Published: April 28, 2010
This city, known for its humanism and tolerance is one of the few survivors to disproportionate growth that weakened the modern cities. The charm of its canals, the original architecture of their homes and an irresistible charm make it a special place that we are forever in love with.
Most of the population is young, or at least it seems, gorgeous, well dressed, and could belong to any kind of popular television series.
Immediately upon arrival, the feeling is like being in a neighbourhood where buildings fail to meet unreasonable proportions, and canals are generously distributed meaning that almost everyone enjoys an inspiring view. In Amsterdam, houses have huge windows, in order to take all the light they can, because sun is shy around here. If you look inside you easily think that it could be a movie set or a décor for photo sessions for magazines and interior design. All these buildings are based on cuttings, like the whole city, built four meters below the North Sea. It becomes even more appealing the scenario that rises from the waters.
Although modest, the architecture in Amsterdam is fascinating. Houses are inclined, and from a building to another, you can see huge cracks, gaps that give them a somewhat charismatic look. These inclinations, particularly to the front, allow a better water flow when it rains and benefits when moving. Most of these narrow buildings with tortuous stairs have a roller, used mostly for furniture transportation inside the house, through their large windows. There are very similar constructions, which make us believe that we are always in the same street, or walking in circles. Streets are quite similar, parallel between each other, even if in circles, and canals and bridges are quite similar as well. You can distinguish buildings by their gables, the most elaborate in the avenues near the main channel, all of them quite admirable. These ornaments in stone, on the roof, with several references, are one of Amsterdam's finest works of art.
In the Netherlands, be Dutch
In order to avoid getting lost, the best thing to do is to become familiar with the main pleins, (squares, in Dutch): Damsplein, Leidseplein and Waterlooplein. If weather allows, they are the perfect spot for a date. Know that four main channels surround the old city: Singel, Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht. Initially it may seem confusing, but soon finds its bridge, corner, street or favourite canal, and little by little, all begins to make sense.
In less than nothing, you can be like a local. You must not forget the most important detail of all: a bike. Old and rusty to distract thieves, they are all over and there are more than 400.000 (a European record). The only thing you need is a lock. There are plenty of local parking, bike lanes and traffic signs. To join this great family, you can rent a bike everywhere inside the city. Be sure to enjoy this unique form of transport, that can attach a baby seat up to two (one in the front and one on the back) in order to take your smallest ones everywhere. Everything is possible in this vehicle and its basket (placed on the front) seems to have room for everything: you see people carrying plants, big boxes and even televisions. You see them driving it only with one hand while the other holds some load, an umbrella, talking on mobile phone or even reading a book ... but do not be so bold! Dutch seem to have born on two wheels...
If the weather is fine, fill out the terraces, benches, or even the steps of daily walks. Trade is also frenetic in this city, where you can find shops of almost everything, almost all of them with style. Even a simple grocery could win a prize for its show window. Good taste abounds and downfall is just around the corner but...at 6 pm, everything closes and they not open its doors even you knock at it. The only thing left is the cafes, what may seem little choice, but in truth, there are about 1400 establishments that elsewhere in the world would be called as restaurants, snack bars, pastries, tearooms, drug lairs, pubs and bars, but in Amsterdam, they are simply known as cafes, faithful companions for all hours, tastes, vices, desires and needs.
Love the Art
Amsterdam, although not a city full of historic buildings - no more than three or four typical kerks (churches), but all very similar - has its strong artistic and cultural components.
As a cultured country, Holland is always in motion. Music, dance, theatre, painting, sculpture or architecture, all the artistic expressions are known by great variety. There is a great respect for the Dutch rich past, going side by side with the stimulus to new forms of art. You can see a nice variety of traditions and experiences. A good example of it is the Nederland Dance Theatre, one of the most important modern dance companies in the world, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and the internationally renowned North Sea Jazz Festival, the largest in Europe.
In addition, there are museums for almost everything: cinema, theatre, beer (the Heineken Brouwerij, a former factory of the famous Dutch brand) cannabis, erotic and even sex, but the most famous are concentrated in the so called "museum block". Here, art is for all.
The Rijksmuseum is an imposing building, with one of the most important art exhibitions from Europe. The Dutch History collection and Vermeer paintings would be just enough good reason to visit, but what attracts many visitors is Rembrandt's exhibit, with 17 works including the famous Night Round. Rembrandt is a matter of national pride and his house (he was born in Amsterdam) in the city is open to the public.
