Amsterdam, laughing couple


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My Amsterdam: an insider's guide

I have a snapshot in my head of a peaceful morning I spent in Amsterdam. It was around ten-ish and a bookshop had just opened its doors. The people who worked in the shop were sitting round a table outside having breakfast together. A large, marmalade cat was stretched out on its own chair in the sun. The smell of freshly brewed coffee wafted over to me and I remember wishing I worked there too. It was all so civilized!

Text Robyn Hodson
Photography Courtesy of iStock & the hotels
Published 24th August 2007
That vision of Amsterdam stayed with me as I walked further. Everything was so relaxed. Nothing happened at a frenetic pace… even dirt trucks and deliverymen went about their business calmly… bicycle bells tinkled, below me a family of coots in the canal bobbed in the wake of a rowboat and bells chimed from the church tower across the way.

I was walking through the Nine Streets (De Negen Straatjes) area. This is Amsterdam’s centre and my favourite place to meander in the city (takeaway latte in hand from Bagels and Beans – Raadhuisstraat 18, +31 (0)20 638 07 88, Walking along the canals on Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht and Herengracht and then exploring the quaint side streets in this area can take all day. There are so many great boutiques to look inside and fantastic little restaurants to try for lunch and dinner.

Amsterdam, The Dylan HotelIn and around this area are also the pick of small, luxury hotels in Amsterdam. Seven One Seven – Prinsengracht 717, +31 (0)20 427 07 17, and The Dylan – Keizersgracht 384, +31 (0)20 530 20 10, have to be my number one choices. Private, exclusive and ideally situated – you’re far enough away from the main tourist drag, that you won’t have a single run in with a stag party. They also have wonderful outside terraces for summer dining and cozy interiors for European winters.

If it’s shopping you’re after, there’s something for everyone in the area, especially for those seeking quality. meCHICas – Gasthuismolensteeg 11, +31 (0) 20 420 30 92, is one of my favourite jewellery shops. The owners, Dutch artist Debbie Verhagen and her Mexican partner Mateo Zepeda Patterson, lovingly create each piece by hand. Each stone has its own history so don’t hesitate to ask - perfect as a gift for someone special. If you keep walking, the road becomes Hartenstraat – make sure you stop at Lock, Stock and Barrel, +31(0) 20 421 33 48. This stylish boutique sells designer urban collections from all over Europe and is a real hot spot for the fashion savvy.

Wolvenstraat is a tiny street that runs parallel to Hartenstraat. Don’t miss Spoiled at no 19, +31 (0) 20 626 38 18,, which has a denim bar. That’s right – you sit and sip your latte whilst browsing the denim ‘menu’ and staff locate your perfect pair. From there, the single best vintage shop in Amsterdam for dresses is Laura Dols at no 6, +31 (0)20 624 90 66, and if you peer across the road, there’s another one at no 7 for coats and bed linen. A few doors down is a restaurant with no name or number. You can’t miss it. It’s opposite a new bar named Loup at no 22! Sit outside and have lunch there whilst watching the world go by. Again, so civilized!

Amsterdam, girl on bridgeStroll down a block to Runstraat. I don’t think it’s possible for any woman to walk past Skins Cosmetics at no 9, +31 (0) 20 528 69 22, without being drawn like a magnet inside. Housed in this cool emporium are all the chic products currently gracing Vogue’s beauty pages. From perfumes to cosmetics to hair products – all the hot, contemporary brands are there. I bought myself a Laura Mercier treat as well as Smith’s Rosebud Salve because I had to – I simply wasn’t immune. Don’t forget to peek inside Dutchies – Runstraat 27, +31 (0) 20 626 30 01. It’s all about designer handbags, leather belts and silk pashminas at good prices. Enough said.

If you’re looking to kick off your shoes in the sunshine and have a coffee, old favourite Walem is a quiet wander down Keizersgracht at no 449, +31 (0)20 625 35 44, This restaurant is extremely popular with the locals and is excellent for lunch. The next-door terrace along is Morlang, no 451, +31 (0)20 625 26 81, for fabulous cocktails and a tranquil dinner overlooking the canals.

Another super-stylish spot for dinner is Red – Keizersgracht 594, +31(0)20 320 18 24, This decadent dining room has only two dishes on the menu: crayfish or beef tournedos. You can combine the two if you’re hungry and choose a selection of scrumptious sauces to drizzle over the top. They have an extensive wine list and their selection of champagnes is equally impressive. It’s a little sizzler of a place.

