A laid-back and tolerant city
It’s not difficult to see why people keep coming back to Amsterdam year after year. One of Europe’s most laid-back and tolerant of cities, it’s a place where anything and everything goes. And the stuff that doesn’t go by bike goes by canal. Take a deep breath and launch yourself in.
The Dutch capital is a city of diverse personalities, something mirrored by its shopping areas. Among the most popular retail spots in Amsterdam are the picturesque De Negen Straatjes (“Nine Streets”), which is perfect for sifting through independent stores and vintage boutiques, and P.C. Hooftstraat, specialising in luxury fashion outlets – Azzurro (P.C. Hooftstraat 138) stocks a strong selection of designer shoes and catwalk labels. Elsewhere, the floating Bloemenmarkt (Flower Market) makes for a photogenic browsing experience, while the pedestrianised Kalverstraat is the best street in town for “mainstream” shopping – and usually has the crowds to prove it.
Food & Drink
Dutch food traditionally takes the form of basic, hearty meat and potatoes dishes, although this belies how tasty it can be. Restaurants like Haesje Claes (Spuistraat 275) and the largely organic Greetje (Peperstraat 23) serve up authentic Dutch recipes with modern flair, while elsewhere in town Amsterdam’s cosmopolitan flavours make themselves felt through a kaleidoscopic mix of different world cuisines – head to New King (Zeedijk 115-117) for acclaimed Chinese food or Take Thai (Utrechtsestraat 87) for more Asian treats. Heineken, Amsterdam’s beer of choice, can be sampled from source on a visit to the brewery at the Heineken Experience (Stadhouderskade 78).
The city’s biggest communal knees-up takes place each April, ostensibly to mark the official birthday of newly appointed King Willem-Alexander. Expect an orange-hued, alcohol-fuelled street party of citywide proportions, with open-air concerts, huge crowds and countless street markets.
The country’s oldest and most substantial performing arts festival takes place in Amsterdam each June, with a varied roster encompassing opera, theatre, film, modern dance and multimedia, among other cultural disciplines.
Open Garden Days
Some 30 canal-side gardens are opened to the public over the third weekend of June each year, giving tourists the chance to see a side to the city that usually remains off-limits. There’s always an annual theme to the garden displays. Tickets need to be purchased.
A 10-day festival of classical music held across various canal locations – many of them astonishingly picturesque – Grachtenfestival has been running since the 1990s and gives a platform for up-and-coming performers, as well as more experienced musicians.
Amsterdam Dance Event
Billed as “the world’s biggest club festival”, ADE involves some 350 dance and electronic music events over the course of five nights, attracting some 200,000 clubbers and a star-studded line-up of international DJs. There are also various daytime events too.
Amsterdam is one of Europe’s most singular cities, and complements its quirky spirit and handsome canals with a suitably eclectic range of hotels. Recently opened is the wonderful Canal House (Keizersgracht 148), offering 43 boutique-style rooms close to several of the key sights, while far longer-established but similarly appealing is Hotel Estheréa (Singel 303-309), set in a 17th-century building. On a more modern note, the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Amsterdam Centraal Station (Oosterdoksstraat 4) has a convenient location for rail passengers, while the three-star Hotel Amstelzicht (Amstel 104) is well suited for those looking to curtail costs.