A city famed for clichéd stag parties, smoking paraphernalia and the red light district, Fiona Forman finds there’s far more to Amsterdam than meets the eye

Amsterdam is a city of bustling activity; cyclists navigating the winding canals, busy markets with customers perusing the colourful wares and coffee shops with patrons spilling out onto the pavement. A city known for its tolerance, amid its beautiful architecture, Buddhist and Hindu temples are scattered among mosques and synagogues. The perfect destination for a city jaunt packed with culture, history, shopping and fantastic food, Amsterdam is a wonderful weekend break at any time of year.
Where to stay
Because of the city’s canals and narrow streets there is a constant shortage of hotel beds in Amsterdam, so it’s advisable to book at least a few months in advance to ensure your pick of the best accommodation. For a touch of luxury stay at the Sofi tel the Grand, although close to the Red Light District this hotel couldn’t feel further away, with its luxurious and spacious rooms, blissful spa and fabulous modern dining in the form of the Bridges restaurant, (double bedrooms from £192,

For a room with a view, the Seven Bridges Hotel overlooks the city’s prettiest and most photographed canal, the Reguliersgracht with its row of seven little bridges, and the uniquely designed bedrooms are packed with antiques (double bedrooms from £80,

If you’re on a tighter budget, the CitizenM hotel is a chic and purse-friendly option. Ideally situated in the centre of Amsterdam, the hotel was awarded the accolade of the Trendiest Hotel in the World earlier this year in the TripAdvisor Traveller’s Choice awards. The hotel has hi-tech rooms with touchscreen MoodPads allowing you to control everything in your room from the temperature to television, and LED lights to sav energy, (double bedroom prices start from £65,

What to do
For a spot of culture, spend an afternoon visiting Amsterdam’s museums. A visit to Anne Frank’s house is a must, where you can tour the annex that Anne Frank and her family hid for two years during World War II whilst she penned her diary. The house has around a million visitors a year, so to avoid the long queues, arrive at the beginning or end of the day, (

If you want to know more about the history of Judaism in the Netherlands, visit the Joods Historisch Museum ( in the Old Jewish Quarter. Housed in four former synagogues, the museum is packed with artifacts and there is a great children’s wing with interactive exhibits that will keep them amused for hours.

Art buffs will adore the Rijksmuseum ( and Van Gogh Museum ( Despite the former currently undergoing a €227m refurbishment, there are still 400 masterpieces on display, including pieces by Rembrandt, Vermeer and Hals. Cycling is the most popular way of getting around Amsterdam and bike rentals are everywhere, so hire a bike and head to Vondelpark, the largest green space in Amsterdam, or cycle along one of the prettiest
waterways in the city, the Prinsengracht canals.

If you fancy exploring at a slower pace, stroll around the canals and explore the arty areas of the Museum Quarter, the Jordaan and the Pijp. Churches are a signifi cant part of Dutch life. Visit the city’s oldest church, the Oude Kerk built in the mid-1500s or for a more Zen approach, visit the Chinese Fo Guang Shan He Hua Buddhist Temple at Zeedijk.

If you love to shop, Amsterdam has an eclectic mix of stores. Head to De Negen Straatjes for designer boutiques and vintage shops or Pieter Cornelisz Hoofstraat in the Museum Quarter where you’ll fi nd the likes of Chanel, Gucci and Louis Vuitton. If you prefer market shopping, visit one of Amsterdam’s fl ea markets. Albert Cuypmarkt is one of the biggest and best, selling everything from smoked eel (a speciality in Amsterdam) to clothes and cosmetics.

Food & Drink
A favourite pastime in Amsterdam is drinking in cafés and coffee shops, so make like the locals do and while away an afternoon in favourites Twee Zwaantjes and Wynand Fockink, or for something more sophisticated head to the Mercurius on Prins Hendrikkade. Like most big cities, a cosmopolitan mix of cuisines is on offer, from Indonesian and Mediterranean to traditional Dutch fare.

For something a bit different, try the College Restaurant, set in the boutique College Hotel ( The restaurant, true to its namesake, is set in a former school, and is also the home of the ROC Amsterdam Hotel Management School, so the whole place is run by hotel trainees and apprentice chefs. However, the food – traditional Dutch cuisine with a twist – is executed with a precision far beyond their years, with delicious dishes such as smoked eel with radish and apple syrup and Dutch apple pie gracing the menu.

Continuing with the unusual theme, De Kas ( is a beautiful restaurant set in a greenhouse in Frankendael Park. The owner, Gert Jan Hageman, grows all the vegetables and herbs for the daily changing menu, with lovely fresh dishes such as smoked halibut with celeriac ravioli and sweet-pea sprouts.

No visit to Amsterdam is complete without a pancake, so indulge your sweet (or savoury) tooth and hotfoot it to the best pancake house in Amsterdam, the Pancake Bakery ( Located in a 17th century warehouse a few minutes’ walk from Anne Frank’s House, there’s a huge array of toppings, from cinnamon ice cream and whipped cream to lamb and tzatziki.

Getting around
Aside from traveling around on foot or on two wheels, take to the water on the efficient Canal Bus. With 14 stops around the city close to the main tourist attractions and with historical commentary, it’s the perfect way to see everything Amsterdam has to offer.

There’s also a good tram network, a small underground and plenty of buses to take you around the city. Purchase a GVB pass when you arrive (available at all major train stations), for unlimited travel on trams, the underground, buses and night buses.

Out of town
Thanks to the Eurostar terminal in Amsterdam, you can be in a number of European cities in under two hours, including Rotterdam and Brussels. From Amsterdam Central Station it’s just a 15-minute commute to Schiphol Airport, one of the four busiest airports in Europe, where you can fly to a number of short-haul European destinations including France, Austria, Switzerland and Italy.

By Fiona Forman

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