The Best Amsterdam has to Offer
It’s almost a contradiction that such a casual, comfortable city like Amsterdam can provide world-class luxury. But it does and it does it well by presenting luxury that’s approachable in every way. You can get anything you want in this city without the pretense that’s often associated with luxury travel.
The city itself is a joy year-round. In some ways winter is the best time to visit. The overcast skies during the day increase the city’s romantic charms. During the long nights, the city lights twinkle off the waters of the canals. A stroll along the streets always comes with new surprises, whether it’s an architectural element from another century or store specializing in a new interpretation of Dutch design. Leaving the cold for the warmth and coziness of the bars and restaurants is a reward for time well spent. I’ll never grow tired of this city.
The national airline of the Netherlands with its hub at Schiphol airport provides multiple non-stop flights to Amsterdam from just about everywhere in the world. Whether you travel first class or economy the service is warm, friendly and professional. (I know it’s difficult to believe with the current state of air travel). For an added bonus, Schiphol is always listed as one of the best airports in the world. The KLM Crown Lounge is spacious and welcoming with all the amenities one would expect at an airline lounge.
There are well over 600 hotels in Amsterdam including 14 five-star hotels ranging from the sleek and modern to those boasting old world charm.
For intimacy, nothing quite beats Luxury Suites Amsterdam, a hotel of 25 astonishingly large suites and penthouses with galley kitchens and ultra-luxurious bathrooms. Many of the rooms overlook the bustling Oudeschans canal. Guests from the airport are taken to the hotel in Tesla limousines and are greeted with champagne toasts.
The Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam is world-class in every way. It is created from a collection of six 17th century canal palaces on the Herengracht in Amsterdam. It has Amsterdam’s largest private courtyard, sophisticated afternoon tea service, a two-star Michelin restaurant and a popular bar. Its grand staircase was designed by Louis XIV’s architect, Daniel Marot. Each guest is assigned a personal concierge.
The Sofitel Legend the Grand Amsterdam is the most historic and perhaps the most grand of all the hotels in Amsterdam. Located between two canals in the heart of the city, the award-winning hotel served as royal lodgings in the 15th Century, as the Dutch Admiralty headquarters and as Amsterdam’s city hall. It has a Michelin star restaurant, a spa and all the trappings of old world French luxury. The Marriage Chamber is a room decorated with Art Deco murals and stained glass windows that depict the circle of life, created in 1926 by artist Chris Lebeau. This is where the Dutch royal family and celebrities hold their wedding celebrations.
The Pulitzer Amsterdam hotel is a complex of 25 canal houses that unified by central courtyard. If you remember the hotel from the 2004 film, “Ocean’s Twelve,” you won’t recognize it as it underwent a full renovation completed in August, 2016, with central grounds, two new restaurants and a comfortable bar specializing in craft cocktails. If you’re willing to splurge a bit you can get one of the “Extraordinary Suites,” on the ground floor, most with their own private entrances. Each one has a design theme, music, art, books, antiques and the Pulitzer Suite for lovers.
De Bijenkorf (the Beehive) is the largest and one of the oldest department stores in Amsterdam, founded in 1870. Located in a grand building on Dam Square, the heart of the city, it attracts locals and international tourists with more than 226,000 square-feet of shopping space containing all the international luxury brands one expects these days as well as some local brands. The top floor has multiple food vendors and a food court with most of the places specializing in Dutch foods. It accepts all currencies and has a “tax free lounge” where non-EU residents can receive their tax refunds so they don’t have to do it at the airport. It’s the only tax refund service point in the Netherlands.
The Nine Streets is a quirky neighborhood made up of (guess) nine streets filled with small, independent upscale shops with the majority of them locally owned. Otentic Perfumes has a collection of 65 fragrances divided into eight “families” or “moods.” The idea is to determine your favorite fragrance based on individual scents. You can do this yourself through a grouping of eight interactive displays or guided by trained employees until you find the combination of scents that suits you. The Amsterdam Watch Company specializes in collectible timepieces. It is a seemingly small store but has an inventory of more than 40 watch brands, from Audemars Piguet to Zenith.
