Amsterdam is an undeniably beautiful city with its network of glittering canals and its tightly packed Dutch townhouses. But as a city break destination, it can get overlooked because of its infamous 'coffee shops' and the Red Light district.
But if you look in the right places - and beyond the obvious attractions such as the Van Gogh Museum and the tulips - there is plenty to sate the savvy urbanite, from street food markets and pancake parlours to its ever expanding portfolio of boutique hotels.
Here are just 10 reasons why you should choose Amsterdam for your next European city break.
1. Instagram opportunities
The ‘Venice of the North’ is nothing if not highly Instagrammable. Every time you turn a corner, a new stretch of glittering canal or row of beautiful Dutch townhouses will have you reaching for your phone. No filters needed.
2. It’s so close
You can fly to Amsterdam from London in about 45 minutes – so it’s quicker than the train journey to Margate or the car trip to the Cotswolds. This makes it very doable for a weekend break, leaving after work on Friday so you can save that precious annual leave.
3. Cool hotels
The boutique hotel scene in Amsterdam is blooming, with recent openings including the hipster-friendly Hoxton and the grander Pulitzer really putting it on the map for the style-conscious. This year, the Sir Adam has recently opened in the hip IJ-river district with industrial-style interiors, a gourmet burger joint and a riverside terrace. Next up is the Kempton de Witt, which will open in the Amsterdam Central in May with its own neighbourhood joint Wyers and free bikes for guests.
4. You can cycle anywhere
Hiring bikes in the ‘Dam is an absolute must – it allows you to explore all the different neighbourhoods easily. Some hotels (like the Hoxton) have free bikes for their guests, so make sure you check first. Unlike London, there are cycle lanes everywhere and cars come second, so you should feel completely safe as you pedal the streets and canals. If you’re staying in central – you can be at the bars of Oost area in 20 minutes and the concept stores of De Pijp area in 10 by hopping on your bike.
5. The Foodhallen
Opened in October 2014, the Foodhallen is like a cross between Borough Market and Street Feast – drawing in a multi-generational crowd in an ex-tram depot in West Amsterdam. It’s a great way of discovering the best of the city's foodie scene, with everything from perfectly steamed dim sum platters to steak sandwiches to bao buns. Thirsty? You’re spoilt for choice with a craft beer bar and a dedicated G&T bar – where endless permutations of the tipple are served in giant fishbowl-shaped glasses – among the offerings. It’s so popular it can be hard to find somewhere to perch – but once you do, it’s worth settling in - especially on a rainy Sunday.
6. Pancake brunches
The Dutch are known for whipping up seriously good pancakes, so make sure you make some space for them – in your itinerary and stomach. Mook is one of the city’s most recent openings, where the interiors are just as drool-worthy as the healthy stacks of fluffy pancakes. Think all white interiors with on-trend greenery, pendant lights that make the perfect backdrop for your Instagram snaps. Share the Mancake the Chocolate Surprise to sate your savoury and sweet tooth.
7. Concept stores
If you love the shops like Merci and Colette in Paris, you’ll love what Amsterdam has to offer. Circle of Trust in the trendy De Pijp area sells well-cut jeans, stripy tees, backpacks and sunglasses, while Nuvo Niche stocks tiny brands in the Nine Streets area with everything from lobster-shaped ceramics to gold rings.
8. Cool restaurants in unusual places
There are lots of lovely places to eat in the heart of Amsterdam like Breda and Balthazar’s Keuken, but the most interesting places tend to be found on the fringes and are worth the longer cycle or Uber to get there. Try Wilde Zwinjnen in the east part of town for oysters, charcoal-grilled ribeye and wild boar in a cool, candlelit urban setting. Or head to Hangar in the north, which overlooks the water and has a gritty meets tropical vibe, all underpinned by southern Mediterranean cooking with nods to north Africa. Over in Amsterdam-West, Restaurant DS has opened up in a former technical school where you can choose between veg-centric menu of three, five or seven courses. Expect dishes such as duck spinach tortillas and brill fish with dashi onion.
9. Canalside drinking – and boating
In the sunnier months (Amsterdam can be rather cold and wet like London), it’s all about al fresco, waterside eating and drinking. Grab a spot by the canal and settle in. Try Edel in the OUd-West area if you’re with a large group, or Venus & Adonis is set just back for the canal for a quiet glass of white with your lover.
Or, do it like the locals and hire a boat to speed gently along the water in the late afternoon, catching the last of the sun’s rays with a beer in hand.
10. Art and design
In addition to the well-trodden museums like the Rijksmuseum, Anne Frank and Van Gogh, Amsterdam has something exciting up its sleeve this year. The Stedelijk Museum is celebrating 100 years of the De Stijl art movement. This landmark exhibition will fill six galleries with artists including Piet Mondrian, Gerrit RIetveld and more.