With its gorgeous streets strung together by trams, buses and bike lanes, Amsterdam is both a travel and transport-lover's dream.
Appreciation for the Netherlands’ capital is on the up. It now ranks as the world’s ninth most liveable city according to the Economist’s annual rankings. ‘Liveable’ is on the tip of tourists’ tongues too, but it’s damning with faint praise - the greater impression is of a truly calm place to exist in.
Known as ‘the Venice of the North’, Amsterdam has more than 160 canals and 1,200 bridges criss-crossing them. This loose grid system can make it tricky for visitors to get their bearings, as there are countless elegant houses, bars and coffee shops budding off each street.
The bountiful number of transport options does come with the slight risk of needing eyes in the back of your head as they all buzz around you, walking through the more central parts. But paying attention to your surroundings is only ever rewarding in a city as beautiful as Amsterdam.
Summer is a brilliant time to visit as it brings the city’s parks and bodies of water to life. Having spent an unusually hot few days across the North Sea this year, here are my best tips for where to sleep, eat, drink and stay cool.
Where are the best places to stay in Amsterdam?
As with any European capital, holidaymakers are not short on places to rest their heads in Amsterdam. Given the competition, hotels are doing more and more to distinguish themselves.
These three places all have a strong concept, stay true to their visions of hospitality and offer a little something extra to your stay.
Located just a few minutes metro ride from Centraal Station - and a stroll away from the lovely Oosterpark - Volkshotel is a supremely fun place to base yourself. It might not look like much from the outside (though a portico with a monkey drinking beer atop a seagull gives a flavour of its kookiness). The exterior couldn’t be further from the Grand Budapest Hotel, but the busy inner workings of this former newspaper HQ certainly had a Wes Anderson feel.
As well as several hotel floors, a cutaway picture would show people bathing in the rooftop hot tubs, dining in the stylish Canvas restaurant, typing away in the workspace studios, and dancing in the basement. I enjoyed all minus the work for this Dutch dispatch, and it really felt like more of an all-in-one-experience than just a hotel.
With incredible panoramic views, delicious food and cocktails, Canvas is a destination for locals too. And no doubt the open plan workspace is a buzzing spot for creatives and digital nomads. Guests can access all areas and activities, though are themselves tucked away with a secure card system.
There are rooms for different budgets and tastes, starting from €79 (off season) for a cabin, to €200 plus for one of the special rooms. ‘Cabin in the woods’ is one of the latter; a spacious haven that will delight DIY-lovers with its mix of solid square joinery and birchwood, plus an ‘open-air’ bath.
The staff are very friendly and - given all the activities on offer, from yoga to life drawing sessions and hairdressing - I’d particularly recommend Volkshotel for those looking for a longer stay, and to have a more sociable time in the city.
Conscious Hotel, Westerpark
It’s not every day you stay in a hotel in the middle of a park. Conscious Hotel’s amazing location in Westerpark feels both peaceful and entirely fitting with its environmental ethos.
It is the first hotel in the Netherlands to be powered solely by wind energy, largely from its own windmill in the harbour of Amsterdam - delivered by green supplier Pure Energie. The grand red brick building, once the site of a former gas works, is 100 per cent electric.
The rooms are simple in style, bright and clean, but with a twist. Things have got substance: from the Fairtrade cotton sheets to desks made from recycled yoghurt pots, each element has a solid, well-sourced feel.
There are four Conscious Hotels in total, two beside wonderful Vondelpark and another next to Museum Square. And in each one this simplicity is married to a characterful spirit. ‘Eco sexy’ is the brand’s slogan, and it’s used liberally. You’ll struggle to avoid this kind of wackaging in Amsterdam’s boutique accommodation, but in this case it’s at least well earned.
Bar Kantoor is an elegant dining space, with a bar made from old pharmacy cabinets at one end, and an open kitchen at the other. There are a great array of breakfast options, all with the perk of being able to look out across the park while you get your caffeine fix.
The trams don’t line up quite so easily from Westerpark to get to the inner ring of shops and eateries, but they’re only a short walk away. And those looking to explore Amsterdam the local way will be glad to hear the hotel has bikes to rent. Make a beeline for Sloterplas - just a 20 minute cycle west - on a hot day, to bask at the lake with its own urban beachfront.
A little further out, the expansive Niewe Meer offers another great place for outdoor swimming, while the former shipyard of Marineterrein is good for a quick dip.
Hotel the Exchange
Blink walking down Damrak and you’ll miss it, but an unobtrusive entrance gives way to this expansive hotel in the heart of Amsterdam.
Each room is designed by fashion students, with all interior design in strong service to a theme - even one as niche as a ‘Rembrandt-style collar’. Rooms range from spacious 5-star suites to 1-star economy rooms: ‘snug hideaways’ with fun details like giant buttons or collections of embroidery hoops.
I stayed in ‘The Lagos Room’, a tribute to designer Papa Oyeyemi’s home city, and a vision in yellow gingham and black tyre. It has a secret, twilight feel, offset by wide balcony views, high concept but also extremely comfortable. Even a less tailored room, you get the impression, is woven with the same care and attention to detail.
Being right in the thick of things comes with obvious advantages too, as you’re in easy reach of Amsterdam’s many attractions.
The hotel is only a three minute walk from the magnificent medieval Oude Kerk and Our Lord in the Attic, a former hidden Catholic church. Other underrated spots include the Mouse Mansion - a delightful model city run by rodents - and the Huis Marseille Museum of Photography with its small but peaceful garden.
They’re either end of the nine streets, which house an enticing warren of independent shops.
Where are the best places to eat and drink in Amsterdam?
It would take you well beyond a weekend to find Amsterdam’s finest eateries, but there are definitely a cluster of stylish spots on the west side.
Café Binnenvisser’s charm spills out onto the curb. Beneath beautiful stained glass panels, the windows open out in summer to merge the cool interior and warm evenings. If you’ve got the time (and are happy to splash out one evening) enjoy the 5-course menu and watch the world go by.
Further north, the Italian restaurant Rafi also has a neighbourhood feel that belies its central location, and serves up delicious classic food with a modern flair.
Veggies and vegans can’t miss Vegan Junk Food Bar - a business that realised the gap in the market for greasy, chunky plant-based food several years ago, and went full steam ahead with bright coloured burgers. I ate at the restaurant on Reguliersdwarsstraat, Amsterdam’s iconic and fun gay street.
Foodhallen is another Amsterdam dining experience to write home about, or at least get on the Instagram grid. Beautiful stalls with every kind of cuisine, plus bars and DJs all under one roof.
For quicker pit stops try Vleesch Noch Visch for pitta wraps and Fou Fow Ramen for perfect gyoza and a refreshing Asahi beer. There are so many drinking spots to choose from in Amsterdam, but one place to feel a comfy, locals vibe is Café P96 - pull up a chair on the boat terrace and feel the gentle sway of the canal beneath you.