In the early 17th century, the wharves and warehouses of the Western Islands, north of the Jordaan, were abuzz with activity. The Golden Age was taking off, the Dutch still dominated the sea trade and money flowed into this old harbour like beer from a barrel. The wealthy Bicker brothers, both mayors of Amsterdam, even built their own Bickerseiland here to cater for their ships.
Few tourists visit here today, partly because the district is shielded from view by the railway line. Yet it's roughly a 10-minute walk (or five-minute bike ride) from Centraal Station and a wonderful area to wander, with cute drawbridges and handsome old warehouses nestled in quiet lanes. Many addresses have been converted to charming homes as well a few artists' studios. Most are closed to the public, but the Ravestijn Gallery hosts photography exhibitions.
The Prinseneiland (named in honour of the first three Princes of Orange) and Realeneiland (named after the 17th-century merchant Reynier Reael) are the two prettiest isles. The narrow bridge linking them, the Drieharingenbrug, is a quaint replacement for the pontoon that used to be pulled aside to let ships through.
Now a modern yacht harbour, the Zandhoek, on Realeneiland's eastern shore, is a picturesque stretch of waterfront. In the 17th century this area was a 'sand market', where ships purchased sand by the bagful for ballast. Galgenstraat (Gallows St), the street south of the Zandhoek, is so named as it was once possible to see the executions in Amsterdam Noord from here.
What the islands lack in quantity of drinking and dining options they make up for with quality: outstanding establishments here include gastronomic star Wolf Atelier, tapas specialist and wine bar Worst Wijncafe, upmarket Marius, and contemporary Apostrof.