You’ve heard about the art museums, flower markets and historic canals – but what about the Amsterdam that only the locals know? Get beneath the skin of the Netherlands’ most visited city with Hanna Lindon’s guide to escaping the tourist trail.
0700-0900. The city’s most photogenic places are at their quietest before breakfast, so take advantage of that early morning light to snap some classic Amsterdam shots. Start at the Reguliersgracht canal with its unique collection of seven arched brick bridges, then wander slowly west to join up with Herengracht and pass the gabled Italian Consulate (Vijzelstraat 79) and the architecturally intricate Bartolotti house (Herengracht 170). Looping back into the city centre you’ll come to the oldest residential house in Amsterdam (Begijnhof 34). From here it’s just a short stroll to organic Café Nielsen (Berenstraat 19, 020 330 6006), where you can choose from healthful muesli, scrummy stuffed bagels and speciality omelet dishes. 0900-1100. Depending on the season there are two top ways to tour Amsterdam’s famous canals: by bike, or on ice skates. When conditions are cold enough, boat traffic is blocked across many of the canals in the Jordaan to allow the water to freeze. Then it’s a joyous winter free-for-all, as thousands of rosy-cheeked residents and visitors hit the ice. If you’re not lucky enough to experience a big freeze then hire a pair of wheels at Bike City (Bloemgracht 68-70, 020 626 3721) and join the locals in what they do best: cycling. Stop off at the landmark Westerkerk church, explore eclectic backstreet museums such as the Houseboat Museum (Prinsengracht 296K, 020 427 0750) and the brand new Jordaan Museum (Vinkenstraat 185, 020 624 4695), or sample fresh local produce at the markets that spring up on Saturdays around Lindengracht and the Noordermarkt. 1100-1300. If you’re a regular Amsterdam visitor who’s already taken in the delights of the Van Gogh Museum (Paulus Potterstraat 7, 020 570 5200), Anne Frank House (Prinsengracht 263-267, 020 556 7105) and Rijksmuseum (Museumstraat 1, 0900 0745), then it’s time to head off in search of the city’s lesser-known treasures. De Buurtboerderij (Spaarndammerdijk 319, 020 337 6820) is a public, volunteer-operated farm in the heart of the city that runs a packed programme of workshops, craft events and concerts. Even if there’s nothing on, it’s the perfect place to relax and sip coffee on a sunny day. Another fascinating place to hang out and people-watch is the MC Theatre (Polonceaukade 5, 020 606 5050), an urban arts centre with a gallery, restaurant and plenty going on year-round. 1300-1500 By now you’re probably beginning to feel peckish. The Amsterdam restaurant scene is constantly evolving, and there are plenty of new offerings this year, including the pan-Asian KU Kitchen & Bar (Utrechtsestraat 114, 020 422 9424) and the vegan DopHert (Spaarndammerstraat 49, 020 752 0581). For something a little more traditional, chow down on raw herring from the stalls that adorn most street corners, or snack on scrumptious bitterballen (breaded and deep-fried balls with a ragout filling) at brown café De Drie Fleschjes (Gravenstraat 18, 020 624 8443). 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, make a beeline instead for the Nine Straatjes shopping area, where you’ll find classy fashion boutiques such as Donna Fiera (Huidenstraat 18, 020 428 9250) and Goods (Huidenstraat 8, 020 613 3447), as well as vintage store Zipper (Huidenstraat 7, 020 623 7302) and endless luxury gift shops. 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. Relax in a flotation tank at city centre spa Koan Float (Herengracht 321, 020 555 0333), or travel out to the idyllic Spa Zuiver (Koenenkade 8, 020 301 0700) in the Amsterdamse Bos. 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. One trend currently sweeping the city is living-room restaurants, where talented cooks open up their homes to a small number of diners for an intimate and unique gastronomic experience. Caro Kookt whizzes up delectable dishes from local ingredients at her historic Jordaan home (Nieuwe Leliestraat 16A) every Friday, while houseboat Coeck (Drs J van Disweg 1) hosts regular Mediterranean dinners. If you’re after something a little more professional then two-Michelin-starred Ciel Bleu (Ferdinand Bolstraat 333, 020 678 7111) on the 23rd floor of the Okura Hotel offers one of the city’s best fine dining experiences. 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. After 2100 After dinner, grab a cocktail at the Bond-themed Vesper Bar (Vinkenstraat 57, 020 846 4458) in Jordaan before heading out to catch some live music. Melkweg (Lijnbaansgracht 234a, 020 531 8181) and Paradiso (Weteringschans 6-8, 020 626 4521) both host regular rock and pop acts, while De OCCII (Amstelveenseweg 134, 020 671 7778), is the home of indie and subbacultcha music in Amsterdam. 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.