Once you’ve paid your tab, turn right out of the restaurant, away from Keizersgracht and the canals. This street, Nieuwe Spiegelstraat, is the place to browse for antiques and art. And if you look just up the road in front of you, you’ll spot the majestic Rijksmuseum – Jan Luijkenstraat 1, +31 (0)20 674 70 00, This national treasure of art and history is open but undergoing huge renovations and due for completion at the end of 2009. Make sure you also pop into the Van Gogh Museum – Paulus Potterstraat 7, +31 (0)20 570 52 00, It’s just a few minutes away and really worth the visit.

Amsterdam, van Gogh Museum Amsterdam, modern and traditonal facades
Amsterdam, houseboats on a canal Amsterdam, pink vespa
Amsterdam, Simpel RestaurantAnother great ‘burb of Amsterdam is the vibrant De Pijp district. A melting pot of nationalities and delightfully bohemian in atmosphere, it houses all sorts of people from students to yuppie up-and-comers. It’s so popular that house prices have apparently gone up 350% in recent years. This Quartier Latin is brimming with fantastic cafés, exotic restaurants, coffee shops and bars. Visit Albert Cuypstraat for its street market and then Ferdinand Bolstraat for typical Amsterdam pubs and a wealth of multi-cultural delicatessens and grocery stores. My favourite place to people-watch is The Chocolate Bar – 1e van der Helststraat 62a, +31 (0)20 675 76 72, and for a great meal and a crisp bottle of chardonnay, try Simpel – Ferdinand Bolstraat 11, +31 (0)20 672 06 72,

An interesting stop for the beer connoisseur is the old Heineken Brewery-turned-museum on Stadhouderskade 78, +31 (0)20-523 96 66, Here, you can trace the 244-year history of the Heineken Empire, pick up a few tips on brewing and then taste the real thing for yourself. From there, it’s just a hop-skip-and-a-jump to the Heinekenplein and a fun night out trying all the different bars situated round the plaza.

Amsterdam, The Dylan HotelJust west of De Pijp and before you enter Oud Zuid and the gorgeous Vondel Park area, is a gem of a place called The College Hotel – Roelof Hartstraat 1, +31 (0) 20 571 15 11. Its beauty lies firstly in its architecture (it was once a grand, old schoolhouse)… and on closer inspection, is like a mini copy of the Rijksmuseum, It’s also a training ground for students of the Amsterdam Hotel Management School who run the place under the eagle eye of the Stein group. The result is a chic yet unpretentious atmosphere with a wicked injection of fun and spontaneity. You don’t have to stay there to enjoy the bar and restaurant. You’ll love it, trust me!

There is a huge change in atmosphere from the youthful vibe of De Pijp to the grownup Oud Zuid area. This is where the real money is. You only have to mention Pieter Cornelisz High Street and the hallowed shop fronts of GUCCI, Louis Vuitton, Max Mara and Emporio Armani (to name but a few) to any ordinary ‘Dammer and they’ll sprint for their bicycles, clutching their wallets! This area is the perfect place to be ‘seen’ and if you aren’t driving the latest in hulking 4x4 or the flattest sports car, best park round the corner.

The area is leafy and beautiful and fantastic for fantasy house spotting. Cornelis Schuytstraat is posh, designer-boutique heaven. I can’t resist Marlies Dekkers at no 13, +31 (0)20 471 41 46, for legendary Dutch lingerie and meandering inside Menno Kroon next door at no 11, +31 (0)20 679 19 50,, designer florist to the stars. For more greenery, zip down the street and you’ll find yourself in Vondel Park. It makes for a relaxing day out on a warm, summer afternoon and on a Sunday you can’t beat the buzz at Café Vertigo (attached to the Film Museum), with its huge outdoor patio.

Amsterdam, Vondel HotelThis classy neighbourhood has a number of small, designer hotels. My pick is the quiet Vondel Hotel – Vondelstraat 26, +31 (0)20 612 01 20, Its bright, spacious rooms are a sanctuary for the soul… not to mention its really comfortable beds.

And now for something totally unexpected (and keep this to yourself):

Amsterdam, Bloemendal HotelA 30-minute drive from Amsterdam (traffic permitting), you’ll find yourself standing on the edge of the North Sea. Bloemendaal aan Zee is a local beach spot, kept secret from tourists. It doesn’t appear in the guidebooks and you can’t get there easily by public transport unless you really know what you’re doing. In summer, beach bars and restaurants open on the sand and hedonists (like me) lie on big, comfortable beds in the sunshine and enjoy the laidback atmosphere. My favourite spot there is Republiek, +31 (0)23 573 0730 The decor is Balinese-themed and the menu Asian-inspired with lots of healthy foods like stir-fry, seared tuna and rice-noodle salads. The menu changes daily so you know everything is fresh.

And after all that, take a long walk along the beach. Kahlil Gibran once said: “… forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.” – even in Amsterdam.

Amsterdam, National Museum