City Guide to Amsterdam

Amsterdam - Culture, Canals and Colour

12. Nov 2021
by Sugato Mukherjee

Stunning architecture, fascinating art museums, chock full of history - all wrapped in a sleek, ultra-modern canvas – there is never a dull moment in one of Europe’s best preserved cities.

Amsterdam grew into a thriving city of prosperous sea merchants in the 17th century, when Dutch maritime trade flourished across the world waterways. A labyrinthine network of tree-shaded canals enveloped the medieval metropolis to facilitate the trade routes and became emblematic of the Dutch Golden Age. These water canals formed concentric belts around Amsterdam, and most of the large-windowed, gabled townhouses built on the banks of the canals are still immaculately preserved, and maintains that delicate balance between water, trees, open sky and built heritage.

A canal in Amsterdam

The Dutch capital’s brazen candour is endearing and its open-door policy to legal prostitution and legal use of marijuana in the coffee shops (they are different from cafes, which are usual eating and drinking establishments) can come as bit of a surprise. But make no mistake! De Wallen, the fabled and windowed red-light district of Amsterdam doubles as a residential neighbourhood with families happily settled in the canalside houses and the warren of alleyways also houses museums, cafes, boutiques and churches, alongside a fair share of sleaze and erotica. However, a recent adoption of the Nordic Model by Netherlands is likely going to abolish legal prostitution, and the Dutch authorities are deliberating on the issue of use of legal drugs to filter out weed tourism.

One of the 1,200 picturesque bridges in the city

Amsterdam is an endlessly colourful city and arguably the most charming neighbourhood is Jordaan with its cobbled streets lined with archaic buildings and strewn with quaint shops, independent art galleries, picturesque gardens and an eclectic culinary scene rustled up by the atmospheric cafes and restaurants, ensconced inside the medieval quarters.


An expansive complex of 19th-century industrial buildings have now been metamorphosed into Amsterdam’s preeminent cultural epicenter at Westerpark with trendy restaurants, rotating exhibitions, food markets and mini-festivals that perennially paints this hipster zone in a splash of zest and fun.


Museumplein remains an art aficionado’s paradise with its fabled trio of museums - Rijksmuseum, Stedelijk and Van Gogh Museum - nestled within walking distance of each other in the midst of this leafy district peppered with astounding architectural marvels.

Dam Square

Explore the regal side of the city at the Royal Palace Amsterdam, which is the official reception centre of the King for his international guests, but remains open for visitors. For a more fairytale feel, head over to the 13th-century castle of Muiderslot, just 15 kilometres away, which looks straight out of a children’s storybook, replete with towers and turrets, moat and drawbridge. For a taste of handcrafted artisan beer, visit a microbrewery that offers seasonal, organic ales and guided tasting tours, Brouwerij 't IJ is a classic option.

The best way to see the city is by canal boat

And for the quintessential Amsterdam experience, float along and lose yourself in the maze of canals in a guided canal boat tour. It is undeniably the best way to feel the pulse of Amsterdam from a watery perspective, especially after sunset when the bridges are lit up and the whole city gleams in an intimate, magical glow.

P.C. Hoofstraat


The deeply ingrained cultural aspect of Amsterdam is evident from the fact that the premier shopping destination of the city is named after a 17th century poet and playwright: Pieter Cornelisz Hooftstraat. A district decidedly upper-class, P.C. Hoofstraat brims with stylish splendour as some of the most exclusive global brands operate from the glassy stores that dazzle in the leafy streets of this 19th-century neighbourhood. Take a stroll along this internationally renowned shopping hub, choose your picks from the opulent outlets and take a post-binge break in the casual cafes that always seem to be full with fashionistas.

The dazzling neon of Amsterdam

Choc-a-bloc with trendy fashion boutiques, interior design stores and avant garde concept stores, the charming Utrechtsestraat at the eastern fringes of the Canal district waits for the discerning traveller to discover its array of offerings in clothing, jewellery, books, music and stylish homeware. The independent outlets of this mid-17th century street vary widely in timings and insider tips would be handy, especially about the very atmospheric side streets: a culinary hotspot featuring cool cafes and fine dining venues, and almost everything in between.

