Combine iconic sights with ventures to edgier urban locales during a classic European city break.
Words Thessa Lageman
The ferry departs from behind the central station, crossing the wide river IJ towards NDSM Wharf. Like me, several other passengers have taken a bicycle with them, including an elderly couple and a father with a toddler on the back seat.
The sun appears from behind the clouds as the ferry arrives at its destination. The ferry service is one of the few free connections between the centre of Amsterdam and the northern neighbourhoods. NDSM, a former shipyard, has been transformed into a cultural hotspot with a vibrant artist community. Cycling around, I pause here and there to take photos of the many colourful pieces of street art. Behind the extravagant Crane Hotel Faralda, also covered with graffiti, is Noorderlicht Café, a greenhouse-turned-café. I enjoy a tasty vegetarian burger in the garden overlooking the river.
Next, I cycle 3km through a quiet industrial and residential area towards A’DAM Tower. I stop every now and then to check Google Maps, as using a mobile phone while cycling is now illegal. The recently refurbished tower, situated in a former Shell office built in 1966, is situated next to the futuristic, white EYE Film Museum. The elevator, with surprising music and a light show, takes me to the rooftop observation deck, which offers stunning views of the city.
I had started my morning with a canal cruise. The one-hour boat tour through the oldest, most picturesque part of town was a great way to begin my visit to the Dutch capital. “Most of the canals were built in the 17th century, during the Dutch Golden Age,” our guide told us as we passed some of the city’s 1,281 bridges. She also mentioned that many of the iconic merchant houses are so narrow because that meant paying less tax.
I had been extra careful when cycling to the nearby Westerpark afterwards, remembering the guide’s remark that every year more than 10,000 bicycles are fished out of the canals. The Westergasfabriek can be found in the lush lawns of the park. Dating from 1883, this former gasworks is now a cultural centre with several attractive cafés and restaurants.
The next day, it’s time to enjoy some cultural sights, starting with the Anne Frank House. This impressive museum has become very popular, so I made sure to buy my tickets online in advance. Here, in the secret annex, 13-year-old Anne Frank began keeping her famous diary while she and her family hid from the Nazis during the Second World War. Only her father survived the war.
The surrounding Jordaan district, which dates back to the 17th century, was originally a working-class neighbourhood but is now one of Amsterdam’s most upscale and trendy areas. During a pleasant stroll, I discover many interesting art galleries, small boutiques and cosy pubs. I buy some gifts in a shopping area known as the Negen Straatjes (nine little streets).
Then it’s time for lunch; I head to the nearby Foodhallen, which consists of 21 food stands in a lively former tram depot. Deciding what to order is no easy feat, but I finally settle on some delicious Mexican tacos. The same building also houses a cinema, hotel, and several small shops selling Dutch design and vintage items.
The Van Gogh Museum in Museum Square is the next highlight on my list. Not wanting to leave anything to chance, I booked my ticket well in advance. Not only can you admire the landscapes, self-portraits, and other works by this extraordinary post impressionist painter, but you can also learn more about the man behind the art, who only lived to be 37.
Virtually next door is the Rijksmuseum, , where you can marvel at masterpieces by Golden Age painters like Rembrandt, Frans Hals, and Johannes Vermeer. The museum has plenty more to offer, such as an extensive collection of blue-and-white Delftware. There are 8,000 artworks and historical objects on display in total, dating from between 1200 and 2000.
My day ends in the city’s largest and most famous park, the Vondelpark, situated west of the Museumplein. Opened in 1865, it was exclusively used as a private park for the wealthy until 1953. Today, groups of friends relax and enjoy the pleasant summer evening, many of them picnicking near the swan-dotted pond. Cyclists, joggers, and a group of inline skaters pass by.
At the Blue Tea House, located in a ring-shaped Modernist pavilion built in 1937, I sip some fresh mint tea. Nearby, cheerful tunes can be heard. “There’s a concert at the open-air theatre over there,” the waitress clarifies. “Go and have a look.”
Jakarta to Amsterdam
Frequency 6 times a week
Flight time from Jakarta is 13 hours 20 mins.
5 Senses – Taste
The Netherlands is famous for its cheese (kaas). For an introduction to the many different varieties and a delicious tasting or two head to the Amsterdam Cheese Museum or the Albert Cuyp market.