With a slogan of “I Amsterdam,” the Netherlands’ most popular city is for me, for you, for everyone. Whether you have an appetite for architecture, an addiction to art, or a craving for quirkiness, the canals, museums and sights of Amsterdam will satisfy your proclivity for any pleasure.
The streets of Amsterdam themselves are a master class on urban planning. Founded as a small fishing village at the mouth of the Amstel River circa 1200, Amsterdam rose to become the center of the Dutch Empire in the 17th century. During this Golden Age, the city underwent an unprecedented transformation, draining the swampland by building three concentric canals in its center.
On August 1, 2010, the Amsterdam canal belt was officially included on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Embark on a canal tour of these recently honored waterways for a comprehensive sampling of Amsterdam’s unique architecture. For a relaxing ride, take advantage of the Canal Bus hop-on/hop-off transport to the city’s top sights, with multilingual commentary and the option of twenty stops. The more active cruisers can work up a sweat—with up to three other partners—pedaling through these same passages on a Canal Bike pedal boat.
Art lovers will find Amsterdam a feast for their infatuation. If painters are your preference, Amsterdam demands the veneration of two masters. The Van Gogh Museum boasts the world’s largest collection of the Dutch painter’s work. View his vivid Sunflowers and The Bedroom, or an array of paintings by the artist’s contemporaries. Want to explore beyond the work and into the workshop? Tour the home of Rembrandt between 1639 and 1658, at the Museum Het Rembrandthuis. Visit the recreated studio, complete with easels, brushes and charcoals, and his “cabinet of curiosities” with its stuffed animals, statues and armor—many of which were staging props in his paintings. If what you fancy is photography, Foam exhibits the art form in all its diverse glory: documentary, fashion, contemporary and historical. From large-scale exhibitions of world-renowned photographers to shows featuring up-and-coming talent, Foam is Amsterdam’s photography center and the most popular photography museum in all the Netherlands. Visit on a Thursday night for a free, guided tour through the main exhibition.
Beyond the traditional, Amsterdam museums love to explore peculiar subjects. Got a penchant for purses? The Museum of Bags and Purses chronicles the history of the handbag from the Middle Ages to present day. Displaying over 4,000 bags and accessories, the Tassen Museum (as it is named in Dutch) has the most comprehensive collection of purses in the world. From a 16th century French goat’s leather bag to the Judith Leiber rhinestone “Cupcake” purse seen in Sex and the City, the Tassen combines fashion and history with a sprinkling of camp. Those with champagne wishes and caviar dreams can move beyond purses to precious jewels at the Diamond Museum. For over 400 years, Amsterdam was the leading diamond polishing center in the world. It was here that the current determination of diamond quality—the 4 C’s—was established in 1975: carat, color, cut and clarity. Now, this museum honors the history and artistry of the precious gem, while displaying some of its most brilliant beauties.
While some museums are set up for viewing, others surround you in the experience. If the earlier canal cruise piqued your curiosity about life aboard a houseboat, mosey over to the Houseboat Museum in the Jordaan neighborhood. Built in 1914 as a freighter for transporting sand and gravel, the Hendrika Maria was converted into a houseboat in the 1960’s. Explore the restored skipper’s sleeping quarters, living room and kitchen, all about the size of an average Amsterdam apartment; or make yourself at home on a comfy armchair while sipping a cup of coffee or hot chocolate. You will discover that houseboats make cozy homes for people…and kitty cats. For a unique perspective on the lives of some of Amsterdam’s frisky felines, check out the Poezenboot, a floating sanctuary for stray and abandoned cats, on the Singel Canal. When Henriette Van Weelde took in a mama cat and her kittens in 1966, she never imagined she was setting a course toward creating one of the world’s most famous shelters. Officially registered as a charity in 1987, the Cat Boat serves as a home and adoption shelter for the four-legged furries and a tourist attraction for us two-legged travelers. As the Poezenboot receives no government assistance and relies solely on volunteers and private donations, make sure to leave a little contribution after your visit—a little cat-tip for the catnip.
Are you exhausted from your excursions? This is Amsterdam, you need a drink! Enter the House of Bols to undergo the Cocktail and Genever Experience. Lucas Bols, the oldest distilled spirit brand in the world, has made Amsterdam its home since 1575. Take your senses through a journey of the scents, sounds and sights of the classic Genever (an authentic alcoholic spirit dating back to 1820), and quench your thirst by sampling a cocktail at the Mirror Bar. The winner of the Dutch Design Award, the House of Bols has built an immaculate temple to the glamorous cocktail. Feeling a little loose after your tasting tour? Show off your bartending skills in the Flair Booth. Think the love child of baton twirling and traditional bartending, as made famous by Tom Cruise in the movie Cocktail. That’s right, before jumping on Oprah’s couch, Mr. Cruise was perhaps the world’s most famous ambassador of flair bartending. Enter the Booth and follow the on-screen instructions as you attempt to wow the crowds with your personal “flair.” Don’t worry you can email the video to share with your admirers back home
In Amsterdam, your satisfaction is guaranteed. With its rich history, idiosyncratic architecture, and unconventional attractions, this little Dutch gem can fulfill any travel fantasy. Cruise the canals, explore the museums or simply stroll through the city’s streets to discover how you and I are all Amsterdam.
