My love affair started when I jumped on the back of a local’s bike. This is the norm here, you shout “backie” at a cyclist with a yellow luggage rack and they’ll just pick you up. Mine took me to Rijksmuseum, it was on his way to work, but being an art lover, I considered it a sign. So in the spirit of Amsterdam, why not hop on so I can take you on a journey through the city, its wonderful sights, and some of the chicest Amsterdam hotels you can stay in.
City break in Amsterdam | discovering a unique European gem
SEE | from Dutch masters to cutting edge culture in Amsterdam
Long known for its culture, Amsterdam is filled with classic and contemporary sights to sink your teeth into.
Oh, museums. Amsterdam is the king of museums. My favourite is Rijksmuseum, showcasing thousands of fine art masterpieces, and home to the Gallery of Honour, which was built especially for Rembrandt’s Night Watch. I was also happy to spend hours in the Van Gogh Museum, Rembrandt House and Stedelijk Museum during my weekend in Amsterdam.
The city is a great place to wander and even get lost – you never know what kind of gem you’ll stumble upon. Every cobbled street leads somewhere, whether it’s to a cool cafe, a restaurant by the water or a vintage clothing shop stacked with treasures.
The Bloemenmarkt floating flower market is one of Amsterdam’s most famous attractions. You can houseboat-hop from flower stall to flower stall… I love the fact the locals see flowers as a necessity in their homes, rather than a treat.
There is so much to do in the centre of Amsterdam, but the city also has some cool outer neighbourhoods.
De Pijp is one of my favourite areas. It’s everything you expect from the creative side of the city – indie cafes, food from around the world, Amsterdam’s biggest market and a collection of cocktail bars. The Butcher is a great place to get a burger. Try the Silence of the Lamb and make a reservation to get access to the secret speakeasy bar.
Oud-West is another great neighbourhood. I took a wander along its wide main streets, they are packed with stylish restaurants and bars. There’s also an amazing art deco cinema and an indoor food hall where artisan makers cook up some delicious bites. Modern arthouse cinema, Lab111, shows indie films if you fancy a flick while you’re here. I headed to former squat OT301 for an art show, they often open up to the public with exhibitions and concerts, and they also have a great vegan restaurant.
Brunch Boat Tour
Boat tours are big here, but Gs Brunch Boat combines the sightseeing with treats such as Bloody Marys and Eggs Benedict.
STAY | a grand old Dutch and cool-without-trying hotels in Amsterdam
Follow in the footsteps of the old Dutch regals, or head canal-side in Amsterdam’s hotels.
Classic | aristocratic period hotel with canalside restaurant
If I imagine 19th centuryancient Dutch aristocrats on holiday, I see a hotel that looks just like the Intercontinental. Hailing from the late 1800s, it’s every bit the classic, grand residence, but with all the warmth and welcome you can expect from the Dutch. Period touches are preserved across the hotel, the decor is time-honoured elegant, and there’s a great restaurant sitting on its waterside.
Classic | central Amsterdam hotel that celebrates its heritage
Spreading across 25 buildings and two canals, the Pulitzer puts you right at the heart of Amsterdam’s famous canal-side houses. It has modern design touches but it celebrates the Amsterdam of old, with a warren of corridors, exposed beams, fireplaces, an impressive collection of art and antiques. My room had information about the house I was staying in, and it’s lovely little touches like this that make the Pulitzer special.
Contemporary | stylish hotel for a chilled out stay with Dutch bike rental
I first came across a Kimpton hotel in Palm Springs. It was achingly cool with its Mid-Century-modern decor, and I put this down to its Palm Springs location, (considering it’s Mid-Century Mecca) so was thrilled to discover the equally cool Kimpton De Witt in Amsterdam. Minimal rooms, calming blues and greys, artwork everywhere, Instagram ready greenery – this is a chilled out haven in the heart of the city. American-Dutch fusion food is served in the restaurant, there are Van Moof bicycles to borrow, and there was a Girl With a Pearl Earring print hanging above my bed – all plus points from me!
Contemporary | cool canal-side hotel with a local-loved brasserie
Oozing with that modern Amsterdam cool, The Hoxton does exactly what I love best about this city, showcasing its past with modern design. Made up of a collection of canal-side houses, The Hoxton is my favourite haunt in Amsterdam, and brasserie Lotti’s is a choice hangout with the locals. Head here in the sunshine and you can bask in all its glory with the retractable roof.
