WHAT TO DO
Amsterdam is one of my favorite cities in Europe. It is renowned for its Golden Age canals, narrow gabled buildings, treasure packed museums and artistic culture. The Netherlands' capital Amsterdam retains its Dutch heritage in its charming canal architecture, atmospheric cobbled lanes, works by Old Masters and candlelit brown cafes (traditional Dutch pubs). This free spirited city where marijuana and prostitution are legal is a multinational melting pot with an incredible diversity of cultures and cuisines in a compact, village like setting. Amsterdam is best explored on foot or by bike - the town has more bicycles than people at just under one million.
Start your adventure in the historic heart of Amsterdam at Dam Square. This square is the very spot where Amsterdam was founded around 1275 when some local fishermen built a damme, blocking the Amstel River and creating a small village called Amstel damme which became Amsterdam. Today, Dam Square is the center of Dutch life and a national gathering spot. Standing tall in the middle of the square is a monument for peace. This white obelisk was built in 1956 as a World War 2 memorial. The Nazis occupied Holland from 1940 to 1945 and during those years they deported some 60000 Jewish men, women and children driving many, including young Anne Frank and her family (more on this later) into hiding. On the west side of the square is the Royal Palace and the adjacent New Church. Opened as a town hall in 1655, this majestic building became a palace in the 19th century. The interiors gleam, especially the marble work. Be sure to visit the citizens' hall (burgerzaal) for its marble floor inlaid with maps of the world. King Willem Alexander uses the palace only for ceremonies so it's open to the public most of the time. Note: pick up a free audio guide at the desk when you enter. The New Church (Nieuwe Kerk) was consecrated in 1409 and is only 'new' in relation to the Old Church (Oude Kerk) from 1306. Take in the church's main highlights - at the far left end is a massive organ from 1655, still played for midday concerts. Opposite the entrance, an enormous stained glass window shows Count William IV giving the city its "XXX" coat of arms. The New Church is the site of royal ceremonies and weddings; the Gothic basilica is otherwise used for art exhibitions and concerts. From there, make your way to the picturesque Begijnhof. Dating from the early 14th century, this enclosed former convent is a surreal oasis of peace with tiny houses and gardens around a well kept courtyard off Gedempte Begijnensloot. The Beguines, a Catholic order of unmarried or widowed women who cared for the elderly, lived a religious life without taking monastic vows. Within the courtyard (hof) is the charming 1671 Begijnhof Kapel and the Engelse Kerk from 1392. Also here is the Houten Huis at #34, the Netherlands' oldest preserved wooden house, dating from 1528. Just beyond the church you'll find a statue of one of these charitable sisters. The last Beguine died in 1971, but this Begijnhof still provides housing to about 100 single women, mostly Catholic seniors. Nearby is the educational and creative Amsterdam Museum. This building splits Amsterdam's millennia old history into several key time periods. Interactive exhibits help you follow the city's growth from fishing village to global trade center to native son Rembrandt and to the present. Note: the museum is open from 10a-5p and unlike at many of the city's museums, crowds are rare.
