Home to more than 180 cultures, Amsterdam has so much more to offer than just red lights and tulips. Look beyond the picturesque canal houses, saucy De Wallen windows and crowded high street for a glimpse of the city’s true heart. Amsterdam’s outlying up-and-coming districts may be getting all the press, but life inside the canal belt still has bags of appeal. Get your fill of tantalising food, picture-book cityscapes and a laid-back lifestyle where it all began.
Centrum is liveliest in the summer, when the narrow streets, inviting restaurants and historical monuments teem with visitors. You could spend leisurely hours strolling down Singel, Amsterdam’s innermost canal, or checking out the blooms at the floating Bloemenmarkt market. But a peek around the side streets can reap rewards, too. Follow your nose to Van Stapele Koekmakerij, which churns out just one heavenly type of chocolate cookie from a tiny boutique. From rooftop hangouts to on-the-cheap terraces, here are some local favourites to make the most of a sun-kissed visit to the city.
Oudekerksplein 23, 1012 GX
Steps away from the heart of the Red Light District, the Oude Kerk acts as an important link between the Golden Age and the city Amsterdam is today. Both the first church and oldest standing building in the city, it now embraces a contemporary perspective thanks to a thought-provoking programme of international art. Expect experimental music and site-specific installations.
Dam, 1012 KB
A favourite spot for street performers, this grand plaza has been around since the 13th century. Coronations and royal weddings are celebrated in Nieuwe Kerk, a Gothic church consecrated in 1409. Official receptions are hosted in the nearby royal palace’s impressive halls, but it strives to stay open to the public as much as possible. It’s best to check online before a visit.
Have ‘a night in the slammer’ scrawled on your bucket list? Look no further than De Bajes (Dutch slang for ‘prison’, Yiddish slang for ‘home’). The food here is served against a background of street art by local favourites such as London Police and Laser 3.14. The hearty breakfast, served until late, is just the thing for the day after the night before.
For a great view over the city and a dip in Amsterdam’s only rooftop swimming pool, head over to the W’s Mr Porter steak house. The cocktails here are creative. Try a Silver Fox, laced with celery-infused tequila, or a refreshingly exotic Persian Rose Fresca. Carnivores will be delighted: walk past an impressive glass display of tempting meat cuts before being wowed by the view.
No stay in Amsterdam could be complete without sampling some traditional Dutch jenever, the juniper-flavoured ancestor of gin. At this hole-in-the-wall distillery, it’s all about the ritual. The liqueur is tasted hands-free: bend down to the bar to sip on the various flavours before picking up and enjoying the rest of the glass in this phone-free sanctuary.
Why face the throngs on the high street when you could have an unhurried trawl through Amsterdam’s vintage treasures? This retro emporium sprawls across three stores stocking army-sourced basics, unique clothes for men and women and a collection of shoes, bags and other accessories. The prices are wallet-friendly, too.
You’d be hard pressed to find anyone not at Hannekes Boom on a sizzling summer day. With a laid-back picnic vibe, live music and tasty Dutch snacks, this boho waterside hangout is the perfect place to catch some rays and watch the boats go by.
Needless to say, with no neighbours to fret about the noise, the party here goes with a swing until way past sunset. Plus, you can try out a wide selection of local beers from the likes of Two Chefs and Oedipus breweries.
Image credits: © Mr Porter; © Mr Porter; © Ernst van Deursen; © Royal Palace Amsterdam; © De Bajes; © Wynand Fockink; © Alamy; © Judith Jockel