Don’t be put off by the hordes of stag and hen dos and those seeking to lose themselves in debauchery – there’s plenty else to see and do in the heart of Amsterdam. Of course, a wander through the Red Light District may well appeal, but there’s also the historic Canal Ring, the Nine Streets, Spiegelkwartier (for art and antique lovers), and Nieuwmarkt, home to the oldest buildings in the city. Stay away from the tourist traps and tacky attractions and there’s a wealth of quaint back alleys and under-the-radar sights to explore.
Some the city’s best and grandest restaurants call the Canal Ring home, but for sheer opulence combined with cutting-edge cool, nothing beats The Duchess. Opened to much fanfare a few years ago, the sumptuous décor is more than matched by the food; gorge on the classic (Dover sole) and the wacky (foie gras doughnuts) under the huge stained-glass dome. Dinner isn’t cheap, but they also do breakfast, lunch, and bar snacks, all of which are lighter on the wallet but every bit as mouth-watering.
Step back in time at De Engelse Reet, a bar that’s been run by the same family – and all first-born sons with the same name – for four generations. A traditional voorkamer, or parlour, drinks are dispensed in a small back room and served in a comfy, old-school wood-panelled room (the only bar like this left in Amsterdam). And in keeping with tradition, it’s all about the jenever (Dutch gin) here – try the tipple from local brewery De Ooievaar, which has been cranking out the spirit since 1782.
Ignore the glitz of the trashy attractions around Dam Square and head instead to Oude Kerk, not just Amsterdam’s oldest church, but oldest building to boot. Founded around 1213, it stands in De Wallen, in the heart of the Red Light District. Marvel at the wooden roof (the largest in Europe) and the beautiful stained-glass windows.
It might be part of a global chain, but the W Hotel – the newest kid on the block when it comes to luxury accommodation in the centre – is well worth checking out. The rooms are as you’d expect – spacious, muted tones, an easy-going, comfy kind of chic – but the real treat is six floors up, on the roof. Their cocktail bar, lounge and restaurant offer striking views across the city, but best of all is the outdoor heated pool that runs the length of the building. It’s guests only too, meaning it’s never overrun by the selfie stick-wielding hoi polloi.
If you only do one thing...
Visit the A’dam Toren. OK, technically it’s not in the centre, but it’s close. Head to the back of Centraal, take the free ferry across the River IJ and head to the observation deck of the big tower that dominates the skyline for the best views in the entire city. And, if you’re brave enough, have a go on Over the Edge, Europe’s highest swing, that’ll have your feet dangling 100 metres up.