48 Hours In: Amsterdam

Tulips are in bloom, street festivals are in full swing and the city is celebrating Rembrandt's 400th anniversary. It's party time in Holland, says Harriet O'Brien


This year Amsterdam celebrates the 400th anniversary of the birth of Rembrandt, who lived in the city from 1631 until his death in 1669. The focus on one of the world's (quite apart from Holland's) most celebrated artists is proving a big crowd-puller, so get here before the summer rush. Besides, right now the spring light lends Amsterdam an additional air of enchantment and its flower market (1) is a mass of tulips (a bunch of 50 costs just €7/£4.40).

To get in the party spirit come for Queen's Day - this year on Saturday 29 April - a flamboyant celebration for Queen Beatrix with fantastical street (and canal) carnivals.


KLM (0870 507 4074; www.klm.com) flies from 14 UK airports including Aberdeen, Bristol and Leeds; British Airways (0870 850 9850; www.ba.com) from Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and Manchester; and easyJet (0905 821 0905; www.easyjet.com) from Luton, Gatwick, Stansted, Liverpool, Bristol, Belfast and Edinburgh. Other airlines fly from a wide range of UK airports.

Schipol airport is 13km south-west of the city centre. Trains leave frequently for Amsterdam's Centraal Station (2), a journey that takes 20 minutes and costs €4.10 (£2.60). Buy your ticket from a machine in the station or at the airport tourist office; this is close to the airport station but slightly difficult to find; it opens daily 7am-10pm and has shorter queues than at the tourist offices in town). By rail and sea, the Dutch Flyer (08705 455 455; www.dutchflyer.co.uk) is an excellent deal: £50 return from most stations in East Anglia, plus London Liverpool Street.


A semi-circle of canals loops around the tiny old centre of the city, following a layout devised in 1609. It is these waterways, lined with gloriously gabled 17th-century houses, that give Amsterdam such appeal and charm.

Immediately north of this area is Centraal Station (2); to the east the old docklands are being transformed; to the west lies the elegant Jordaan neighbourhood; to the south is hip De Pijp, the city's first suburb, dating from 1870; while to the south west the mansions of leafy Nieuw Zuid (New South) exude affluence.

The main tourist office (3) is opposite Centraal Station and opens 9am-5pm daily. If the queues are long, head to the tourist office at the station's platform 2 (Monday-Saturday 8am-8pm; Sunday 9am-5pm) or the booth on Leidseplein (4) (9am-5pm daily, to 7pm on Friday and Saturday). See www.holland.com/uk for more information.


Bilderberg Garden Hotel (5) at Dijsselhofplantsoen 7 (00 31 20 570 5600; www.gardenhotel.nl) offers five-star comfort in the green and pleasant Nieuw Zuid. The restaurant (three-course dinners around €40/ £28) is very popular locally. The centre of town is just a 10-minute tram ride away. Doubles cost from €119/£85, including breakfast.

Over in the docklands area the wonderfully innovative Lloyd Hotel (6) at Oostelijke Handelskade 34 (00 31 20 561 3607; www.lloydhotel.com) was formerly a boarding house and prison. There is a glorious loft-style restaurant-cum-sitting area, while rooms range in facilities and price: one-star rooms with shared bathroom from €95/£68, excluding breakfast; spacious five-star rooms with works by local young artists from €225/£161, room only. WiFi internet is free.

Or stay on the water. The Amstel Botel (7) is a boat-hotel moored in the docklands at Oosterdokskade 2-4 (00 31 20 626 4247; www.amstelbotel.nl). Accommodation is in 175 clean and comfortable little cabins, with doubles costing from €87/£62, without breakfast.


For a classic canal-side walk start at the junction of Singel and Browersgracht (8), just west of Centraal Station. Follow Browersgracht west for views of one of the city's most picturesque canals and turn left along the south bank of Prinsengracht. At number 159 (9) you reach Zon'shofje, an old almshouse with hidden courtyard on the site of a Mennonite church; you are free to explore quietly from Monday to Friday 10am-5pm.

Continue south and turn left into Leliegracht, lined with bookshops, and then turn down pretty Keizersgracht. Turn left at Wolvenstraat, with its second-hand and vintage clothes stores, and then right into Herengracht.

The Bible Museum (10) at 366 (10am-5pm daily, Sundays from 11am; €6/£3.75) not only presents religious artefacts but is also a means of seeing the sublime elegance of a mid 17th-century canal-house interior. Continue round Herengracht, then turn down Leidsestraat. At the corner with Keizersgracht stop for coffee at the sixth-floor café of Metz department store (11) - the views over the city's rooftops are terrific.

Finish here or continue along Keizersgracht to see a real gem at 672 (12): the Museum Van Loon (Wednesday-Monday 11am-5pm; €6/£3.75), once owned by Rembrandt's student Ferdinand Bol and subsequently home to the Van Loon family, who were responsible for much of its finery.


