This laidback city is easygoing as ever. The art, music, beer, football and coffee shops are among the best the planet has to offer. Wander past dainty brick buildings along the cobweb of canals as the morning mists rise off the water and you’re back in the age of Rembrandt. Ferry to the Oostelijke Eilanden (Eastern Islands), where Amsterdam’s former dockland is being transformed into one of the coolest quarters of town and you’ll see why contemporary Dutch architects and designers are ranked world-class.
Author United Ailrines Photography United Ailrines
DAY ONE / You’ve checked into The Dylan, on one of the most elegant stretches of the Keizersgracht Canal. In the 17th century the structure was the site of one of Amsterdam’s first theaters; in 1737 composer Antonio Vivaldi conducted the orchestra here. But now the rooms are paradigms of modern design. Of course, you’ve chosen one with a canal view—poised in Zen minimalism, perhaps, or surrounded by opulent fabrics.
Now it’s off on an appetite-inducing 20-minute walk to breakfast. Amsterdam takes its time to wake up. The city seems oddly quiet as you cross hump-backed bridges over canals and wander past the Beurs van Berlage, the patterned-brick stock exchange that heralded Dutch architecture’s entry into the 20th century.
You’re heading for De Bakkerswinkel on Warmoesstraat, the oldest street in town. Even before you enter, you catch the aroma of fine coffee and freshly baked bread. Inside, enjoy the atmosphere and tuck into homemade Dutch rusks and gingerbread.
Warmoesstraat is on the edge of the infamous red-light district. Just behind De Bakkerswinkel, the Oude Kerk (Old Church) is surrounded—as it has been for 600 years—by houses of ill repute. But at this time of day the windows that usually contain scantily clad women are mostly empty, and the streets have the air of a theater after hours. Perhaps there’s an art show inside the church, or you can pay respects at the grave of Rembrandt’s long-suffering wife, Saskia.
Skirt the Oude Kerk to find Amstelkring Museum, the one restored canal house in town that really captures the atmosphere of the Golden Age without any whiff of museum mothballs. Look around the Sael (the main reception room), and then climb the stairs for one of the biggest surprises in town: a full-scale church that breaks into three adjoining attics. It dates from the Reformation, when Roman Catholics had to meet in secret.
Carry on up the canal; then duck left onto Zeedijk, where at No. 1 you’ll see one of the last wooden medieval buildings in Amsterdam. Beyond that, across a frantic Stationsplein (Station Square) rises Centraal Station, its pinkish brick glinting with gold-leaf designs—a 19th-century paean to the great railroad.
Lunch is on Platform 2b, in the former first-class waiting room, now Restaurant 1e Klas. As the doors swing open to reveal carved-wood paneling, painted ceilings, parquet, and potted palms, you may be surprised to see the clientele is not wearing top hats and crinolines. Traditional Dutch pancakes with spek (crispy bacon) seem appropriate.
Have your after-lunch coffee at 11, on the 11th story of a former post-sorting office beside the station, now one of the hippest spots in town. One set of windows looks over the old part of the city; the other, over the shiplike shapes, undulating roofs, and the Eastern Islands.
Board a ferry behind the station to Java-eiland (Java Island) and spend the afternoon among the designer dwellings that have taken over the old eastern docks. Houses with gaudy colors, trapezoidal windows, and wavy façades line narrow canals. On adjoining Borneo Island, the city’s rich and famous had to pick from an approved list of star architects before they were allowed to build.
Dinner is early, in the coolly minimalist Voorbij het Einde. Try the venison saddle, served with a mousse of Jerusalem artichoke and morels, and endive with béchamel and smoked bacon sauces. Don’t forget dessert: pistachio parfait with litchis, waffle, and caramel treacle.
A bus takes you from the restaurant across a bridge through the middle of an old warehouse and back to the mainland. From here, it’s a five-minute walk to the show you’re seeing at Muziekgebouw aan ’t IJ, Amsterdam’s top venue for jazz, world music, and all manner of contemporary sounds. The evenings are still long, so linger afterward in the glass lobby as the setting sun performs a magnificent light show over the water.
After the concert, back at 11 just across the way, the city’s hottest DJs are limbering up. When the dancing’s over, a taxi will whisk you back to the hotel.