The Royal Mile (Paleiskwartier) - the historic heart of Amsterdam

At the head of Dam Square lies the historic flagship store of the elite chain of De Bijenkorf. A luxury departmental store that epitomises elegance and finery, De Bijenkorf remains the elite haven of fashion and style offering a dynamic shopping experience through its designer superbrands in luxe products, accessories, exquisite novelties and handcrafted chocolates. Their Tax Refund Lounge is the only instant tax refund service point in the Netherlands.

Amsterdam carries its reputation as a crosspoint of cultural intersections in its culinary tradition, where traditional recipes sparkle with modern twists. Chefs Onno Kokmeijer and Arjan Speelman surprise diners with their sophisticated gastronomic delights at Ciel Bleu. Located on the 23rd floor of the delightful Hotel Okura, this Michelin 2-star outpost couples stunning panoramic views of Amsterdam with culinary creations served with elegance and style alongside exclusive vintages from the award-winning wine list.

Ciel Bleu

Michelin-starred Vermeer, nestled inside the NH Collection Amsterdam Barbizon Palace Hotel close to Central Station, seamlessly fuses rustic charm with quaint elegance. Chef Chris Naylor uses organic produce from local growers and also from his own rooftop vegetable garden to whip up superfresh delights that are intense in flavours and delicate in textures. Seasonal selections determine the menu, which can be a creative and elaborate four-course, five-course or even six-course affair.


Helmed by Israeli-Dutch chef Moshik Roth, &Moshik takes its patrons on an eclectic culinary journey with its seasonal, inventive tasting menus laced with Moroccan, Vietnamese, Japanese, Turkish and Dutch influences. The elegantly-designed cavernous space with floor-to-ceiling windows boasts of scenic views of Oosterdok Harbour and curates artfully-presented five or seven course tasting menu fit for royalty, and also brisk three-course business lunches.


An ultra-stylish establishment operating since 1885, The White Room is an elite haven for discerning diners. Perched right on the Dam Square, this Michelin–starred outpost is the creative playground of Masterchef Jacob Jan Boerma, who adds his personal touches with a predilection for fresh tones and spices to impart unexpected twists to recognizable flavours. The five-course chef’s dinner with wine pairing includes Boerma’s famous meat delicacies fused with light fruit-based sauces such as venison served with Delcorf apple, pumpkin and chicory.

The White Room

According to the city archives, De Druif won a liquor license in 1631. De Druif is part of Amsterdam’s colourful history – a must visit if you enjoy a beer in your museums! The earthenware jenever bottles lining the walls behind the bar, gas chandeliers lighting and carpet-covered tables lend a quaint, old-world charm to this iconic Dutch bruincafe (the Dutch answer to the British pub) that operated as a distillery once. Located close to the Entrepotdok and characteristic Kadijksplein, this atmospheric establishment also has a terrace on the wide pavement that fronts this 400-year old watering hole that was a hotspot of the sailors during the glorious days of Dutch maritime trade and a favourite with the locals ever since.

Read the guide to Amsterdam's best cocktail bars

Cafe De Druif

Museums & the Arts

The illustrious art legacy of the Dutch is nowhere better manifested in the impeccably maintained museums of their capital. Amsterdam is truly an art-filled city, and the star attraction is undeniably Rijksmuseum. Opened in 1885 and boasting of the nation's largest collection of art and artifacts, this stellar art space went through a decade-long, multimillion Euro overhaul that imparted a stunning facelift without compromising on its aesthetics. The diverse collection is steeped in eight centuries of history and includes ancient sculptures, handcrafted furniture and even a propeller aircraft, but the highlight is the celebrated collection of the Dutch Masters from the Golden Age – seminal works of Johannes Vermeer and Frans Hals and of course, forty of Rembrandt’s paintings including ‘The Night Watch’, his timeless masterpiece.

Van Gogh Museum

An entire art museum dedicated to his life’s works – there could not be a more fitting tribute to the eccentric genius of Vincent Van Gogh, who had received scant recognition in his lifetime. Van Gogh Museum is the most-visited art space of Netherlands and houses the largest permanent collection of artworks by Van Gogh in the world, including over 200 paintings and 500 drawings, besides 750 letters that gives a rare insight into the inner world of the Dutch artist, who committed suicide at the age of 37.

Anne Frank House

The Anne Frank House is a biographical museum, which was the secret hideaway of Anne Frank and her family during the Nazi occupation of World War II. The space preserves the hiding place, has a permanent exhibition on the life and times of Anne Frank, and has an exhibition area that highlights the horrors of persecution. The canal-side building is a grim reminder of some of the worst moments of human history, and also the place where the teenaged Anne Frank wrote her remarkable diary, which was later compiled into one of the most significant books of 20th century: The Diary of Anne Frank.

