To truly immerse yourself in Amsterdam life, it is best to appreciate both the pleasures of the day and the playfulness of the night in order to understand just what makes the Dutch tick.
By day, the city beckons with its gabled buildings, elegant museums and canals, atmospheric neighbourhoods, delicious markets and laid-back lifestyle. By night, the Dutch capital can take on a different vibe as the notorious Red Light District brings out the – ahem – edgier members of society.
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The centrally located Dylan Hotel in the midst of The Nine Streets shopping quarter and 10 minutes from museums still manages to remain discreet. There’s plush furnishings, a hip bar and a Michelin starred restaurant to boot. You can enjoy a coffee alfresco in the inner courtyard in a serene environment while surrounded by the best that Amsterdam offers.
Amsterdam used to be known as one of the stodge capitals of Europe, famous for standard meat and two veg options. However, the transformation of its harbor into a sleek and vibrant neighbourhood combined with an explosion of restaurant developments has sparked new life into what was once a very staid scene.
Intriguing (and regional) options can be found at Greetje restaurant, where traditional Dutch delicacies are always on the menu including flavourful terrines and fresh fish options. Pickled beef anyone?
Top tip: The Dutch tend to eat early with many restaurants closing at 10pm so be sure not to leave it too late when you go out on the town.
The Anne Frank House is a must-visit to learn about the poignant story of a young Jewish girl who wrote her famous diary while hiding in attic from the Nazi’s. Book online and you will be allocated a time slot and thus avoid the long queues: €9.50 per adult.
Head to Museum Square for more culture. The Rijksmuseum building is as sensational as the masterpieces it houses such as Vermeer and Rembrandt. Entry costs €17.50 but book online to avoid queues – and stay a while to get full value from the entry fee.
Next door is the Van Gogh Museum where Van Gogh’s greatest hits are on display as is the story of his beleaguered life. Entry costs €17.
Amsterdam’s lessor known but must-see cultural offering is a branch of the famed Russian museum, the Hermitage. Opened in 2009, it is now a jewel of a space situated on the banks of the River Amstel in a restored 17 th-century building. Exhibits includes Dutch Masters from the Hermitage, Portrait Gallery of the Golden Age and New Masters with incredible Impressionist collections including works by Renoir, Monet, Gauguin and many more. Book online and avoid queues: from €10.00 per adult.
Must get hold of
One of the best bargains in town is the Amsterdam Museum Card for Tourists which includes skip-the-line tickets for the Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum, Canal Cruise, 2-way Airport Transfer by train + 20% discount on top museums/attractions such as Stedelijk Museum, Hermitage, Heineken Experience, Madame Tussauds.
Amsterdam is a cultural melting pot best represented by the mélange of people that call the neighbourhood known as “De Pijp” home. The main market of this community is the Albert Cuyp Market located on Albert Cuypstraat between Ferdinand Bolstraat and Van Woustraat south of the Heineken Brewery. Here you will find some of the finest examples of Dutch cheeses, fresh “stroopwafels” (waffles with hot caramel) and other native delicacies tucked beside Indonesian treats and specialties from Surinam and the Dutch Antilles. Go early in the day for the biggest selection.
Amsterdam is defined by its canals and perhaps one of the best walks is along the 17th century grand canals of the Grachtengordel (‘Canal Belt’) – the Herengracht, Keizersgracht, and Prinsengracht are a must.
Delftware, produced in the town of Delft located to the south of Amsterdam, is the most prized souvenir to bring back home. Popularised in the 16th-century, Delft pottery is notable for its blue and white glaze. Only a few potteries can claim to produce actual Delftware although you will find numerous cheap knock-off versions around town.
Go to Jorrit Heinen to find the real deal, but be prepared to pay for it. Traditional tulip vases start at about €100 for a mass-produced version going up into the thousands for hand-painted specimen.
For something a little more affordable, go to the Bloemenmarkt (Flower Market) on Singel between Muntplein and Konigsplein to pick up tulip bulbs galore in colours and styles that will make your garden pop.
Or pop by the Albert Cuypmarkt for all sorts of stalls selling bric-a-brac and local snacks. For stylish shopping there’s a clutch of streets called Nine Streets hemmed with boutiques selling unique or quirky clothes and hardware – it is the perfect place for gift-buying.
Must see the view
The best way to see Amsterdam is not from above – but from sea level. The city was built around its canals so a boat tour is an excellent way to see the sights and take in Amsterdam’s architectural splendour. There are heaps of companies that offer itineraries. One of the best is Amsterdam Canal Cruises, which provides tours every half hour from a pier opposite the Heineken Brewery.
Must paint the town red
However your view prostitution, you are unlikely to avoid the Red Light District if you are exploring the city. It’s located in the city’s medieval centre and watching women in shop windows is a fascinating experience. To find out the lowdown on the prostitution in Amsterdam, take the Red Light Tour with the Prostitution Information Centre (1h30 tours cost €17.50).
Incidentally: Amsterdam has a rather accepting attitude to smoking Cannabis and the stuff is available widely in coffee shops. They are not hard to find – just follow your nose. Be warned though that hash brownies (baked with Cannabis) are potent and the uninitiated are well-advised to steer clear.
Read next ⇒ When is the best time to go to Amsterdam