48 Hours In: Amsterdam

With the tulips coming out and the canals perfect for a stroll, this water-laced city looks pretty in spring.

Click here for 48 Hours in Amsterdam map

Travel essentials

Why go now?

This most human of cities is at its most appealing right now, without the crowds that begin at Easter and stay through the summer. Spring is tulip time in Holland, and even the capital gets in on the act: the blooms are starting to appear at the fascinating Hortus Botanicus (1) at Plantage Middenlaan 2a (00 31 20 625 9021; en.dehortus.nl; 10am-5pm at weekends, from 9am on weekdays, admission €7.50). On 15 April an exhibition called "The Tulip, wild and tempting", opens here.

Touch down

Amsterdam Centraal station (2) is just over four hours from London St Pancras, on Eurostar (08432 186 186; eurostar.com) to Brussels Midi, where you change to a high-speed Thalys train; from £116 return. Eurostar also offers a ticket from £89 return connecting in Brussels to the conventional trains to Amsterdam.

Alternatively, fly from one of 19 UK airports to Amsterdam's Schiphol airport, 10 miles south-west of the city centre. Trains from here to Centraal station (2) take about 20 minutes; €3.70 one-way, €6.30 return.

Get your bearings

The ancient heart of Amsterdam, developed from medieval times, is contained within an oval south-west of the river Ij, at the point where it meets the river Amstel. Built on an artificial island on the northern edge of the old city is the Centraal station (2), the arrival point for most visitors to the city, and the starting-point for many of the city's trams, buses and tourist boats. In a semi-circle around the old city is a series of canals; to the east are the docks, to the south-west, just beyond the outer, Singelgracht canal, is the Museum District; to the west Jordaan, a working-class district now popular with artists and students.

The main tourist office (00 31 20 201 8800; iamsterdam.com) is located opposite the station's main entrance; it opens 9am-6pm daily, until 5pm on Sundays.

This is the place to buy the I amsterdam card (iamsterdam.com), which offers unlimited public transport, a canal cruise and admission to 36 of Amsterdam's main museums. It costs €39 for 24 hours, €49 for 48 hours.

You can also buy an OV Chipcard ( ov-chipkaart.nl) here – the equivalent of London's Oyster stored-value card,making public transport cheaper.

Check in

At The Toren (3), a 17th-century canal house on one of Amsterdam's loveliest waterways (Keizersgracht 164; 00 31 20 622 6033; thetoren.nl), each of the 38 guest rooms is different – and although some feel cramped, they are all stylish. Doubles start at €147, with an extra €12 per person for an excellent buffet breakfast. It has a sister property, the three-star Hotel Sebastian's (4) (00 31 20 423 2342; hotelsebastians.nl) further along the same canal at number 15; here, doubles start at €80, and breakfast costs €10. Both these hotels require a minimum stay of two nights if you plan to stay on a Saturday. If you are not travelling as a couple, Hotel Belga (5), at Hartenstraat 8 (00 31 20 624 9080; hotelbelga.nl), has a good variety of rooms, some with shared bathrooms and others ensuite. Single rooms are available from €35 while a room for up to five people costs €125; the rates include breakfast.

Day one

Cultural morning

Start early to beat the crowds. Amsterdam's Museum District has establishments devoted to diamonds, film, and even bar-tending: the House of Bols (6) is the world's oldest distillery ( houseofbols.com). But most people come to this part of the city to see three art museums – two of which, unfortunately, are in the midst of interminable refurbishment.

The finest Dutch masterpieces of the Rijksmuseum (7) (00 31 20 674 7000; rijksmuseum.nl; 9am-6pm daily; €12.50) are on display in the Philips Wing while the main building is renovated.

The contemporary Stedelijk (8) (00 31 20 573 2911; stedelijk.nl; 10am-5pm daily except Monday, to 10pm on Thursdays; €10) is also mid-refurb, but a temporary exhibition of works from its permanent collection has just opened.

The Van Gogh Museum (9) (00 31 20 570 5200; vangoghmuseum.nl) boasts the largest collection of the artist's work anywhere in the world, as well as work by other 19th-century painters. The temporary exhibition "Stepping out in Montmartre" is a collection of posters and prints evoking Paris at the time Van Gogh was painting there. The museum opens 10am-6pm daily, until 10pm on Friday, and admission costs €14.

Lunch on the run

In the old city there are lots of "brown cafes" – cosy bars that serve a full menu rather than merely snacks – so it's never hard to find somewhere for a quick lunch.

Try De Gaeper (10), at Staalstraat 4 ( degaeper.nl), for a choice of soup, omelettes, home-made meatballs and light fare.