In this area, be sure to visit Coster Diamonds factory. After all, Diamonds are a girl's best friend as Marilyn Monroe sang, and the truth is that no woman can resist to the charm of those stones... Nevertheless, when speaking of "well polished" fortunes the show is also for men. Coster Diamonds 'difficult art of jewellery is for all to see. It is interesting to see how precious stones are embedded, in small or large works of unquestionable beauty, more to see than to buy, since prices reach values almost impossible...even to imagine!
However, the "Dutch cultural jewel" is a Van Gogh collection sold by his family in 1962 to the State. The museum, named for the painter, accumulates crowds, as it is a highlight to who travels to Amsterdam. It is difficult to remain indifferent to paintings that reflect such a harsh life. It was on a Field of Wheat where Van Gogh committed suicide, soon after he painted it on one of his most famous paintings. Famous are also several self-portraits, a result not of a narcissistic phase of the painter, but the scarcity of resources to hire models and test the technique. For lovers of Van Gogh's magical brushstrokes this visit is a special pleasure. The circuit also includes the Stedelijk Museum, reserved for contemporary works.
Already outside of the so called museum block, it is worth visiting Amsterdam Historisches Museum, in the old part of the city, which tells us the History of Amsterdam since its foundation; the New Metropolis (a very futuristic building designed by the famous Renzo Piano), dedicated to science and technology; the Jewish History Museum. See also the Naval Museum, which displays at its gates a vessel replica (scale 1:1) to honour the History of the naval port of Amsterdam, one of the World's most important ports for centuries.
A good proposal is a walk in the Vondelpark. This is the largest green space in the city, named as the poet, and well named as poetry and romance happens there. Outdoor activities amongst animals, plants and lakes, on a place which once hippies called home and now receives all who want to enjoy some "delight", a word that resumes quite well this park, as the dictionary defines that word as "a feeling of extreme pleasure or satisfaction".
When speaking of Amsterdam, inevitably talk about how open-minded they are about some subjects considered taboos by most of people. Soft drugs are legal and the sex business is perfectly visible, even as a tourist attraction in the city. In all guides, you will find suggestions of famous "coffee shops" where you can get "stoned" or the Red Light District, where the so-called stores sell the girls' "services" to who may be interested. This area is also full of sex shops, where you can buy amazing items, created quite certainly by very creative minds, capable of disturbing even the less sensitive person. It is worthwhile, even if only for curiosity, which main street/channel is part of the tour boats for the tour. You could see the whole city by water where, in the dawn, the sun paints with gold the leaves and romance is on the air.
After getting to know Amsterdam the praise to the city has different contours. It is difficult to specify a reason to the passions triggered by it. Some "blame" the canals on this "Venice of the North", the other "blame" the smooth architecture and the freedom and humanity in labelled works as the gay monument or Anne Frank's house. Famous by the publication of her diary, Anne was one of the victims of the horror persecution to the Jews, which found defenders of their rights in Amsterdam. Open to the public, the modest house where the Frank family hide became a place of pilgrimage and a tribute to all those who died at the hands of Hitler's madness.
Tolerance, respect for others' options wherever we talk on beliefs or religions, their sexual choices, the vices, desire and expressions, this is truly in Amsterdam. It is living example to many countries where freedom is still confused with profligacy, far from having achieved the greatest of human pleasures, we can breathe in the air, and most difficult of tasks, which here seems too easy and that many called "the art of living knowledge."
Amsterdam is the city of all pleasures...and that includes coffee. Between work, shopping and a trip back home, the Dutch always provide a break in one of his daily "cafes" that can be simple neighbourhood establishments, pastries, where homes sell soft drugs, bars, restaurants, or play different functions. Introducing to you the "cafe society"
In all canals, streets and avenues, there are terraces filled with people, any time of day. Only for a coffee, something light to eat, talk, read a book or relax, the coffees are part of Dutch culture, working as places of real living. It is estimated that there are about 1400 establishments of its kind in Amsterdam. However, to avoid confusion and misunderstandings should be talking a little about how people define each of these "coffee shops", as the use of the Flemish word is confusing for a foreigner.
