Amsterdam: Canals, Cycling and Creativity

Editor of Carl Goes Amsterdam Sasha Arms shares her best bits of the city known for its waterside life, bicycle mania and creative approach to living.

Amsterdam has always attracted an eclectic mix of visitors, thanks to its long history as a global hub of trade, and its more recently gained reputation for being a centre of creativity and start-up collaborations. There have never been more exciting things happening in Amsterdam.

Albert Cuyp Market (Sasha Arms)

Albert Cuyp Market (Sasha Arms)

The city is the global fashion centre for denim, with jean brands such as Pepe Jeans and Hilfiger Denim headquartered there, and a “House of Denim” fashion school. New artificial islands are being built all the time to accommodate the city’s workforce and new projects, while the previously industrial northern part of Amsterdam is being transformed into a cool, creative hub.

The food scene is thriving, with an inventive European influence coming through in places such as Kaagman & Kortekaas, to immersive culinary experiences such as those on Lighthouse Island, only accessible by boat.

There is a thriving craft beer and craft coffee scene, and the city’s many markets mean there is a treasure trove of discovery available, whether it’s at the famous Albert Cuyp Market, or at the market known for fresh organic produce — ZuiderMRKT — quirkily located on a roundabout.

With so much going on, city-breakers can take their pick of ways to spend their time in the city of water.

Things to Do

Museumplein (Sasha Arms)

Museumplein (Sasha Arms)

The best way to experience Amsterdam is to do as the locals do, and get around by bicycle or on the incredibly efficient trams and buses. Get a feeling for the city by meandering around different neighbourhoods in this way, or take one of the many canal cruises on offer to get a distinctive insight into the city from the waterways. And be sure to blend taking in the well-known sights with experiencing lesser-known pockets of the city.

The area around Museumplein is one of the best known parts of the city. Pose by the giant ‘I Amsterdam’ sign, enjoy the buzz of the pedestrianised square, and visit Amsterdam’s museums of international acclaim: the Rijksmuseum, the Stedelijk Museum and the Van Gogh Museum. Visit the Anne Frank House to discover the hiding place of the Frank family during World War II, and to experience the place where Anne Frank wrote her now world-famous diary. Go to Dam Square to visit the Royal Palace, and visit Vondelpark to enjoy the green open space Amsterdammers flock to as soon as the sun makes an appearance.

When it comes to getting off the beaten track in the city, visitors to Amsterdam can really take their pick, despite the fact it’s an intimate, village-like part of the world. Discover the trendy De Pijp neighbourhood by stopping off for a coffee at CT coffee & coconuts inside a converted theatre, and have a drink in the Troost micro-brewery, found inside a previous monastery. Near the city centre, try some spirits in a 17th century tasting tavern, Wynand Fockink, and have a coffee or a meal alongside creative Amsterdammers in The Lobby at Hotel V. Other great drinking holes include the bar at 23 Wolvenstraat that has no name, In ‘t Aepjen where visiting sailors used to pay in monkeys instead of cash, and Arendsnest, a typical wood-clad smoke-stained “brown café” that serves 100 varieties of Dutch beer. For some chill-out time, enjoy Sauna Deco — a huge sauna inside a previous 1920s Parisian department store — and go to the EYE Film Museum in north Amsterdam, where there are two-person pods for people to watch anything from a huge catalogue of films and documentaries. Given the abundance of water, beaches can be found across the city; some of the local favourites include Blijburg and Pllek.

What to Eat

Food-lovers are spoiled for choice in Amsterdam, with everything from street food options in places such as De Foodhallen, inside a former tram shed, to fine dining and world cuisine.

Remise47 (Sasha Arms)

Remise47 (Sasha Arms)

For feeling like you’ve been let in on a local secret, have dinner at the Grand Café De Tropen, inside the grand Tropenmuseum that opens its eatery after hours for intimate, candle-lit meals. The healthy, Asian-inspired menu is inventive and impeccably put together. Menu items include the likes of tuna tataki, Surinamese soups and fresh grilled fish with quinoa.

Remise47, in De Hallen, is a trendy option for a sit-down meal, with an interior full of exposed brickwork and cosy tables. The international menu has something to suit all tastes, but the daily changing three-course chef’s menu offers amazing value for money at €30 (approximately USD$34). The menu includes flavours such as Mediterranean bruschetta, indulgent burgers and wedges of freshly baked cakes.

