72hrs in Amsterdam
Amsterdam is best known for masterpieces by Rembrandt and Vermeer, old concrete buildings with a quirky façade, tulip-lined bridges and so-called coffee shops. A visit to the Dutch capital can easily influence people's perspective on how smart city development and urban ecosystems work in unison with a community's set of family values and healthy lifestyle. As many people in cities around the world claim that urban life is taking a toll on their health and well-being, the Dutch are managing their livelihood and work-life balance a tad bit better. Amsterdammers can also tell you that their city is a cultural melting pot for open-mindedness, innovative urban designs and a superb food scene.
Take the traditional urban hike by foot to get to know the inner city well. Although, no public transportation is required when staying somewhere central. Such is the case for Yays Concierged Boutique Apartments Zoutkeetsgracht, where you can rent a bike for a day to add to the experience. Cycling through the city is the norm. Frederic and Ajaxbike are top bicycle shops from the locals. There's no need to be intimidated, if you are not familiar with the rules on the streets, the staff at these stores can explain the regulations of the road before you rent your bike. The cycling infrastructure is extremely well considered, making this pedestrian-orientated city easy for exploring while being contamination-free. It is estimated that 30% of transportation in Amsterdam is done on bikes in comparison to 15% taking public transportation and 20% only take their cars.
Although there are around 500 km of bike paths around the city, Amsterdam’s northern shore area covering Amsterdam-Noord, Overhoeks and NDSM-werf neighbourhoods are considered to be the new trendy places to visit and cycle through. There are a lot of grounds to explore, mainly due to open spaces with impressive architecture and cultural hubs. Head over to Overhoeks and see the Eye Film Institute (EYE) and A’DAM Toren. The Eye Film Institute is adjacent to the IJ river and features exhibitions, film screenings and the Eye bar-restaurant. Interestingly enough, the site may be accessed from different directions by a ferry, bicycle path and vehicular route. NDSM-werf is actually a former ship yard (was the largest in Europe) that now hosts live music performances and cultural events with an eatery. Most of the area’s restaurants and clubs are built inside repurposed shipping warehouses. Explore art within the nooks and crannies and keep an eye out for displays of creativity in some form. Every wall is covered with colourful graffiti and old machines have been revamped into pieces of art. Amsterdam-Noord is the quietest of the three neighbourhoods and it is best known for its typical wooden houses which you don’t find in the center. If in the area and need a break, we recommend to chill at De Ceuvel Café and tuck in to a tasty vegan dish. There are seating options on the veranda, in the hammock and on the beautiful ship-wharf terrace at the waterside, all of which you can enjoy while indulging in delicious food, drinks and entertaining music. There is also an appreciation and strong culture for coffee here, as De Ceuvel Café has a sustainable approach.
If travelling as a family or you just want to slow the pace down a little, Bickersgracht and Zoutkeetsgracht neighbourhoods are more residential and calm than downtown Amsterdam, but are still within close proximities to the popular Anne Frank House, Madame Tussauds (famous wax museum), Red Light District and Royal Palace.
Strolling around Bickersgracht and Zoutkeetsgracht is to wander off the beaten path and learn a little more about the true heritage of the city. Both neighbourhoods are tucked away to the north west of Centraal Station. Bickersgracht has a village feel and still surrounds itself with canals and charming narrow alleyways. Zoutkeetsgracht hosts the monthly Sunday Market and is nearby Westerpark.
Bickersgracht and Zoutkeetsgrachtis are areas worth exploring for food, art and shops. Open only in the mornings until lunch hour, Café Mads (Zoutkeetsplein n°1h) offers a simple but good selection of food to get your breakfast fix. This is actually the go-to place, as it has a terrace which is perfect for relaxing and perfect for reading a book on sunny days. Café de Walvis (Spaarndammerstraat n°516) stands out for its vibrant clientele and has a great variety of craft beers (get 3 for 9.50€ deal) and is locally renowned for their juicy burgers. Saturday nights are a game changer for Café de Walvis as every week a new chef from a different restaurant in the city cooks up a meal. For a hint of Dutch history, have dinner at De Gouden Reael (Zandhoek n°14). This 17th century canal house turned waterside restaurant serves dishes that have been forged from a long series of events in Dutch history. Think house-smoked salmon, Iberian pork roulade, roast chicken, French dish poutine and crusty French bread with tapenade. Do make sure to reserve as it is a popular food house. The Breakfast Club (4 locations) serves all day breakfast options from 8am to 6pm, and delivers the best hot crispy chicken with waffles, siracha and honey. The location is perfect because Westerpark is only 5 minutes away and the popular Haarlemmerbuurt neighbourhood made up mainly of the famous shopping streets Haarlemmerdijk and Haarlemmerstraat is close by.