In the Netherlands, there is something of an original classification, which distinguishes different coffees, depending on the specific features and services that each offers. The more traditional and old of them all are those who are called as the Bruin Cafes. Neighbourhood small places, with their usual clients, have an atmosphere and rustic decor that reminds the English pubs. Some of them date from the seventeenth century and are called Bruin (the Dutch word for "brown"), precisely because their walls are brown from the cigarettes' smoke and its low dimensions turns them into very dark places. Then you have the Grand Cafes. These ones are brighter than the Bruins, have a cosmopolitan atmosphere, contemporary decor and, in addition to service cafeteria, offer menu-based salads and sandwiches, newspapers and international magazines and pop music, and frequented by young people. In addition, you have the Eetcoffees, which gather common features with both and are places where you can eat at any time, day or night. The menu usually includes different types of breakfast (ontbijt)-based sandwich lunch (broodjes) and simple dishes such as steaks and salads. Finally, the most exciting "coffee shops" that, against what might think the most naive, are not normal cafes but establishments where soft drugs can be sold (in small quantities - 5 grams per person maximum), but alcohol can not be consumed inside. Far from being drug lairs, the coffee shops are usually frequented by the local who gather to smoke "anything" and relax a bit. You can already buy in bags or wrapped, with a real menu available, including cakes (space cakes), however, may also choose to ask for a tea or simply an espresso.
If, like most tourists, you don't want to leave the country without visiting one of the famous coffee shops, know that The Bulldog Palace (Leidseplein 13-17), the oldest establishment of its kind in the city, now has a franchise of this type of coffee that sells soft drugs, especially frequented by foreigners. It is as a curiosity that, ironically, this Leidseplein place was once a police office! More cool style, in Kadinsky (Rosmarijnsteeg 9) you can sit on a desk in front of the window to see people walking by as you experience one of the "home specialties". Also in the centre, a small street of the district will find the Jordaan Gray Area Coffeeshop (Oude Leliestraat 2), winner of several awards from the Cannabis Cup (Yes, there IS a Cannabis Cup). Experienced smokers that can explain all about soft drugs and Dutch legislation manage the shop. The Greenhouse (Tolstraat 91) is another of the best addresses on this matter (at least according to the jury of the competition mentioned above), offering a cosy and relaxing place as well as the possibility to snack.
Nevertheless, let us go back to the more usual cafes. If you are planning for a short trip to Amsterdam will not be difficult to find a good place to pause and quickly enter into the spirit of this "cafe society"
Cafes and terraces
To start the day, we suggest you visit the Buffet (Herengracht 309. Open daily from 8:30 to 17:30), a small and very quiet cafe, where is served very healthy food at breakfast and lunch, all homemade food, served on wooden tables, cafeteria style. A selection of newspapers and magazines invites you to read, if you are not in the mood for a little chat in the morning.
De Prins (Prinsengracht 124. Open daily from 10:00 to 1:00 a.m.), is a popular eetcoffee on the historical centre of Amsterdam. More traditional, and here his age is reflected in the dark walls. Here you can take breakfast, lunch and dinner, for very reasonable prices, and if the weather allows, sit in one of the tables outside overlooking the Prinsengracht channel.
However, if it is your goal the most traditional and typical of Amsterdam, then it is an obligatory passage through the 'T Smalle (Egelantiersgracht 12), a real institution in the city and unique, that shows all the spirit of the famous Bruin. The setting has little changed since 1780, when it was a chophouse. The walls darkened by years and by the smoke, a wood made bar, the cash register bearing the date 1886, the glass with nouveau art grounds and have light from candles and everything in this cafe is reminiscent of the past.
Much more recent and without the charm of the old days' "brown cafes", the De Jaren (Nieuwe Doelenstraat, 20-22; Open daily) is one of more of the grand fashion coffees, quite seductive for young people. Once a bank headquarters, it has three bars, a restaurant and a huge terrace overlooking the Amsteel river, sandwiches, salads and pastas on the menu and a good selection of magazines and international newspapers. Always full and very lively, it is a good bet to take a brunch on Sunday or the first drink of the night. So is the Morlang (Keizersgracht 451; Open daily from 10:00 to 2:00 a.m.), a cafe-bar of high-tech decor in grey and white, is another alternative to consider.
Between a visit to the huge Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum (which also has a very interesting restaurant), it is inevitable to pass by CoBrACoBrA stands for Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam), led by artists like Karel Appel, Corneille and Asger Jorn. It is a very popular meeting point. Not far away, if you decide to do a little window-shopping in the elegant and sophisticated PC Hoofdstraat, where major international brands have their spot, we suggest you a break in CaffePC (PC Hoofdstraat 87; open daily). There you can have breakfast, lunch or just have a snack with good music and a relaxed atmosphere, elegant and full of beautiful people. The New Delhi(Haarlemmerstraat 73) is the youngest of them all but is already a success and another excellent chance for a snack after a morning shopping. To counter those who say that the Dutch capital has expensive tastes there is the Amsterdam Café (Waterplein 6; Open from 11:00 to 1:00 a.m.) A huge space, brewery style, capacity for 275 people, occupies an old pump house of a central hydraulic plant, a large warehouse and offers a varied menu and very moderate prices.
