Regular Amsterdam visitor Hanna Lindon takes us on a two-wheeled tour of this free-spirited city, calling in at some of her favourite spots along the way.
0700-0900. Walking from Centraal Station, ignore the southern route along Damrak, lined with tacky tourist traps. A more inspiring way to start the day is to head west, across the Singel canal, following Brouwersgracht. This picturesque waterway traces the northern edge of the grachtengordel, the belt of concentric canals flanking the centre. Spanned by arched bridges brightened by flower boxes, and lined with grandly gabled houses and houseboats, this neighbourhood is classic ‘old Amsterdam’, and best seen in the quiet of the early morning. Pop into trendy Café Thijssen (Brouwersgracht 107, 020 623 8994) for a coffee and croissant breakfast before turning left at Prinsengracht to reach Noordermarkt. Home to an organic farmer’s market on Saturdays and a Monday flea market, this is the heart of historic Amsterdam and the perfect place to get a feel for local life.
0900-1100. Rent a bicycle at nearby Bike City (Bloemgracht 68-70, 020 626 3721) and join the locals in what they do best: cycling. Bloemgracht is one of the prettiest canals in the Jordaan, an old working-class neighbourhood that has become a haven for artists and anyone with a generally bohemian or alternative outlook on life. Wander the narrow streets and browse the boutiques, cafés and quirky museums, continuing along Prinsengracht to eventually reach the cultural heart of Amsterdam. Here, you’ll find the Rijksmuseum (Museumstraat 1, 020 674 7000), a true European classic that reopened in April 2013 after a 10-year refurbishment. The reborn museum is grander than ever, with more than 100 galleries and 8,000 paintings. Traditional highlights include Vermeer’s The Milkmaid and Rembrandt’s The Night Watch, but it’s worth seeking out quirkier collections such as the three stunning 17th-century dolls’ houses.
1100-1300. Back east on the canal belt, the area known as ‘De Negen Straatjes’ is a square grid of nine fascinating streets. Each is brimming with designer boutiques and speciality shops, not to mention the many bars, cafés and restaurants. The real treasures here, though, are the vintage clothing shops. Fashion fanatics should head straight for Episode (Berenstraat 1, 020 626 4679), a funky collection of 1980s outfits with the odd gem from the 1950s and 1970s hidden among the army coats and denim mini skirts. If you prefer the Marilyn Monroe look, Laura Dols (Wolvenstraat 7, 020 624 9066) adds an injection of glam to the Amsterdam vintage scene with rails full of gala dresses, evening gloves and 1920s Hollywood fashion.
1300-1500. By now you’re probably beginning to feel peckish, but there’s still time before lunch to squeeze in a visit to the city’s trendiest newly opened museum: De Appel Arts Centre (Prins Hendrikkade 142, 020 625 5651). Browsing the stunning collection of contemporary art will whet your appetite for lunch at Restaurant Greetje (Peperstraat 23-25, 020 779 7450), a cosy little hideaway near the former Eastern Docklands that serves up hunger-quenching Dutch dishes with a contemporary twist; try the traditional Frysian sugar bread with duck liver pâté and homemade apple syrup for a true taste explosion.
1500-1700. For some fresh air and to work off the calories, detour west to the Vondelpark, a large landscaped park stretching 1.5 kilometres west from Leidseplein, which is in effect the city’s lungs. Cyclists, joggers and strollers all make for this leafy haven to ply its broad paths, picnic beside its lagoons, or admire the resident colony of parakeets as they swoop among the treetops. In inclement weather, sidestep the Van Gogh and Rijksmuseum and dip instead into the Amsterdam Museum (Kalverstraat 92, 020 523 1822). The permanent Amsterdam DNA display tells the story of the city in maps and artwork, while kids will love the new ‘Little Orphanage’ feature.
1700-1900. Having filled up on exercise and culture, it's time to unwind. Get ready for a night on the town with a visit to one of the luxury spas and saunas dotted around the city. The Akasha Holistic Wellbeing Centre (Van Baerlestraat 27, 020 570 0067) is one of the newest additions to Amsterdam’s spa scene, and a soak in its Watsu floatation bath is an instant stress reliever. Art deco enthusiasts will get an aesthetic kick at the luxurious Sauna Deco (Herengracht 115, 020 623 8215), which combines one of the best sauna experiences in Amsterdam with a display of historic pieces from the art deco period. Alternatively, get a bird’s eye view of the city from the rooftop terrace at Sento Spa and Health Club (Marnixplein 1, 020 330 1444), which sits on the western fringe of the historic Jordaan.
1900-2100. Dutch cuisine may not enjoy the greatest international reputation, but Amsterdam has plenty of great eateries. While most of the Michelin-starred restaurants are dotted around the historic centre, edgier northern Amsterdam is fast becoming a focus of gastronomic innovation. In summer, take the ferry across to Pllek (TT Neveritaweg 59, 020 290 0020), a creative collection of old shipping containers with an industrial-style interior and one of the best waterfront terraces in the city. The organic, Mediterranean cuisine is well worth the trip, and on most summer nights, customers are also treated to music, outdoor cinema showings or art displays. Nearby Noorderlicht café (NDSM Plein 102, 020 492 2770) occupies a former shipyard and is well on the way to establishing itself as the premier hangout for local hipsters.
After 2100. After dinner, those in a festival mood should check out the line-up at De OCCII (Amstelveenseweg 134, 020 671 7778), an independent music venue that was once one of the first horse-tram sheds in Amsterdam and now hosts mainly indie and subbacultcha acts. For something a little more sophisticated, head to Muziekgebouw aan ’t IJ (Piet Heinkade 1, 020 788 2000). This relatively recent addition to the city’s music scene is rapidly becoming one of the most important concert halls in the Netherlands. Located in the former Eastern Docklands, it showcases everything from classical, opera and jazz to modern world music. For a completely music-free experience, drop into In De Wildeman (Kolksteeg 3, 020 638 2348), which boasts the city’s best range of beers with over 200 on offer, including many from cutting-edge brewers you may not find elsewhere.