Cafe de Jaren (13) at Nieuwe Doelenstraat 20-22 (00 31 20 625 5771), near the university district in the centre of the city, offers excellent light meals (tomato soup €3.75/ £2.70; crab salad €4.75/ £3.40). The bright interior is emphasised by mirrors and floor-to-ceiling windows looking on to Kloveniersburgwal canal.


The old postal sorting office (14) in the docklands currently houses the stunning Stedelijk modern art gallery (10am-6pm daily; admission €9/£6.40) while its permanent home in Museumplein is being refurbished. With much of the old dock area under construction, it is a challenge to get here via walkways over the water and past a floating Chinese restaurant. But it's well worth the effort, particularly if you stop for coffee at the 11th-floor cafe of this somewhat unlikely building - the bird's-eye views of the city are breathtaking.


Over at Museumplein the Rijksmuseum (15) at Jan Luijkenstraat 1 (daily 9am-6pm; admission €10/£7.10) is also being revamped and much of it is closed until 2008. But the substantial Philips Wing remains open. With Rembrandts, Vermeers, Jan Steens and more, it will easily absorb an hour.

Down the road, the Van Gogh Museum (16) at Paulus Potterstraat 7 (daily 10am-6pm; Fridays until 10pm; admission €10/£7.10) houses 200 paintings and about 580 drawings by the tortured artist while the top floor is devoted to works of his contemporaries Gaughin, Toulouse Lautrec, Pissarro and more. To avoid the crowds get here in mid-afternoon.


Buy your card of Rembrandt's The Night Watch or Van Gogh's Sunflowers and write it at De Bakkerswinkel (17) on Roelof Hartstraat 68. A seven-minute walk from Museumplein, this charming café has flowers and pots of raspberry jam on the tables, and offers scones with clotted cream (€2.50/£1.80) and carrot cake (€3.30/£2.40).


With more than 10,000 shops, Amsterdam is retail haven. For mainstream stores head for pedestrianised Kalverstraat (18).

But you may have more fun browsing the funky outlets around the Jordaan neighbourhood and visiting the many street markets from the flower one (1), selling everything from amaryllis bulbs to cannabis starter packs, to the kilometre-long Albert Cuypmarkt with at least 350 stalls.


The coolest bars are in the area of De Pijp. Chocolate (19) at Eerste van de Helststraat 62 attracts a funky crowd. If there's no space there, try the slightly calmer De Duvel, almost opposite at number 59.


Behind a 17th-century exterior, Brasserie Harkema (20) at Nes 67 (00 31 20 428 2222; www.brasserieharkema.nl) is a chic loft-style space. It serves excellent-value modern European cuisine - the likes of pâté of wild fowl with cucumber pickle at €6.20/£4.20, and picatta of cod with celeriac purée at €14.80/£10.60.


Hire a bike for a Sunday morning ride along the canals. Bike City (21) at Bloemgracht 68-70 (00 31 20 626 3721; www.bikecity.nl) opens 9am-7pm daily: three-hour rentals cost from €6/£4.30 (for a one-speed bike). Day rentals are from €8.50/£6.


Designed by Philippe Starck, Walem (22) at Keizersgracht 449 (00 31 20 625 3544) is a hip yet relaxed café, filled with locals leisurely reading their papers on a Sunday morning. Dishes range from home-smoked salmon with crème fraîche and eggs at €8.50/£6 to huge double-decker toasted sandwiches with bacon and turkey at €8/£5.70.


Amsterdam's Oude Kerk (23) dates from 1250 and is particularly notable for its magnificent organ and the simple grave, in vault 28k, of Rembrandt's wife, Saskia. Guided half-hour tours take place at weekends between 1 and 5pm (€5/£3.60). Once a wealthy neighbourhood, the surrounding area is now the red light district so, bizarrely, the church looks on to prostitutes' booths.


The city's biggest green space is Vondelpark (24), filled with ponds, biking trails and about 120 different kinds of tree. Just off the north side of the park, Vondelstraat offers a treat at number 140, which is home to the Royal Riding School (25). Complete with balconies and gilded mirrors, the building is a neoclassical glory dating from 1882. It is open every afternoon; on Sundays you can often see the horses perform. Admission is free.


You can take a last look at real treasures from the Rijksmueum in the departures hall of Schiphol airport. Once through passport control follow the signs for the museum and you'll find a small gallery of a dozen or more paintings. Currently on display are works of Rembrandt's pupils Gerard Dou and Ferdinand Bol, and there's also a Ruisdael of a watermill. The gallery opens daily 7am-8pm, admission free.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
Focus E15 Mothers led a protest to highlight the lack of affordable housing in London
voicesLondon’s housing crisis amounts to an abuse of human rights, says Grace Dent
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
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Tour Drivers - UK & European

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join a is a...

    Old Royal Naval College: ORNC Visitor Experience Volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary work: Old Royal Naval College: Join our team of friendly volu...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service / Sales Assistant

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This airport parking organisation are looking...

    Recruitment Genius: PCV Bus Drivers

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Do you enjoy bus driving and are looking for ...

    Day In a Page

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project