For a high-end meal on a pristine canal street, Restaurant Johannes is the place to go. The immaculate interior, and service to match, pave the way for memorable meals, which are in the form of four, five or six course menus with optional wine pairings. There are playful touches such as an upside-down amuse bouche, while freshly baked, sesame-seeded bread-sticks and fresh breads with Guernsey butter whet the appetite. When it comes to the meal itself, expect menu items such as vivid

Graceland BAR-B-Q (Sasha Arms)

Graceland BAR-B-Q (Sasha Arms)

ceviches, the chef’s signature pork belly with king prawns, Dutch cheeses and melting chocolate desserts.

For a totally different and low-key dining experience, head over to the west of Amsterdam and dine at Graceland BAR-B-Q. With distressed wood, country-rock music and a saloon bar, this feels like a genuine American barbecue joint. The sharing platters are immense, full of ribs, pulled pork, brisket, flank steak, crab cakes, cornbread, pickles, slaw and more.

Where to Stay

The city of Amsterdam has a vibrant mixture of accommodation options, to suit all budgets and all preferences in terms of locality.

Rijksmuseum (Sasha Arms)

Rijksmuseum (Sasha Arms)

INK Hotel is centrally located and combines a cool style with modern amenities. Inside a former newspaper headquarters, the building’s publishing history is kept alive with hotel amenities described on crisp newspapers, vintage typewriters peppered throughout the building, and the all-day PRESSROOM bar. The bright lobby has skylights and a homely snack-cart, while plush rooms are decorated with hand-drawn depictions of the city. This is a good-looking hotel giving travellers a discreet home-from-home.

For those who want to stay in a cool, design-conscious hotel in a trendy Amsterdam neighbourhood, look no further than the family-run Arcade Hotel. With an array of vintage and more modern game consoles available to play, this hotel attracts gamers from across the world, as well as anyone who loves retro-chic style. The hotel gives a warm welcome to everyone, with comfortable, good-looking rooms and bathrooms with funky changing lighting. And just outside the front door is the locally-loved Sarphatipark, ideal for morning strolls with coffee and summertime picnics.

The Mövenpick Hotel Amsterdam City Centre is found a stone’s through along the River IJ from Amsterdam Central Station. The modern hotel offers far-reaching views over the city — some of the best in Amsterdam — and all the mod-cons city travellers need. Superior and executive rooms come with welcome added touches, such as complimentary minibars and access to the Executive Lounge, with early evening drinks and snacks an added bonus.

Comfort Level Room, Hotel The Exchange

Comfort Level Room, Hotel The Exchange

For those who value location and style in their hotel stays, Hotel The Exchange is a smart choice, just a short amble away from both Central Station and Dam Square. Rooms have been individually designed by fashion students and there are five levels of room type to suit all budgets. Communal areas include access to sewing machines, while a vending machine comes stocked with wine, beer and late-night snacks.


Find out more about Amsterdam in the city guide Carl Goes Amsterdam, inspiring urban nomads to live like locals for the duration of their travels.

The I Amsterdam City Card includes free entry to Amsterdam attractions, unlimited use of the GVB public transport system and a free canal cruise for between 24 and 96 hours.

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Bikes Parked on Bridge over Canal (Sasha Arms)

Bikes Parked on Bridge over Canal (Sasha Arms) Expert Tips

How To Get There: Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is about 10 miles southwest of downtown Amsterdam and is served by over 80 domestic and international airlines, including American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines.

The easiest way to get into town is by taking a 15 to 20 train ride that costs €3.30 one-way (just under USD $4). The train stops at Central Station, and from there there are busses, trams, and taxis that’ll get you anywhere in the city. More information about area transportation for Schiphol is available at here.

Best Time To Visit: Summer is the most popular time to visit, as the weather is generally in the low-70s. However, the months of April, May, September and November are also good times to visit as you’ll avoid the peak summer crowds and can score better flight and hotel deals, while still enjoying longer days. If you’re looking for the cheapest time to visit, then winter is the season for you, but be prepared for the somewhat cold and wet weather.

Sample Fares: Calendars display lowest roundtrip fares over the next 90 days to Amsterdam from:

* All fares are roundtrip including all taxes and are accurate at time of publication. For updated pricing, conduct a new search on Updates

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Rijksmuseum (Sasha Arms)

Rijksmuseum (Sasha Arms)

Featured Image: Amsterdam Summer (Traveloo)

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