There are plenty of bars and restaurants with canal-side tables for watching the boats and passersby.
There are plenty of bars and restaurants with canal-side tables for watching the boats and passersby.
File photo: Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands looks at impressionist paintings at the opening of the Van Gogh Museum's new wing in Amsterdam.
File photo: Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands looks at impressionist paintings at the opening of the Van Gogh Museum's new wing in Amsterdam.





Many city trams operate from outside the Central Station (the arrival point from the airport) and most city-centre hotels are on or close to a tram route. Buy tickets, either for the hour (about R40) or the day (€7.50), from the GVB office opposite the station. You can glimpse the city’s architectural glories – 16th Century brick houses with stepped gable facades, 17th Century baroque Golden Age buildings, neo-Gothic dwellings dating back to the 1800s and the city’s canals (Amsterdam has more of these and bridges than Venice) – from the trams.

When you alight, beware – the streets are full of cyclists. They are fast, confident and many don’t use lights at night. Be careful not to stray into their lanes.


2. Buyers’ delight

The city centre is refreshingly free of well-known retail names. For a serene antidote to bland, I-could-be-anywhere shopping malls, head for the wonderful Nine Streets area. It’s a browsers’ delight with shop after fabulous one-of-a-kind shop, many with exquisite window displays. We sifted through Otumm watches, Uchino towels in unbleached cotton yarn dyed with chamomile and rosehip, Alfons de Letter’s enamelled house numbers, Reypenaer cheeses and Dominio Italian furniture. If you don’t want to load up with stuff on your trip, you can buy many things on display here online at


3. Art with soul

Two of the most revered artists in history, Rembrandt and van Gogh, have their ‘home’ galleries in Amsterdam. The Rijksmuseum, one of the world’s great art museums, reopened in 2013 after a ten-year renovation. The central room is given over to Rembrandt’s The Night Watch and there are many other works on show by the master, alongside Vermeer’s The Milkmaid and other priceless exhibits.

The Van Gogh Museum, backing on to nearby Museumplein, reopened at the same time. Many works by the tragic genius are on show here.

Rembrandt’s House, where the artist lived between 1639 and 1658, is well restored and worth a visit. I like the studio at the top where you can experience the actual light in which Rembrandt worked. Book museum tickets in advance online if you want to avoid long queues.


4. the secret annexe

Our visit to the Anne Frank House was a profound and humbling experience. It reminds you of the worst of human nature – of the petty evil of the people who betrayed the eight who hid in these tiny quarters, the Secret Annexe, for two years from the Nazis. Yet it also speaks of the triumph of the human spirit, and the indomitable good cheer of this ordinary yet extraordinary teenager, whose dreams will chime with young people today. The city has served posterity well with a sensitive restoration of the house. The emotional forcefield in the space where Anne wrote her diary, is intense.



There are many city-centre refuelling points serving the city’s famous staples – chips and mayonnaise, and pancakes. And what a choice of distinctive, independent cafes (beware, anything called ‘koffiehuis’ – ‘coffeeshop’ – comes with the pungent aroma of marijuana). We had a wonderful lunch of home-made soup and Dutch apple pie in Latei, just off the Nieuwmarkt. Among the standard brasserie-type restaurants in high-ceilinged, canal-side buildings, I’d recommend the Van Puffelen, on Prinsengracht (restaurant Another place with a straightforward but above-average brasserie menu is Lab111, in a former hospital operating theatre . The city’s friendly waiting staff, almost without exception, speak perfect English.


6. Design of the times

There’s no reception desk at the canalside Andaz hotel on Prinsengracht canal. Staff check you in with an iPad as you lounge with a drink in the lobby. Then you ride up to your room in a glass-sided lift, alongside a four-floor-high mural depicting the city’s rich maritime and trading history. The story of Amsterdam’s Golden Age continues into the bedrooms, in the illustrations, the personally chosen books and the wallpaper in the bathroom. Every last detail in this former city library is stylishly transformed into one of the best boutique hotels in town by Dutch designer Marcel Wanders. Video art plays on HD TVs in every corridor.


l The writer travelled by train – Eurostar from London to Brussels, then high-speed Thalys to Amsterdam (uk.voyages-sncf. com/en). For more information, go to

More canals than Venice, knockout art by Rembrandt and van Gogh, the mass seduction of flowers, Renaissance architecture, a whole nine streets of independent shops. No wonder Amsterdam is one of our favourite destinations in Europe. - Mail On Sunday