Encircled by canals and bursting with color, Amsterdam is a city of bike trails, tulip beds and 800 years of history. Start pedaling...
AUTHOR ADAM K. RAYMOND PHOTOGRAPHS BALL & ALBANESE
ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS OPEN YOUR EYES in this 13th century metropolis and you’ll see that the bustling Dutch capital is alive with color, from the pink and purple tulips standing guard in front of canal houses to the dusty brown brick paths snaking between them. Look a little closer and you’ll see splatters of the bright orange representing the Dutch royal family, the blinding yellow of the city’s overflowing cheese shops and the burnt sienna and glowing ambers favored by its most famous artists, Vincent van Gogh and Rembrandt van Rijn.
There was a time when Amsterdam came in but two hues: the green of the rolling Dutch hills and the icy blue of the Amstel River. Eight hundred years ago, fishermen dammed the river, giving the city its name and starting the transformation from small port village to global hub of business and culture. It has endured the rule of feudal lords and Spanish kings, flourished as a center of art and finance, and suffered plagues brought by rats and terror wrought by Nazis. But a visit to present-day Amsterdam proves this city is a resilient one, maintaining its medieval charm while growing into one of Europe’s most forward-thinking and brightly colored metropolises.
Canal view near the Hotel Seven Bridges
DAY ONE Pull yourself out of bed as the warm silver light creeps into the The Dylan (1), a dapper 41-room hotel with a staff that confirms a widespread rumor about the Dutch— they’re extremely friendly. You’ve shrewdly booked the loft suite, a tranquil hideaway tucked under the building’s gable roof. After a moment of hesitation, you fight the urge to fall back into the marshmallow-soft bed and set out for the city below.
Passing through The Dylan’s stone courtyard, you find yourself staring into the Keizersgracht, the widest and most handsome of Amsterdam’s canals. The name means King’s Canal, which is appropriate given the aristocratic feeling you have as you step into Bakery Paul Année (2), a cozy organic shop teeming with fresh-baked treats. Inside, you confront one of life’s ultimate dilemmas: bread, pastry or cookie? Sensing your indecision, the clerk points to a platter with a golden pastry on it. “You get the last one,” she says, handing you an apple date tart. One bite reveals why it’s sold out at 9 a.m.
As you exit, you notice that you’re smack in the middle of the Nine Streets (3), the epicenter of Amsterdam cool. The streets straddle four canals and are dotted with designer boutiques, eateries and secondhand shops. Step into Cortina Papier (4) and grab a postcard to help you say hallo to those you left at home.
After a visit to the nearby fashion emporium SPRMRKT (5), a former supermarket that gave up its vowels and victuals for postmodern designs and asymmetrical haircuts, you emerge the new owner of a leather jacket, and you continue your spin through the streets of the Jordaan until you stumble across Old Dutch Candy (6). Feeling disciplined, you ignore the chocolate and move on to the main attraction: licorice, or as the Dutch call it, “drop.” You rely on the expertise of the clerk, who hands you a Tootsie Roll–shaped piece of jet-black “drop” stuffed with a creamy beige substance called salmiak. Eyes closed, you take a skeptical nibble, only to find that the contrast of salty and sweet is not just tolerable, it’s delicious.
A pleasant canal view
Pocket bulging with candy, you make your way to the nearby Anne Frank House (7). The line outside snakes around the building, but the ticket you bought online allows you to head right inside. Along with the perfectly preserved secret annex where Anne Frank and her family lived for two years, the museum includes exhibits on persecution and discrimination around the world. Quotations from the 13-year-old’s diary line the walls of the space, reminding you that Amsterdam wasn’t always as beautiful as it is today.
It’s lunchtime, and here that means pancakes. The Dutch version is large, thin and often savory. You ascend the astonishingly steep stairs at the Upstairs Pancake House (8), enter a homey dining room and order something “typically Dutch,” a pizza-size example with bacon cooked into it and a warm layer of baked apples on top. Ten minutes later you’ve paid the cook the ultimate compliment: a clean plate.
As you head back to The Dylan to reacquaint yourself with the mattress, you pass through Boekenmarkt (9), a bustling used book store stocked with the latest bestsellers and dog-eared classics. You stumble across a copy of The Dutch, I Presume?, a book that attempts to explain the peculiarities of Dutch culture, and pocket it for some canalside reading.
After a quick nap back at the hotel, it’s time for dinner. You hop the tram to the eastern edge of town, where you’ve made reservations at De Kas (10), a former greenhouse converted into a haute eatery. Enjoy an aperitif on the porch as chefs shuffle past you to snip green herbs from the lavish garden. Once you’re seated, a server brings out a spread of fresh, in-season delicacies, including sliced turkey and pillowy roast pumpkin served with smoky bacon and jicama jus. The dessert, a sliver of white chocolate served with fresh rhubarb and pistachio ice cream, sends you home full and happy.