Gareth Huw Davies

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Six things you must do in Amsterdam


Still life and Vermeer, in temporary Rijksmuseum, 2012

Still life and Vermeer, in temporary Rijksmuseum, 2012

Six things you must do in Amsterdam
More canals than Venice, knockout art by Rembrandt and van Gogh, the mass 
seduction of flowers, Renaissance architecture, a whole nine streets of 
independent shops. No wonder Amsterdam is one of our favourite destinations in 
Europe. GHD draws up his don’t miss list of things to do in the elegant Dutch 


Glide rule

Many city trams start outside the Central Station (you arrive here from the 
airport) and most city centre hotels are on, or close by a route. Buy tickets, 
either for the hour (€2.80) or the day (€7.50) from the GVB office just opposite 
the station. (You need to touch the reader with your card on entering and leaving 
the tram.) Ride the tram to glide imperiously around the old centre and glimpse 
the city’s architectural glories – C16th brick houses with stepped gable façades, 
the 17th baroque Golden Age buildings, and the neo-Gothic of the 1800s. 
Amsterdam has more canals than Venice and more bridges. The streets are full 
of cyclists. They are fast, confident and many don’t use lights at night. Be careful 
and don’t stray into their lanes. 

Buyers’ delight.

Dont look for the well-known retail names in the city centre. For the serene 
antidote to the bland, “could be anywhere”, shopping mall, head for the 
wonderful Nine Streets area, set between some of the city’s finest 17th Century 
canals. It’s the browser’s delight, shop after fabulous one-of-a-kind shop, many 
with exquisite window displays. This is serendipity shopping at its finest. We 
sifted through Otumm watches, Uchino towels in unbleached cotton yarn dyed 
with chamomile and rosehip,  Alfons de Letter’s enamelled house numbers, 
Reypenaer cheeses and Dominio mid C20th Italian furniture. They’ve seen the 
future, so you can buy many things online.


Art with soul 

Two of the most revered artists in history, Rembrandt and van Gogh, have their 
“home” galleries in Amsterdam. Both places are being renovated, but the artists’ 
principal works are still on show, and in a way that doesn’t wear you out. The 
Night Watch and other Rembrandt works, alongside Vermeer’s The Milkmaid  and 
other masterpieces of the Rijksmuseum are in the museum’s Philips Wing during 
major refurbishment of the main building, which reopens in the spring of 2013. 
Rembrandt’s House, where the artist lived between 1639 and 1658, has been 
well restored. I like the studio at the top where you can experience the actual 
light in which Rembrandt worked. 75 paintings by Van Gogh – including 
Sunflowers, The Bedroom and Almond blossom – hang temporarily at the 
Hermitage Museum. The Van Gogh Museum reopens in April (2013). The I 
amsterdam City Card (transport and museums) – € 40 for 24 hours.


Anne Frank House.

Our visit to the Anne Frank House was a profound and humbling experience. It 
reminds us of the worst of human nature, of the petty evil of the people who 
betrayed the eight who hid in tiny quarters for two years from the Nazi 
occupiers. Yet it also speaks of the triumph of the human spirit, and the 
indomitable good cheer of this ordinary, yet extraordinary teenager, with the 
same ambition and dreams of any young person today, and the inspiration so 
many people draw from her. The city has served posterity well with the sensitive 
job it did in restoring the house. The emotional forcefield in the Secret Annex, 
where Anne found her escape and her balm in her diary, is intense. Liable to be 
very busy.


Top brasseries. 

There are many city centre refueling points serving the city’s famous staples, 
chips and mayonnaise and pancakes. And what a choice of distinctive, 
independent cafes. We had a wonderful lunch of homemade soup and Dutch 
apple pie in Latei, just off the Nieuwmarkt. (NB. Look for Koffiehuis . Anything 
called “Coffeeshop” comes with the pungent aroma of marijuana.) Among 
standard brasserie-type restaurants in good old high-ceilinged, canal-side 
buildings, with enthusiastic locals all around, I’d recommend the Van Puffelen, on 
Prinsengracht Another place with a 
straightforward brasserie menu, but doing it well, is Lab111, in a former hospital 
operating theatre The city’s friendly waiters and waitresses, 
almost without exception, speak perfect English.

Design of the times

There’s no reception desk at the new (November, 2012), canalside Andaz hotel 
on C17th canal Prinsengracht. Staff check you in with an iPad, as you lounge 
with a drink in the lobby. Then you ride up to your room in a glass-sided lift, 
alongside a four floor high mural depicting the City’s rich maritime and trading 
history, tinged in gold and Delft blue. The story of Amsterdam’s Golden Age 
continues into the bedrooms, in the illustrations, the personally chosen books 
and the wallpaper in the bathroom. Every last detail in this former city library, 
stylishly transformed into one of the best boutique hotels in town, was the work 
of star Dutch designer Marcel Wanders. Check his creativity for yourself in his 
personalized range in your local M&S. Video art plays on HD TVs down every 
corridor. Free non-alcoholic drinks and snacks from the mini bar are a sensible 

The writer travelled by train, Eurostar from London to Brussels, then high-speed 
Thalys train to Amsterdam.
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