Nibbling your way through titbits of Gouda and quiche in a farmers' market…rummaging for bargain CDs and leather jackets in a flea market…chancing on an old Delftware tile at the back of an antique shop…stumbling on a store dedicated to the sale of toothbrushes…trying to make sense of "smart" shops that sell anything but smart-sounding herbal drugs…Shopping in Amsterdam is something of an adventure - at least if you get away from the rather dreary main retail thoroughfares in the city centre.
Here are my suggestions for where to go and what to buy.
Where to shop
My all-time favourite area for browsing is the Negen Straatjes or Nine Streets, a compact, virtually car-free quarter of little lanes criss-crossing the canals on the western ring. Many of the little offbeat shops focus on selling one type of thing – old spectacles, dental hygiene equipment, beads – and there are also lots of enticing art galleries, clothes boutiques and foodie stores. See www.theninestreets.com for addresses. Stroll across to Hazenstraat in the Jordaan for more quirky shops - look out for one selling cat-related items, another specialising in olive oils.
Another prime window-shopping area is the Spiegelkwartier - a concentration of upmarket art galleries and antique shops, mostly ranged along Nieuwe Spiegelstraat. If you're in to haute couture, the high-end boutiques on PC Hoofstraat, a couple of blocks from the Van Gogh Museum, are where to head for.
But much more fun are Amsterdam's many and varied markets. The most scenic are on the Noordermarkt, on the edge of the Jordaan - there's a top-notch farmers' market here on Saturdays, and bric-à-brac for sale on Monday mornings. Earthiest and liveliest market is the Albert Cuypmarkt (Monday-Saturday all day) down in the multi-cultural Pijp, where stalls sell everything from herring to wigs, and underwear to mangoes. The Bloemenmarkt or Flower Market (Monday-Saturday all day, Sunday 11am-5pm) on the Singel is a tourist trap, and can be unpleasantly crowded. But it's colourful, and the place to buy tulip bulbs (it's also good for stocking up on other classic souvenirs such as clogs and canal house fridge magnets). Far less discovered is the Looier Arts and Antiques Market (Elandsgracht 109, 1016 TT), an atmospheric indoor centre of stands, stalls and showcases stuffed full of curios - it's open Saturday to Thursday 11am-5pm. The Waterlooplein (Monday-Saturday all day) flea market - a long-established institution where you can buy everything from wedding dresses to bicycle chains - can be a bit bleak on a cold winter's day, but feels a bit cheerier if you explore armed with a tray of chips with mayo.
Ideas for things to buy
Cheese - pongy specialist De Kaaskamer (Runstraat 7, 1016 GJ) is my clear-cut recommendation if you're after the best Edams and Goudas (and many
Chocolates - Patisserie Holtkamp (Vijzelgracht 15,1017 HM) makes their own.
Delftware - Rinascimento Galleria d'Arte (Prinsengracht 170, 1016 HA) sells good-quality old and new items of the famous blue-and-white Dutch china.
Art - you don't need to splash out: the Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum have excellent shops, where you can buy reproductions of your favourite works for a few euros (as well as apposite children's pressies, such as Nightwatch jigsaws, and lunchboxes emblazoned with Van Gogh's Sunflowers). Just bear in mind that airport/airline restrictions mean you won't be able to take large posters with you as hand luggage. Also see what you can find at the Sunday art market on Spui.
Bulbs - travelling back into the UK, you're allowed to import up to 2kg of bulbs from the Netherlands for your own use. Other countries, such as the US, have stricter import rules, and only allow you to bring in bulbs with a phytosanitary certificate on the packet.
Books - several bookshops on Spui, such as the American Book Center, have an excellent range of English-language literature about Amsterdam. There's also a book market on Spui (again, with lots of books in English) every Friday.
On Mondays, lots of small shops either stay closed all day, or open only in the afternoon. Many shops are open on Sunday afternoons. Thursday night is late-night opening.
Credit cards aren't as widely accepted in Amsterdam as they are in the UK.
See more on my Amsterdam insider tips page.