Along with the Leidseplein, Rembrandtplein is one of the two main squares of the Dam’s Southern Canal Belt. Until recently, it was unashamedly tacky and embraced a neon-loving reputation. These days it’s pulling its socks up and boasts the flagship branch of chichi supermarket Marqt. Even if you’re not in the mood for a movie, a peek behind the ornate doors of the art deco Tuschinski cinema on Reguliersbreestraat is recommended for a taste of how the Dutch do the red carpet.
Once home to the rich merchants of the Golden Age, Amsterdam’s canal belt – the Grachtengordel – sprawls out from the city centre like the layers of an onion. The appeal of this part of town lies in switching off the GPS and getting lost in the magical melee. From the Singel, which started life as the city’s medieval city moat, spend balmy days exploring the connecting streets’ artisanal heritage and historic brown cafés.
These days there are lots of newcomers claiming to serve the best ribs in Amsterdam, but the ancient, dark and unpretentious Café de Klos remains the rack to beat. Reservations aren’t possible and there are often long queues, which is why the canny owners have acquired the handsome pub across the street, Café Genootschap der Geneugten, as a profitable waiting zone.
Gorgeous Amsterdam is no city for mallrats, so it’s no surprise that its top bazaar is this huge outdoor flea market behind the town hall. The wares are hit-and-miss, with bargain vintage Levi’s cheek-by-jowl with ‘antiques’ claiming to have been salvaged from HMS Titanic. This being Amsterdam, there’s a bike repair stall, and the food trucks are raising their game.
This minimalist shop on the Singel directly opposite the flower market used to be the RoXY nightclub that brought house music to Amsterdam before burning down in 1999. Various retail concepts tried to fill its shoes before Amsterdam-born ETQ entered the fray in 2015. Its pared-back, ‘seasonless’ sneakers are complemented by luxurious sportswear from the likes of Phillip Lim and Études.
The name for this 1980s multitasking monolith on a bend of the River Amstel comes from the fusion of the Dutch word for city hall (‘stadhuis’) and the opera, for this is where public administration and high art intermingle. Inside the glass doors is an anonymous sculpture of a violinist bursting through the floor; it’s rumoured to be the work of former Queen Beatrix.
The emphasis here is firmly on meat, with hearty but not overwhelming mains including top-notch foie gras, veal and duck breast medallions. Combined with the genetically blessed staff, Lion Noir has the airs of a fashion shoot curated by Tim Burton. Take a seat on the velvet and artfully weather-beaten leather furnishings to gawp at the stuffed birds and ornamental dog skeletons scattered about the place.
Named, of course, after the painter who lived nearby during the mid 17th century, Rembrandt Square boasts a statue of the man himself dating from 1852 and a newer recreation of his masterpiece, The Night Watch. The cafés here tend to be complacent and hence less than masterful but there are exceptions, including new grand café Van Rijn and the art deco Café Schiller.
On the western side of the Canal Belt, the postcard-perfect Nine Streets are the smaller thoroughfares linking Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht and Herengracht. They’re littered with vintage shops, gift stores and brown bars. Characterful De Pels can justifiably claim a prime spot in Amsterdam’s literary and political legacy, having been a hangout for the members of the countercultural Provo movement.
There are drawbacks to canalside living. The rents and stairs are steep, but one glance from the window and I’m smitten again.”