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A sunny day on the canals in Amsterdam.

The Original Guide to Amsterdam

Its eminently Instagrammable canals and legendary nightlife are a smidgen of what this small but mighty capital has to offer – from a boundary-breaking restaurant in an oil rig structure to head-turning architectural gems, Amsterdam is as charismatic as ever 



READ: Circles: A Family Memoir by Joanna van der Gracht de Rosado tells the story of post-World War II Amsterdam via the meeting of the author’s father, a soldier in the liberating Canadian army, and his long-lost cousin, the artist Gisèle whose canal house sheltered Jews. Also worth a read: The Light of Amsterdam by David Park.

WATCH: A pre-Game of Thrones Carice van Houten stars in Black Book (Zwartboek), a World War II thriller about a Jewish singer who infiltrates the local gestapo. Directed by Paul ‘RoboCop’ Verhoeven, the film is said to have inspired Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds. Also worth a watch: Occupied City.

LISTEN: The Dutch Jazz Archive recently dusted off and remastered historic Amsterdam recordings from Chet ‘My Funny Valentine’ Baker, including sessions from 1979 with Dutch accompanists including pianist Frans Elsen. Tragically, Baker would fall to his death from the window of an Amsterdam hotel less than a decade later. Also worth a listen: Pip Blom.

Visitors admiring the photographic works on display at Unseen Amsterdam

Visitors admire ‘windowscapes’ at Unseen Amsterdam (Almicheal Fraay/@maikeljay)


“Even when it rains, which is often, I would tell anyone visiting to rent a bike and get lost in the city. Even when wet, the place has an incredible charm. Restaurant Domenica is one of my favourites all year round for the atmosphere, the staff’s kindness, and the little twists they give to Italian cuisine. And the location, with the Noordermarkt in front of you, is just beautiful. It’s worth travelling to Scheepskameel on the Marineterrein to the east of the city centre just to try their madeleines with sabayon: it’s the best dessert in the entire city if you ask me. They serve only German wines too, which is more appealing than it might sound and everyone that works there knows their stuff. The menu changes every three months, and the service is excellent. I recommend Ikaria for coffee – it’s the little kiosk run by a Greek company and they’re so hardworking. The smile they serve with the coffee is such a bonus for me, because I like to see people enjoying what they do and sharing it, which is what I try to do with my job. Speaking of which, the Concertgebouw and opera are two fantastic institutions and I love the photography fair Unseen Amsterdam for its spotlight on emerging talents.”

A visitor looking out at NEMO Science Museum

New View

Contrary to popular opinion, it’s actually pretty hard to get really high in Amsterdam – the city is a relatively low-rise lovely. But you can scale the stairs on the oceanliner-inspired NEMO Science Museum to experience the genius of starchitect Renzo Piano’s vision of the loftiest ‘city square’ in the Netherlands, with panoramic views (above) over the waterfront and beyond. The tubular street furniture will frame your sunset snaps to perfection.

Rainy day saviours

From the outside, Nxt Museum is just another post-industrial hangar in the rapidly redeveloping Noord district. Inside, it’s an endlessly fascinating trove of large-scale interactive art facilitated by cutting-edge technologies. The nearby Eye Filmmuseum is a similarly immersive experience, showcasing Amsterdam’s relationship with celluloid in breathtakingly innovative ways. If you’re looking for an excuse to see a blockbuster while not depriving yourself of the city’s architectural treasures, make for the central Tuschinski cinema, whose art deco stylings are as absorbing as anything on screen. The ultimate atmospheric watering hole for watching the world go by is the adorably wonky Café de Sluyswacht – a former lockhouse near the Waterlooplein market.  

The iconic Homomonument

The Westerkirk in the Grachtengordel neighbourhood

The Original Homomonument

Designed by the Amsterdam-born environmental artist Karin Daan and unveiled in September 1987, this abstract collection of pink granite triangles set into the ground beside the Keizersgracht canal near the historic Westerkerk was the first monument in the world to commemorate gay people persecuted in the Third Reich. Nowadays, it is a place for the city’s queer community to come together in celebration and protest, most notably on the consecutive remembrance and liberation days of early May. The adjacent Pink Point information kiosk is a volunteer-run fount of friendly knowledge and rainbowtastic merchandise.