Haarlemmerbuurt is very busy but is a shopper’s haven with independent labels. Store Without a Home (Haarlemmerdijk n°26) has a vast selection of decor items ranging from vases to lighting. For sneakerheads, we recommend the vibrant SeventyFive store. It has the latest and best hand-picked sneakers in the market. Restored (Haarlemmerdijk n°39) is a cute shop with handmade items by local designers. This is the perfect gift shop, as there are options for jewellery, clothes and decor items. As the store quotes ‘Slow down. You're in the right place to take a pause and connect with the subtle beauty in life.’ The city is home to ethical fashion outlets and institutions. We first heard about sustainable fashion brand Unrobe when their pop-up store was on Haarlemmerdijk street. The business has been making waves for providing fairer labour in the garment industry.
A culture that revolves around consuming organic produce and even raw food diet is becoming a staple in the local community. Around Haarlemmerbuurt neighbourhood you can do a bio food shop at Marqt or EkoPlaza. Both have an assortment of some of the best healthy food options. Wednesday afternoons you can shop local fresh fruits and vegetables at Haarlemmerplein market.
Attractions are plentiful in Amsterdam. High-profile cultural institutions ring Museumplein Square, the lush green area of Museumkwartier. Museums include the Rijksmuseum, which houses the 19th-century building with Dutch Golden Age painting masterpieces and vast European art collection, the Stedelijk Museum which displays contemporary art, and the Van Gogh Museum. The Van Gogh Museum opens until 9pm on Fridays. Locals know how to beat the crowd, you must go after 5pm to get views of Vincent van Gogh's largest collection of paintings almost all for yourself. This is on the top of the must-do lists as you gain an insight on Vincent van Gogh's personal life with family photos and documents on how this icon worked. Come spring time and see the area serenaded with tulips of all colours. For something a bit more contemporary, step out of the area and head nearby to Foam, a modern photography exhibition program in an 18th-century canalside house. I amsterdam City Card (iamsterdam.com) offers free entry to over 50 major museums, including the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh, plus free unlimited public transport and a canal cruise, and is valid for 24 to 96 hours. Both can be ordered online before your trip or bought at VVVs (Dutch tourist offices) and at most museums.
On the east part of town, you can visit the Oostenburgergracht neighbourhood for its Tropenmuseum, or the Artis Magistra - the oldest zoo in the Netherlands. Additionally this area is known for having a lively nightlife and fine share of concept stores. Hartje Oost (Javastraat n°23) is a coffee and garment shop wrapped in one. Shop fine collections of clothing whilst sipping on a flat white. Also on Javastraat n°8 you can find DIV herenkabinet, a clothing, sneaker and hardware boutique. The individual styles are more street and unique, from Japanese denim to cool sneakers. They also carry a collection of Swiss army knives and stock real authentic Swedish backpacks. Expect to find brands like Armor Lux, Asics, Elka, Hestra, Lee, Penfield, Publish, Samsoe & Samsoe and Wood Wood. Ashes to Snow (Javastraat n°72) is a hair salon that combines, art, design, objects, coffee and music in an artistic atmosphere. Get a quick hair fix while enjoying a cuppa before browsing their gallery section.
When you are constantly on the move, it is confortable to be able to grab something to eat on the go. The Dutch have some tasty options, such as thick cut frites that come served in a a paper cone. At a number of food stalls out on the streets or in food markets, you can ask for patatje oorlog for a dip of peanut satay sauce, mayonnaise and onions, or a 'patat speciaal' for a mix of curry ketchup, mayonnaise and onions. Raw herring should be tried by any visitor to Amsterdam. There are herring carts all over the city and you can have it served in a sandwich with pickles and onions. When browsing around the inner city, you may come across some kaas sops, or cheese markets. These stack intimidating slabs of gouda, geitenkaas and maasdammer cheeses the Dutch export internationally. Make sure you can squeeze in a visit to the Reypenaer Tasting Room for a guided tasting of their award-winning cheese.
The Dutch capital can be overwhelming with so much to see and do in such a short distance span. For unwinding and relaxing, there is always the option to visit a hotel premise. Sofitel Legend The Grand Amsterdam has a garden courtyard full of secluded nooks. It is a quiet retreat in a hectic part of town, with an excellent restaurant and staff that are gracious and quietly efficient. We also recommend Hotel Pulitzer for its glass house feel and brilliant selection of tea to drink in the afternoons. Whether you are a guest or not, pick your favourite seating area, indoors among the stylish decor or the outdoor terrace.
Don’t stress the city as you will probably never get a chance to explore every far-flung corner of Amsterdam. We would however highly recommend to get to know the Oosterdokseiland neighbourhood (Dutch for Eastern Dock Island). It is an island with some neat architecture and borders the Amstel river. Expect to find dozens of cool sights such as the Amsterdam Public Library, Amsterdam Conservatory, a multitude of residential complexes, NEMO Science Museum and other key places. Experience science first-hand at the NEMO Science Museum as it is designed to entertain all age groups. The walk to the area is relaxing, and you can come across a few historical ships in the docks.
It is of no surprise that the Dutch capital has an overwhelming influx of tourism. The city is awe-inspiring, cultural and has an appeal that few cities in the world can match. Check out the official Holland tourism board and stay up to date on the city's happenings.