Five things to do in Amsterdam this summer, from boat trip to beer drinking to a bug museum
With canalside concerts, Dutch delicacies and some intriguing museums, wandering the concentric canals of the Netherlands’ cultural capital, and seeing it by boat, offers some unforgettable experiences
Despite a recent surge in tourist numbers, Amsterdam, a city of 17th-century waterways and narrow town houses, still deserves a place on any European itinerary. It is a city at its best in summer, when locals unashamedly put a chair on the street to soak up the late afternoon sun.
Amsterdam is an expensive city, but an I amsterdam City Card (iamsterdam.com) can help. As well as dozens of museums and attractions, it gives you tap-in, tap-out access to the city's trams, plus one canal cruise. It's sold for 24, 48 or 72 hours, with prices ranging from €39 (US$45) to €59, but it only really saves you money if you buy a two- or three-day pass.
1. Take to the water
It may be touristy, but seeing Amsterdam from the water is a must. An hour's cruise down Prinsengracht (Prince's Canal), Herengracht (Lords' Canal) and Keizersgracht (Emperor's Canal) is a good way to get your bearings, and besides, the city’s tall narrow townhouses can be seen most easily from the water.
At a specific point on Reguliersgracht canal you can get the famed “Seven Bridges Amsterdam” view, where each bridge is framed by one in front. Close by is the Magere Brug (Skinny Bridge), a typically Dutch drawbridge that looks particularly beautiful when lit up at night. Most cruises depart from the Centraal Station, and cost around €18.
2. Concerts on the cobblestones
There is another way to take in not only the canals, but the chic cobblestoned communities of Amsterdam that are defined by the criss-crossing waterways. From August 9-18, Grachtenfestival (grachtenfestival.nl) will see 250 classical and jazz music performances in 90 venues, many of them open-air, but some also in pop-up spaces in gardens and on rooftops. All concerts are free, and are a great way for tourists and locals to mingle on the bridges and canalside roads.
3. Experience a bug's life
There are many urban museums that put the city they're in under the microscope, but Amsterdam's Artis Micropia (micropia.nl) goes for something unique by revealing the mysterious lives of microbes and extremophiles. The exhibition is beautifully presented with dozens of digital microscopes, 3D displays, and interactive touch screens.
Among the highlights are a body scanner that reveals what is living inside you, and a massive model of a tardigrade, better known as a water bear. Admission to Artis Micropia is€€15, but it's free with an I amsterdam City Card. It's not a large museum, but can easily fill two hours. For €€27.50 you can also get into the Artis Amsterdam Royal Zoo next door, which stages a twilight tour during Zoomeravonden (summer nights) on Saturdays in June, July and August.
4. Go Dutch on dinner
Dutch cuisine isn’t exactly world famous, but it is distinctive. The most visible in Amsterdam is fast food, which comprises frites (French fries, which despite their name come from Belgium) with delicious Dutch fritessaus (a tasty mayonnaise), and deep-fried kroketten, which contain beef, veal, chicken or cheese. You can find them all in branches of the snack bar Febo, which serves just-cooked kroketten from a vending machine, another Dutch tradition.
There’s a clique of restaurants in a small Chinatown clustered around the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist temple, but it's Indonesia that has left the biggest culinary mark; rijsttafel (rice table) usually includes satay, and is best sampled at the small Restaurant Blauw on Amstelveenseweg.
For Dutch and European beer, head to In de Wildeman, an atmospheric pub near Centraal railway station that serves 18 beers on draught and stocks 250 different bottles.
5. See The Night Watch
Even if you're not an arty type, it is worth visiting the Rijksmuseum, €€17.50 (included in an I amsterdam City Card), a towering 18th century Gothic masterpiece in Amsterdam South that has recently been revamped and now has a light, airy feel inside.
Most visit just to see Rembrandt's 1642 masterpiece The Night Watch. Measuring an impressive 12 feet by 14 feet (3.6 by 4.2 metres), the painting is beautifully displayed as the finale of the opulent Gallery of Honour, which also houses some of Rembrandt's 600 other works, as well as those from other 17th century Dutch masters Vermeer, Steen and Hals. Their chiaroscuro (or “Dutch light”) style of playing with light and shadows is as entrancing as Amsterdam itself.
Cathay Pacific flies to Amsterdam direct from Hong Kong, and there’s a new direct service on the Eurostar between London and Amsterdam.