With its historic canals, doll's house-like canal houses, refined architecture and record number of museums, Amsterdam is both charming and sophisticated. Amsterdam-based design writer, Emma Becque, shares an insider's guide.
I began my Amsterdam adventure two years ago after relocating for my Dutch husband, and quickly fell in love with this water-locked city. From its sprouting tulips, chiming bicycles, year-round cosiness and doll's house-like canal buildings, Amsterdam's charms are infinite. From secret gardens and world-class art collections, to 16th-century house museums and 400-year-old markets, many lose themselves down Amsterdam's glorious rabbit holes and labyrinth streets.
The Dutch relish in life's simple pleasures, and I have certainly followed suit; I spend my weekends picking tulip bouquets from my local Albert Crypt Market, trawling flea markets, and enjoying mundane magic with a coffee while gliding through the passageways by boat. With a few years under my belt, it is my pleasure to share my favorite places and spaces to experience during a weekend. Emma Becque
Where to Stay
The Pulitzer Hotel: You can’t visit Amsterdam without visiting the famous Pulitzer Hotel, comprised of 25 historic canal houses. In true Dutch fashion, buckets of flowers line the entryway, presented in towering delft vases beneath a canopy of chandeliers and Golden Age-inspired decor. Inside, pink-hued Jansz restaurant serves only the best local dishes, while the speakeasy-style bar offers noteworthy cosmopolitans, and the garden room eatery is my go-to spot when entertaining in the city.
Breitner House: In leafy Amsterdam East, Breitner House is moments away from the Tropenmuseum, once the sanctum of prominent 19th-century Dutch artists. Its interiors showcase museum-standard antiques, handpainted murals, and exotic fruit bowls. Yet, the ambience is authentic, thanks to host Camilla Braaksma's warm welcome. Rumoured to have inspired artists like George Breitner, the house's legacy of artistry and renowned gatherings continues to enchant lucky visitors.
The Ambassadre Hotel: Abundant with tealights, pastel yellows, and 17th-century beams, the Ambassadre sits within the atelier shopping district, De 9 Straatjes, and exudes that home-away-from-home feeling across its 55 decorated rooms. Even better, the hotel houses a curated library (including a dedicated librarian) with over 5000 signed books displayed in the Library Bar - the perfect snug escape.
Café Garçon, Amsterdam
Where to Eat
Gertrude: Here you'll find a bustling hybrid of Parisian bistro flare and quaint Dutch charm in Amsterdam's Oud-West. Vintage tables and seasonally-inspired dishes are set against wonky antique wall sconces, stripy Victorian wallpaper, and framed portraits. Located within the tree-lined Bosboom Toussaintstraat, Gertrude is charming, with a matching menu showcasing the season's best. Highlights include the lemon-sprinkled artichoke with stacked beetroot and fennel disks.
Café Restaurant De Ysbreeker: The best place to grab a coffee and a small borrel (the Dutch colloquialism for a snack with friends) is Ysbreeker. Formerly a boxing gym, the Art Deco interior showcases a kaleidoscopic floor-to-ceiling bottled bar. Their Dutch Bitterballen and coffee (complete with stroopwafel) are the perfect pick-me-up, as is the view of the Amstel River from their terrace.
Winkel43: Traveling around the Jordaan area, you cannot miss Winkel43 due to the frenzied line, which is worth enduring. Winkel43 has been famed for its chunky slices of signature apple pie since the 1980s. Be sure to stop by on Mondays when their doors open early, and the adjacent Noorde Market transforms into a textile treasure trove and flower market and Winkel43's doors open early.
Café Garçon, Amsterdam
Café Garçon: In true exhibitionist fashion, Café Garçon is the perfect people-watching patch thanks to its prime location in swanky Oud Zuid. White tablecloths, dripping candles, and shelved aeons-old wine decorate the space with an oversized antique tapestry enshrining the walls. The menu includes a catalogue of red wines, escargots, and onion soup served with crunchy rye bread from lunch to dinner.
Zoldering: Located on one of Amsterdam's best shopping streets, easy-to-miss Zoldering (it's located in a discreet, slim-line building) has an unforgettable wine and tasting menu. Set across a maisonette of creaking wooden floors, the intimate restaurant is often overflowing; reservations are gold dust. I recommend the Zeeland hamachi and dark chocolate parfait, with a sommelier-recommended pairing.
