Home to 17th-century canals, legendary architecture and picturesque windmills, Amsterdam is one of the few capitals in the world that still cherishes a village vibe. Its creative spread is as alive today as it was in the days of Rembrandt, Breitner and Mondrian. And although the city is known as a liberal-minded paradise there's a lot more to the real Amsterdam that warrants exploration.

Need to know

Get to grips with the basics

  1. Meet and greet: When meeting someone for the first time, a warm handshake will suffice. If you’re meeting a friend, a trio of kisses is the go-to greeting.
  2. Building a case: Visit the Eye Filmmuseum in Noord, the Westergasfabriek in Westerpark and Bimhuis in the Eastern Docklands to see attractive contemporary public buildings.
  3. Pedal to the metal: Cycling is the best way to get around. Indicate your direction by sticking out a hand and bear in mind that traffic from the right has right of way. Helmets aren’t compulsory but lights at night are.
  4. Cash in hand: Maestro is king in the city and the card machines used by retailers and smaller cafés don’t always accept Visa or Amex. Be sure to carry a little extra cash.
  5. Learn the lingo: An important nuance to note is the use of “IJ” as a single letter. It’s pronounced along the lines of “aey” and is derived from a Germanic word that means water. It’s also the official name given to the harbour and river.

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Hotels

Hospitality at its finest

  1. Hotel V Fizeaustraat, Watergraafsmeer

    The 1970s with a twist

    In-house designer Mirjam Espinosa has blended a modish 1970s aesthetic into the boxy Piet Zanstra building. All 91 rooms are finished with hexagonal solid-oak parquet floors, pebble-grey linens and woollen tapestries.

  2. Conservatorium Hotel, Oud-Zuid

    Light touch

    Italian designer and architect Piero Lissoni has reinvigorated this historic building, with natural light playing a key part. Many rooms benefit from heritage-listed windows.

  3. Maison Rika, Centrum

    Boutique hideaway

    In the heart of the De 9 Straatjes neighbourhood, one of the 200-year-old corner houses has been converted into a pocket-sized guesthouse. It only has two rooms but both occupy an entire floor.

Vocabulary

Local lingo

  1. Hallo/hoi: Hello/hi
  2. Dank je wel: Thank you
  3. Dag/doei: Bye
  4. Proost: Cheers
  5. Jammer: Too bad
  6. Potverdorie: Damn
  7. Nog een biertje/wijn: One more beer/wine
  8. Mijn fiets is kapot: My bike is broken

Food and drink

Smart bites and top stops

  1. Little Collins, De Pijp

    Best of the brunch

    The restaurant takes the now ubiquitous avocado on toast to new levels with fennel, goat’s cheese and dukkah; it also serves delicious waffles with English bacon or kimchi pancakes.

  2. Worst Wijncafé, Westelijke Eilanden

    Nice sausage

    Starter-sized servings are ideal for sharing during a borrel (evening drink) with friends. The pigs’ trotters – one of the few imported ingredients – are highly recommended.

  3. Choux, Centrum

    Conversation starter

    Owners Figo van Onna and Merijn van Berlo experiment with umami-loaded sustainable ingredients such as seaweed to get people thinking about meat-free cooking. The results are particularly impressive.

  4. Toki, Jordaan

    Easy does it

    This light-filled hangout offers a superb range of coffee from Berlin roastery Bonanza, with an ever-changing selection of beans. Order a flat white and a slice of fresh lemon-drizzle cake and sink into the large sofa along with the rest of the neighbourhood.

  5. Kanarie Club, Oud-West

    Chirpy vibe

    By day this is a relaxed café but at night the space comes into its own. Join the trendy Oud-West crowd with an expertly mixed cocktail.

Retail

Shop talk

  1. X Bank, Centrum

    Going Dutch

    Inside the design-savvy heritage Kas Bank building in Amsterdam’s centre, X Bank provides an engulfing space for those who appreciate great products and thoughtful design. Its abiding mission is to highlight design and fashion brands with distinctly Dutch roots.

  2. No Label, Oud-Zuid

    Tailor-made

    No Label aims to take the fuss out of the men’s clothes-shopping experience, leaving just well-made, good-fitting fashion. The formula is showcased at the brand’s flagship store in the retail district in Amsterdam’s south.

  3. Shop/Shop, Oud-Zuid

    Splash of colour

    Shop/Shop is where Amsterdammers head when looking for good design with an international air. The neutral walls make for a perfect canvas for Dutch product designers Carole Baijings and Stefan Scholten’s colourful tableware.

  4. Marie-Stella-Maris, Centrum

    Thirsty work

    Marie-Stella-Maris opened in 2014, inspired by a social incentive to support water projects around the world. The two-storey flagship immaculately displays a selection of room sprays, perfumes and natural skincare products.

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