EAT | classic Dutch fare to groundbreaking dining in Amsterdam
Amsterdam is filled with upscale dining and innovative restaurants, but I fell in love with a simple, classic cafe…
Café Bern brings together two of my favourite things: cheese fondue and steak. People have been seeking out their fondue for over 30 years, and now they cook a mean steak entrecôte. Yes, it’s smothered in herby butter, but there’s nothing more satisfying than dipping it into a molten lake of fromage. The cafe is delightfully worn around the edges, reminding me of the London greasy spoons I used to visit for a bacon sarnie after a uni night out, just perfect.
When it comes to Amsterdam’s traditional treats, I could get on board with poffertjes (mini pancakes) and stroopwafels – you can find them at any street food market – but I drew the line at the nieuwe haring (raw herring). You can find it on lots of street stands, if you dare…
I admit I was drawn to Mama Kelly for its all- pink decor. I wasn’t the only one, considering how many people walk in and immediately take out their phone/camera. Chicken and lobster are the menu mainstays, I loved the section with the pink lobster and chicken illustrated carpet, chairs and booths. It shouldn’t work, but it does.
I often overindulge on a trip, so I was delighted to find Sla, which means ‘salad’ in Dutch. You can mix and match a serious selection of greens, grains and veggies with cheese and meat treats to create the perfect healthy bowl. The dressings are delicious, and the setting is worthy of a Pinterest board.
Vegan restaurants are popping up in every neighbourhood in Amsterdam, so try Vegan Junk Food Bar and Meatless District for starters (and mains, and dessert).
DRINK | Amsterdam's classic drinking dens and hidden cocktail bars
Amsterdam has some absolutely ancient bars, but it’s also home to lots of exciting modern hang-outs.
Tiny Café de Dokter dates back to the late 1700s and has a penchant for whisky (there’s a whisky special every month). Packed with interesting objects from birdcages, clocks and antiques to a doctor’s bag (it was opened by a surgeon) it provides a jazz soundtrack and is always packed with locals.
Older still is De Drie Fleschjes, going back to the 1600s and specialising in jenever, a Dutch juniper drink that reminds me of gin. I was told the collection of casks along one wall were rented by locals and filled with their favourite spirit.
Cocktail bars are everywhere in Amsterdam, they range from classy jazz joints to skyscraping bars with views.
Head to places like Hiding in Plain Sight and the Flying Dutchman for some classy cocktail classics, or look to hotspots like the Tunes Bar in the Conservatorium Hotel for some more contemporary creations.
Amsterdam's secret drinking dens like Door 74 are as cosy as they are clandestine, and they serve the best cocktails.
DO | beer tasting, biking and hipster neighbourhoods in Amsterdam
Become a beer connoisseur and shop ’til you drop in Amsterdam.
Beer tasting is a classic Amsterdam tourist highlight, and where better to do it than in Amsterdam’s original microbrewery, Brouwerij ‘t IJ? We were treated to mini servings of their best beers, perfect on a sunny day, and even more so if you take a seat on their terrace to enjoy your samplings in the sunshine.
Cycling in the city is a must in Amsterdam, although probably not advisable too soon after the aforementioned beer tasting! I didn’t feel brave enough to do it along the busy streets like the locals, but a guided cycle tour is a little more friendly on the nerves.
I’ve long had a shopping problem, and so De Negen Straatjes (Nine Streets) – known for its shopping – was at the top of my Amsterdam must-visit list. Wandering around this district I found everything from vintage shops to indie makers and local designers, all peppered between lovely little cafes where you can stop for a koffie verkeerd (a frothy, milky coffee).
Venture out of the city and hop on a ferry to Amsterdam North. We got off at NSDM, an old shipyard that now hosts festivals, art shows, a monthly flea market and restaurants. It’s on the beachfront, and it’s set to become a burgeoning community for local creatives.
Amsterdam's best-kept secret is its canal back gardens. Visit Waldorf Astoria and Museum Van Loon to discover two of these hidden gems.
I definitely left Amsterdam a little heavier, a lot more inspired and completely culturally quenched. There was too much food, too many cocktails, and too much walking, but it's the only way to drink in all the culture and charm of this cool European city.