Far more expensive but far more elegant and sophisticated, the very fashionable Inez IPSC (Amsteel 2; Open daily from 19:00 to 0:00) has bet on fusion cuisine, on exotic and original combinations of ingredients. The colourful décor, the cosmopolitan atmosphere (also has a bar) and the view over Muntplein completes the scenario.
In addition, much talked the Kitch (Utrechtsestraat 42; Open Tuesday to Sunday from 19:00 to 23:00) has as motto, precisely, the kitch and the 70's. Good music, good food and very well attended.
The Noa (Leidsegracht 84; Open Tuesday to Sunday from 12:00 to 0:00) invites their customers to "relax, think, eat, smoke, drink and read", all in a very cosmopolitan atmosphere. The stylish contemporary decor where the beige, the brown and white dominate, the warm lighting, the fireplace and several sofas do the rest. Besides beverages, on the menu you can find soups, salads and Asian-inspired snacks.
Moreover, for those who do love the exotic East, know that sushi fashion is also present in Amsterdam. The ultramodern ZENT (Ferdinand Bolstraat 17-19; Open daily from 11:00 to 23:00), not far from the Albert Cuyper market is a good example. As the Zushi (Amsteel 20; Open Monday to Saturday from 12:00 to 0:00), a small sushi bar, which invites customers to sit down over the counter and can choose between one of the dishes, prepared on the belt, or order a specialty to the head cook.
A pleasant surprise awaits you, in the Pygma-lion(Nieuwe Spiegelstraat 5a; Open Tuesday to Sunday, from 11:00 to 23:00), a South African restaurant. Besides the delicious scones and cakes served at breakfast and the menu has an exotic touch: crocodile meat, antelope, zebra Carpaccio, or fish with spices. All products used here are very, very fresh and all dishes are made as they are requested and not before.
Finally, the trendiest hotel in Amsterdam, and its restaurant, also named Blakes. Open to the public (and not only to those who are on the hotel), it is worth to see both the restaurant decor and its fusion cuisine, which combines Asian and Mediterranean cuisine, in a spectacular way. In addition, because it is true that the eyes also eat, all the dishes are true works of art of a genius who, of course, has a price!
The hotel offer of Amsterdam is wide and varied, with styles and prices that appeal to everyone. Still, there are unavoidable names in the city, names that alone can ensure the success of the trip. This is the case of symbolic and historic L'Europe and the very trendy and exclusive Blakes.
One of the most appraised institutions in Amsterdam, L'Europe is a true hotel of charm and its long past almost be confound with city History. Founded in 1638, as an inn, occupied the fortified tower "Rondeel", whose basic structure still exists, has suffered successive restructurings until it was demolished, and born in their place, in 1896, a Renaissance-style building with the name of Hotel de L 'Europe. Since then, takes place among the most elegant hotels in the world, getting members of royalty, heads of state, artists and millionaires around the world. Before the Second World War, was the scenario for "Foreign Correspondent" by Alfred Hitchcock and a few years later, occupied by Nazi officers. In 1986, two adjacent buildings were bought and the hotel had another renovation completed only in 1996.
Currently, it maintains its elegance and classical Baroque charm (not always pleases the young minds), has 100 rooms, all different, generous in size and overlooking the Amsteel river...and the Excelsior, one of the best restaurants in Amsterdam, thanks to the chef Jean Jacques P. Menanteau. Alternatively, at La Terrasse, the terrace overlooking the Amsteel where you can have breakfast, lunch or dinner, when the capricious Dutch weather allows it.
Created by British designer Anouska Hempel, the Blakes (which has a twin brother in London) is one of the best hotels in the city and one of the most fashionable. It is a palace of the eighteenth century in the Keizersgracht, one of the most famous Amsterdam canals and only has 26 rooms and suites, focusing on a sophisticated contemporary decor, personalized service and exclusivity. Despite their short live as they have opened just a few years ago, is being a first choice to people of the world of fashion, films and music. The entrance, quite discreet, it is a small courtyard. At the reception, the minimalist design. The first image you get there is elegance and sobriety. Then the surprises, as you enter the common areas. First, a cosy courtyard for access to the rooms located on ground floor, where are some tables for outdoor meals. Then the living rooms are breath taking, because here everything has been designed to the smallest detail, a combination near perfection between the materials (wood and old brick, different from the usual brick) and décor in black, blue, grey and white shades. The journey to The Netherlands East Indies is also present in the rooms, all individually decorated, with screens of mahogany, lacquered trunks, the canopy beds, hand painted Asian porcelains, linens and silks ... an harmonious marriage between different cultures, traditions and the latest technology (all are equipped with TV, video and stereo with CD player). Once again, the decor is a constant monochrome: in the rooms called Kimono, dark-blue predominates; Garden Rooms in the green; Klassbols in red and white, and on Loft suites, white.
