The Dutch capital has more canals than that other renowned city of water, Venice. Getting lost along these bucolic Golden Age canals, or grachts – granted Unesco protection in 2010 – is the best way to discover the city.

Southern Canal Ring
Tucked away in the midst of the canals that criss-cross the Amstel River, Tempo Doeloe is one of the city’s best Indonesian restaurants. The rijsttafel (literally ‘rice table’, but really a selection of tapas-style plates) showcases classic Indonesian flavours. The wine list is excellent, as are the vegetarian options (Utrechtsestraat 75; dinner Mon–Sat; rijsttafel from £24).

A meander through the kid sister to St Petersburg’s State Hermitage Museum, located in an 18th-century canalside building, the Hermitage Amsterdam is one of the city’s essential art experiences. Among its on-loan collection, you’ll find Russian imperial treasures and masterpieces from the likes of Picasso and Matisse. The place is incredibly popular – try arriving before 11am to avoid peak-time queues (Amstel 51; admission £12).

You can’t top Stacey’s Pennywell’s canalside ambience for an afternoon coffee or evening cocktail. The real draw to this place is the lower floor, where pillow-strewn couches overlook the Herengracht canal through its many windows. There’s a second floor for dining, with big white leather chairs for spreading out on in chillier months, although the food is admittedly so-so (Herengracht 558; closed Mon eve; glasses of wine from £3).

Mum is quite literally the word at quirky Moeders: when it opened 20 years ago, the owners asked patrons to donate plates and photos of their mothers for its walls. It’s more delightfully odd than twee, and quite the Dutch hotchpotch – as is the food, which includes pumpkin mash with smoked sausage (Rozengracht 251; closed weekday lunch; mains from £12).

Noordermarkt has been in business since the 1600s, on the plaza in front of the Noorderkerk church by the Prinsengracht canal. Take a Monday morning stroll here for its wonderful flea market with bargain clothes and antiques; on Saturdays there’s a bird market and boerenmarkt, or farmers’ market, with organic produce sold until the early afternoon (Noorderkerkplein; Mon & Sat; admission free).

By the northern banks of the Egelantiersgracht, you’ll find one of Amsterdam’s best brown cafés, Café ‘T Smalle, thus known because of their wood panelling and walls stained by centuries of smoke. It’s a convivial place for a late-morning coffee or a romantic drink in the evening, with antique porcelain beer pumps and a pretty stone terrace for canalside people watching (Egelantiersgracht 12; glasses of wine from £2.50).

De Pijp
It’s pretty hard not to love Rijksen, a restaurant where everything – even the mayonnaise – is made using local and Netherlandsgrown produce. You can feast on the likes of cauliflower soup with smoked trout, or mussels – a house favourite. Walk it off along the adjacent Singelgracht canal (Stadhouderskade 123; closed lunch; mains from £14).

2,000-square metre Strandzuid is one of 10 urban beaches in the city centre. There’s a decked beach and barbecue in July and August, plus you can take breakfast, lunch and dinner on its terrace and listen to dance DJs on weekends. Make it a stop-off point on a leisurely walk to the Beatrixpark along the Amstelkanaal and Amstel (Europaplein 22; tap beers from £2).

If you’re preparing for a night out – Amsterdam’s made for them – fortify yourself at tapas club-bar Barça, one of the area’s hottest drinking dens. Try Spanish and Mediterranean dishes at its oak bar, in a corner of its plush interior or on its terrace overlooking Marie Heinekenplein square. Tours of the Singelgracht conclude at the nearby Weteringcircuit (Marie Heinekenplein 30–31; glasses of cava from £3.80).

Where to stay
‘Boutique hostel’ Cocomama occupies what was once a famous brothel, and many accoutrements remain, right down to the red curtains. Its private en suite rooms are individually themed ( Westeinde 18; private rooms from £85).

The Amsterdam Wiechmann Hotel takes up three houses in a marvellous canalside location. Its cosy rooms and vast suites are furnished like knick-knack-filled antique shops (Prinsengracht 328; suites with canal views from £120).

For all-out extravagance, grand canalside hotel Seven One Seven is unbeatable. Its eight rooms are impressive and huge, and service, afternoon tea and house wine are all included. You’ll be close to tears when you leave (Prinsengracht 717; from £240).

Schiphol airport, five miles south of the city, is served by BA, easyJet, Flybe and Jet2, with flights from all major UK airports (from £90). Regular rail services are available from the airport (singles £2.80). The Eurostar from London takes just under five hours to Amsterdam, changing at Brussels (from £100). City trams are fast and frequent (day tickets £6), while Metro and bus services primarily operate in the outer districts. This is Amsterdam, however, and your best bet is the bike: you honestly won’t find an easier city in Europe to cycle in (cycle hire from £9.50 per day).

The article 'Mini guide to Amsterdam’s canals' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Traveller.