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A romantic medley of tree-lined canals, pavement cafés and storybook houses, it’s easy to see how Amsterdam earned its ‘Venice of the North’ nickname. The Dutch capital exudes nostalgic charm – but this is no living museum. Home to the world’s first stock exchange, it’s a thriving hub of creativity and innovation, where galleries housing old masters rub shoulders with multinational headquarters. The city is best explored by foot or bicycle. Amble around the 17th-century Canal Ring, soak up the sun at a waterside café or while away a blissful afternoon in a world-class museum. When the sun goes down, join the locals in a downtown bar to discover why the official motto of Amsterdam is ‘work hard, play hard’.
Our top five sights
Van Gogh Museum
Brilliant but troubled Impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh was an Amsterdam native, and the city’s Van Gogh Museum holds the most extensive collection of his paintings and drawings in the world. Amstel 51 (back to Paulus Potterstraat 7 from May 2013), 020 570 5200
This large and well-groomed park in the south of the city is where Amsterdammers go for a picnic on the grass or a stroll after work.
A concentric ring of canals built in the 17th century and now one of the wealthiest areas of the city. Stroll along the towpaths, admiring the slim mansion houses and traditional white drawbridges.
Anne Frank House
Dedicated to the memory of the famous Jewish teenage diarist, this museum is a haunting reminder of Nazi persecution and discrimination. Prinsengracht 267, 020 556 7105
This world-class museum will fully reopen in April 2013 after a 10-year renovation. Until then, it’s still well worth visiting for its small but elite permanent collection – ‘The Masterpieces’ showcases classics by artists like Rembrandt and Vermeer. Jan Luijkenstraat 1, 020 674 7000
Our top five activities
See the ‘Venice of the North’ from the water by booking a canal cruise. Reederij Kooij has cruises departing every 30 minutes from five different locations. Rokin, 020 623 3810
If you’re visiting in spring, it’s worth braving the 40km journey out of Amsterdam to enjoy a stroll in the world’s largest flower garden. Bursting with colour and variety, this 32-hectare garden is open from late March to late May only. Stationsweg 166a, 025 246 5564
Friday night skate
Don your rollerblades for the weekly Friday Night Skate, which is hugely popular with the locals and takes place year-round. Check times and start-points below
Amsterdam is home to an impressive range of courses, including the Amsterdam Old Course with its historic club house. Zwartelaantje 4, 020 663 1766
A must-do for fans of the local brew, this visitor centre offers tasting, exploration and interactive tours. Stadhouderskade 78, 020 523 9222
Our top five events
January/July: Amsterdam International Fashion Week
Twice every year, Amsterdam becomes the most stylish city in Europe as fashionistas from all over the globe descend for a week of catwalk shows, trade fairs and parties.
Complete with parades, street celebrations and a citywide flea market, ‘Queen’s Day’ is celebrated every year on 30 April (or on the 29th if the 30th falls on a Sunday). Don your favourite orange jumper, dye your hair orange with the locals, and join in the festivities.
June: Holland Festival
The most important cultural festival in the Netherlands, the Holland festival is an extravaganza of opera, music, theatre and modern dance.
August: Canal Pride
August: Canal Pride the most flamboyant and colourful event in the Dutch calendar, Canal Pride is an excuse for Amsterdam’s gay crowd to put on a show. Expect sequins, celebration and plenty of sparkle.
A true treat for culture junkies, as more than 40 museums across the city open their doors for a night of art, dance and interactive workshops.
You’ll find Amsterdam’s main shopping streets in the area between Central Station and the Leidseplein, but for something a little quirkier and more interesting, try exploring the side streets around the main canals. The edgy district of Jordaan is the best place to look for independent stores and boutiques, and also has the greatest concentration of street markets. Noordermarkt runs on Mondays and Saturdays, and sells everything from organic fruit and veg to vintage clothes – a one-stop shop for fashionistas on a budget. Those with more luxurious tastes should head to the Fashion and Museum District, which is teeming with designer shops and interior stores.
Food & Drink
With a selection of Michelin-starred restaurants, a growing grass-roots food culture and an iconic collection of canal-side cafés, Amsterdam has a culinary scene to rival any in Europe. From Basque-style tapas at trendy Spanish restaurant La Olivia (Egelantiersstraat 122-124, 020 320 4316) to finger-licking Chinese dishes at local favourite New King (Zeedijk 115-117, 020 625 2180), cuisine from across the globe is represented. The fabulously stylish Bordewijk (Noordermarkt 7, 020 624 3899) is a great place to spend an evening – and it’s perfect for business meetings too. For something a little different, De Kas (Kamerlingh Onneslaan 3, 020 462 4562) is housed in a giant greenhouse and serves up exclusively organic dishes from nearby gardens and farms.
Spiritual home of the electronic dance scene and host of the internationally famous Amsterdam Dance Event, the Dutch capital’s nightlife is based around clubs and basement bars. If you’re a dance aficionado, head to TrouwAmsterdam (Wibautstraat 131, 020 463 7788), a former printing plant with a trendy industrial vibe that regularly hosts cutting-edge bands. For something a little more traditional, Café Belgique (Gravenstraat 2, 020 625 1974), just off Dam Square, is a cosy bar space with an impressive range of bottled and draught beers. Looking for live entertainment? Paridiso (Weteringschans 6, 020 626 4521), near Leidseplein, has been hosting the best pop bands since the 1960s, while The Muziektheater (Waterlooplein 22, 020 625 5455) is the most important opera and ballet theatre in the Netherlands.
Accommodation in Amsterdam
Thanks to its popularity with tourists and importance as a business centre, Amsterdam has a wide choice of accommodation. Hotels are concentrated in the Old Centre and in the south around the Museum Quarter. The wealthy Canal Ring hosts many of the more luxurious options. For a stark but smart budget option, try The Poet Hotel (Jan Luijkenstraat 44, 020 662 0526) in the heart of the Museum Quarter. Corporate travellers will appreciate the state-of-the-art facilities offered by the Sofitel Legend The Grand Hotel Amsterdam (Oudezijds Voorburgwal 197, 020 555 3111). If you’re looking for a five-star experience, the Dylan Amsterdam (Keizersgracht 384, 020 530 2010) has a Michelin-starred restaurant and a selection of luxurious, individually styled rooms.
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is located 15km southwest of the city centre, but there are regular direct trains that will get you to Amsterdam Central Station in 20 minutes. The airport station is underground beneath the two terminals. Buy your ticket from the machines to save the extra counter charge.
Amsterdam Airport Information
CityJet Flight Routes
Amsterdam to London City