For those who think the Dutch Golden Age ended four centuries ago with Rembrandt and Vermeer, don’t be fooled—Amsterdam is undergoing a modern renaissance that rightfully pushes all cliches about red lights and brown cafes out of the spotlight.
At the new Kimpton De Witt, the juxtaposition is obvious. Step inside the House Bar, a 1645 Dutch family home reinvented as a focal point for craft cocktails, and be wowed by plush velvet seats, a backlit “stage” with dozens of local liquors and tiny hummingbirds gracefully gilding the ceiling. This gathering spot artistically marries the old and the new much like the rest of the boutique hotel, with exposed wooden beams towering over mid-century modern furniture. In the lobby, blue and white Delft-like tiles grace the halls and a wall of flowers pays homage to Dutch tulip fields. Both are conversation starters during a free happy hour with wine, located in the same spot where jet-lagged guests who have been on a red-eye flight will gather for complimentary tea and coffee upon arrival.
For another design Shangri-La, hop on the nearby tram and trek a few stops to the Conservatorium hotel. Drink in the floor-to-ceiling violin art installation at this former music academy or marvel at the soaring glass-paneled Brasserie & Lounge in the lobby. Here, the midday Van Gogh Afternoon Tea, honoring the artist’s neighboring museum, makes for a fitting respite between a morning admiring his works and an afternoon marveling at those of the Dutch Masters at the nearby Rijksmuseum. Night owls can take in a tipple at Tunes Bar—a must for any gin and tonic fan—or for more underground fun into the wee hours, speakeasy Door 74 mixes the Spiced Banana Muffin and other rum-laden tiki cocktails.
All adventures need a little sustenance, and there are plenty of options that reinvent the Netherlands’ conventional carb-laden comfort food. Sharing means caring at Mama Makan, where the lazy Susan swings freely with savory Indonesian satays and crunchy crackers at the rijsttafel (“rice table”), part of the culinary heritage here that nods to the Dutch East India Company’s domination in sailing and trading (there’s also a lush vertical garden that puts a modern spin on the environs). And at three restaurants—including brand-new Maris Piper—brother-and-sister team Guillaume and Claire De Beer offer multicourse surprise tasting menus. Guts & Glory rotates “chapters” by the month, inspired by countries (say, Italy) or proteins (such as chicken), while Restaurant Breda nods to the college town where they were raised—an easy destination to reach via train. But for more day-tripping or an overnight for the Netherlands novice, the Hague beckons.
Fans of Girl With a Pearl Earring can rejoice at the Mauritshuis gallery, home to the masterpiece and many more gems from the Masters era. Or, opt for the avant-garde at Escher in Het Paleis museum, where optical illusions, woodcuts, lithographs and 15 sparkling chandeliers illuminate the genius of M.C. Escher in a historic palace. There’s plenty of indoor and outdoor shopping a charming stroll away from both locales, or for more juvenile pleasures, take a short train ride from the Hague center to Madurodam. The re-creation of the Netherlands’ most iconic sites in miniature may sound as cheesy as the country’s famed Gouda, but you can spend hours delighting in the colorful interactive displays of windmills, flower fields and canal houses.
Speaking of dairy, don’t skip out on sampling one of Amsterdam’s most famous exports; it’s not hard to stumble upon a wheel at any given turn on the city’s cobbled streets. For more than just a nibble, however, head to Reypenaer’s tasting room to compare crystalline textures to creamy, contrasting flavors like caramel and cognac and also pair slices with spirits. Prefer your cheese atop a slice of apple pie? The nearby Jordaan District is packed with cafes, including Winkel 43, where towering wedges defy gravity with a crumb-cake-like crust.
The more intrepid can burn off those calories via bike—VanMoof wheels are complimentary for Kimpton guests—or take a relaxing cruise around the canal bends that are collectively listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Purchase an iAmsterdam City Card, which offers a discount or free admission for the cruise, most museums and public transportation as well as a city tour by bike that’ll bring you through the verdant oasis known as Vondelpark. Keep your eyes peeled for wild parakeets, whose green feathers pop throughout the 100-odd acres, and then head to nearby Oud Zuid, an off-the-beaten-path residential enclave filled with coffee shops, concept stores and cafes like Carter. There, the convivial atmosphere of the bar spills out onto the street at patio tables in the summer or wafts up to the intimate, candle-lit second floor when it’s chilly. Look for manager Emile Nederhof, who loves telling stories while she’s pouring you a gin and tonic, and who grew up around the corner and still lives in the neighborhood. Amsterdam’s not a huge city, but one whose charms—and people—are worth discovering. ◆
– Less than $10 per person, the train ride from Schiphol Airport to the city’s center is easy to navigate, and Kimpton De Witt is a five-minute walk from Centraal Station.
– Available in one-day to four-day increments, the iAmsterdam City Card can save you hundreds in admission to museums, transportation fees and more.
Carter Bar & Kitchen, barcarter.nl; Conservatorium, conservatoriumhotel.com; Door 74, door-74.com; Escher in Het Paleis, escherinhetpaleis.nl; Guts & Glory, gutsglory.nl; Kimpton De Witt, kimptondewitthotel.com; Madurodam, madurodam.nl; Mama Makan, mamamakan.com; Maris Piper, maris-piper.com; Mauritshuis, mauritshuis.nl; Restaurant Breda, breda-amsterdam.com; Reypenaer, reypenaercheese.com; Winkel 43, winkel43.nl