Next, head south along Kalverstraat until you reach the Mint Tower (Munttoren). The tower marked the limit of the medieval walled city and served as one of its original gates in the Middle Ages. Continue past the Mint Tower along busy Vijzelstraat (keep an eye out for trams) then turn right and walk along the south bank of the Singel canal. It is lined with the greenhouse shops of the Flower Market (Bloemenmarkt). The stands along this busy block sell cut flowers, bulbs, seeds and flower oriented souvenirs. The Flower Market is a testament to Holland's long time love affair with flowers. The Netherlands is by far the largest flower exporter in Europe and the best known Dutch flower is the tulip. This is a good place to buy real tulips in season and bulbs year round. Close to the Flower Market is the Koningsplein. There is a popular herring shop in this square and locals like to eat the fish chopped up with onions and pickles, using a Dutch flag toothpick as a utensil. Some prefer to eat the fish whole - you grab it by the tail, lean your head back and down she goes. If you prefer priceless works of art, take the #2 tram to Museumplein. Amsterdam's most famous museums cluster around this public square which holds the popular I Amsterdam sculpture. Museumplein was laid out to host the World Exhibition in 1883, but gained its lasting title only when the Rijksmuseum opened two years later. Along with the Rijksmuseum, this area is home to the Van Gogh Museum and the Stedelijk Museum. The Rijksmuseum is among the world's finest art museums, displaying works by local heroes Rembrandt, Vermeer and Van Gogh as well as 8000 other masterpieces. Begin on the 2nd floor, with the astounding Golden Age works. Intimate paintings by Vermeer allow insight into everyday Dutch life in the 17th century - do not miss The Milkmaid from 1660. The subject is an ordinary kitchen maid, but you could look for hours at the tiny details and rich color tones. The maid is alive, pouring milk into a bowl with Vermeer's distinctive yellow and blue - the colors of many traditional Dutch homes. The highlight of the Rijksmuseum is Rembrandt's The Night Watch from 1642. Initially named The Militia Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq, The Night Watch title was bestowed years later due to a layer of grime that gave the impression it was evening. Created when he was 36, this is Rembrandt's most famous painting. It's an action shot with flags waving and drums beating. The Civic Guards grab lances and load their muskets as they rush to Amsterdam's rescue. In the center, the commander in black with a red sash seems to say "let's move out!" During World War 2, the painting was rolled up and hidden for five years. Be sure to view the Van Gogh self portrait on the 1st floor. Another must see is the Delftware, blue and white pottery. Note: the museum is open from 9a-5p and to avoid the biggest crowds, arrive before 10a or after 3p and prebook tickets online. Just down the path at Museumplein 6 is the Van Gogh Museum. It's a moving experience to visit this museum, which traces Vincent van Gogh's life and development via the world's largest collection of his work. The collection is laid out roughly chronologically, divided into five periods of Vincent's life. Level 0 displays self portraits and introduces you to the artist. Level 1 has his early paintings, level 2 focuses on the man and his contemporaries and level 3 has his final works. It's fascinating to see his work change, from tentative beginnings to bright sunflowers and on to his frenzy of creative brilliance towards the end of his life. The highlight for me is Vincent's last painting, Wheatfield with Crows. Painted in July 1890, it is of a beautiful field like the one where he would end his sad and tragic life. On July 27, 1890, Vincent van Gogh left his hotel, walked out to a nearby field and put a bullet through his chest. Note: lines can be huge so be sure to prebook electronic tickets with fast track entry. Located at Museumplein 10 is the Stedelijk Museum. This fabulous space is the Netherlands' top modern art museum. Displays rotate, but the collection includes post 1945 experimental and conceptual art as well as works by Picasso, Matisse, Chagall, Warhol and many more. Note: unlike the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum, you seldom have large crowds at the Stedelijk Museum. Also worth a visit is the nearby Moco (Modern Contemporary) Museum. A private house, it has been converted into a museum by a couple who are private collectors and curators. The small rooms are not an ideal gallery space, but exhibitions on works by Salvador Dali, Roy Lichtenstein and street artist Banksy haul in the crowds.
For some down time, head over to neighboring Vondelpark. A private park for the wealthy until 1953, it now occupies a special place in Amsterdam's heart. It's a magical escape, but also supplies a busy social scene - encompassing bike paths, pristine lawns, ponds with swans, quaint cafes and winding foot paths. On sunny summer days, an open air party atmosphere ensues with live music, champagne swilling picnickers and spliff sharing friends. Another great park is Amstelpark, located in the south east part of town. It has particularly creative garden layouts and many different species of flowers - it was originally created in 1972 for the bloom buster flower show Floriade, which takes place all over the Netherlands every 10 years. The park has rose and rhododendron gardens that blaze with color in season and art exhibitions are held in the Glass House (Glazen Huis), the Orangerie and the Papillon Gallery. One cannot come to Holland and not see a windmill. Like a scene from another century, just outside Amstelpark's south edge on the west bank of the Amstel River, stands the 1636 windmill Riekermolen. It's totally awesome and in a field southwest of the mill, you'll find a statue of a sitting Rembrandt who sketched the windmill here along the riverbank. Not far away at Albert Cuypstraat is Amsterdam's largest and busiest market, Albert Cuyp Market. There are over 250 stalls where vendors loudly tout their array of gadgets, flowers, herbs, spices, fruit and vegetables. Food stalls tempt passers by with herring sandwiches, frites (fries), poffertjes (tiny Dutch pancakes dusted with sugar) and caramel syrup filled stroopwafels. The market is open from 9a-5p and is closed on Sunday. From there, head to the excellent Dutch Resistance Museum (Verzetsmuseum). This museum brings the horror of German occupation in World War 2 vividly alive - using letters, artifacts and personal stories to illuminate local resistance to (but also collaboration with) the Nazis. You'll see propaganda film clips, study forged ID cards and read about ingenious and courageous efforts to undermine the Nazi regime. Ordinary citizens hid radios under floorboards and Jews inside closets. Printers circulated underground newspapers and farmers organized a milk strike. They suffered through the 'Hunger Winter' of 1944 to 1945 during which 20000 died - before being liberated by the Allies in May 1945. Note: the museum is open every day from 10a-5p.