The country code for the Netherlands is 31
Where to Stay:
Amsterdam Marriott Hotel– Marriott celebrates its 35th anniversary with a multi-million dollar renovation of the 395 rooms, stylish new lobby, NY Style Steakhouse and Sorel’s Midtown Bar and Lounge. Located across from the lively restaurants and cafes of the Leidseplein and minutes from the museum district and Vondel Park, the Marriott has all the amenities you have come to expect from the brand. Upgrade for access to the Executive Club lounge, providing breakfast, all day snacks and cocktails. Stadhouderskade 12. +31 (20) 607 5555. www.marriott.com/amsnt
Ambassade Hotel– This charming hotel occupies ten elegant canal-side homes along the Herengracht, for classic Amsterdam charm. Every room is unique, combining antique furniture, contemporary art and modern amenities. The lobby showcases sculptures by Ans Hey while the library contains 1800 signed books by Dutch and foreign authors, all previous guests of the hotel.
Herengracht 341. +31 20 5550222. www.ambassade-hotel.nl
Hotel Patou– If you like fashion, check into this intimate boutique hotel situated on Amsterdam’s stylish shopping street, P.C. Hooftstraat. With only 12 rooms, decorated in minimalist chic, you’ll sleep in style, near the high-end fashion stores of Chanel and Gucci.
P.C. Hooftstraat 63. +31 20 676 0232. www.hotelpatou.nl
Where to Eat:
Envy– This stylish restaurant is inspired by the traditional Italian delicatessen, serving small plates ideal for sharing. Foodies will love watching the chefs prepare dishes in the open kitchen, while enjoying an extensive wine selection.
Prinsengracht 381. +31 20 3446407. www.envy.nl
Puri Mas– Indonesian food is very popular in Holland. At Puri Mas order Rijsttafel, an array of small-portioned dishes that include vegetarian, beef and fish options, all served around the central rice dish. Ranging from mild to spicy, Puri Mas provides options for all diners.
Lange Leidsedwarsstraat 37-41. + 31 20 627 7627. www.purimas.nl
Café Americain– Situated in the American Hotel, the spacious Art Deco dining room has been popular since opening in 1900. Though a bit touristy these days, the stained glass windows and Tiffany lamps are still inviting and the International cuisine still delicious. During the summer enjoy dining in the spacious terrace, overlooking the Leidseplein. Leidsekade 97. +31 20 556 3000. www.edenamsterdamamericanhotel.com
Febo– Amsterdam is a unique little city so why should their fast food be any different. This Dutch chain is best known for its automated vending machines. Put the money in the slot and gain access to a little window holding your fast food treat. Their Dutch Croquette specialty is the perfect street food after a late night of boozing. Locations throughout the city. www.febodelekkerste.nl
What to See and Do:
Canal Company– Cruise Amsterdam’s canals via the hop-on/hop-off Canal Bus or have a workout on the Canal Bike pedal boat. Tickets can be purchased at the various kiosks throughout the city on online at www.canal.nl/en
Van Gogh Museum– View the world’s largest collection of the Dutch painter’s work, as well as other 19th century artists. Paulus Potterstraat 7. +31 020 5705200. www.vangoghmuseum.nl
Museum Het Rembrandthuis– Visit the restored home where Rembrandt lived, worked and created many of his famous works. Jodenbreestraat 4-6. +31 020 5200 400. www.rembrandthuis.nl
Foam-The photography museum and center of Amsterdam, dedicated to all areas of photography. Keizersgracht 609. +31 020 551 6500. www.foam.nl
Museum of Bags and Purses– With the world’s most extensive collection of purses, this museum chronicles the history of the handbag from the Middle Ages to the present. Herengracht 573. +31 020 524 6452. www.tassenmuseum.nl
Diamond Museum– A museum dedicated to everything diamond. Learn about the history, the artistry and the significance of the gem in Amsterdam. Paulus Potterstraat 8. +31 020 305 5300. www.diamantmuseum.nl
Houseboat Museum– Offering you the opportunity to experience life aboard a houseboat, this museum has authentic skipper’s quarters and sitting room where you can enjoy a coffee. Prinsengracht 296 K. +31 020 427 0750. www.woonbootmuseum.nl
Poezenboot/ Cat Boat– A floating sanctuary for stray or abandoned cats, this houseboat is a registered charity and adoption center. Singel 38.G. +31 020 625 8794. www.poezenboot.nl
House of Bols– An interactive experience dedicated to the Bols cocktails and Genever spirit. Learn to flair bartend and enjoy a drink after your tour. Paulus Potterstraat 14. +31 020 570 8575. www.houseofbols.nl