Amsterdam CultureAmsterdam - Not Your College Town
A hazy memory from your university days, this is not your college Amsterdam. A city of impressive museums and galleries, culinary delights, and very comfortable places to rest your head, this Amsterdam is far more refined. Even the notorious Red Light District is soon to go the way of New York’s Times Square, so visit now to experience what little grittiness is left.
A (Big) Step Up from Your College Hostels
The De L’Europe is the most luxe hotel in Amsterdam, with its recent renovation and the finest room appointments in the city. Think heated floors, crisp linens, and iPod docking stations. To step it up even more, you can choose to stay in the Dutch Masters Wing, where every swank suite has its own rendition of a great work of Dutch art from the Rijksmuseum. The common areas of the hotel flaunt the real thing, with authentic pieces from the private collection of Freddy Heineken – yes, that Heineken.
Our favorite boutique option is the chic The Dylan, in the Prinsengracht area, where the young and affluent stay. The individually decorated rooms feature ultra-comfortable beds, high-thread-count sheets, and Zen-inspired baths. A few courtyard-facing rooms have their own entrances, while the common areas are welcoming and intimate, where you can cozy up to the fire and enjoy an aperitif or post-dinner cocktail.
For those who want to use those Starwood points, try the Hotel Pulitzer, also in the Prinsengracht. Though this is a premium hotel, it’s not at the level of either The Dylan or De L’Europe, but you can’t argue with the Starwood discount – or the excellent views of the canals.
At the end of the year, more competition will arrive in the form of The Exchange Hotel, which bills itself as the “fashion” option. Until then, our three hotel picks should suit you well, especially since you probably won’t be spending much time in your room. Amsterdam is a city that calls out to be explored.
A City of Culture
While in the past, you may have spent most of your time in the Red Light District and its studenty pubs. But, this time around your stomping grounds will be Prinsengracht, which features some of the most beautiful streets and romantic canals in the city. With your adult appreciation for culture, re-visit the Rijksmuseum, which houses the country’s most comprehensive Dutch art collection. Also impressive is the Van Gogh Museum, with over 700 paintings and sketches. For a glimpse of local life – and the chance to buy Dutch tulip seeds for everyone back home – walk through the Blumen Market, with its colorful stalls and shops that sell the famous wooden shoes. After all, what would look cooler next to that pair of Louboutins for the someone who has everything?
In the famous canals, arrange for a private boat to check out the city from a whole new angle. The Hotel Pulitzer has their own ride if you don’t want to bother with the details; otherwise, skip the hotel, which charges a premium, and make arrangements for a private boat through the aptly named www.rentaboatamsterdam.com.
Get ready to drop some coin, as Amsterdam has edgy local fashion and retro shops. Antiquing was never so cool than at Reprise, where you can buy hats that look like they were worn by Napoleon. We are thinking one kickin’ Halloween costume. The choicest shops are in Prinsengracht and on Huidenstraat, where Van Ravenstein is a standout. With the coolest Dutch designers – Ann Demeulmeester and Dries Van Noten – as well as Viktor & Rolf and Balenciaga, this is where to stock up on Dutch chic. They have a basement (only open on Saturdays), which houses all of their sale items. (We’ve asked very nicely, though, and have been allowed to take a peek even on non-sale days.) Also check out Tony Cohen, a local designer who gives the heavies a run for their money with his high-quality materials and flattering cuts for dresses, pants and tops. Scotch and Soda, a European chain that has yet to make it to the U.S., specializes in casual Abercrombie-type clothes. And, what’s more Dutch than Gouda? Follow your nose to De Kaaskamer, with cheese wheels that weigh in at over 100 pounds wheels and all sorts of herb-infused variations.
For your afternoon break, go to the Kaffee Huis (not to be confused with the Coffee House) of Pompadour, with sinful baked goods. One sells hash, and the one we’re recommending sells pastries, too beautiful to eat. It’s a perfect spot to refuel while doing damage at all the Prinzengracht shops.
Dine like the Dutch
What is Dutch food? It’s a good question, given that modern Dutch cuisine is often a blend of many cultures. At its core, Dutch cuisine is hearty northern French, but at some of the finest restaurants, it’s also fused with Thai, Chinese, and Japanese. Unlike other European countries, the Dutch don’t normally eat their largest meal at lunch and instead go for a quick sandwich at the local cafes. We liked Raymond Gerritzen, a simple deli with fresh Gouda sandwiches and Dutch goodies that you can throw into your suitcase to take home.
Amsterdam has loads of chic restaurants, so it helps to have the inside track. The urban-chic The Lion Noir opened in 2010, and while it classifies itself as French, there is a distinctive Dutch touch in the food and décor. With eclectic art, a schoolhouse look, and vintage overstuffed chairs, it’ll remind you of an affluent post-college living room. When the weather is nice, kick back in the breezy inner courtyard. Try the beautifully executed filet of beef with roast garlic au jus, and the chilled lobster with avocado cream, followed by a comforting pasta au gratin. No matter where dinner takes you, make a date at the end with their lemon cheesecake.
For finer dining, head to the two-Michelin-star Ron Blauuw, with a tasting menu driven by seasonal ingredients, like truffles and crab. An oldie but goodie for high-end cuisine in a casual setting is Envy, where you can order many small plates. And, with choices like cauliflower flan with shrimp and truffle vinaigrette, that’s exactly what you’ll do.
Bo Cinq, though in the center of the Red Light District, is still off the tourist trail. Access is via not one but two hidden entrances – and it’s worth it. The cuisine is French and Middle Eastern, and the scene is the chicest in the city. The dish of prawns with cucumber in soft lemon foam is sublime, as is the rack of lamb and pumpkin risotto, with a Talegio-filled zucchini blossom. Even if you don’t dine here (which you should), do pop in for a drink. The tzatzki and clam cocktail with couscous and cucumber is one of the more unique ways to fuse Middle Eastern and Greek.
The Dutch like their Asian food. If you want to rub elbows with the natives, you’ll find them at Rakang Thai, which serves all the usual Thai suspects, plus some unique dishes like the Pad Thai spring roll. The bold and the beautiful dine at Chang-I, a cavernous, seductive restaurant with soft banquettes and Indonesian furnishings. This is where the Dutch working jet set go to celebrate the closing of a deal or gather with friends for a big group dinner.
We never thought that Amsterdam could have good (much less, very good) sushi, but you’ll find it at Hotel Okura, which has the best Japanese food in Amsterdam. This is traditional Japanese – from the eats to the atmosphere – so don’t expect the music to be pumping or the lights to be dimmed low.
The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same
Your college days may be in the past, but your drinking days don’t have to be. Amsterdam is all about the beer – and while we’re not encouraging enthusiastic imbibing, we’re not discouraging it either. For daytime beverages, stop in to Freddy’s in the De L’Europe, which received its own makeover with the renovation of the hotel. For post-work drinks, head up to the rooftop of the Mint Hotel or The Dylan to check out all the pretty young things. Late-night seduction happens at the Café Van Puffelen, or the Vyne Wine Bar next door – both are casually sexy with flickering candles on the tables. It may even put you in the mood for a different kind of entertainment at the Grasshopper, just like old times.