Everyone loves a good souvenir…
Impossible not to stumble upon something exquisite at de Bijenkorf, a high-end department store whose elaborate window displays alone are worth making a detour for. They also sell the traditional, scrumptious Dutch waffle cookies, the stroopwafel(Dutch pronunciation: [ˈstroːpʋaːfəl]. The top floor holds a sophisticated food court complete with a champagne bar that offers stunning views of the Dam Square and the Royal Palace, along with a dessert & coffee bar. High-end designer labels, rare findings (hello, Balmain clip-in hair extensions and couture hair products! An Acqua di Parma grooming station for men?!), and an overall exceptional selection of luxury goods.
Otentic Perfumes is a new concept store and all about pure perfumes and intriguing fragrances. You’re in for a singular shopping experience.
JOZ Amsterdam boats an incredible selection of local designer goods. Think fitted leather pants, meticulously selected beauty products and candles, super stylish jackets, home accessories, etc. By far our fave store in town. Thank God it has 2 locations – you’re in for a treat.