The restaurant also bet on a merge between the West and the East, with meals prepared as true works of art. Then we must not forget the music, perfectly chosen for each hour of the day, this hotel where everything is done to make you feel in your own home.
Useful info when arrived in Amsterdam
Schiphol Airport is located 10 km from the city centre. KLM has a shuttle bus that runs every half hour, transporting visitors to the city centre and most famous hotels. If you go by taxi, the price is around € 45,00.• Another option, more practical and economic, is at the airport take the train to Central Station for around € 3,00 (about 20 minutes travel). If you want to maximize their return journeys in the city and time, independently the rental bike is advised. All train stations have bicycle rental.
The train station runs daily, has a day ticket, and let you travel around the country without limits of time and number of trips. If you want to carry your bike on the train, must purchase a daily ticket. All stations provide lockers. There are different tickets for public transport. Trams are a common site in Amsterdam, with routes heading out from the centre in all directions. These are ideal for both short journeys around the centre, or into other districts. Most tram journeys are paid for using Strippenkaarten, a paper ticket that can be used for multiple journeys. These can be bought from stations and newspaper kiosks. During each journey, your ticket is stamped until there are no more valid strips left. It is also possible to buy a single journey ticket on a tram, though this will cost more than using a Strippenkaarten. Amsterdam's metro runs underneath the centre, from Central Station to the outer districts. This can be a fast and efficient way to travel, though the trains only run over ground away from the centre, so you miss the picturesque view. Amsterdam also operates a full bus network, which will take you anywhere you have to go. Like trams, strippenkaarten can be used to pay for your journey.
To enjoy your trip, use the I Amsterdam card. It consists of a chip-card, a public transport ticket, a pocket guide and provides offers and discounts on major tourist attractions and restaurants. The I Amsterdam Card is available at several Tourist Offices of Amsterdam Tourism & Convention Board (ATCB). The I Amsterdam Card offers are valid within the current calendar year. You can buy I Amsterdam Card for 1, 2 and 3 days. Benefits include free use of public transport: trams, buses and underground of the GVB (Amsterdam Public Transport Company). Important: not valid for train travel, including to and from Schiphol Airport; 50% discount on several parking lots close to and in Amsterdam; free entrance on most of the museums; free canal cruise, 25% discount on several attractions/products and on several restaurants.
Amsterdam has lots of shops, markets and shopping streets, a scenario that seems to have not changed since the eighteenth century. It is impossible not to be in love with small shops between the channels, emphasis on the picturesque grocers, perfumes shops (such as Skins, in Runstraat 9), clothing and several jewellery shops. Leidsestraat is one of the main shopping streets. Always very busy, across the Prinsen, Keizers and Herengracht, offers several international brands shops including shoes stores. In the Spiegelwartir, which links the centre to the Rijksmuseum, you can find plenty art and antiques shops.
For more elegant and sophisticated shopping, we suggest you visit the Pieter Cornelis Hooftstraat, also known as "PC", where are represented the most appraised brands in the world. In addition, for those who prefer the big stores, not to miss Bijenkorf in Dam Square.
A trip to Amsterdam is not complete without a visit to the neighbouring cities and its attractions. The distances are so short in a country like the Netherlands that pays off some additional trips to places like The Hague, Delf, Utrecht and Haarlem, each city with its own beauty, historic buildings and monuments, traditions and events and interest. Rotterdam, number one port city of Netherlands and one of the biggest port cities in the world, is known by its futuristic architecture. There are countless examples of modern and contemporary names such as Rem Koolhaas (who started the architectural renaissance of Rotterdam), Renzo Piano, and Jo Coenen to make a bold urban landscape. The excellent infrastructure enables visitors to get to know soon what makes the Netherlands so attractive. As the fields of bulbs in the provinces of North Holland and South Holland, with daffodils, hyacinths and tulips, a country symbol, giving to the Netherlands the appropriate name of Flower Land, such variety and quantity of flowers that covers those lands. The many rivers, canals, bridges, dams and water mills makes us think that the name that fits on the Netherlands is, in fact, Water Country. Not only has the extensive coast, with its historic villages and nature reserved, but also the inside, present attractive proposals for a vacation. Discover a museum, how to operate a mill, or to awe with flower fields to lose sight of what you propose is that, when you visit Amsterdam, go a little further and meet Netherlands!
Written by Acacio Martins