48 hours in: Amsterdam
Get on your bike and weave around the network of canals to explore the shops, cafés and museums of this human-scale city.
Saturday 09 May 2009
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WHY GO NOW?
Tootling along cycle lanes; nosing around street markets; having a beer or two on the terrace of canal-side cafés – Amsterdam is at its most enjoyable in early summer. And, if a shower or two should intervene, Europe's most human capital has plenty of options for indoor merrymaking.
Travelling by train from London St Pancras via Brussels to Amsterdam Centraal Station (1) takes around five hours with Eurostar (08705 186 186; eurostar.com ), with fares starting at £89 return.
Stena Line (08705 455 455; stenaline.co.uk ) offers "rail and sail" fares from Harwich to Hook of Holland, with train travel on to Amsterdam from £58 return.
By air, the widest range of options to Amsterdam's Schiphol airport is on KLM (0870 507 4074; klm.com ) from Aberdeen, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Heathrow, Humberside, Leeds/Bradford, Liverpool, London City, Manchester, Newcastle, Norwich and Durham Tees Valley. Of the budget airlines, easyJet (0905 821 0905; easyjet.com ) offers the widest choice of flights: from Gatwick, Stansted, Luton, Bristol, Liverpool, Edinburgh and Belfast. From 1 July, the present €11.25 tax for flights from Amsterdam will be axed, reducing inbound fares to Britain.
Frequent trains from Schiphol airport take 15 to 20 minutes to reach Centraal Station (1); tickets cost €3.90 each way.
GET YOUR BEARINGS
Centraal Station (1), which backs on to the IJ River, is the focus of a network of canals that radiate through the city centre. To the west is the former Huguenot district of Jordaan, and to the east the revived eastern docklands. The main station is also Amsterdam's transport hub. Most trams and buses depart from the square outside, which has been a mess for the past seven years because of construction work.
The main tourist office (open 9am-7pm daily) and GVB public transport office (open Mon-Fri 7am-9pm, weekends 10am-6pm) share a building directly outside the station. Queues are likely to be shorter in the tourist office on platform two of the station (11am-7pm daily), and the GVB office in the Centraal Station metro station (Mon-Fri 7am-6pm).
A 48-hour public transport pass costs €11.50. The "I amsterdam Card" [sic], which covers all forms of public transport, a canal boat ride and entry to 30 museums and attractions (including most mentioned in this article), costs €48 for 48 hours, and can be bought via iamsterdamcard.com . More tourist information: 00 31 20 201 8800, amsterdamtourist.nl .
Two minutes by tram from the Centraal Station and run with Swiss aplomb, the Mövenpick (2) at Piet Heinkade 11 (00 31 20 519 1200; moevenpick-amsterdam.com ) is a modern tower block with slick but affordable bedrooms and great views over the IJ waterway costing from €159. Excellent buffet breakfast spreads cost €24 per person extra.
One of the best budget options is the Brouwer (3) at Singel 83 (00 31 20 624 6358; hotelbrouwer.nl ), a canal-facing 17th-century sea captain's house with simple but attractive ensuite bedrooms; doubles cost €95 including breakfast.
Another good deal is the Orlando (4) at Prinsengracht 1099 (00 31 20 638 6915; hotelorlando.nl ), a personally run canal-side B&B with five stylish and spacious rooms – a double for two starts at €115.
TAKE A VIEW
The striking, copper-clad NEMO science centre (5) has a free-to-access big, sloping roof terrace, offering a cafe and panorama over the Oosterdok. The terrace is open 10am-5pm daily except Monday (or noon-7.30pm in July and August).
The Amsterdams Historisch Museum (6) at Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal 357 (00 31 20 523 18 22; ahm.nl ; open Mon-Fri 10am-5pm, weekends from 11am; €10) provides an excellent introduction to the Dutch capital, with fascinating maps revealing the growth of the city. Until 9 August, it also has a major exhibition of paintings titled Amsterdam's Old Masters – those showing anatomy lessons are gorily absorbing.
LUNCH ON THE RUN
Wander over to Burgermeester (7) at Elandsgracht 130 in the Jordaan (00 31 20 423 6225; burgermeester.eu ). This healthy, chip-free burger joint does outstanding burgers (full-size ones from €6), salads and milkshakes.
TAKE A HIKE
The once working-class but now gentrified Jordaan is a hugely atmospheric district, liberally dotted with quirky shops and beguiling cafés: t' Smalle (8), at Egelantiersgracht 12, has a desirable canal-side terrace. Jordaan also has numerous hofjes – secret courtyards, invisible from the street, surrounded by almshouses. With its white-fenced lawns and old water pumps, Karthuizershof (9), on Karthuizerssraat, is one of the prettiest.
