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