The nickname ‘Venice of the North’ is well founded — Venice is said to have 177 canals, and Amsterdam is just behind with 165 (although it wins on bridge count with well over 1,000 compared to Venice’s paltry 400).
With world-class art museums, a cafe culture like no other, parks, flower markets, an eventful history, glorious Golden Age architecture, a risqué edge and more bicycles than people, there’s certainly a lot going on.
But it can be pricey . . . so here’s our euro-pinching guide.
The nickname ‘Venice of the North’ is well founded — Venice is said to have 177 canals, and Amsterdam is just behind with 165 (although it wins on bridge count with well over 1,000 compared to Venice’s paltry 400)
Where to stay
To the east of the centre — a good 20-minute walk or a quick tram ride — this is great if you book one of the private ensuite rooms at the top. Housed in a modern, smoked-glass addition to the redbrick former university building dating from 1908, ceiling-to-floor windows overlook a peaceful park. Dorms are available, too, and there’s a good burger bar. Doubles from £85, dorms from £17, staygenerator.com.
Next-door to Generator Amsterdam, Hotel Arena is a former Catholic girls’ orphanage dating from 1886 that has been converted into a 139-room hotel. The entrance and relaxed restaurant/cafe — all tropical plants and designer fireplaces — overlook the lake in Oosterpark. Rooms are smart and comfortable. Doubles from £88, hotelarena.nl.
Budget Hotel Tourist Inn
If you can get past the name, this is a good little bolthole in the centre of the old town. Do not expect anything fancy, this is a no-nonsense budget option. Its 38 rooms are decorated with murals of Amsterdam from bygone years and are neat and unfussy. Breakfast is included. B&B doubles from £71, tourist-inn.com.
Mr Jordaan Hotel
Rooms at Mr Jordaan can exceed £100 a night. However, you can sometimes snag one for less if you’re savvy. Even if you do pay more, this is a great base just to the west of the old town in a quiet, former working-class neighbourhood that has become rather gentrified. It’s pretty cheap, and pretty chic, too. Doubles from £89, mrjordaan.nl; prices fluctuate.
Where to eat
On a quiet corner overlooking Egelantiersgracht canal, this restaurant is at the former home of Wim Sonneveld, a famous Dutch cabaret artist and singer. Pictures of him grinning and generally making merry adorn the walls, as do trombones and accordions. Order stamppot, mash with vegetables and either sausage or meatballs (£11.50). cafesonneveld.nl.
Cafe de Nieuwe Lelie
Around the corner from Sonneveld, in the Jordaan neighbourhood, this is a small pub favoured by locals. It has a plain, wooden interior and offers simple fare, including ham and cheese toasties (£3.30) vegetable spring rolls (£4.60 for eight), spicy chicken panini (£5.30) and its famous apple pie (£3.40). A large beer or a glass of wine is £4.50, cafedenieuwelelie.nl.
Just to the south of the centre, this is where Amsterdammers go for fresh meat, fish, veg and fantastic smoky gouda cheeses. Snacks include delicious hete kip (hot chicken) sandwiches for £3.10, or spinach and feta wraps for £3.60. Homemade soups at De GroenteMeesters, an inviting side-street bistro, are £5.30. Address: Albert Cuypstraat, 1073.
If you’re strolling back from the Museum Quarter (above) after a blast of art and culture, P.King by Herengracht canal makes a good stop-off
If you’re strolling back from the Museum Quarter after a blast of art and culture, this cosy little bistro/pub by Herengracht canal makes a good stop-off. Based on the site of a former Chinese restaurant, here you can expect tasty mackerel sandwiches (£8.50), soups (£5.30), burgers (£12) and ‘happy chicken’, grilled chicken with avocado and rocket (£8.50). pking.nl.
OK, this may not be for everyone, but it is very cheap: a super-fast-food chain with vending machines and a counter service, offering burgers for £2.40 and veal and chicken croquettes for £1.80. Eat and go — quickly (febo.nl).
What to see and do
Art lovers will make a beeline for the Van Gogh Museum, the Rijksmuseum (Rembrandt, Vermeer, Brueghel), the contemporary art at the Stedelijk Museum, and Rembrandt House.
But entrance to these four alone will set you back around £70. Instead, buy an ‘I amsterdam City Card’ for 24 hours for £53, or 48 hours for £71 (iamsterdam.com). Public transport and some canal rides are included, too.
Do not miss the Secret Annex at the moving Anne Frank House, which tells her courageous story at Prinsengracht 263.
Browse the Bloemenmarkt, a series of flower stalls floating on the Singel canal, with endless baskets of pink, purple, yellow and red tulips
Browse the Bloemenmarkt, a series of flower stalls floating on the Singel canal, with endless baskets of pink, purple, yellow and red tulips. Agapanthus, amaryllis and peony bulbs also feature, alongside cacti and fresh cut roses. Perfect for a stroll.
Admire sparkling gems
Tours of the Royal Coster Diamonds factory (royalcoster.com), next to the Rijksmuseum, are free. It’s fascinating to see the polishers at work. The Koh-i-Noor diamond from the Crown Jewels was repolished here in 1852 and more than 30,000 diamonds are on site. What’s the most expensive one on offer? ‘Sky’s the limit, sir.’
Cross the IJ
Ferries across the IJ from behind Amsterdam Centraal Station are free. Go for a coffee at the sleek Eye Filmmuseum cafe on the other side and look out across the cityscape (eyefilm.nl).
For cinema lovers
Tuschinski Theatre is a glorious art nouveau cinema dating from 1921. It was created by Abraham Tuschinski, a polish tailor and film enthusiast. Take a look, watch a film (£11) or take a 45-minute tour (£9, pathe.nl/tuschinski).
From September to May, the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra offers free concerts from 12.30pm to 1pm at the The Dutch National Opera and Ballet on Tuesdays (operaballet.nl) and at The Royal Concertgebouw (concertgebouw.nl) on Wednesdays.
Live it up a bit!
A glass of wine in the ultra-cool bar at The Dylan hotel — one of George Clooney’s favourite haunts — will set you back £3.55. (Rooms, however, are from £255, dylan amsterdam.com).
Eurostar London to Amsterdam returns cost from £86 (eurostar.com), or easyJet Gatwick to Amsterdam returns cost from £62. Trains from the airport to the city centre cost £4.90.