Amsterdam has more than 165 canals and the most prominent are located in the Southern Canal Ring. Crossing the Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht canals - the Reguliersgracht is the prettiest of the city's waterways. It was dug in 1658 to link the Herengracht with the canals further south. The canal is famous for its seven bridges, though if you stand where it crosses Herengracht you can count fifteen bridges in every direction. The houses lining the canal are a decorative display of gables and adornments. Reguliersgracht was named after an order of monks whose monastery was located nearby. A short distance away is Rembrandtplein. This square takes its name from the statue of the painter erected in 1876. Beneath Rembrandt is an Instagram favorite - imposing life sized bronze sculptures recreating his famous painting The Night Watch. On the northern side of the square is one of the grandest cafes in town, De Kroon which opened in 1898. It has high ceilings, glittering chandeliers and comfortable armchairs. Down the street at Utrechtsestraat 58 is the best record shop in Amsterdam. Concerto is a music lover's paradise, with a super selection of new and used vinyl and CDs covering every genre, from alternative rock to classical and beyond. It's good value and has listening stations plus a sofa strewn living room style cafe and regular live sessions. Close out this part of town with a visit to Rembrandt's House (Museum Het Rembrandthuis). Located at Jodenbreestraat 4, this museum is housed in Rembrandt's former home where the master painter spent his most successful years - painting big commission such as The Night Watch in 1642. You can visit his studio, which looks as if you stepped back in time to the 17th century and take part in etching and paint mixing workshops. Note: the museum is open every day from 10a-6p and lines are usually not long.
The Red Light District - Amsterdam's oldest neighborhood is remarkably preserved, looking much as it did in its Golden Age heyday. It's the busiest part of town for visitors and has hosted the world's oldest profession since the Middle Ages. Today, prostitution and public marijuana use thrive here, creating a spectacle that's unique in all of Europe. Obviously it's not everyone's cup of tea, but it is absolutely worth a visit. Walk along Warmoesstraat, it is one of the city's oldest streets. You'll find a number of sex shops selling erotic paraphernalia and smartshops that sell natural hallucinogenic drugs. Stroll down one of the narrow alleyways like Dollebegijnensteeg to view women in their undies, standing in windows below a red light. Note: do not take pictures of the ladies. You can stop in to the Prostitution Information Center (PIC) at Enge Kerksteeg 3 for frank information on how the trade works and what it's like to be a sex worker. You can also head to the Bulldog Cafe Coffeeshop which claims to be Amsterdam's very first marijuana coffeeshop - established in 1975. I should add "coffeeshops" are places where you can purchase and smoke marijuana. The Bulldog has multiple locations and is considered pretty touristy, but you should check it out. Connoisseurs prefer smaller places with better quality pot and a mellower ambience (I will mention a few of my favorites later). After the hedonistic pursuits, visit the Old Church (Oude Kerk) in Oudekerksplein. Dating from 1306, the Old Church is Amsterdam's oldest surviving building. It's also an intriguing moral contradiction - a church surrounded by active Red Light District (RLD) windows. Inside, look at the impressive organ, the naughty 15th century carvings on the choir stalls and famous Amsterdammers' tombstones in the floor, including Rembrandt's wife Saskia. You can climb the church tower on a 30 minute guided tour - it is 290 feet high with an octagonal steeple atop a bell tower. This tower served as the model for many other Dutch steeples. Outside, explore the square and notice the Belle statue, dedicated to the unknown prostitute. There is the famous green metal urinal over by the canal and an amazing chocolate shop called Ganache Amsterdam at Oudekerksplein 17.
