‘Welkom in Amsterdam’: It’s a veritable feast of culture!
For those who love the cut and thrust of life in the city but find the traffic and ever-increasing noise levels increasingly irritating, the need to escape for a long weekend holds much appeal.
Amsterdam has avoided polluting the atmosphere and attracts millions of visitors for short stays by providing an excellent and affordable transport system and all the attractions of a vibrant and cosmopolitan city. The capital of the Netherlands offers a veritable feast of culture and there is much to see and do.
For art lovers, a visit to the Rijksmuseum is essential. Examples of the very best paintings, sculptures and applied art of the Northern Netherlands and a fascinating history of the ‘Golden Age’ will more than satisfy the most demanding art buffs. Rembrandt’s magnificent ‘Night Watch’, on display in the Rembrandt Hall, is of course the highlight of the exhibition. I was also entranced by another ‘oil on canvas’; painted by Willem Van de Velde II in 1680. The magnificent painting depicts a British warship in distress, caught on the high seas by a squall, and the broken mast and loose sail captures the tragedy entirely. The artist and his father, who was also a marine painter, entered the English court in 1672 and the painting was made in England.
A trip to the Van Gogh museum is also a joy and it’s only a short stroll away on Museumplein. We were enraptured by the sight of his masterpiece ‘Irises’, which he painted in 1890, whilst an inpatient of a psychiatric hospital in Saint-Rèmy. Other masterpieces include the 1882 piece entitled ‘View of the Sea at Scheveningen’ and ‘Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen’, 1884 – 1885. Both of these treasures were stolen from the museum in 2002 and recovered in September 2016.
For those seeking their own treasure and with a healthy credit card balance, a trip to the Amsterdam diamond centre will entice the most prudent visitor! The Gassan diamond factory is located on Dam Square, opposite the royal palace, and it is housed within a former steam-driven diamond-cutting factory dating back to 1878. Visitors are treated to an excellent and informative tour of the site and given a real insight into the mysteries of the diamond world. Customers may choose from a vast array of the most exquisite loose diamonds, select a jewel for setting and collect their purchase within thirty minutes or sprint to the nearest exit with credit limit intact!
Amsterdam is the perfect place to stroll aimlessly at a leisurely pace. The architecture all around the city is striking and of course the canals are the main attraction. The ‘Herengracht’ section of the canal that runs from Leidsestraat to Vijzelstraat is known as the ‘Golden Bend’ and is the location of the most wonderful examples of canal houses, particularly on the corner of Leidsegracht. This house features a magnificent Dutch classicist clock gable and many of the properties on the Prinsengracht canal date back to the 17th century. For a close up view from the river, embark on a ‘Blue Boat’ 75 minute narrated canal cruise, which departs from Stadhouderskade (opposite the Heineken Experience).
For a truly unique experience, I recommend a visit to the only floating flower market in the world. The sweetest fragrance floats in the air above the flower stalls that stand on houseboats located on the Singel canal between Koningsplein and Mutplien. Narcissus and tulips galore, the bulbs are prepared for export and the choice is abundant. From here, saunter along to the trendy Occo Bar and Brasserie, located on Keizersgracht, and indulge in a first class dining experience. I sampled the succulent Dutch Pacific oysters followed by the halibut ceviche, and accompanied by the restaurant’s ‘world class cocktail’ of Don Julio Blanco tequila, lime juice and lavender syrup, it was simply unforgettable.
After dining, we hopped onto tram no. 14 from Westermarkt for the 15 minute ride to Artis; Amsterdam’s Royal Zoo, which is located on Plantage Kerklaan. Dating back to 1838 it attracts over a million visitors annually and is held in high esteem due to its very successful conservation programme. Surrounded by beautiful, lush gardens with an enormous variety of trees, plants and flowers, Artis houses more than 700 animals including elephants, giraffes, gorillas, lions and jaguars. Other attractions include a planetarium, an aquarium and Micropia, which delves into the mysteries of micro-organisms. Remember to check the information boards on arrival and don’t miss the animal’s hilarious antics during feeding times, particularly the seals.
For the ideal hotel, the Sir Albert, located on Albert Cuypstraat, in Amsterdam’s trendy Latin Quarter, which is also known as the ‘De Pijp’, is just the ticket. The property, which was once a diamond factory, was converted into an intriguing and contemporary boutique hotel in 2013 and features an instinctive and unique interior design that captures the spirit of the community and captivates the guest.
Accommodations include the ‘Sir Residence’, which features a spacious bedroom with a separate living area and two bathrooms. Light and airy and furnished to an exceptional standard, the living area is ideal for relaxing after a day of fervent exploration. Sink into the foaming free standing bath tub in the evening and rejuvenate with a refreshing rainfall shower in the morning and then head for IZAKAYA, the hotel’s popular Japanese restaurant and bar, which serves a sumptuous European breakfast and a first class luncheon and evening dining menu and it’s also a very popular ‘hot spot’ for pre and post dining drinks.
Hotel facilities include a comfortable study, furnished with plump seating and a quiet library or, if you prefer the ‘cut and thrust’ of life, take a stroll around the De Pijp area, which is crammed with enticing designer shops or browse along the stalls of the Albert Cuyp street market, which operates six days a week and you’re sure to find a bargain amongst the 260 stalls.
And for a touch of romance and a very special dinner à deux, hop on the no. 24 tram from Marie Heineken Square, disembark at Muntplein, and head for Restaurant Johannes on Herengract. This restaurant presents the highest levels of comfort and service with tables swathed in crisp, white linens, subdued lighting, and a first class menu. I selected the roasted filet of red mullet with crème of artichoke, potato confit and lobster bisque sauce, and served with a chilled glass of Domaine Brusset Les Travers, it was perfect.
And as our stay in Amsterdam drew to a close, we gazed through the windows of the restaurant and as we admired the view of the canal we raised our glasses and reflected on the words of Vincent Van Gogh ‘Poetry surrounds us everywhere, but putting it on paper is, alas, not as easy as looking at it’.
‘Top tip – accommodation’
For more information on the Sir Albert, visit designhotels.com or email email@example.com or tel. +31 (0) 20 305 30 20.
‘Top tip – flights’
‘Fly the flag’ in comfort with British Airways from LHR to Amsterdam. Business Class offers access to the airport lounge, a dedicated check-in area, complimentary bar service (including champagne) and a contoured leather seat with a guaranteed window or aisle. For more information visit britishairways.com.
‘Top tip- Iamsterdam city card’
Purchase the Iamsterdam city card and take advantage of a free canal cruise, free admission to attractions including museums, Artis zoo, and unlimited public transport. For more information visit iamsterdam.com.