THINGS TO 10 DO IN AMSTERDAM
AMSTERDAM works its fairytale magic in many ways: via the gabled, Golden Age buildings; glinting, boatfilled canals; and especially the cosy, centuries-old brown cafes, where candles burn low and beers froth high. Add in mega art museums and funky street markets, and it’s easy to see why this atmospheric city is one of Europe’s most popular getaways.
Ten top sights 1 Van GoghMuseum
Housing the world’s largest collection by artist Vincent van Gogh, the museum (vangoghmuseum.nl) is as much a tour through the driven painter’s troubled mind as it is a tour through his body of work. More than 200 canvases are arranged chronologically, starting with his early career in dreary Holland and ending less than a decade later in sunny France, where he produced his bestknown work with his characteristic giddy colour. You’ll wait in line outside and jostle with the crowds inside, but seeing those vivid brushstrokes of yellow sunflowers and purple-blue irises makes it all worthwhile.
New York has Central Park. London hasHyde Park. And Amsterdam has the lush urban idyll of the Vondelpark (www.vondelpark.nl), where tourists, lovers, cyclists, backpackers, cartwheeling children and champagneswilling revellers all come out to play.
4Anne Frank Huis
It is one of the 20th century’s most compelling stories: a young Jewish girl forced into hiding with her family and their friends to escape deportation by the Nazis. The house they used as a hideaway attracts nearly one million visitors every year. Walking through the bookcase-door of the ‘‘ Secret Annexe’’ and into the claustrophobic living quarters is to step back into a time that seems both distant and tragically real (annefrank.org).
The Stedelijk (stedelijk.nl) is Amsterdam’s weighty modern-art museum. Works by superstars Monet, Picasso, Matisse and Dutch homeboys Piet Mondrian, Willem de Kooning and Karel Appel take pride of place. After a nine-year renovation, the museum reopened in late 2012 with a huge new wing (dubbed ‘‘ the Bathtub’’). The Rijksmuseum (rijksmuseum.nl) is the Netherlands’ premier art trove. After a 10-year renovation, it reopens in its entirety later this year, splashing Rembrandts, Vermeers and 7500 other masterpieces over 1.5km of galleries. Those visiting before the reopening can see the ‘‘ best of’’ collection in the Philips Wing.
6Royal Palace (Koninklijk Paleis)
Welcome to the Queen’s house. If she’s away, you’re welcome to come in and ogle the tapestries, chandeliers, Italian marble and frescoed ceilings while getting a history lesson in Dutch royalty and politics. Today’s Royal Palace (paleisamsterdam.nl) began life as a glorified town hall and was completed in 1665. The architect, Jacob van Campen, spared no expense to display Amsterdam’s wealth in a way that rivalled the grandest European buildings of the day.
Museum het Rembrandthuis (Rembrandt House Museum; rembrandthuis.nl) is set in the three-storey canal house where Rembrandt van Rijn lived and ran the Netherlands’ largest painting studio between 1639 and 1658. He bought the abode at the height of his career, when he was awarded the prestigious Night Watch commission. The atmospheric interior gives a real-deal feel for how Rembrandt painted his days away. Step into the Dutch icon’s inner sanctum and immerse yourself in his studio, where seashells, animal horns and other exotica weigh down the shelves.
Nieuwe Kerk (New Church, dating from 1408 – it’s all relative; nieuwekerk.nl) is the historic stage of Dutch coronations and royal weddings. Other than such ceremonies, the building no longer functions as a church, but rather a hall for art and cultural exhibitions. For a free peek, slip through the gift shop (by the entrance) and upstairs for a display on the church’s history.
Listen to classical music soar in the pristine acoustics of the Concertgebouw (concertgebouw.nl). Bernard Haitink, conductor of the venerable Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, once remarked that the world-famous hall – built in 1888 with near-perfect acoustics – was the orchestra’s best instrument. Free half-hour concerts take place every Wednesday at 12.30pm from midSeptember until late June; arrive early. Those aged 27 or younger can queue for 10 tickets 45 minutes before shows. Try the Last Minute Ticket Shop (lastminuteticketshop.nl) for half-price seats.
This veiled courtyard of tiny houses and gardens was built in the 14th century for the Beguines, a lay Catholic sisterhood. Two churches hide here: a ‘‘ clandestine’’ chapel (1671), where the Beguines worshipped in secret from the Calvinists; and the English Church (c 1392), where Puritans congregated. Both are usually open for browsing. The wooden house at No.34 (c 1465) is the Netherlands’ oldest (begijnhofamsterdam.nl).
Currency: Euro Language: Dutch and English Money: ATMs widely available. Credit cards accepted in most hotels but not all restaurants. Non-European credit cards are sometimes rejected. Mobile Phones: Local SIM cards can be used in Australian phones. Arriving in Amsterdam: Most people flying to Amsterdam arrive at Schiphol International Airport (schiphol.nl), 18km southwest of the city centre.
Your daily budget
Midrange $100-$200 Double room $125 Three-course dinner in casual restaurant $30 Concertgebouw ticket $40 Useful website I Amsterdam (iamsterdam.com) Cityrun portal packed with sightseeing, accommodation and event info.
This is an edited extract from Lonely Planet Pocket Amsterdam (3rd Edition) by Karla Zimmerman Lonely Planet 2013. Published this month, RRP: $19.99, lonelyplanet.com
FAIRYTALE CITY: The striking Van Gogh Museum. Picture: Lonely Planet Images
CLASSIC CENTRAL: The Rijksmuseum hosts an amazing collection of old masters including many by Rembrandt and Vermeer. Picture: Lonely Planet Images