A host of anniversaries and the reopening of one of the world's great museums, make the Dutch capital worth a visit.
My Kind of Place: Amsterdam makes for the perfect city break
This enticing city, set around a labyrinth of criss-crossing romantic canals, quite simply ticks all the boxes for a perfect weekend break with a fabulous choice of places to stay, blockbuster museums, fun shopping and a dazzling dining-out scene, far removed from the rather stodgy image of Dutch cooking. And right now, Amsterdam has a host of events that make it even more inviting. Tomorrow, the majestic Rijksmuseum finally reopens its doors after 10 years of renovation, allowing art lovers the chance to view masterpieces by Rembrandt, Vermeer and Frans Hals.
At the beginning of May, the incomparable collection of Vincent van Gogh paintings returns from its temporary home in the Hermitage Amsterdam to the Van Gogh Museum, newly modernised to cope with the ever-increasing crowds. Spring also sees the beginning of a series of concerts and festivals to mark the 400th anniversary of the construction of the city's iconic canals. The biggest celebration of all will be on April 30 for the coronation of the nation's new king.
A comfortable bed
The most sumptuous suites in town are in the new Dutch Masters wing of the palatial Hotel de l'Europe (www.leurope.nl; 00 31 20 531 1777), where double rooms cost from €485 (Dh2,345), excluding taxes. For the ultimate romantic experience, reserve a room at the Pulitzer (www.pulitzeramsterdam.com; 00 31 20 523 5235) where double rooms cost from €250 (Dh1,200), excluding taxes. The hotel links over 20 merchants' mansions from the 17th century into one unique luxury resort.
Two hotels that have spectacularly transformed landmark historic buildings are the Conservatorium, which once housed the city's musical conservatory (www.conservatoriumhotel.com; 00 31 20 570 0000) and where double rooms cost from €250 (Dh1,200) excluding taxes; and the Grand Hotel Amrath (www.amrathamsterdam.com; 00 31 20 552 0000), a monumental art-deco palace, formerly headquarters for a shipping company, whose double rooms begin at €220 (Dh1,050), excluding taxes.
A more affordable option is the Hotel Wiechmann (www.hotelwiechmann.nl; 00 31 20 626 3321), which has 38 rooms priced from €70 (Dh340) for a double, excluding taxes, with the intimate feel of staying in a friend's comfy home.
Find your feet
The historical centre is small and easy to get around, preferably on foot, trundling around on the efficient trams, or acting like a local by hiring a bike for €15 (Dh70) a day from a rental shop (www.bikecity.nl). There are scores of different guided canal tours, good for a first introduction, but why not hire your own boat for three hours and pack a picnic lunch? A six-person boat rents for €79 (Dh380) (www.amsterdamrentaboat.com). The major museums are all conveniently located on Museumsplein, but reserve beforehand otherwise you risk queuing for hours. Rather than follow the crowds of tourists that pack Dam Square during the day and the teeming bars that line Rembrandtsplein at night, go off the beaten track and wander through the streets of a more genuine neighbourhood like Jordaan, filled with antiques stores, gourmet restaurants and the delightful Houseboat Museum (www.houseboatmuseum.nl).
Meet the locals
All of Amsterdam hangs out around the 1,400 bridges that span the city's canals, and the most popular spot is the "seven bridges" at the junction of the two prettiest canals, Reguliersgracht and Keizersgracht. Amsterdammers love sitting outside on a cafe terrace the moment a ray of sun appears, and the perfect waterside spot is the ancient Cafe 't Smalle (www.t-smalle.nl), just by the Anne Frank House. To check the pulse of multicultural Amsterdam, wander through Albert Cuyp market, a foodie's paradise where you can eat everything from Dutch herrings to spicy Surinam samosas.
Book a table
Chef Denis Kuipers has won two Michelin stars at Vinkeles (www.vinkeles.com) for his inspired reinterpretation of Dutch cuisine and it is worth ordering the eight-course €135 (Dh650) tasting menu. Beddingtons (www.beddington.nl) is the intimate gastronomic restaurant of the English chef Jean Beddington, whose creative fusion cuisine has won her a loyal following. Her tempting recipes mix foie gras with scallops, or calamari with spicy merguez sausages. Some of the most delicious Dutch dishes are served in traditional Brown Cafes, many dating back four centuries. At Cafe de Reiger (www.dereigeramsterdam.nl) you could order a tasty mussel soup at €6 (Dh30) or a juicy steak with frites and grilled vegetables for €15 (Dh70), while the blackboard menu at the most beautiful spot, Cafe 't Loosje, features fishcakes for €7 (Dh33) and slow-cooked lamb shank at €14 (Dh66).
Amsterdam is the diamond capital of the world, but if you really want to bring home the ultimate souvenir, the best plan is to begin with a proper guided tour at one of the historical showrooms, like the Amsterdam Diamond Centre (Rokin 1), before getting out the credit card. For quirky fashion and design boutiques, head for "9 Streets", the Grachtengordel, a rabbit's warren of narrow lanes filled with tempting stores, while bargain hunters can plunge into the hundreds of bric-a-brac stalls in the Waterlooplein flea market, stocking everything from vintage clothes to art deco furnishings.
A stroll along the Bloemenmarkt, a unique floating flower market, where colourful stalls filled with every variety of tulip imaginable, bob on the pretty Singel canal.
What to avoid
Bikes! The bicycle is king of the road here, so keep your eyes peeled crossing the road as cyclists whizz past paying no heed to pedestrians.
From May 15, Etihad will commence direct flights to Amsterdam from Dh2,830 return, including taxes (www.etihad.com). Emirates flies from Dubai from Dh3,875 return, including taxes (www.emirates.com), in six and a half hours.
Follow us @LifeNationalUAE
Follow us on Facebook for discussions, entertainment, reviews, wellness and news.