Insider Guide: Best of Amsterdam
The biggest city in the Netherlands is a triumph of resourcefulness and lateral thinking.
Space is at premium in Amsterdam, where much of the land has been reclaimed from the sea.
The city's planners turned that to their advantage: Amsterdam's canals soothe rather than imprison the city. They provide its order, its calm.
That calm is regularly disturbed by the trill of bicycle bells, but as long as you give the cyclists a wide berth, it's the perfect city for pedestrians.
Now, with Koninginnedag upon us (April 30) and a new king being crowned, it's the perfect time to discover the best of Amsterdam.
Seven One Seven
Guests are spoiled in this best of Amsterdam, 18th-century throwback, a grand building restored in the 1990s and well located on the Prinsengracht, a short walk to the Leidseplein.
There's a strong fine arts theme, with plenty of paintings to browse in the public parts of the hotel and other artistic curiosities in all the suites.
If the weather's fine there are two pleasant garden areas to have breakfast in. Book well in advance to be sure of a room.
Prinsengracht 717, 1017 JW Amsterdam; +31 20 427 0717; from €250 per night; www.717hotel.nl
This place has a long and varied history. The building itself started life as a theater, then the site was a refuge for the city's destitute.
There's little trace of that now, with the emphasis on finery, although an eclectic mix of it, with antique art objects among the furnishings and bold color combinations on many of the bedroom walls.
Keizersgracht 384, 1016 GB Amsterdam; +31 20 530 2010; from €325 per night; www.dylanamsterdam.com
Sandton Hotel De Filosoof
If you have a favorite philosopher, chances are there'll be a room at De Filosoof in his name, and you can wonder if they've interpreted him as you might have done in their choice of colors and decoration.
Some of the rooms are on the small side of cozy, but it's a comfortable place close to the Vondelpark.
Anna van den Vondelstraat 6, 1054 GZ Amsterdam; +31 20 683 3013; from €120 per night;
Decorated in an art deco style, but with an unpretentious, warm ambience, the Agora occupies an old canal house near the flower market.
There are no elevators, common to many of the cheaper hotels in the city, so be prepared for a climb if your room is on one of the upper floors.
Singel 462, 1017 AW Amsterdam; +31 20 627 2200; from €75 per night; www.hotelagora.nl
Popular with theater-goers -- who, like many Amsterdam folk, dine early ahead of shows -- and with businesspeople, Breitner prepares interesting set menus, often up to six courses.
Chef Remco Tensen's orientation is towards classic French food, with subtle terrines and patés to begin with and a good range of fresh fish.
For a table with canal views, book well ahead.
Amstel 212, 1017 AH Amsterdam; +31 20 627 7879; expensive; www.restaurant-bretner.nl
Restaurant Christophe focuses essentially on French cuisine, but borrows imaginatively from elsewhere in the Mediterranean. It's strong on shellfish, but the suckling pig is also special.
Chef and proprietor Jean Joel Bonsens has been developing Restaurant Christophe for six years, and has established a varied wine cellar.
He's also taken care of the decor: an interior that's elegantly lit, service that's discreet and professional.
Leliegracht 46, 1015 DH Amsterdam; +31 20 625 0807; expensive; www.restaurantchristophe.nl
The Netherlands may not have as broad a colonial past as other nations of Europe, but it stretches a long way east; the most conspicuous sign of this in Amsterdam is the Indonesian restaurants.
Long Pura is a best of Amsterdam spot. The chef is from Bali, the menu extensive. The duck dishes are especially recommended.
Rozengracht 46-48, 1016 ND Amsterdam; +31 20 623 8950; mid-range; www.restaurant-longpura.com
Up-market but authentic Maghrebi food (and wine) in a setting carefully cultivated to put the diner in mind of North Africa. Enter and you're among scents of jasmine and rose petal.
Mamouche has grown in popularity among locals and visitors over the past decade, so you may need to book for an evening table.
Quellijnstraat 104, 1072 XZ Amsterdam; +31 20 673 6361; mid-range; www.restaurantmamouche.nl
This best of Amsterdam club is a great place for shedding your shoes and spreading out on one of the bright white loungers set around low tables either side of the dance and performance floor.
You can also eat here -- though it's quite pricey -- until midnight.
Guests tend to be of a wide spread of age and nationality. The staff are also of all sorts: waiters who do fire-eating tricks, for instance.