Window shopping

The Negen Straatjes – "nine streets" – is a charming area between the canals that is full of boutiques, vintage stores, bookshops and other small emporia that are perfect for browsing in.

On the banks of the Singel, the daily flower market (11) is a good place to stock up on bulbs to take home.

If you prefer to do all your shopping under one roof, the smart Bijenkorf department store (12) on Dam Square has plenty of high-end brands and designer homewares.

An aperitif

Two minutes' walk from Dam Square is Bubbles and Wines (13) at Nes 37 ( bubblesandwines.com) – serving nearly 60 reasonably priced wines by the glass, plus plates of tapas. Next door but one is the Nes-cafe (nes-cafe.nl), a noisier establishment serving beer – and not an instant coffee in sight.

Dining with the locals

Head to the Jordaan district for a good choice of places to eat. Try 't Smalle Eten (14) at 24-26 Egelantiersstraat (00 31 20 625 5306; t-smalle.nl), a recently opened companion to 't Smalle bar on the same street. The menu is small, featuring simple dishes (French onion soup, steak Béarnaise), but prepared and served with panache.

Day two

Sunday morning: go to church

The Westerkerk (15) on Prinsengracht ( westerkerk.nl), one of Holland's oldest Protestant churches, was where the present Dutch queen married in 1946. It was built in the early 17th century by the then-city architect, Hendrick de Keyser, in a combination of stone and brick that is typical of Dutch Renaissance style. Rembrandt was buried here in a pauper's grave, although no one knows exactly where. A Sunday service in Dutch is at 10.30am.

Take a hike

Start at the Westerkerk (15) and explore the district known as the canal girdle, the 17th-century extension to an overcrowded medieval city. Wrapping around the city centre like threads of a spider's web, the three main canals – Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht - offer a fascinating snapshot of the city's history.

Close by is the Anne Frank House (16), a moving reminder of the impact of the Nazi occupation during the Second World War (00 31 20 556 7700; annefrank.org; 9am-9pm daily; €8.50). The young Anne Frank hid for two years in a secret annexe to the house.

Stroll by the water past the red-brick Bartolotti House (17), built in the Dutch Renaissance style in the 17th century for a wealthy merchant. Notice how the facade bends in parallel with the canal.

To find out what life is like on board one of the many houseboats moored on the canal, pop into the Houseboat Museum (18) at Prisengracht 296, a freighter-turned-home (houseboatmuseum.nl; 11am-5pm daily, €3.50).

De Bazel (19) stretches along Vijzelstraat from Herengracht to Keizersgracht – a striking Art Deco building that was once the home of the ABN-AMRO bank and now houses the city archives. Take the lift to the third floor and walk down again, admiring the wood-panelled staircase, stained glass and period tiles.

Contrast this with the Van Loon Museum (20) (00 31 20 624 5255; museumvanloon.nl; 11am-5pm daily except Tuesday; €8), built as a private house on Keizersgracht during the 1670s and furnished as it would have been during the 18th century. Behind is a formal garden, and beyond that is a coach house scheduled to open to the public this summer. End your walk on the Amstel river at the Magere Brug (21), the "skinny bridge".

Out to brunch

The walk ends close to the Art Deco surroundings of the Bar Lempicka (22) (00 31 20 622 0209; barlempicka.com) at Sarphatistraat 23. While the €11 breakfast of eggs, cheese, toast, croissant and orange juice is served only 10am-noon, you can order smoked salmon and cream cheese rolled in a copious Swedish flat bread (€7.75).

For a lighter alternative, head along the canal and order pastries at the Cafe Neva in the Hermitage (23) (00 31 20 530 7483; hermitage.nl) on the banks of the Amstel river. Then wander around the new exhibition, "Splendour and Glory", which opens today and showcases the artistic treasures of the Russian Orthodox church.

Take a ride

End your visit by getting one final perspective: exploring the city from the water. Holland International (00 31 20 625 3035; hir.nl) boats depart from Prins Hendrikkade (24) every 15 minutes between 9am and 6pm, then every half-hour until 10pm; trips cost €13. Alternatively, tickets for the glass-roofed, hop-on, hop-off Canal Bus (canal.nl) cost €22 for 24 hours, and you can stop as many times as you like.

Suggested Topics
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Bid / Tender Writing Executive

    £24000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in Manchester, Lon...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Executives / Marketing Communications Consultants

    Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a number of Marketi...

    Recruitment Genius: Marketing Executive

    £20000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This well established business ...

    Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester

    £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester...

    Day In a Page

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own