With its charming maze of canals, exquisite architecture, world-class art museums and humming nightlife, Amsterdam is a delight

Amsterdam is a delight. Famous for its charming maze of canals, exquisite architecture, world-class art museums and humming nightlife, the city celebrates its long and glorious history, but has one eye firmly fixed on the future: venture out from the centre and you will spy adventurous modern architecture rising out of the watery landscape. Whenever you visit (and Amsterdam is an all-year destination) you will certainly eat, sleep and drink well: the city has an array of fine restaurants, deluxe hotels and cosy bars.

The best neighbourhoods to visit in Amsterdam

The Old Centre

Bordered to the north by the River IJ, Amsterdam’s Old Centre is the beating heart of the city, its tangle of antique streets and narrow canals full of life and vitality. Whether you explore its many places to visit on foot or by bicycle, be sure to drop by the Royal Palace, Amsterdam’s proudest building, and also pop across to the historic Oude Kerk (Old Church).

The Old Centre is crowded with great places to eat – one of the dishes to try when in Amsterdam must be the Dutch-adapted Indonesian recipe rijsttafel, a feast of rice with accompanying meat and fish. Keep an eye out for it in the Old Centre. One of the best places to stay in the city – and perched on the edge of the Old Centre – is the refined Renaissance Amsterdam Hotel, which comes complete with a cocktail bar and fitness centre.

The Grachtengordel and Jordaan

The atmospheric and characterful Jordaan quarter is where you can visit one of the city’s key attractions, the Anne Frank House

A UNESCO World Heritage site, the Grachtengordel – or ‘girdle of canals’ – just to the south and west of the centre is the Netherlands’ capital at its most charming, its network of waterways and sweet little humpback bridges overlooked by handsome old canal houses. You might take a canal cruise and drop by one of the area’s many informal café-restaurants, which are great places to eat. In the evening, settle down at an outstanding hotel, the W Amsterdam, whose cool contemporary charms occupy a tastefully refurbished older building; there’s a spa and restaurant here too. To the northwest of the Grachtengordel lies the atmospheric and characterful Jordaan quarter, where you can visit one of the city’s key attractions, the Anne Frank House, and on Saturdays experience the buzzing Lindengracht market, which overflows with delicious produce, flowers and artisanal handicrafts. Tucked into the heart of the Grachtengordel is the compact Negen Straatjes (Nine Streets) mini district, which is a wonderful place to shop for everything from locally made items to designer clothes, and to enjoy chic little restaurants and cafés.

The Museum Quarter and Vondelpark

It's an unmissable Amsterdam experience to explore the Vondelpark's scenic pathways by bicycle

The leafy streets of the Museum Quarter, a short tram ride south from the city centre, are among the most popular in Amsterdam – and with good reason. Deciding where to go is easy enough, beginning with the Rijksmuseum, which boasts the world’s finest collection of seventeenth-century Dutch paintings – Rembrandt, Vermeer, Hals and so forth – as well as the Van Gogh Museum, holding a superlative assortment of canvases by the celebrated artist. But there’s yet more in the Museum Quarter. Here also, in a striking modern building, is the Stedelijk Museum, which displays one of Europe’s most outstanding collections of modern and contemporary art. The comfortable Amsterdam Marriott Hotel occupies a large modern block in an ideal location, a short walk from the museums. Once you’ve had your fill of man-made wonders, head a little to the west, where the natural splendours of the 120-acre Vondelpark await. Make like a local and explore its scenic pathways by bicycle.

Amsterdam Noord

Amsterdam Noord
Part of the fun of Amsterdam Noord is that you take a passenger ferry to get there

One of the big draws to Amsterdam Noord, across the River IJ from Centraal Station, is its wealth of hip cafés, bars and clubs. Part of the fun is getting here – by passenger ferry from behind Centraal Station. The pace of redevelopment in this neighbourhood is remarkable and it’s hard to believe that this was once the site of the city’s main docks and shipyards. One of the best things to do is to visit the Eye Film Institute, Amsterdam’s best cinema, housed in the city’s flashiest new building, or you could adventure further out along the north side of the river to the city’s former NDSM shipyard, which is now a creative arts and media centre.

One of the most unique things to do in Amsterdam is to visit the old Soviet submarine now moored in the harbour, or drop by the enormous IJ-Hallen, whose massive industrial fittings, recalling the days it was the centre of the shipyard, are now used for a variety of events. An added bonus in Amsterdam Noord is the Sir Adam Hotel, Amsterdam, a Member of Design Hotels™, a groovy hotel with imaginatively decorated guest rooms offering great views back over Amsterdam, plus an enjoyable burger bar.

De Pijp

To the south of the city centre lies De Pijp – ‘The Pipe’ – one of Amsterdam’s liveliest and most cosmopolitan neighbourhoods, packed with fun things to do. De Pijp has two main claims to fame, beginning with the Heineken Experience, where you can delve into the alcoholic mysteries of this famous beer from the inside the company's old brewery. The second is the Albert Cuypstraat street market, which stretches for over a kilometre with a huge range of stalls selling everything from posters and saucepans to shirts and sandwiches. Browsing the wares is one of the most interesting things to do in Amsterdam. Handy for the market is the first-rate Sir Albert, Amsterdam, a Member of Design Hotels™, which occupies an imposing old diamond factory and hosts an excellent Japanese restaurant.

Go deeper

In Amsterdam, pedestrians and cyclists have priority over vehicles. Many of the Netherlands capital’s key attractions are within easy strolling distance of each other, but otherwise an excellent tram network takes you wherever you want to go with the minimum of fuss; alternatively, there are lots of cycle hire outlets. The vast majority of Amsterdammers speak English more or less fluently – and are happy to demonstrate their linguistic skills – and almost every café and restaurant has multilingual menus.

Published: July 26, 2022

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