Conclude your tour of Amsterdam in the western part of town and the Jordaan neighborhood. The Nine Little Streets (De Negen Straatjes) is a tic tac toe of streets that is home to diverse shops and trendy cafes. These little streets are indeed small, each just a block long. The center is approximately where Wolvenstraat crosses the Keizersgracht and Herengracht canals. Take your time, duck into a few cheese shops and stroll along the tranquil canals. Everyone that comes to Amsterdam must visit the Anne Frank House (Huis). It is located at Prinsengracht 267 and draws more than one million visitors annually. Nazi Germany invaded the Netherlands in May 1940 and a five year occupation began - young Anne Frank and her family went into hiding in this building. You'll walk through the rooms where Anne Frank's family and four other Jews hid for over two years. The front half of the building, facing the canal, remained the offices and warehouses of an operating business. The back half, where the Franks and others lived, was the Secret Annex - its entrance concealed behind a bookcase. The focus of the museum is the Secret Annex, a dark and airless space where the Franks and others observed complete silence throughout the day, outgrew their clothes, pasted photos of Hollywood stars on the walls and wrote in secret diaries - before being arrested by the Nazis and sent to concentration camps. Only Otto Frank, Anne's father survived. It's a powerful experience as you walk through Anne's bedroom, seeing how she grew by marks on the wall and her actual diary, sitting alone in its glass case. Note: be sure to book timed entry tickets online well in advance. From there, dry your tears and make your way to the lovely Jordaan district. A former workers' quarter, the Jordaan teems with cozy pubs, cafes, galleries and markets crammed into a grid of tiny lanes. There aren't many sights to see, but it is a wonderfully atmospheric place for an aimless stroll. Its main drag Westerstraat is home to many funky, artsy shops. For a totally rad experience, head to Leliedwarsstraat 5 and Electric Ladyland. The world's first museum of fluorescent art features owner Nick Padalino's psychedelic sculpture work on one side and cases of naturally luminescent rocks and manufactured glowing objects on the other. The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and other trippy artists play on the stereo while Nick describes each item in the collection. Note: visiting hours are Wednesday - Saturday from 2p-6p by appointment only. After your far out experience with fluorescent art, walk along some of Jordaan's loveliest canals including Brouwersgracht, Bloemgracht and Egelantiersgracht. Finish your journey with a canal boat tour. These long, low boats offer a relaxing point of view and several different companies offer similar services. Boats depart frequently from various docks around town and some operate only by day while others offer night cruises, when bridges are illuminated. Blue Boat Company is a solid option, the 75 minute day cruise glides by the top sights and the 90 minute evening cruise sets off at 8p. Note: some hotels located on a canal have their own boats and provide private canal tours.
WHERE TO EAT
Amsterdam has many great places to eat, drink and indulge. Choose from charming candlelit restaurants, an exotic Indonesian rijsttafel, a light meal outdoors alongside a canal, a herring snack at a fish stand or stopping by a takeout stand for tasty fries with mayonnaise. I like to start my day with a good cup of coffee and a local sweet treat. For this, Firma Stroop is just the place. Located west of Dam Square at Molsteeg 11, this stroopwafel specialist serves darn good coffee from Amsterdam roastery Lot Sixty One. Along with classic caramel filled, wafer thin waffles - it bakes various other twists on this yummy Dutch treat, such as chocolate dipped stroopwafels with hazelnuts. Take them to go and enjoy on a canalside bench nearby. Another option is De Laatste Kruimel at Langebrugsteeg 4. Decorated with vintage finds from the Noordermarkt and opening to a tiny canalside terrace, this cafe has glass display cases piled high with pies, cakes, quiches, breads and lemon and poppy seed scones. Also fantastic is Patisserie Kuyt V.O.F. located at Utrechtsestraat 109. Follow locals and food obsessives from near and far to this fabulous patisserie for the finest pies, cakes, chocolates, biscuits and eclairs. Kuyt also has a good selection of savory pastries, quiches and biscuits. You can enjoy any of the beautiful and delicious baked goods in the tea room. For a dynamite brunch head to Gs Jordaan at Goudsbloemstraat 91. This funky place is an ideal spot for an American style brunch and provides relief for those in desperate need of a hangover Bloody Mary. Gs serves a full range of egg dishes and its chicken waffle burger is excellent.
