Amsterdam for first-timers

by Simonseeks Special Features

Navigate your way over and along the canals of Amsterdam, discover its rich history and creative edge, and work up an appetite for gastronomic indulgence

Why go?

A hothouse for emerging artists, advertising creativity, architecture and design, Amsterdam has something for every art lover, from fine arts in the Museum Quarter to edgier galleries in the De Pijp area.

What to do

Start centrally at the bustling Dam Square to see the National Monument and Royal Palace. Head north into the tangled alleys of the notorious red-light district, which ironically is also home to some of the city’s ancient churches – Oude Kerk is the oldest, dating back to 1306.

Next head south to marvel at the elegant water thoroughfares that encircle the old centre. Curved bridges cross over the canals and wonderfully crooked narrow houses tower above them. Stroll along the picturesque Prinsengracht canal looking out for the tall bell tower of Westerkerk church (climb up the 186 steps for great views), where it’s thought Rembrandt is buried. Nearby, queues signal Anne Frank’s House ( They are worth enduring for the moving tour of the former factory where the Frank family and others hid for two years during the Nazi occupation. Cross over the canal to roam the backstreets of the arty Jordaan district, where you will find secluded courtyards, cosy cafés and many intriguing art spaces.

Hop on a canal bus to the vast Van Gogh Museum ( and the imposing Rijksmuseum (, both situated in the Museum Quarter. Currently being restored, you’ll only get a taste of the Rijksmuseum’s Golden Age treasures at the stunning The Masterpieces exhibition (housed in the Philips Wing, it runs until 2013). For a taste of the country’s modern art scene, head to the Stedelijk Museum ( Check the website before you visit for up-to-date information – the gallery regularly hosts interactive workshops across the city.

Spring is the best time to find Holland’s famed tulips - see the array of blooms at the floating flower market in Singel or visit the world’s biggest flower auction in Aalsmeer (, a nine-mile drive south.

Where to stay

Art appreciation continues inside the Hotel Pulitzer, consisting of 25 connecting 17th and 18th-century canal houses, plus its own art gallery. Rooms are large and loungy, many with fairytale views of the canals. Boutique hotel meets hospitality-training centre in an old school building at The College Hotel. Don’t let this put you off - service is conscientious (it’s run by students of the Amsterdam Hotel Management School, Bakery and Tourism), rooms are lovely and it’s got a fab restaurant. Feeling swish? A luscious red boudoir or minimalist loft-living could be yours at The Dylan.

Where to eat and drink

For Michelin-starred fine dining, visit Hotel Okura (00 31 20 678 7111; for its French restaurant, Ciel Bleu (, and its Japanese restaurant, Yamazato (www.yamazato. nl). Delve into Holland’s colonial past with delicious Indonesian cooking at Blue Pepper ( or sample new wave Dutch cuisine at The College Hotel (see above) – its intriguing menu features herring ice cream on toast and smoked sausage of lobster on turnip mash. Venture east to Amsterdam’s Municipal Nursery which is now home to a wonderful organic restaurant, De Kas (, run by top chef Gert Jan Hageman. The five-course menu, created from the restaurant’s own greenhouse produce and local organic farms, changes daily.

Time running out?

Get on your bike and join the locals in one of Amsterdam’s green spaces. You’ll find a vast Picasso sculpture in Vondelpark or visit the city’s historical Hortus Botanicus.

Trip tip

Hoping to take something home? Trawl the understated but über-cool boutiques of the fashionable Nine Streets. Hidden amongst a network of narrow lanes, the 17th-century houses are treasure troves filled with antiques, furniture and vintage clothes.


Currency is the euro. Amsterdam is one hour ahead of GMT and a one-hour and 15-minute flight from London.

Getting there

KLM (0871 222 74 74; has regular daily flights from Heathrow to Amsterdam. EasyJet (0905 821 0905; flies to Amsterdam from Gatwick, Luton and Stansted.


Amsterdam Tourist Information: Stationsplein 10 (00 31 20 201 8800; Open daily 9am-6pm.

Further reading

The Fall by Albert Camus (Penguin, £8.99). Get deep and meaningful with this philosophical novel set in Amsterdam. Camus describes the canals as resembling ‘the circles of hell’. Cheery stuff.

This guide first appeared in Food and Travel magazine.