How to do Amsterdam the right way
City insider Monique Todd reveals where locals go to eat, drink and get a dose of the culture in the Dutch capital
Saturday 27 August 2022 By Monique Todd
It’s easy to pin Amsterdam’s allure to its liberal sensibility, but there is much more to the city than readily available vices. Once you spend a bit of time in the capital, you get a feel for its quiet confidence, a sense of ease and efficiency, which influences everything from its cultural offering, general navigation, and pace of living. And for a relatively small city, it still packs a punch.
There are more museums here than in any other capital in the world, and its many canals have won it the nickname ‘Venice of the North’. Locals work hard, play hard and rest hard, so the city’s general buzz hardly exceeds into chaos, nor does it dip into boredom. Right now, Amsterdam is picking up extra momentum on the culture front, with club De School – the capital’s most reputable nightlife spot set to reopen in early autumn, while Amsterdam Dance Event will be in full swing come October. Arty types will enjoy Museum Night this November, a not-to-be-missed late evening art bender listing 300 events, performances, food and drink across more than 50 museums.
With so much to do, Soho House Amsterdam provides a solid base for rest, reprieve and indulgence in the central location of Spuistraat. Opened in 2018, the five-floor canal-side House boasts Art Deco features, a rooftop pool and a gym to work up a sweat. The contemporary-style bedrooms, 79 to be exact, are furnished with unique antiques and modern accents, with the Monumental Rooms retaining original 1930s timber panelling and stained-glass windows.
Cowshed is on the ground floor for all-hour TLC (pop in for a trim, massage or facial), while the screening room and Bunge Room are regularly programmed with new releases and hot DJ line-ups respectively. Cecconi’s will take care of everything from dinner meetings and late-night cravings, too - its street-side location is the perfect spot for people watching. With all essentials covered in the striking Bungehuis building, your travel itinerary will be freed up for maximum adventure and curiosity, which is exactly how Amsterdam should be explored.
Art and culture
There’s nothing quite as exhilarating as an early morning concert in Amsterdam’s oldest building. De Oude Kerk’s Silence series invites emerging and established sound artists to perform at 8am once a month, usually in response to or alongside commissioned art installations that are programmed on-site across the year. Vocalists, electronic musicians and classical ensembles have made use of the superb church acoustics, making this one of the hottest tickets in the city. Follow the show with breakfast at the adjacent cafe before walking up to San Serriffe, a small tapped-in arts bookstore nestled in a backstreet just a few meters away from the church. Talks and workshops are often scheduled across the week, so you may find yourself popping back frequently. Once you’ve ticked the city’s major museums off your list, head east to P////AKT, a non-profit art platform with a fearless curatorial eye for multidisciplinary work from international and domestic artists.
Amsterdam’s aesthetic code can be summed up as forward-thinking design balanced with quiet quirks. In other words, it’s all in the details. The best shopping hubs in the city keep an eye to trends, but lead with quality and flair, so you’re guaranteed to bag timeless pieces that are also conversation starters. Take Paro Store, an exciting hub in the west side that stocks emerging, sustainable designs across fashion and interiors. Book an appointment to browse everything from Japanese denim to naturally dyed tableware. If you find yourself grazing through Albert Cuyp Market’s artisanal vendors, swing by De Peperbol for an extensive range of high-quality incense and slick kitchenware. Mud in May is also around the corner for an additional homeware fix – their metal-drip candleholders and contemporary ceramics are hard to resist.
Eating and drinking
Amsterdam’s food scene isn’t just pancakes, apple pies, and fries. Yes, there are delightful spots to indulge in these tasty treats (Winkel 43 is popular for a very good reason) though in lieu of the capital’s innovative style, you can expect an equally varied culinary landscape. L’Abeille Amsterdam is a French pastry lab that serves experimental patisserie from a quaint hole in a wall and is a favourite among locals – try an apricot and thyme vanilla eclair with a cup of their home-roasted coffee en route to Oosterpark. For natural wine and fun small plates, make your way to Alex + Pinard in Dapperstraat. Their concise menu (the rabbit karaage and buckwheat ricotta gnudi are highlights) makes a perfect pairing with whatever tipple you fancy. Consider reserving a table ahead of time to avoid the queues.
Amsterdam boasts more canals than Venice, but the city’s lesser-known quirks are its hofjes – the Dutch version of secret gardens that are scattered across the city and accessible only through hidden doors. The first hofjes dates back to the 13th century, but many were built by wealthy locals during the 17th century as a charitable retreat for elderly widows and unmarried women. Most are free to enter during the weekdays up until 5pm, making them a perfect spot for a mid-afternoon recharge. The largest is the Karthuizerhof, built in 1650, on the site of a 14th-century Carthusian monastery. Begijnhof is the city’s most famous hofjes, just 10 minutes from the Royal Palace with one of Amsterdam’s last surviving wooden houses framing the scenic haven. While these sanctuaries are open to the public, most of the buildings are still inhabited, so quiet appreciation is expected.
Partying in the north of the city might not be the most appealing proposition (even though ferries operate 24/7 from Centraal Station) but Garage Noord hardly suffers low turnout, not least because it hosts the best nights in the city. An old car repair shop-turned-nightclub, this small industrial spot lists underground DJs and renowned international acts in their sweat-inducing programme (think Moor Mother and RP BOO, to name a few). Keep an eye on their Instagram for up-to-date listings, and consider swinging by earlier to grab authentic roti from the attached restaurant, Roti Noord.