Long-term Netherlands resident Tim Skelton takes us on a two-wheeled tour of this free-spirited city, calling in at some of his favourite haunts along the way.
0700-0900. Walking from Centraal Station, ignore the southern route along Damrak, lined with tacky tourist traps. A more inspiring way start the day is to head west, across the Singel canal, following Brouwersgracht. This picturesque waterway traces the northern edge of the grachtengordel, the belt of concentric canals flanking the centre. Spanned by arched bridges brightened by flower boxes, and lined with grandly gabled houses and houseboats, this neighbourhood is classic ‘old Amsterdam’, and best seen in the quiet of the early morning. At Prinsengracht, turn left towards Noordermarkt, home to a farmer's market each Saturday, and antiques and clothing stalls on Mondays. Nibble on a snack from one of the food stalls, or have coffee and a slice of homemade apple pie at one of the most traditional brown cafés, the Hegeraad (Noordermarkt 34, 020 624 5565), which still has carpets on its smoke-darkened tables.
0900-1100. Rent a bicycle at nearby Bike City (Bloemgracht 68-70, 020 626 3721) and join the locals in what they do best: cycling. Bloemgracht is one of the prettiest canals in the Jordaan, an old working-class neighbourhood that has become a haven for artists and anyone with a generally bohemian or alternative outlook on life. Wander the narrow streets and browse the boutiques, cafés and quirky museums, including the Amsterdam Tulip Museum (Prinsengracht 112, 020 421 0095). This tells the history of the flower that’s become a national icon, including the notorious 17th-century ‘bubble’, when bulbs were the most valuable commodity on the stock exchange, and the collapse in their price nearly bankrupted the Netherlands.
1100-1300. Back east on the canal belt, the area known as ‘De Negen Straatjes’ is a square grid of nine fascinating streets. Each is brimming with designer boutiques and speciality shops, not to mention the many bars, cafés and restaurants. Stores here are devoted to an eclectic range of items, including everything from art deco furnishings (Art Deco Amsterdam, Huidenstraat 20, 020 627 4110) to more eye-opening offerings such as erotic lingerie (Stout, Berenstraat 9, 020 620 1676). Fashion lovers will have a field day trawling the dozens of high-end designer stores here.
1300-1500. A short pedal eastwards will bring you to the Bloemenmarkt, a street lined with flower stalls that sit on barges moored to the banks of the Singel. This area may be tourist central, but it shows why the Netherlands has for centuries been a bulb exporter to the world, and there are plenty of floral bargains to be had. Not far from here is the perfect place for lunch. Café de Jaren (Nieuwe Doelenstraat 20-22, 020 625 5771) serves up a good range of rolls, salads and uitsmijters (fried eggs, cheese and ham on bread; a hearty national staple). If the weather cooperates, take advantage of its biggest selling point, the vast canalside terrace that is often voted the best in Amsterdam.
1500-1700. For some fresh air and to work off the calories, detour west to the Vondelpark, a large landscaped park stretching 1.5 kilometres west from Leidseplein, which is in effect the city’s lungs. Cyclists, joggers and strollers all make for this leafy haven to ply its broad paths, picnic beside its lagoons, or admire the resident colony of parakeets as they swoop among the treetops. In inclement weather, sidestep the Van Gogh and Rijksmuseum and dip instead into the Amsterdam Museum (Kalverstraat 92, 020 523 1822), which tells the story of this illustrious city in maps and artworks.
1700-1900. Having filled up on exercise and culture, it's time to unwind. Head to the central Dam Square, then down an alley running alongside the Hotel Krasnapolsky. Down here is Wynand Fockink (Pijlsteeg 31, 020 639 2695), a tiny drinking den that resembles an old apothecary with ancient jars and bottles lining its warped wooden shelves. This classic proeflokaal, or tasting house, is a great place to sample some jenevers (Dutch gins). For an equally characterful aperitif, head southwest to Café de Dokter (Rozenboomsteeg 4, 020 624 2582 / 020 626 4427), a tiny bar that claims to be the city’s smallest, and is crammed full of eclectic bric-a-brac so endearingly encrusted it doesn’t appear to have seen a duster in a century.
1900-2100. Dutch cuisine may not enjoy the greatest international reputation, but there are plenty of great eateries. Proeflokaal De Admiraal (Herengracht 319, 020 625 4334) serves excellent steaks, as well as local dishes such as veal or herring. It’s in a former stable that was also a jenever distillery for 200 years, and the atmospheric candlelit brick-walled dining room is filled with wooden barrels from floor to ceiling. Amsterdam’s most notable international eateries are those serving food from the former Dutch colony of Indonesia. Blue Pepper (Nassaukade 366, 020 489 7039) offers some of the most authentic, flavourful and fiery fare from that nation, here given a light modern touch. To sample the full variety, opt for the rijsttafel, a dizzying array of spicy treats served with rice.
After 2100. After dinner you can choose between quiet or loud. For a music-free experience, drop into In De Wildeman (Kolksteeg 3, 020 638 2348), which boasts the city’s best range of beers with over 200 on offer, including many from cutting-edge brewers you may not find elsewhere. If music and dance are more your thing, the top concert venue in Amsterdam for more than 45 years has been the Paradiso club (Weteringschans 6-8, 020 626 4521). Located in a former temple, an ornate structure near but away from the crasser Leidseplein nightlife, its several halls showcase a variety of musical styles, from gospel to trip hop, with up to four shows nightly. Ticket prices here are supplemented by a small membership fee, valid for a month.
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Written by World Travel Guide.