There are several terrific spots throughout Amsterdam for lunch and an afternoon snack. Begin at the super cool Foodhallen, found at Bellamyplein 51. Formerly a tram depot, De Foodhallen is now the place to get a taste of the Dutch street food scene. There’s something for everyone here: soft shell crab buns and fish tacos at Le Big Fish, a bitterbal (Dutch meat based snack) tasting at De Ballenbar, burgers at the Butcher, hotdogs at Bulls & Dogs, Vietnamese street food at Viet View, sweet tartlets at Le Petit Gateau and lots more. Next, head to Cafe Luxembourg at Spui 24. One of the city's top grand cafes, Luxembourg has a stately interior with parquet floors, a marble bar and an art deco stained glass skylight. It has a terrace which looks on to the bustling square. Order a snack platter (bread, cured meats, Dutch cheese and deep fried Holtkamp croquettes) and watch the world go by. Now to discuss some of the quintessential Dutch snacks and where to get them. It's hard to go wrong when going out for Dutch pancakes in Amsterdam, but the quaint Pancake Bakery rises above the rest. Located at Prinsengracht 191 in a restored 17th century warehouse that once belonged to the Dutch East India Company, this basement restaurant offers a dizzying 77 varieties of pancake - including chocolate, banana and peach. No trip to Amsterdam is complete without frites (fries) and there are two places that you must hit. Vleminckx is located at Voetboogstraat 33 and has been frying up fries at this hole in the wall takeaway shack near the Spui since 1957. The standard order of perfectly cooked crispy, fluffy fries is smothered in mayonnaise - though its 28 sauces also include ketchup, peanut and mustard. Note: lines are usually long, but they move fast. Found at Westermarkt 11 is Wil Graanstra Friteshuis - it is one of the city’s finest and oldest, in business since 1956. Monday through Saturday Wil Graanstra fries fresh cut potatoes to order. Enjoy them simply with mayonnaise or ketchup and go early - he usually sells out by mid afternoon. Contrary to popular belief, Dutch herring is not raw but salt cured - although the complex curing process does give it a raw finish on the tongue. First of the season herring are called Hollandse nieuwe and are usually available starting in early June. Located at Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal 200, Haring & Zo is one of the few traditional herring stalls left in Amsterdam these days. Order one “au naturel” or go for the traditional chopped onion and pickle accompaniment. If you can’t make it to Haring & Zo, Volendammer Vishandel near the Albert Cuyp Market is also an excellent option. Amsterdam is famous for its deep fried snacks, like kroket and bitterballen (both similar to croquettes) and frikandel, a type of sausage. At 75 year old fast food chain Febo you can buy these snacks from an automat. There are branches scattered all over the city so it shouldn’t be too difficult to get your teeth into a frikandel or a kaassouffle, a pocket of deep fried cheese. On Fridays and Saturdays some branches are open until 4a - perfect for your wee hour drunken munchies. I have a thing for Doner kebabs (a Turkish kebab, made of meat cooked on a vertical rotisserie). Found in the south east part of town at Van Woustraat 160, Leeman Doner is a favorite of chefs and locals alike - prized for its fully loaded veal, chicken or mixed doner sandwiches served in house baked pita bread. The Kapsalon (the hairdresser) is a bizarrely delicious Dutch creation of fries piled high with a layer of doner kebab and cheese, then finished under the grill and topped with lettuce, garlic and spicy sambal sauce. I also have a thing for cookies and Van Stapele Koekmakerij is the best in town. Teensy Van Stapele is a true specialist, baking just one thing and baking it very well - chocolate cookies. Specifically, it's a Valrhona dark chocolate cookie on the outside, filled with melted white chocolate on the inside. The delicious disk of gorgeous sweetness is served soft and warm straight from the oven. Van Stapele can be found at Heisteeg 4 and is open every day from 10a-6p or until sold out. There are a number of fine cheese shops in Amsterdam and my two favorites are De Kaaskamer and Reypenaer. The name means 'the cheese room' and De Kaaskamer (located at Runstraat 7) is indeed stacked to the rafters with Dutch and organic varieties - as well as baguettes, olives, salads and other picnic ingredients. Century old Dutch cheesemaker Reypenaer (located at Singel 182) offers tastings in a rustic classroom beneath its shop. The hour long session includes six cheeses - two goat's milk, four cow's milk, with wine and port pairings. Expert staff members guide you through them, helping you appreciate the cheeses' look, aroma and taste. Other options include an hour long cheese tasting paired with corenwyn and jenever (Dutch gins) - I highly recommend this option.