Supperclub does a sideline in late-night boat trips and is open until 3 a.m. at weekends.
Jonge Roelensteeg 21, 1012 PL Amsterdam; +31 20 344 6400; expensive; www.supperclub.com
Favored by the in-crowd in their mid-20s, Club Chi is an ultra-modern venue.
Saturdays can be frenetic and on weekends it's always well to be aware of Amsterdam's reputation -- hardly fading -- as a venue for stag and hen getaways. Some of those end up at Club Chi.
But there's a good spread of music and DJs from all over the world.
Things are more tranquil on Sundays, when there's usually a leaning to Latino music.
Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal 161, 1012 RK Amsterdam; +31 20 521 8555; mid-range
Amsterdam is nostalgic for the 1960s and 1970s, with its John-and-Yoko-style moments (they honeymooned at the Hilton in March 1969). Lime, a sort of lounger-cum-cocktail bar, celebrates all that.
Comfortable seating and a cool mood attracts a clientele that's relaxed and bohemian.
Stays open until after 2 a.m. on weekends.
Zeedijk 104, 1012 BB Amsterdam; +31 20 639 3020; mid-range
Shopping / Attractions
The Van Gogh Museum
A journey through the life, the different influences, the setbacks and the troubled mind of the Netherland's standout modern master.
This best of Amsterdam collection is the most complete of Van Gogh's works anywhere. The experience is thorough, with paintings and sketches complemented by audio-visual reference points.
The museum is airily designed across two main buildings and looks over the Museumplein, a far nicer place to stroll that it was before its redesign in the late 1990s.
Paulus Potterstraat 7, 1071 CX Amsterdam; +31 20 570 5200; www.vangoghmuseum.nl
People of the Labyrinths
Dutch art need not be confined to the masters. This is a nation proud of its radical palette and its independent sensibility in art and fashion.
This clothing brand -- POTL for short -- has become an international success in the 28 years since Geert de Rooij and Hans Demoed set up their boutique for hand-crafted, rainbow-bright clothes.
Seeing the real stuff rather than the cyber-retailed versions is worthwhile, even with the high price tags.
Van Baerlerstraat 42-44, 1071 AZ Amsterdam; +31 664 0779; www.labyrinths.nl
Floating Flower Market
Best accessed from Singel, the flower market has almost every imaginable shade of tulip, from pure, plain hues to ones with marble-effect petals.
Bulbs and seeds prepared for long distance export are for sale. It's best to check the regulations if you mean to take them a long distance.
Customs clearance stamps can be arranged with stallholders.
Located on the Singel canal; +31 20 625 8282; open Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m -5.30 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m.-5.30 p.m.
The Dutch have an image as a laid-back people, makers of liberal-minded cities.
Most Amsterdammers work hard, but also appreciate the slower pace that their hometown obliges.
This is not a city to speed around efficiently by car.
To experience the best of Amsterdam, it's often best to take things slowly.
Catch a boat
There are several ways to travel the canals as they were designed to be traveled.
Visitors can join a cruise for a few hours or full day, guided around the sights, or hire their own row boat.
Traffic can be heavy, and slow, on the waterways, but an Amsterdam glimpsed from sea-level on a fine day is a calming way to take in the city.
Voyeurs can also get the odd insight into how the true water-dwellers live, through the windows of their narrow boats and barges.
The De Hortus Botanicus Amsterdam is one of the oldest organized botanical gardens in the world, and another legacy of the long history of Dutch exploration and acquisition.
There are sections here for sub-tropical species, for desert plants and for those that grow in steamier climates.
They include living, thriving examples of the site's longevity -- trees more than 300 years old -- and some eye-catching rarities among the 4,000 species.
It's a nice escape from the city center.
Plantage Middenlaan 2A; +31 20 625 9021; www.dehortus.nl
Old Book Market
There's a great deal more than books to be found here, though it's possible to lose yourself for hours leafing through the illustrations of some of the more ornate works on sale.
Within the market are various specialist sellers; most are happy to let you look.
With the Dutch being such a well-voyaged, multi-lingual people, there are volumes in many different languages.
The cartography stalls have maps dating to a time when the world looked very different.
Open every day except Sunday; along Oude Manhuispoort, Muntplein
First published May 2012, updated April 2013