Being an hour flight from London, it’s no surprise that Amsterdam is a popular destination for Brits. In fact I struggled to remember a capital city where there were so many of my compatriots. However, Amsterdam is a beautiful city with a lot to offer, and like anywhere – it’s a case of where to seek out and where to avoid.
We stayed at The Hoxton (thehoxton.com), situated on the Herengracht canal between the old town and Jordaan district. Rooms start modestly but I would recommend spending a little more for the spacious ‘roomy’ with a canal view. Just as in Shoreditch and Holborn, they’ve nailed the offering with high levels of service coupled with a buzzy atmosphere on the ground floor, full from morning till night with residents and locals alike using the hotel as a workspace and, later in the evening, as a place to let loose.
We steered clear of the old town in general, although going to Amsterdam without walking through the Red Light District is akin to going to Paris and avoiding the Eiffel Tower. Barring a few areas, the old town has a Leicester Square vibe running through it, consisting mainly of poor Argentine steak houses and the city’s famous ‘coffee shops’. Hire a bike to visit other areas of the city, but be wary of the combination of trams, cars, cyclists and pedestrians, as pavements and roads can be hard to distinguish.
As in London, Amsterdam’s restaurant scene has a mainly global influence but if you’re after some Dutch fare, head to the Indische Buurt district in the east where you can find Wilde Zwijnen (wildezwijnen.com) - literal translation - wild boar. Choose between a three or four course set menu where - no surprise - boar features, although fish and vegetarian dishes are still championed. The interior ticks the boxes with a stripped back décor and is popular with locals so book ahead (not to be confused with their tapas bar next door).
In the south-east of the city in Frankendael Park, you’ll find Restaurant de Kas (restaurantdekas.nl), set within a greenhouse and adjoining nursery. An iconic dining room (although lacking the beauty of Petersham Nurseries), the restaurant follows the farm-to-table philosophy, sourcing ingredients on site. As a consequence the Mediterranean-inspired set menu changes daily and one has to admire the equal emphasis de Kas places on vegetables and meat and its approach to sustainability. It may not be knocking at Michelin’s door but is certainly worth a visit.
A ten-minute walk away is one of Amsterdam’s restaurants of the moment, Rijsel (rijsel.com) located just off the river Amstel. Named after the French city of Lille, the fare is French inspired with a nod to Flanders. Although the menu changes fairly regularly, you can always expect quality rotisserie and on our visit we opted for just that along with duck sausage with slices of smoked duck, green beans, and roasted hazelnuts. There’s a canteen feel to the dining room with 60s vintage chairs offset by formal tablecloths. Surprisingly, Rijsel is closed on weekends so make sure you plan your trip with a Friday or Monday either side to accommodate a visit.
If you’re after something a little more international, head to The Pijp, the city’s ‘global village’. Formerly a student area, it generated a bohemian vibe and now the area is facing a hike in rents – gentrification à la Brixton. Take a stroll through Albert Cuypmarkt, the single largest daily market in the Netherlands – the food stalls are mainly produce led and many of the Surinamese, Moroccan and Turkish restaurants in the surrounding area source from the market. As a word of warning, the Pijp also contains the Heineken ‘Experience’… enough said.
For the culture vulture in you, the museum district contains the world famous Rijksmuseum and after a decade long renovation, boasts a large collection of Rembrandt and Vermeer. Next door is the Van Gogh Museum and if you’re a little jaded after that, relax with a drink in the brasserie of the Conservatorium hotel, in the vast, airy brick and glass atrium.
A little west of the museum district is the Vondelpark – Amsterdam’s Hampstead Heath (without the hills). If the sun’s out – start the day with brunch at Staring at Jacob (staringatjacob.nl) followed by a day spent cycling round the park.
The Jordaan is a slightly more gentrified version of the Pijp and although no sights to see, it’s one of the prettiest areas of Amsterdam so take some time to walk around and explore the side streets. A heavy bout of rain on Sunday afternoon forced us to take shelter in De Blaffende Vis off Westerstraat for a much-needed glass of local beer, Two Chef’s Brewing and a smoked mackerel sandwich. G’s (reallyniceplace.com) in the north of the Jordaan is another brunch spot, popular with American university students.
Although in the old town, Wynand Fockink (wynand-fockink.nl) is a must visit for a pre-dinner tipple or a dose of Dutch courage and acts as a timely reminder of the Netherlands’ strong distilling heritage. Going strong since 1679 as a Freemasons meeting place, this tasting house offers up a wide range of liqueurs and jenevers (the original gin) and the ever-helpful staff will guide you through the selection process.
Being right on our doorstep, remember there’s so much more to Amsterdam than first meets the eye.