When the dinner bell rings, Amsterdam does not disappoint. Quality wines and bistro food take the spotlight at Cafe De Klepel, located at Prinsenstraat 22. This friendly and popular place is run by young sommelier duo Niek Beute and Job Seuren. Stop in for a glass of wine (at the bar) with some charcuterie or cheese. For the full experience, book a table and order De Klepel’s three or four course menu - neither will dissatisfy. Guts & Glory is a lively, stripped down place just off Rembrandt Square at Utrechtsestraat 6. Opened by the super talented chefs Guillaume de Beer and Freek van Noortwijk and their partner Johanneke van Iwaarden - it is still one of the hottest places to eat in Amsterdam. Its signature is the single ingredient or single cuisine menu called “chapter” which changes every few months. The best museum in town also has one of the best restaurants. Rijks at the Rijksmuseum brings a fresh approach to museum dining. On the menu (designed by chef Joris Bijdendijk and his team) you'll find inventive small plates often with creative use of Dutch ingredients. Note: Rijks regularly hosts chef collaboration dinners with some big names included. De Kas just might be the best restaurant in Amsterdam. Located just outside the city center at Kamerlingh Onneslaan 3 in Park Frankendael, this acclaimed restaurant is well known for its farm to table cuisine and its unique location in a vintage greenhouse that dates back to 1926. Chefs Wim de Beer and Jos Timmer (both ex Rijks) took charge of the kitchen in March 2017 and they have quickly put their stamp on the menu while remaining true to the naturalistic approach De Kas has become known for. The menu relies on what’s growing in the restaurant’s own vegetable gardens and greenhouse, and also includes plenty of meat and fish dishes. Note: the restaurant is closed on Sunday and be sure to reserve a table in advance. For contemporary Dutch cuisine in an old world setting try De Silveren Spiegel at Kattengat 4. Despite appearances, this precariously crooked building is here to stay - it has managed to remain standing since 1614. Take time to enjoy their use of famous local ingredients such as succulent lamb from the North Sea island of Texel and honey from Amsterdam's own Vondelpark. Inside, white walls, wood beams, 17th century paintings and excellent service make for a truly pleasant dining experience. I recommend going with the full five course menu option. Two additional destinations for dinner are Harmsen and Senses. Located at Utrechtsestraat 51, Harmsen is a trendy spot with a cozy patio. The staff are friendly and attentive and the food is superb. I opted for the three course set menu that paired beautifully with a glass of Pinot Grigio and a Malbec. Senses is at Vijzelstraat 45 and is an innovative culinary experience with top notch service. The food is outstanding, the wines are fabulous and every course is surprising - you can't go wrong with the four course menu option and wine pairing. One cuisine that is very popular in Amsterdam is Indonesian. One cannot come to this city without trying it at least once - I visited quite a few places and the two that I enjoyed the most are Tempo Doeloe (Utrechtsestraat 75) and Blauw (Amstelveenseweg 158). For decades, Tempo Doeloe has been a safe and elegant location to indulge in the spicy smorgasbord of the gods, the Indonesian rice table (rijsttafel). Stay alert when the waitstaff points out the hotness of the 20 plus different small dishes, otherwise you might wind up having to down several gallons of beer. Note: it is best to make a booking in advance as this place is always busy. Blauw is located south of the city center on the other end of Vondelpark and it's worth the trek. This shrine to one of Holland's favorite taste sensations is uniquely decorated with lacquered red walls and giant blowups of vintage family photos. More color comes from the menu's choices - meat, fish or veggie rijsttafel that are fresh, well spiced and full of exotic flavors. Note: for those who enjoy having their picture taken, ask the waiter to use the staff camera then check Blauw's website the next day to download your photo. I saved my favorite restaurant in Amsterdam for last, Lt Cornelis at Voetboogstraat 13. Blending Golden Age and contemporary elements, Lt Cornelis' downstairs bar crafts signature cocktails. Upstairs, the stunning art gallery like dining room has framed Dutch paintings on marine blue walls and reinvents classic recipes such as salted herring with apple and beetroot carpaccio, and beef with white asparagus, sea vegetables and licorice sauce.