X Bank – On the ground floor of the W Amsterdam Hotel is the concept design store that specializes in locally made products. The Dutch are known for minimalistic, experimental, innovative and even humorous designs and the retail space features the breadth of Dutch design, ranging from high-end furnishings and artworks to apparel and accessories. Prices at the store range from 8 to 80,000 euro.
With 180 nationalities residing in this lively, diverse city you can find food from all over the world. The fine dining scene has really come of age with no fewer than 18 Michelin star restaurants currently operating in the city. Among the best places is Bord’Eau in the hotel De L’Europe in Amsterdam. If you prefer something a bit more casual you can opt instead to go to the Hoofdstad Brasserie with the same international inspired cuisine. The two-star Michelin restaurant, Librije’s Zusje, in the Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam, is a formal dining space with a menu offering international cuisine in a restaurant that overlooks the hotel’s country-like courtyard garden. The world-famous Rijks Museum also has a Michelin star restaurant, RIJKS, which focuses on local and seasonal cuisine. Vermeer, in the Hotel NH Collection Amsterdam Barbizon Palace, is chef’s Christopher Naylor’s take on local ingredients and seasonal menus with dishes that change daily. Bridges in the Sofitel Legend The Grand Amsterdam specializes in fish dishes in a comfortable, cozy atmosphere.
The cocktail scene is thriving in Amsterdam with a number of high-quality cocktails bars with character and an ever-changing list of drinks. Among the places that know how to mix world-class craft drinks include the W Lounge on the 6th floor of the W Amsterdam Hotel. Try one of the three specialty punches. Andaz Amsterdam Prinsengracht award-winning craft cocktail bar, Bluespoon Bar is as eclectic as the hotel created by Dutch designer Marcel Wanders. It specializes in sustainable root-to-leaf bartending and the cocktails themselves could be considered a works of art. One of the most comfortable and cozy cocktail bars in the city is Pulitzer’s Bar in the Pulitzer Hotel offers more than 50 cocktails, wine and a lengthy selection of draft beers. The Brasserie & Lounge at the Conservatorium gets high marks for its unique ambiance as well as its cocktails. It is on the ground floor of a landmark heritage building that once housed the Conservatory of Amsterdam that has been updated with graceful, contemporary design. Glass partitions and ceilings contain what was once an outdoors that makes the space livable year round while keeping its openness and light.
At the top of any museum list in Amsterdam is the world-renowned Rijksmuseum, dedicated to arts and history in Amsterdam. The castle-like structure contains 8,000 objects of art and history, from their total collection of 1 million objects from the years 1200 – 2000. They include masterpieces by Rembrandt (including his most famous piece, the recently restored “Night Watch”), Frans Hals, and Johannes Vermeer. In 2019 the Rijksmuseum will participate in the 350-year anniversary of Rembrandts’ death with an exhibition titled “All the Rembrandts,” in which the museum will present for the first time an exhibition of its entire collection of 22 paintings, 60 drawings and more than 300 examples of Rembrandt’s prints. The exhibition opens February 15 and runs till June 10.
The Van Gogh Museum is housed in modern building and provides a surprising amount of detail on the life of the famed artist, including many of his most revered paintings. I love the compact nature and focus of the museum as you detail much of his life and the reasons why his work groundbreaking, including his use of color and depth.
For something off the beaten path, there’s the Museum Van Loon. It’s a 17th Century canal house with 18th Century furnishings that has been occupied by the Van Loon family since the latter part of the 19th Century. Family members still live in the upper floors of the house. The first two floors are open to the public and contain a history of the family. Their wealth was acquired when Willem van Loon co-founded the Dutch East-India Company in 1602. The rooms contain paintings, fine furniture, silver and porcelain from different centuries. Behind the house is a garden, laid out in formal style, and is bordered on the far side by the classical façade of the coach house. The basement contains a replica of an 18th Century kitchen. The museum claims that it is the only canal house that has survived with its garden and coach house in tact. In the gardens you can treat yourself to apple cake and coffee or tea. It’s where the locals go for a quick escape.
| Credit: Koen Smilde Photography