Amsterdam’s postcard-perfect canals, while blisteringly pretty, weren’t always the sweetest smelling before the advent of modern plumbing. So it’s not altogether surprising that waterside drinking and dining in the Venice of the north is a relatively recent phenomenon. Latterly, a host of bigger waterfront spaces have joined the legion of bijoux suntraps thronging the cobbles of the sociable Jordaan and De Pijp districts.

Here’s a guide to Amsterdam’s very best spots on the canals, from the cute and cosy to the hip and happening.

  • The most gezellig: Cafe t’Smalle

    Egelantiersgracht 12, 1015 RL

    Small by name and smaller by nature, this cosy canalside drinking den has a terrace so close to the water, patrons can easily chat with passing boaters. Inside, it’s a candles-and-brass-taps affair that appears to have changed very little since the 1700s. Drinkers beware; the narrow wooden staircase up to the upstairs room is perhaps best navigated in sobriety, or at least with due caution.

  • The most lively: Cafe Van Zuylen

    Torensteeg 8, 1012 TH

    This centrally located corner spot has more to offer than the usual postage-stamp of cobbles. Its convivial terrace sprawls onto the 39m-wide bridge over the neighbouring Prinsengracht canal. It’s a classic bruin café, with all the comfort food, free-flowing beer and impromptu singalongs that entails. Fun fact to impress the locals with: the space underneath the bridge used to be a prison.

  • The most elegant: De Ysbreeker

    Weesperzijde 23, 1091 EC

    Rare is the Amsterdam venue whose terrace rivals the interior for square footage; most brown cafés are situated on dinky slices of pavement. But De Ysbreeker, whose name means icebreaker, is a grand café in the European style, and it has the riverside real estate to match. Beers hail from the local Two Chefs Brewing company, with evocative names such as Funky Falcon.

  • The most hedonistic: Flying Dutchmen

    Dijksgracht 4, 1019 BS

    It may lack a proper terrace, but this award-winning cocktail bar on the Singel canal more than makes up for it with glamorous interiors. Its centrepiece is a louche, atmospherically lit bar – think polished wood, velvet stools and lashings of brass. But it’s not all style over substance: you’ll find 500 bottles of spirits behind the counter, and expert mixologists who know what to do with them.

  • The hippest: Waterkant

    Marnixstraat 246, 1016 T

    With typical Dutch ingenuity, the ground floor of this waterside multi-storey car park was turned into a bar back in 2014. There hasn’t been a dull moment since, especially when the sun’s out and all of creative Amsterdam jostles for a plum position around the picnic tables. The food here is Surinamese, and therefore spicy and plentiful. Leave room for some Caribbean pumpkin cake.

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