Amsterdam is infamous for its brown cafes and coffeeshops. A friendly reminder, brown cafes are traditional Dutch pubs with a wood paneled ambience and coffeeshops are cafes where marijuana is sold and consumed. I would like to share which ones I frequent when I'm in town. In 't Aepjen is located at Zeedijk 1, close to the magnificent Centraal Train Station (the same architect also designed the Rijksmuseum). Candles burn even during the day in this 15th century building - one of two remaining wooden structures in the city. In 't Aepjen literally means "In the Monkeys" and has been a tavern since 1519. In the 16th and 17th centuries it served as an inn for sailors returning from the Far East who often brought aapjes (monkeys) to trade for lodging. Vintage jazz on the stereo enhances the time warp vibe. Found at Egelantiersgracht 12 in the Jordaan district, 't Smalle dates back to 1786 when it was a jenever (Dutch gin) distillery and tasting house. Restored during the 1970s with antique porcelain beer pumps and lead framed windows, it is one of Amsterdam's most charming brown cafes. Candles flicker on the tables, old jazz records play in the background and chandeliers and a birdcage hang from the ceiling at atmospheric Cafe de Dokter, which is said to be the smallest pub in town. The specialties are whiskies and smoked beef sausage. A doctor opened the pub at Rozenboomsteeg 4 in 1798, hence the name and his descendants still run it. Next, go to De Sluyswacht at Jodenbreestraat 1. Built in 1695 and listing like a ship in a high wind, this tiny black building on a canal was once a lock keeper's house. Today the canal side terrace is a charming spot to relax with a Dutch beer and bar snacks like bitterballen, chips and toasties. Finish up at Hoppe, an Amsterdam institution on the Spui since 1670. Raconteurs toss back brews amid the ancient wood paneling of the brown cafe at #18 and the more modern early 20th century pub at #20. Energetic crowds spill out from the dark interior and onto the square. Note: both the interior and exterior of the original brown cafe are listed historical monuments. If you plan to visit a coffeeshop, there are three you should not miss. Dampkring is located at Handboogstraat 29. With an interior that resembles a larger than life lava lamp, it is famed for having one of Amsterdam's most comprehensive coffeeshop menus with details about aroma, taste and effect. Its name references the ring of the earth's atmosphere where smaller items combust. Abraxas can be found at Jonge Roelensteeg 12, not far from Dam Square. Mellow music, comfy sofas and rooms with different energy levels spread across its floors - connected by a spiral staircase. The friendly staff make it a great place for coffeeshop newbies and the fairy tale artwork is far out man. Greenhouse is one of the most popular coffeeshops in town and is at Oudezijds Voorburgwal 191. Smokers love the groovy music, multicolored mosaics and high quality weed and hash. It also serves breakfast, lunch and dinner to suit all levels of the munchies.
