Golden Age canals lined by tilting gabled buildings are the backdrop for Amsterdam's treasure-packed museums, vintage-filled shops and hyper-creative drinking, dining and design scenes.
Amsterdam's canal-woven core is laced by atmospheric narrow lanes. You never know what you'll find: a tiny hidden garden; a boutique selling witty, stylised Dutch-designed homewares and fashion; a jewel-box-like jenever (Dutch gin) distillery; a flower stall filled with tulips in a rainbow of hues; an old monastery-turned-classical-music-venue; an ultra-niche restaurant such as an all-avocado specialist or one reinventing age-old Dutch classics. Fringing the centre, post-industrial buildings in up-and-coming neighbourhoods now house creative enterprises, from art galleries to craft breweries and cutting-edge tech start-ups, as well as some of Europe's hottest clubs.
You can't walk a kilometre without bumping into a masterpiece in the city. The Van Gogh Museum hangs the world's largest collection by tortured native son Vincent. A few blocks away, Vermeers, Rembrandts and other Golden Age treasures fill the glorious Rijksmuseum. The Museum het Rembrandthuis offers more of Rembrandt via his etching-packed studio, while the Stedelijk Museum counts Matisses and Mondrians among its modern stock. And for blockbuster displays, the Hermitage Amsterdam delivers: the outpost of Russia's State Hermitage Museum sifts through its three-million-piece home trove to mount mega exhibitions.
Bike & Boat Travel
Two-wheeling is a way of life here. It's how Amsterdammers commute to work, go to the shop, and meet a date for dinner. Abundant bike-hire shops make it easy to gear up and take a spin. If locals aren't on a bike, they may well be on the water. With its canals and massive harbour, this city reclaimed from the sea offers countless opportunities to drift. Hop aboard a canal boat (preferably an open-air one) or one of the free ferries behind Centraal Station, or rent your own for a wind-in-your-hair ride.
Amsterdam is famously gezellig, a Dutch quality that translates roughly as 'convivial' or 'cosy'. It's more easily experienced than defined. There's a sense of time stopping, an intimacy of the here-and-now that leaves your troubles behind, at least until tomorrow. The easiest place to encounter this feeling is a bruin café (brown cafe; traditional drinking establishment). Named for their wood panelling and walls once stained by smoke, brown cafes have gezelligheid (cosiness) on tap, along with good beer. You can also feel gezellig lingering after dinner in snug restaurants while the candles burn low.
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Visiting the Anne Frank Huis is one of Amsterdam 's most profound experiences. Tragically, of the 107,000 Jewish adults and children deported from the Netherlands to concentration camps during WWII, only 5000 survived. Entering the "Secret Annexe" where the teenaged girl and her family desperately hid from the Nazis for over two years until their capture puts the Holocaust's atrocities into acutely human scale, intimately personalizing the war's catastrophic effects. Standing in these sombre, airless rooms and viewing the diary Anne wrote while hiding here is impossible to forget. History of Anne Frank and her family Born in Germany in 1929, Anne Frank, along with her sister Margot and parents Otto and Edith, fled when Hitler came to power in 1933. The family settled in Amsterdam, where Otto Frank founded companies selling pectin, meat, and sausage seasoning in offices and warehouses on Amsterdam's Prinsengracht canal. Following Germany's invasion of the Netherlands in 1940, Otto and his colleague Hermann van Pels – assisted by helpers who would provide invaluable supplies throughout their stay – set up a hiding place in a "Secret Annexe" of Otto's work premises in spring 1942. For Anne's 13th birthday in June that year she received her red plaid diary. In July, when Margot was summoned to Nazi Germany, the family took refuge in the hideout. The Franks were soon joined by Hermann van Pels, his wife Auguste and their son Peter, and later by another friend, dentist Fritz Pfeffe. Here they lived in uncertainty, with blacked-out windows and daytime silence, for what would be just over two years. Anne spent the days writing in her diary about the experience and her hopes and dreams for the future. In August 1944, however, the Gestapo arrived when the hiders were mysteriously betrayed. Their furniture was seized by the Nazis and all eight were deported. Anne died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in March 1945 just weeks before its liberation, aged only 15. Her diary was salvaged from the ransacked annexe, and published by her father, Otto, the sole survivor, immortalizing Anne's story and life. The diary has since sold millions of copies and been translated into more than 70 languages; copies are on sale at the museum's bookshop. The memorial to Anne Frank is near the museum © Giannis Papanikos / Shutterstock What to see at Anne Frank Huis Inside, within the modern shell's interior that now contains the house, the lower levels present history using interactive technology, such as WWII newsreels overlaid with narration of Anne’s diary. You can view the offices of Otto Frank's business partner and other colleagues who helped the hiders, with displays of personal effects and documents. Passing the bookcase that swings open on hinges and going inside the "Secret Annexe" of the achterhuis (rear house) provides a sharp contrast. These two floors, below the attic and above the office kitchen, feel frozen in 1942. Anne's pictures of Hollywood stars and Dutch royals still adorn the walls of her small bedroom, which she shared with Fritz Pfeffer. In the mornings, the families could not use the bathroom to avoid alerting the warehouse workers to their presence; their midday meal was taken with their helpers only when the staff went home for lunch. At Otto's request, the annexe remains unfurnished, but after the museum opened in 1960, he had models made of the house that convey the cramped conditions of the carefully concealed layout. After visiting the annexe, you can view more haunting videos in the front house, along with exhibits including Anne's diary, alone in a glass case. Tickets and tours Capacity is limited at the small museum. It's compulsory to purchase tickets in advance online, when you need to choose a timeslot for your visit. Be aware that tickets can't be changed or refunded. Evocative audio guides in multiple languages are included in admission. While there are no guided tours, when booking your tickets, you can add on an "introductory program" (available in English, not suitable for under 10s). This 30-minute talk prior to your museum visit equips you with an in-depth understanding of the house, the war and persecution of the Jewish people. Best time to visit The Anne Frank Huis is open daily with exceptions noted on its website. Evenings tend to be quietest, often making this the best time to visit. How long does it take to visit? Allow around an hour to visit Anne Frank Huis (plus an extra half-an-hour if you've booked an "introductory program"). Once you've arrived for your ticket's time slot, you're free to take as much time as needed. Accessibility Steep stairs make accessing parts of the Anne Frank Huis difficult for visitors with limited mobility. Photography Photography is banned to preserve the house's exhibits and contemplative atmosphere. Nearby hotels Close to the Anne Frank Huis in the elegant Western Canal Ring, 't Hotel, in a 17th-century canal house, is a boutique top-end address. In the nearby Jordaan neighborhood there are some great mid-range places to stay like the welcoming Linden Hotel. Good cheap hotels near the Anne Frank Huis include the train-themed A-Train Hotel, located opposite Centraal Station in the Medieval Center, which also has plenty of hostels. Nearby restaurants The Anne Frank Huis has a museum cafe overlooking the Prinsengracht. Nearby you'll find excellent restaurants for lunch and dinner, such as charming Bistro Bij Ons, serving classic Dutch dishes including pancakes. Spanjer en van Twist is a perfect choice for burgers at its canal-side tables (don't miss its house-made apple pie). Low-lit Black & Blue specializes in steaks and mixes terrific cocktails.
