Amsterdam: The Esquire Travel Guide

The Dutch capital is so much more than the tired cliché of red lights and stoner cafés

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Welkom to Amsterdam, capital of a country with a distorted image.

The stereotype goes that the Dutch are low-key and laid-back liberals, so, yes, you can partake in a crafty recreational smoke in one of the many coffee shops, but your average Amsterdammer considers himself anything but average, and boy will they have an opinion on everything, including how great their city is.

They might just have a point. Many of the city’s best museums have just emerged from long-term revamps, there’s a foodie scene, chic boutique hotels aplenty and cracking nightlife that involves more than gawping at the red-light district.

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1 | Where To Stay

Amsterdam’s canal-side townhouses make for perfect boutique hotels, and The Dylan is the best on offer, with a contemporary feel but sympathy for the 17th-century building’s heritage. There’s an excellent restaurant from Michelin-starred chef Dennis Kuipers and Bar Barbou is the perfect venue for an early evening snifter. Incidentally, the name is Welsh-poet and not American-singer related, with the owners passionate Dylan Thomas fans.

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2 | Where To Lunch

Space is at a premium in Holland, which is noticeable in downtown Amsterdam. For breathing room – and a decent lunch to boot – take the ferry to the artistic hub of NDSM (formerly one of the city’s busiest docks) and make for the huge greenhouse/hangar housing Noorderlicht Café. There’s a changing menu and live music.

3 | Where To Dine

Ricardo van Ede might look more like a Hells Angel than a chef, but his cooking has been the talk of Amsterdam for years. His latest launch is Ricardo’s in Odeon, a former nightclub on the Singel canal decked out with neon signs. (Favourite? “All pigs go to heaven.”) The schtick? You say how many courses you want and then sit back and enjoy as they bring whatever’s on that night. You wouldn’t want to argue with ol’ Ricardo, but you won’t have to.

4 | What To See

The Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum may draw the biggest crowds, but the recently renovated Stedelijk Museum showcases a superb collection of contemporary art and design in a building that’s oddly reminiscent of the underside
of a vast enamel bathtub. More modern classics are on view at Foam, Amsterdam’s museum of photography.;;;

5 | What To Do

Get high in the low country… What was I writing then? Oh, yes, Amsterdam’s infamous coffee shops (not to be mistaken for cafés) are on every stag party’s must-do list, but if you’re going to indulge, make it quality – the herb at Green House has won 35 Cannabis Cups. Try the Flowerbomb Kush. Then visit one of the museums to appreciate how good Dutch art has been over the centuries.

6 | Where To Shop

From drugs to Droog – this understated design shop features furniture and homeware with a high quirk quotient such as Arnout Visser’s “Fruit on Wheels” bowl and Floris Hovers’s “Bottle Boat” kit, for making sailing boats out of used shampoo bottles. Not quite sure how we’ve all survived without these in our lives to date. There’s also a predictably cool café and a few hotel rooms on the top floor.

We’ve really tried not to overplay the sex, but FYI, Condomerie, appropriately located by the red light district, has the world’s finest selection of rubbers, including a made-to-measure service and even a museum to the evolution of the love glove.

7 | Where To Drink

I haven’t reviewed a retro speakeasy bar for a while, but Bar Oldenhof has the whole Twenties revival thing down pat. Ask the waistcoated (and possibly spat-wearing) barman for a Hoff: vodka, Cointreau, lemon juice, vanilla and Angostura bitters, “shaken, not hasselled”. Geddit?

8 | Where To Party

A former printing press building of a Dutch publishing house of the same name, the cavernous Trouw is now a restaurant, gallery space and, best of all, nightclub playing bone-jarringly loud dance music and featuring many DJs from the stable of the new owner’s own record label.

9 | Where To Avoid

Just avoid wandering aimlessly into the many bike lanes… Death by bicycle is a desperately uncool way to go.

10 | Why Now?

Any country that produces DJs as huge as Armin van Buuren and Tiësto knows a thing or two about dance music, and the annual Amsterdam Dance Event (15–19 October, this year) brings together more than 1,500 DJs playing over 250 gigs to nearly a quarter of a million grateful techno heads.

Tom Barber is a founder of award-winning travel company


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