Aerial view over Amsterdam

Bird’s-eye view 

You’ll spot your first windmill well before you see land, thanks to the offshore windfarms in the North Sea. Then, it’s time to admire the poker-straight line of the pale Dutch coastline and the biodiverse dunes of Victorian health-giving destinations such as Noordwijk aan Zee. En route to Schiphol, you’ll be treated to a cross section of the Netherlands’ horticultural prowess, from vast tarpaulin-covered cucumber farms to the iconic tulip fields of Lisse and Hillegom.

The iconic bench scene in The Fault in Our Stars

Gus (Ansel Elgort) and Hazel (Shailene Woodley) visit Amsterdam in The Fault in Our Stars


Given the blistering visuals, it’s no surprise Amsterdam’s canal district has served as the backdrop to memorable set pieces over the years. In Diamonds are Forever, Sean Connery as James Bond – posing as a jewel smuggler – drives along the Reguliersgracht to number 36, home to his Amsterdam contact Tiffany Case (Jill St John) who welcomes 007 wearing a “nice little nothing”. Fast forward half a century, and the delightfully overblown crime caper The Hitman’s Bodyguard sites its ‘Interpol Remand Center’ in an imposing building on the Weteringschans opposite the Rijksmuseum. In reality, it's the terrifying HQ of… a canal tour company. Meanwhile, the bench that hosted the famous kiss from teen weepie The Fault in Our Stars is near the intersection of Herengracht and Leidsegracht. Pucker up.

View up at ADAM Tower

The 1960s A’DAM Tower

Access all areas

Old Amsterdam’s ancient infrastructure and propensity for steep and winding staircases means certain parts of the city are more easily navigable than others, but there are plenty of modern and renovated landmarks, including the waterfront A’DAM Tower, which has great elevators and other facilities all the way to its viewing platform. For exploring the city in style, the Star Bikes Rental company offers a range of options, from the classic mobility scooter to the electric VeloPlus: an electric bike that incorporates a wheelchair at the front.

The Sensory six

Visitors relaxing in the sun at Vondelpark

Scenic Vondelpark


Amsterdam may be in the throes of a 21st century gastronomic revolution, but no hip fusion restaurant or painstakingly curated tasting menu can capture the essence of the place quite like the Pannenkoekenboot (Pancake Boat), which does exactly what it says on the tin. Rock up to this double-decker ferry, part with €25 and set sail on a 75-minute pleasure cruise of unlimited carbs. An unmissable sight is the sun setting through the parakeet-festooned trees of the stately Vondelpark as a thousand cyclists take the scenic route home. And if you’re keen to wet your whistle like a local, make for one of the brown cafés of the blisteringly pretty Jordaan – with its stained glass and stained everything else, Café Chris is a good place to start.

Reception area at Pulitzer Amsterdam


Pulitzer Amsterdam

Composed of 25 lovingly restored 17th- and 18th-century canal houses, the Pulitzer Amsterdam in the Nine Streets area exudes elegance. All rooms are bespoke in design, with views of the canals on one side and leafy courtyard gardens on the other, but the four distinct Collector’s Suites are an interior addict’s dream, with gilt-framed still lifes, forest green walls and blue-and-white porcelain in one, while candy-coloured carpets, floral reliefs and whitewashed Belle Époque furnishings elevate another. At the Pulitzer Bar, order the Breakfast Margarita, a peppy mix of cornflake cereal milk (yes, really) and strawberry, before heading down to Jansz for classics done right – think oysters, lamb fillet and sole meunière – in a pared-back, light-filled space. No Amsterdam jaunt is complete without a whip around the canals, and the hotel’s gleaming teak and brass boats offer the perfect setting for an afternoon cruise along the city’s lesser-known waterways, with a flute of Champagne in hand, of course.

Book your stay

The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco on a sunny day

The Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

Where next? 

If Amsterdam is to your taste, you’ll love San Francisco. Both cities have carved out reputations as centres of the counterculture, with a live-and-let-live ethos and mind-expanding festivities to match. Other similarities include tram-based public transport, superb orchestras, intimate music venues from when jazz reigned supreme, and a magnetic, magical appeal for young LGBTQ+ folks looking to find their tribe.