Ask a local and they’ll tell you Amsterdam’s Nine Streets (Negen Straatjes) area is known primarily for its stylish boutiques and designer stores. The district occupies a fairly central location and has a chic, laid-back vibe plus a host of cosy cafes. You don’t need to be an avid shopper to be enchanted by this part of the Dutch capital.
The Nine Streets offers a far different shopping experience to the high street stores on and around Kalverstraat, which runs southwards from Dam Square. Walk west of the Royal Palace and within a matter of minutes – five at most – you’ll cross the Singel canal and be heading along Gasthuismolensteeg, which leads onto Hartenstraat then Reestraat, the northerly most trio of streets. Wandering here is by no means merely about shopping, it’s just as much an insight into the heritage and soul of the city.
Facades from the Dutch Golden Age
Look upwards and you’ll see brick facades and ornate gable ends dating from the 17th century, the Dutch Golden Age, when wealthy merchants invested money made from overseas trade in homes and business bases. Over recent years apartments in this area of Amsterdam have once again become desirable and property prices have spiralled upwards.
Part of the allure of the Nine Streets is you’re never far from the broad waters of the Herengracht, Keizergracht and Prinsengracht canals, which loop around the city’s core. In August 2010 Amsterdam’s canal ring was inscribed onto UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites. Strolling along allows you to observe locals out with friends on pleasure boats and catch snippets of commentaries from low-slung barges touring the tree-lined waterways.
Dining and drinking by Amsterdam’s canals
In fine weather you can stand by bicycles chained to the railings of gently arching bridges and capture photos. Should it rain you may be able to grab a window seat in the Koffie Huis de Hoek, Pancakes Amsterdam or the De Struisvogel Restaurant, just three of the many cafes and eateries on the Nine Streets. Several places list their specials on chalkboard menus and enticingly display freshly baked cakes.
Tourist attractions such as the Anne Frank House and Westerkerk, where the artist Rembrandt van Rijn is buried, lie just north of the Nine Streets, allowing you to combine browsing shops with sightseeing. On the Keizergracht you’ll see the elegant, Classical façade of the Felix Meritis House, where regular concerts and cultural events are held. At Brilmuseum, part museum and part shop, you can see historic spectacles and purchase vintage frames.
The origins of the ‘Negen Straatjes’ name
The district also encompasses Berenstraat, Wolvenstraat and Oude Spiedelstraat plus Runstraat, Huidenstraat and Wijde Hiesteeg. This explains why this part of the city has been known as the Nine Streets since 1997. Shopkeeper Djoeke Wessing, now 70, was the driving force behind the establishment of the area’s identity. She felt it needed to be recognised as a neighbourhood, in the same way as the nearby Jordaan. For her achievement, King Willem-Alexander this year decorated Djoeke with the Order of Orange-Nassau.
The evolution into a recognised district took around a dozen years and involved a lot of hard work networking between independent shopkeepers and tourism authorities. “There were nine streets, so I thought I’d just call it the nine streets – Negen Straatjes in Dutch. Nearly everybody was against the name. They said it was a stupid name. I thought it may be stupid but it tells exactly what it is,” says Djoeke. Despite reservations the name was ratified at a meeting.
Brand names and boutique stores
Over the past 18 years the area has evolved. Inevitably, there’s been an element of gentrification as rents have risen. That said, the Nine Streets remains an attractive hub with a broad mix of store types, some unique and charmingly small. You’ll see well-known brands such as Replay, Fred Perry and Marc O’Polo as well as the likes of Boekie Woekie, a shop run by artists to sell art books, and Mendo, where you can purchase art and photography books. Windows displaying antiques, vintage goods, art, jewellery and watches, delicious looking chocolates plus designer household items make this a great place to browse for ideas and inspired purchases.
Two years ago the opening of a Karl Lagerfeld concept store on Hartenstraat reinforced the notion that this is a trendy district popular with the young and discerning shoppers. It’s also evolving into a sought after place to stay and is the site of the Dylan Hotel Amsterdam, a boutique five-star property with 40 rooms and a Michelin-starred restaurant, Vinkeles.
The Nine Streets remain bustling and vibrant. The patter of footfall and hubbub of conversation reverberates and is part of their distinctive allure.
Photos illustrating this post are by Stuart Forster.
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