THE NETHERLANDS Amsterdam is cruising along historic canals
For art and antiques, head to Spiegelstraat, and for those quirky boutique-style shops, hop on board a tram and spend an afternoon wandering the districts of Jordaan or De Pijp.
• Old-fashioned windmills, rustic merchant-houses and elegant canals that criss-cross the city, give Amsterdam a distinct character that you will not soon forget. World-class museums and vivid tulip fields add to the city’s plentiful charms. Art lovers will feel particularly at home here, as they feast their eyes on the internationally acclaimed Van Gogh Collection. Next, head over to the Museum Het Rembrandthuis, home to almost every etching Rembrandt produced, as well as some much more intimate memorabilia, such as his extensive collection of shells.
The importance of tulips in Dutch history is not to be underestimated. They were once more highly prized than gold. The Amsterdam Tulip Museum is small, but offers an intriguing glimpse into the evolution of the city’s culture. It also explains how a delicate garden flower helped shape the economy of 17th and 18th century Amsterdam.
The Rijksmuseum stands prominently among the finest art museums in the country, and exhibits work from more than 200 of the world’s maestros. It’s a must-see for art lovers when they travel to Amsterdam. The city has also earned fame for its gem industry, and the Diamond Museum is a sparkling reminder of this heritage.
• Amsterdam is smaller than many European capitals – perhaps a hint that the Dutch prefer the countryside and go there to relax whenever possible. Many of them head for Vondelpark, a tranquil, green space that offers a peaceful respite from the city’s crowds. A tour of the Keukenhof Gardens is also highly recommended, especially if you’re paying a visit to Amsterdam in the spring.
If you want to see the city from a different perspective, then hop on board one of the many canal cruises. Since nothing in The Netherlands is more than a few hundred kilometres from anything else, you have the option to explore the nation’s other cities. Try Delft, famous for its pottery, or The Hague.
• Like any major European city, Amsterdam is filled with fine-dining opportunities and cuisine from around the world. You’ll find some delectable Asian dishes, particularly in the city’s Chinese quarter (located around Zeedijk, in the Nieuwmarkt part of the city), while the Dutch colonial influence of the 18th century East Indies is still apparent in the number of Indonesian restaurants.
If you’re looking for more of a Middle Eastern flavour, try the busy streets of Damstraat. If you have a sweet tooth, why not sample some of the best ice cream you’ll ever taste at Nieuwezijds Kolk, which stretches from Dam Square to Amsterdam Central Station.
• The main shopping areas in Amsterdam are relatively close together and very central, so start at Central Station and you’ll find that the Leidseplein (Nieuwendijk, Kalverstraat, Heiligeweg and Leidsestraat) all radiate outwards from this central point. Here you’ll find top-quality international brands as well as some more exclusively Dutch souvenirs, including clogs.