There have long been links between Russia and the Netherlands – Tsar Peter the Great learned shipbuilding here in 1697 – hence this branch of St Petersburg’s State Hermitage Museum. Blockbuster temporary exhibitions show works from the Hermitage's vast treasure trove, while the permanent Portrait Gallery of the Golden Age has formal group portraits of the 17th-century Dutch A-list; the Outsider Gallery also has temporary shows. I Amsterdam and Museum cards allow free entrance or a discount, depending on the exhibition. Admission includes a free audioguide; come before 11am to avoid the lengthiest queues. There's a pleasant cafe/restaurant inside the museum, as well as Dignita Hoftein in the garden. Flash photography isn't permitted. The building was formerly a retirement home (for 'elderly' women aged over 50!).
Opened as a town hall in 1655, this resplendent building became a palace in the 19th century. The interiors gleam, especially the marble work – at its best in a floor inlaid with maps of the world in the great burgerzaal (citizens’ hall) at the heart of the building. Pick up a free audioguide at the desk when you enter; it explains everything you'll see in vivid detail. King Willem-Alexander uses the palace only for ceremonies; check for periodic closures. When it was designed by architect Jacob van Campen, the opulent structure showcased Amsterdam's wealth in a way that rivalled the grandest European buildings of the time. Most of the palace’s rooms spread over the 1st floor; highlights include 51 chandeliers, damasks, gilded clocks, and rich paintings by Ferdinand Bol and Jacob de Wit.
This exquisite canal house was built in 1687 for Amsterdam mayor Jacob Hop, then remodelled in 1739. It's named after Louisa Willet-Holthuysen, who inherited the house from her coal-and-glass-merchant father and lived a lavish, bohemian life here with her husband. She bequeathed the property to the city in 1895. With displays including part of the family’s 275-piece Meissen table service, and an immaculate French-style garden, the museum is a fascinating window into the 19th-century world of the super-rich. Special exhibits illuminating the life of the servants below stairs are displayed on the lower floor.
Some 260 stalls fill the Albert Cuypmarkt, Amsterdam's largest and busiest market. Vendors loudly tout their array of gadgets, homewares, flowers, fruit, vegetables, herbs and spices. Many sell clothes and other goods, too, and they're often cheaper than anywhere else. Snack vendors tempt passers-by with raw-herring sandwiches, frites (fries), poffertjes (tiny Dutch pancakes dusted with icing sugar) and caramel syrup-filled stroopwafels. If you have room after all that, the surrounding area teems with cosy cafés (pubs) and restaurants.
This derelict shipyard turned edgy arts community, 15 minutes upriver from the city centre, wafts a post-apocalyptic vibe. An old submarine slumps in the harbour, abandoned trams rust by the water's edge, and street art is splashed on most surfaces. Young creatives hang out at the smattering of cool cafes, and hip businesses such as MTV and Red Bull have their European headquarters here. The area is also a centre for underground culture and events, including the Over het IJ Festival. A new street-art museum, billed as the world's largest, is due to open here in late 2019; check www.streetart.today for updates.
The 22-storey A'DAM Tower used to be the Royal Dutch Shell oil company offices, but has had a makeover to become one of Amsterdam's biggest attractions. Take the trippy lift to the rooftop for awe-inspiring views in all directions, with a giant six-person swing that kicks out over the edge for those who have a head for heights (you're well secured and strapped in). The tower is also home to the swish bar and restaurant Ma'dam, and the upmarket Moon revolving restaurant on the 19th floor. There is also the basement Shelter nightclub and a hip hotel, Sir Adam. The tower has wheelchair access.
An insight into life at the top of the pile in the 19th century, Museum Van Loon is an opulent 1672 residence that was first home to painter Ferdinand Bol and later to the wealthy Van Loon family. Important paintings such as The Marriage of Willem van Loon and Margaretha Bas by Jan Miense Molenaer and a collection of some 150 portraits of the Van Loons hang inside sumptuous interiors.
From the outside, it looks like a grand canal house, but this is the city's most important photography gallery. Its simple, spacious galleries, some with skylights or large windows for natural light, host four major exhibitions annually, featuring world-renowned photographers such as William Eggleston and Helmut Newton. There's a cafe in the basement.
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