For many visitors, the chief attraction of nearby Noordermarkt (10) is the moreish, cinnamon-flavoured apple pie (€3) at the Winkel café.
Noordermarkt (10) holds an organic food market on Saturdays and a bric-a-brac market on Mondays. Close by, the Negen Straatjes, or Nine Streets – parallel lanes criss-crossing canals on the western ring – have the city's greatest concentration of one-of-a-kind shops. Favourites include De Kaaskamer (11) at Runstraat 7, contender for Amsterdam's best cheese shop, and next door at number 5, De Witte Tanden Winkel, dedicated to dental accessories.
On fine weekend evenings, hundreds of Amsterdammers chill out on the terrace of Pacific Parc (12) (00 31 20 488 7778; pacificparc.nl), a laid-back café/bar/restaurant/nightclub that serves as a focal point of the Westergasfabriek, a gasworks imaginatively converted in to a cultural and nightlife complex.
DINING WITH THE LOCALS
Café-Restaurant Amsterdam (13) (00 31 20 682 2666; cradam.nl ), a short walk from Pacific Parc at Watertorenplein, continues the regenerated, post-industrial theme – the colossal dining hall was once the engine room of a pumping station. Expect a buzzy atmosphere, and good, straightforward French brasserie-style food (steak and chips from €12.25, £11.25, fruits de mer). The final stop of tram line 10 is 200 yards away.
SUNDAY MORNING: GO TO CHURCH
The Begijnhof (14) ( begijnhofamsterdam.nl ) is an enclosed community dating from the 14th-century, originally built as a sanctuary for Beguines – a Catholic sisterhood. Today, it is a pristine courtyard surrounded by gabled houses built to house unmarried Catholic women, and open to visitors during the day. Parts of this triangle of land are off-limits, but not the two places of worship. The obvious one is the English Reformed Church (founded more than 400 years ago), with Sunday Communion at 10.30am. Directly opposite, the concealed Begijnhof Catholic chapel celebrates Sunday mass at 10am in Dutch and 11.15am in French.
TAKE A RIDE...
... on a bike around the eastern docklands. Rent from MacBike (00 31 20 620 09 85; macbike.nl), a well-run outfit with a convenient depot at the eastern end of the Centraal Station (1): a day's hire, including insurance, costs €12.50 for a bike with a back pedal brake. Head off along the Oostelijke Handelskade, past the new waterfront concert hall, the Muziekgebouw aan't Ij (15). Then explore Java-Eiland, KNSM-Eiland, Sporenburg and Borneo-Eiland, where you will come across eye-catching, modern-day takes on old canal houses, and striking apartment blocks, such as the silver whale which dominates Sporenburg.
OUT TO BRUNCH
A focal point of the Eastern Docklands is the Lloyd (16) at Oostelijke Handelskade 34 (00 31 20 561 3636; lloydhotel.com ), an unconventional hotel that was once a boarding house for emigrants off to the Americas. Its open-plan hall serves as a laid-back café/restaurant, where you can have a bowl of chips with mayo, a gouda sandwich, or a full meal (three courses around €25).
A WALK IN THE PARK
The Hortus Botanicus (17) at Plantage Middenlaan 2a (00 31 20 625 9021; dehortus.nl ) is a small but delightful botanical garden, with an area set aside for medicinal herbs, a cycad in one of its greenhouses that is claimed to be the world's oldest pot plant, and a pleasant courtyard café. The garden is open 10am-5pm at weekends, from 9am during the week, admission €7.
WRITE A POSTCARD
A diamond-cutting factory of 1860 is now home to Plancius (18), a trendy café, bar and restaurant at Plantage Kerklaan 61 near the botanical gardens. You can write your postcard outside in good weather.
THE ICING ON THE CAKE
Until 7 June, the Van Gogh Museum (19) at Paulus Potterstaat 7 (00 31 20 570 5200; vangoghmuseum.com ) is showing, in collaboration with New York's Museum of Modern Art, Van Gogh and the Colours of the Night, a major exhibition of the troubled artist's work. During the exhibition, the museum is open Sun-Wed 10am-6pm, Thur-Sat 10am-10pm, and an extra €2.50 applies to the regular admission fee of €12.50. If you can, buy tickets online for a particular time slot.
On 20 June, the Hermitage Amsterdam (20), the Dutch annexe of St Petersburg's State Hermitage Museum, is re-opening with great fanfare in much-enlarged premises at the Amstelhof, a 17th-century old people's home at Amstel 51 (00 31 20 530 87 51; hermitage.nl ). The inaugural exhibition (open 10am-5pm daily, Wed to 8pm, admission €15) will recreate life at the Russian court during the 19th-century.
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