Here’s my definitive guide to Amsterdam – a sort of alternative guide to the city, off the tourist-trail – featuring high-concept design shops, art galleries, independent boutiques and some of the best coffee shops.
We went for my birthday at the weekend and had such a lovely time exploring the city, meandering around the canals and soaking up the atmosphere. There was something instantly relaxing about the water and the slow pace of the bicycles. Of course it did help that the weather was bright and sunny, but one of the best ways to get around was on foot or with one of the canal cruises (we did the hop-on hop-off orange line that took about an hour). There were certainly plenty of higgledy piggledy houses and pretty windowsills to photograph en route!
PLACES TO SEE
Rijksmuseum, Museumstraat 1
This is the Netherlands national museum dedicated to arts and history, so a very popular stop-off on the tourist trail (come here to see Vermeer’s Milkmaid and Rembrandt’s Night Watch). It reopened last year after a ten-year restoration and expansion plan led by Spanish architect Cruz y Ortiz. The highlight is the impressive atrium, with its giant rectangular chandelier that hovers above visitors. When we visited there was an exhibition of Alexander Calder sculptures in the garden.
Eye Museum, IJpromenade 1
Opened in 2012, this white space-ship-like building sits on the other side of Amsterdam in Noord, a short ferry ride behind the Centraal Station. Designed by Delugan Meissl Associated Architects, it features four cinemas, an exhibition space and small pods where up to three people at a time can view the institute’s collection of films. Check out the Olafur Eliasson lighting and go simply to sit in the cafe and admire the view across the water to Amsterdam.
Foam Gallery, Keizersgracht 609
Foam is a small but important photography gallery in one of Amsterdam’s central canals. They have a nearby book and magazine shop &Foam and regularly change up their exhibitions. When we were there, there was three different exhibitions, including one on contemporary American photography.
Stedelijk Museum, Museumplein 10
Relaunched in 2012 following a renovation, Amsterdam’s modern art museum now has a brand new extension designed by Benthem Crouwel, dubbed ‘the bathtub’ by locals. Here you’ll find works by the likes of Andy Warhol and de Kooning, as well as a large design shop and restaurant opening onto the adjacent piazza. It currently has a great exhibition on Marlene Dumas that is not to be missed.
PLACES TO SHOP
The Frozen Fountain, Prinsengracht 645
A shop on one of Amsterdam’s picturesque canals is a design lovers dream, with two floors selling work by household names Charles and Ray Eames and Hella Jongerius, as well as emerging homegrown talent such as Scholten & Baijings.
Six and Sons, Haarlemmerdijk 31
Six and Sons call themselves a concept store with vintage furniture, clothing and accessories, but they also cater for coffee lovers and make homemade cakes instore.
Sukha, Haarlemmerstraat 110
Sukha is a a cosy shop in the centre of Amsterdam and well known for its eco-friendly mindset. Practically all the items they sell have a sustainable background or are Dutch designed; go there for soft knits and organic skincare.
Friday Next, Overtoom 31
This design shop-cum-cafe and exhibition space is another design lovers paradise, with renowned furniture brands as well as lesser-known Dutch designers. The informal cafe spills onto the street, serving coffee and cake by day, and wine by the evening. Here you’ll see yummy mummies meeting for a catch-up or people working on their laptops.
PLACES TO EAT
Although this guide features mainly coffee shop (always in search of the perfect flat white!) we had our best meal of the trip at Cafe Restaurant Amsterdam, housed in an old industrial warehouse (think London’s Bistrotheque).
Hotel Droog, Staalstraat 7/a/b
Despite the name, Hotel Droog is in fact not a hotel, it does have a single suite in its 17th century building, but people come for the exhibition space, cafe and modern, forward-thinking design shop (which sells their famous ‘rag’ chairs, crockery by Maarten Baas and vases by Hella Jongerius). It’s a bit like Merci in Paris and unmissable for any design enthusiast.
Boterham, Andreas Bonnstraat 2
A small and friendly cafe, perfect for lunch, in the east of the city. The interior is formed of OSB board shelving with copper light fittings and faded painted furniture. Most of the furniture and accessories are for sale, and they do great Dutch boterham’s (sandwiches) and homemade cakes.
Koko Coffee and Design, Oudezijds Achterburgwal
Another fashion shop and coffee shop rolled into one, Koko sits opposite the Hash and Marijuana Museum. But it’s a world away from the tacky side of Amsterdam, with really good coffee, seating outside and fresh flowers dotted throughout the shop.
Stach, Haarlemmerstraat 150
Stach is a small supermarket for foodies, with a comfy coffee spot in the corner. It’s a great place to sit in the window and watch everyone cycle past.
And that’s it! I hope you have enjoyed my travel guide, I myself can’t wait to go back.