The city of Amsterdam is, by far, the Netherlands’ chief tourist attraction. Buzzing bars and cultural attractions, such as the Van Gogh Museum and Concertgebouw concert hall, count among the Dutch capital’s many attractions.
For the first year ever, more than two million United Kingdom passport holders visited the Netherlands during 2016. Remarkably, visitor feedback suggests that eight out of every ten spent time in Amsterdam.
Many of the stag and hen parties that travel to Amsterdam stagger around the red light district at De Wallen. Red Light Secrets, the museum of prostitution, tells the story of the 900 sex workers that make their living in the area.
Of course there’s lots more to see and do. Here is an overview of some of Amsterdam’s highlights:
A place to visit in Amsterdam
For art and culture head to the Museumplein. If you only have time to visit one of the museums there, and want to gain insights into Dutch heritage, take a look inside the Rijksmuseum. For many visitors the highlight is viewing Rembrandt’s The Night Watch and other Golden Age paintings inside the Gallery of Honour. To avoid queuing longer than is absolutely necessary it makes sense to book a ticket online.
Likewise, to visit the Anne Frank House make sure you book your ticket well in advance. Tickets go on sale two months ahead of the visit date. Until 3.30pm each day, entry to the museum is only possible during via allocated time slots. (I learnt this the hard way, by being turned away at the door one morning!)
A place to enjoy a view of Amsterdam
For an elevated perspective, take a seat in the swing, known as Over the Edge, up on the A’dam Lookout, the A’dam Tower’s observation deck?
Alternatively, board a boat and take a canal tour of the city. Amsterdam’s network of canals is more than 400 years old and holds UNESCO World Heritage Site status. Tours last about an hour and are an effective way of orientating in the city while listening to a potted history of highlights along the way.
Take your pick of the tours departing from the quays in front of the railway station or from Damrak, a couple of minutes’ walk away.
A place to eat in Amsterdam
Dutch aficionados say that to enjoy a rijsttafel, a feast-like combination of Indonesian dishes, you really should head to one of the restaurants in The Hague (49 minutes away from Amsterdam by Intercity train). If that sounds too much of a trek for a meal, stay in the capital and book a table at Kantijl en de Tijger, close to the city centre.
For inexpensive but tasty Thai cuisine head to Bird, on Zeedijk, between the central station and De Wallen. Choose between seats in the restaurant and the diner across the street. Sitting at the bench by the window means you can people watch while eating.
A place to drink in Amsterdam
To find out how beer is brewed, before downing a couple, pop into the Heineken Experience.
Prefer tradition? Café Hoppe, on the Spui, is a long-established ‘brown bar’. It opened in 1670. Some locals say that traditional brown bars are named after the long-term effects of nicotine staining on the walls. Others suggest the term has more to do with the dark colour schemes used to decorate such bars and to make them cosy.
With sawdust on the floor and a painting of a stern-looking horseman looking down on guests, Café Hoppe is a laid-back place to drink a beer or sample jenever. You can order young and old varieties of the drink that is often described as Dutch gin.
A place to shop in Amsterdam
If you enjoy browsing upscale department stores, pop into the De Bijenkorf, on Dam Square. Open seven days a week, the upscale store — which is essentially a Dutch version of Harrods or Macy’s — has six storeys. The shop’s name, incidentally, means ‘the beehive’.
For boutiques head to De Negen Straatjes, an area of nine streets roughly five minutes’ stroll from Dam Square. Some locals feel that the area is losing the independent vibe that once made it the place to be. Yet it’s by no means cheesy. To sample and buy Dutch cheeses visit Reypenaer (Singel 182).
For vintage goods, browse the market stalls on Waterlooplein. Sometimes it can be worthwhile on other days you may well leave disappointed.
A place to stay in Amsterdam
The Mövenpick Hotel Amsterdam City Centre is a modern, four-star property with 408 guestrooms.
Ask for a city-facing room on one of the upper floors of the riverside hotel for outstanding views over the River Ij and Dutch capital. The rooms have Nespresso coffee machines and include the use of high-speed internet. The hotel’s wellness area has a sizable gym plus a Finnish sauna and a temperate bio sauna. A buffet breakfast is available in the hotel’s Silk Road Restaurant.
The hotel is a 15-minute riverside walk from the central railway station or a couple of stops on tram number 26. A free shuttle service runs between the two points.
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Amsterdam Centraal Station is a 14-minute journey by Intercity direct train from Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. KLM flies to Schiphol from 17 airports around the United Kingdom, plus many more elsewhere in the world.
DFDS Seaways operates a Newcastle – Amsterdam ferry service, running between Port of Tyne and Ijmuiden in the Netherlands.