Restaurant De Kas: Set within historic Franckendael Park, offering a farm-to-table experience beneath the stars, Restaurant De Kas was once a 17th-century greenhouse. A 2001 restoration by Studio Piet Boon allowed wildflowers, greenery, and colourful sprouting vegetables to circumference the restaurant space.
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam © Isabel Bronts
What to See & Do
Rijksmuseum & Cuypers Library: Standing proud in the prominent museum quarter is the Rijksmuseum. Famed for Dutch dynasties and remarkable collections, the museum also houses a secret library, often missed. The Cuypers Library is a mise en scène of floor-to-ceiling artistic publications. Moreover, the working library, now open to the public (via reservation) is the perfect sanctuary to read, write, or admire the Bibliotheque haven.
AntiekCentrum: My mother, an antique dealer, heads straight to AntiekCentrum when in Amsterdam. The space is a miniature antique village filled with independent stands, each offering a niche from 16th-century crystal decanters to 18th-century vases. Their antique collection is abundant with undiscovered collectibles from every era.
Museum van Loon: A 1672 house museum, once home to Rembrandt's protégé, Ferdinand Bol. Enshrined with the Van Loon family's diverse collection - from 17th-century art to 20th-century utensils - and still under the watchful eye of the family today, the house feels somewhat occupied. Coral-encased cabinets, spiral stairs, and undisturbed sleeping quarters tell the story of secrets and forgotten pasts. The highlight is the 17th-century city garden, framed by a coach house turned art gallery.
Kitchen, Museum van Loon © Maison Fête
Our Lord In The Attic: Tucked away in Amsterdam's city centre lies a true gem: Our Lord in the Attic Museum. Housed within a preserved 17th-century canal house, visitors navigate historic rooms until they discover an unexpected marvel: a church in the attic. Commissioned in 1663 by affluent Catholic merchant, Jan Hartman, this clandestine church has one of the most fascinating stories worth unraveling.
Pieter Teylers Museum and House: Just a 10-minute train from Amsterdam, you'll find the oldest museum in Holland. The Pieter Teylers Museum is a natural cabinet of curiosities, holding a library of shells, fossils, minerals, coins, and artworks. The building was first opened to the public in 1784 and is just as magnificent as the artefacts, with various collections housed in floor-to-ceiling wooden cabinetry. Visitors can also tour Pieter's adjacent home and discover take-home treats.
Noorder Market: This 400-year-old market is a must-visit. With four decades' worth of history, you can't help but imagine the past the area has endured, with a particular focus on World War II, being only a few steps away from Anne Frank's house. Many merchants are descendants and still sell the same merchandise as their ancestors. Each day gifts visitors a different genre: flowers, antiques, and textiles.
A boat trip: Nothing beats exploring Amsterdam by boat, meandering through its water lanes. Several companies cater to this experience, but my preference is renting saloon boats (equipped with a bar and your very own captain).
Posthumus Winkel, Amsterdam © Emma Becque
Where to Shop
Bruens: A stone's throw from the Rijksmuseum, lies a cluster of jewellery stores exhibiting vintage and antique diamonds, and precious stones. Bruens stands out, thanks to the charming brothers who work across their two stores. Each piece is mounted upon red velvet props and encased within the finest cabinetry, with the service just as enchanting as the history of the purchasable heirlooms.
De 9 Straatjes: If you seek artisanal craftsmanship, head to De 9 Straatjes, a web of independent stores dotted with coffee shops. Located along the canals, the streets indulge shoppers with a trinket-box version of city-centre retail therapy, from goldsmith jewellery ateliers to handpainted tiles, couture, and ceramics. Make sure you pop by Anouk Beerent, for antique mirrors, and eclectic Carla Palermo.
Kazen van Kef: Since 1953, Kazen van Kef's shop on Marnixstraat has been hailed an Amsterdam treasure, with Kef introducing the Dutch to French cheese post-war. Today, Kef is the go-to for cheese and still practices traditional cheesemonger services.
Posthumus Winkel: On an off-the-beaten-track street, housed within a chocolate-box building, Posthumus Winkel, established in 1865, is a distinguished stamp and stationery store. Boasting one of Europe's grandest hobby stamp collections, they also curate fine Italian paper and time-honoured Dutch handmade cards.
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Amsterdam-based Emma Becque is a British writer, specialising in design and interiors | Follow Emma on Instagram: @emmabecque
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