Canals and cooking - only in Amsterdam!

Exclusive Experience

Embark on a private dinner cruise through the maze of canals with a private guide to show you how Amsterdam was built around a medieval port and the canals that were created to transport, store & trade the merchandise to the rest of Europe and helped the Dutch capital evolve into one of the major maritime power centres of the continent. Indulge into the light ‘hors d’oeuvres’, cooking and luxury à la carte dinners with a hostess on board and soak into the colourful past of Amsterdam.

Zaanse Schans

Side Trip

When you think of the Netherlands generally, the first few words that pop up are invariably windmills, tulips, cheese and clogs. Zaanse Schans has it all in abundance, and more. Head over to this small town barely 20 kilometres from Amsterdam that offers a spectacular landscape dotted with well-preserved windmills, expansive tulip fields, wooden houses, barns and mills that all blend together to make the settlement a time-warp, picturesquely set in the 19th century.

Take a leisurely stroll past the bakery museum and soak in the smell of freshly baked goodies, watch how wooden clogs are made at the warehouse and do not miss either the cheese factory or the pewter foundry to have an up close glimpse of the quintessential Dutch life.

Koan Float

Hidden Gem

Float on the surface on a layer of heated and very salted water, the experience reminiscent of floating on the Dead Sea. You are on the floating pod inside the celebrated Koan Float, where the warm water and  Epsom Salts gradually transports your body into a meditative repose, easing out stress muscle tension and pain. Top off the surreal, almost transcendental hour-long floating experience with a rejuvenating massage session, picking from the 14 varieties including hot stone and shiatsu.

Ajax FC


Housed in the state-of-the-art Johan Cruyff Arena, the iconic football club Ajax Amsterdam is the undisputed numero uno in the sporting sphere of Netherlands, which is dubbed as a football nation. With a capacity to seat more than 50,000 spectators and a retractable roof, catching a game of football with the Dutch superheroes on the field can be an electrifying experience at this iconic venue. The two tier stadium provides excellent views from all areas of the ground.

The very Dutch, Korfball

There are a number of native Dutch sports, of which Korfball remains the most popular team game. Similar to basketball and netball, a game of Korfball is played in two intense half-an-hour sessions. The season runs for most part of the year, but the most intense sessions are held in April, so try catching a completely new sporting experience if you are there.

More bicycles than people!

Cycling is deeply ingrained into the Dutch psyche at all levels of society (number of bicycles actually surpass total number of people) where even the Mayor of Amsterdam paddles his way to the office. There are around 320 miles of dedicated cycle lanes in the city. If cycling is your passion, just rent a bike and zip out into the streets! Please wear a helmet.

Diamonds are everybody's best friend!

Must Buy Souvenir

Amsterdam is one of the best places on planet earth to seek out the most precious of stones: diamonds. A leading purveyor offering exemplary cut, colour and clarity by superbly skilled craftsmen since the 17th century, the Dutch capital is where you should buy that coveted star piece. An expansive range of stunningly crafted platinum diamond jewellery, in classic and contemporary designs, shine bright in all the iconic diamond boutiques such as Gassan Diamonds, Zazare Diamonds and Coster Diamonds, who collectively bear the legacy of creating and polishing some of the most famous crown jewels in history.

Hotel TwentySeven Amsterdam


With creative, cultural and culinary extravaganzas circling around Amsterdam on a regular basis, the Dutch capital always erupts with celebrity guests and international jetsetters. The most stylish places to lay your head on can be the elegant Art-Nouveau venues and the traditional grande dames draped in classic luxury and style with pristine canal views.

Read the guide to The Best Luxury Hotels In Amsterdam

Getting Around

The fastest route to the city centre from the Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS) is by hiring an Amsterdam airport taxi. It should take around 20 minutes to reach your destination in the city. Amsterdam boasts an impressive public transport network including metros, trams, trains, buses and ferries. An incredibly bike-friendly city with designated bike lanes, it can be an interesting way to explore the nooks and crannies of one of Europe’s most happening cities on a bicycle. searches hundreds of travel sites simultaneously to help you find the best premium flight offers to and from Amsterdam. also compares all the major hotel suppliers to give you the very best prices in the finest hotels. 

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