Insider Guide: Best of Amsterdam
The biggest city in the Netherlands (population 820,000) is a triumph of resourcefulness and lateral thinking.
Space is at premium in Amsterdam, where much of the land has been reclaimed from the sea.
The city's planners turned this to their advantage: Amsterdam's canals soothe rather than imprison the city.
They provide its order, its calm.
That calm is regularly disturbed by the trill of bicycle bells, but as long as you give the cyclists a wide berth, it's the perfect city for pedestrians.
No longer hostage to a tourist industry propped up, at least in part, by its now locals-only coffee/cannabis shops, travelers have no excuse for not discovering the best of Amsterdam.
Seven One Seven
Guests are spoiled in this best of Amsterdam, 18th-century throwback, a grand building restored in the 1990s and well located on the Prinsengracht, a short walk to the Leidseplein.
There's a strong fine arts theme, with plenty of paintings to browse in the public parts of the hotel and other artistic curiosities in all the suites.
If the weather's fine there are two pleasant garden areas to have breakfast in.
Book well in advance to be sure of a room.
Between entry and check-in, there's a nice, typically Dutch counterpoise.
The Andaz occupies a handsome, venerable former public library building, and retains its echoey stateliness.
But books? Nope, even at registration, which is all done by tablets.
The theme follows you; here ancient, there modern.
Rooms are neat minimalist, an elegant use of space, but lightly tattooed with discreetly-placed locators, like an XXX -- the symbol of Amsterdam -- embossed on the furniture, and frescoes pointing to the city's past and present.
This place has a long and varied history.
The building itself started life as a theater, then the site was a refuge for the city's destitute.
There's little trace of that now, with the emphasis on finery, although an eclectic mix of it, with antique art objects among the furnishings and bold color combinations on many of the bedroom walls.
Half an hour by foot from the city center, the Conservatorium can claim to be a genuine centerpiece of the museum district, site of much recent investment.
Its neighbors are the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh.
The hotel's grand façade is no less imposing than they are.
Opened only two years ago, the Conservatorium emphasizes its access to the art and music experience.
Amsterdammers like its designer communal spaces as an early-evening hangout.
The best rooms are the duplexes.
Sandton Hotel De Filosoof
If you have a favorite philosopher, chances are there'll be a room at De Filosoof in his name, and you can wonder if they've interpreted him as you might have done in their choice of colors and decoration.
Some of the rooms are on the small side of cozy, but it's a comfortable place close to the Vondelpark.
Decorated in an Art Deco style, but with an unpretentious, warm ambience, the Agora occupies an old canal house near the flower market.
There are no elevators, common to many of the cheaper hotels in the city, so be prepared for a climb if your room is on one of the upper floors.
&samhoud places is a newcomer to Amsterdam's high-end dining scene.
Chef Moshik Roth, however, is not.
He previously made a table at 't Brouwerskolkje one of the city's real treats, and earned it its two Michelin stars.
His latest project enjoys the same status.
There's a tendency towards seafood, French styles lightly referenced, careful wine pairings and lots of surprising sweet-savory blends.
The tasting menu offers a representative ride through Roth's vivid imagination, the Jardins de la Mer being among his masterpieces.
Best accessed from Singel, the flower market has almost every imaginable shade of tulip, from pure, plain hues to ones with marble-effect petals.
Bulbs and seeds prepared for long distance export are for sale.
It's best to check the regulations if you mean to take them a long distance.
Customs clearance stamps can be arranged with stallholders.
The De Hortus Botanicus Amsterdam is one of the oldest organized botanical gardens in the world, and another legacy of the long history of Dutch exploration and acquisition.
There are sections here for sub-tropical species, for desert plants and for those that grow in steamier climates.
They include living, thriving examples of the site's longevity -- trees more than 300 years old -- and some eye-catching rarities among the 4,000 species.
It's a nice escape from the city center.
Old Book Market
There's a great deal more than books to be found here, though it's possible to lose yourself for hours leafing through the illustrations of some of the more ornate works on sale.
Within the market are various specialist sellers; most are happy to let you look.
With the Dutch being such a well-voyaged, multi-lingual people, there are volumes in many different languages.
The cartography stalls have maps dating to a time when the world looked very different.