For those of us who fancy a first rate cocktail and live music, Amsterdam has got you covered. My favorite cocktail bar in town is Tales & Spirits, located at Lijnbaanssteeg 5. Chandeliers glitter beneath wooden beams at this hip hangout, which creates its own house infusions, syrups and vinegar based shrubs. Craft cocktails such as Floats Like a Butterfly (orange vodka, peach liqueur, saffron honey and lemon sorbet) and Stings Like a Bee (Dijon gin, cognac, maple syrup and soda water) are served in vintage and one of a kind glasses. My favorite drink was Drop of Art (Rutte Old Simon jenever, St Germain elderflower liqueur, Italicus bergamot liqueur, white port and Absinthe), a tribute to Vincent van Gogh. Note: Tales & Spirits is closed on Monday. Door 74 can be found at Reguliersdwarsstraat 74 and it is totally awesome. You'll need to leave a voice message or send a text for a reservation to gain entry to this speakeasy behind an unmarked door. Some of Amsterdam's best drinks are served in a classy, dark timbered, Prohibition era atmosphere beneath pressed tin ceilings. The themed cocktail list changes regularly. Another great place is Vesper Bar at Vinkenstraat 57. Its location on a low key stretch of shops in the Jordaan gives it a certain mystique. The martinis are marvelous and I especially enjoyed Victoria's Secret (ginger liqueur, pear brandy and elderflower with fresh lemon juice and a dash of chili pepper). You can't go wrong with Bar Weber, located at Marnixstraat 397 just off the Leidseplein. The drinks are dynamite, the people are beautiful and it's a late night hot spot - open until 4a on weekends. For some tasty jenever (Dutch gin), make your way to Wynand Fockink at Pijlsteeg 31. Dating from 1679, this small tasting house in an arcade behind Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky serves scores of jenevers and liqueurs. Although there's no seating, it's an intimate place to knock back a shot or two or three. If you're deliberating over flavors, try the house specialty boswandeling (secret of the forest), a vivacious combination of young jenever, herb bitters and orange liqueur - the result tastes like cloves. Amsterdam has a cool music scene and some of the best venues in Europe. There are 2 in particular that stand out above the rest. The first just might be my favorite place to see a show anywhere. Located at Weteringschans 6, the Paradiso has a capacity of 1500. In 1968, a beautiful old church turned into the 'Cosmic Relaxation Center Paradiso'. Today, the vibe is less hippie with themed events, indie nights and performances by bands from all over the world. There's something special about the main hall, where it seems the gorgeous stained glass windows might shatter under the force of rock music. The Paradiso has played host to many well known artists over the years such as Joy Division and Nirvana. The Melkweg can be found on the other side of the Leidseplein at Lijnbaansgracht 234. It is housed in a former milk factory and is divided into a number of spaces of varying sizes. The nonprofit 'Milky Way' offers a dazzling galaxy of diverse gigs and exhibitions. The main hall in this cultural center is called 'The Max' and has a capacity of 1500. Notable performers include The Cure and The Smashing Pumpkins.
WHERE TO STAY
Amsterdam has plenty of places to call home during your stay and there are 2 that I especially enjoyed. Both are in prime locations on a canal and provide exceptional service, modern amenities and comfort. The first is The Dylan, located at Keizersgracht 384 overlooking the Keizersgracht canal. This exquisite boutique hotel occupies a 17th century canal house that is set around a herringbone paved, topiary filled inner courtyard. It is close to The Nine Streets and not far from the magnificent Rijksmuseum. The 40 individually decorated rooms feature free WiFi, Bose sound systems and flat screen TVs, plus minibars, tea and coffeemakers and designer toiletries. They also offer garden or courtyard views; some have espresso machines and some rooms come with rainfall showers and/or canal views. Other amenities include a Michelin starred restaurant, a cozy brasserie, a chic wine bar and its own private boat for canal cruises.
A second option is The Pulitzer, located on the Prinsengracht canal at Prinsengracht 323. Made up of 25 restored Golden Age canal houses, this sophisticated hotel is a short walk from the Anne Frank House and the lovely Jordaan neighborhood. The stylish, individually decorated rooms offer sitting areas, complimentary WiFi and flat screen TVs, as well as minibars. Some provide canal views and balconies or terraces, and some rooms contain antique furnishings. Additional amenities include an upscale restaurant, a bar, plus a garden and a terrace. Pulitzer also has a classic salon boat from 1909, so you can cruise the canals in style.
Amsterdam is bursting with culture, charm, history and great food. It treated me very well and I look forward to returning.