The Netherlands has always had a higher profile than, perhaps, its diminutive size warrants. For some, its capital is second only to Sodom or Gomorrah in lasciviousness but, in truth, Amsterdam’s much-tested tolerance is rooted in capitalism as much as humanism. Its central warren of busy streets is banked on the north by the river IJ and, elsewhere, ringed by a horseshoe of stately canals, or grachten, where bikes and tourists vie for supremacy. So stay on the pavement or rent some wheels yourself.
St Christopher’s at the Winston
Though prostitution has been legal since 1995, local and national governments have been trying to pull up the industry’s roots in the criminal world, just as in the case of legalised marijuana. Despite Dutch politics’ increasingly conservative leanings, Amsterdam’s red light district remains a vital tourist attraction. Those looking for a bed here for more than half an hour would do well to check into Winston on the extremely lively Warmoesstraat — one of the oldest streets in the city; once home to the richest 16th-century burghers and, more recently, the most hardcore junkies of the 1980s.
All of its 30 rooms are individually furnished with appropriately bawdy designs, some swirling with Manga-style rainbow explosions and others sparsely adorned with a simple photo portrait. But this is a hostel, and one in the heart of the (gay) nightlife district, so don’t expect quiet, or for all rooms to be en suite. Yet, for its location and insouciant style, the Winston can’t be beaten. The Winston Kingdom club downstairs roars to life almost every night, with Sunday’s dubstep and Saturday’s alternative nights the obvious highlights.
■ Rooms: Dormitory beds from €14.90 (£13), private doubles from €74 (£65), with breakfast. Warmoesstraat 129. T: 00 31 20 623 1380. www.winston.nl
■ X-factor: The location, minutes from Amsterdam’s notorious nightlife.
On the Singel canal in the heart of the city, decorated in warm tones, this 92-room hotel is set in four quirkily individual, converted canal houses. A hotel since the 1950s, Estheréa is firmly on the radar of international and local bigwigs.
■ Rooms: Doubles from €135 (£119), breakfast not included. Singel 303-309. T: 00 31 20 624 5146. www.estherea.nl
For bargain hunters:
Despite its claim to be the ‘dirtiest, worst hotel in the world’, Brinker has very clean, cheap, basic hostel-style accommodation, with breakfast — rare in Amsterdam. No canal views, TVs or private bathrooms, but being two bridges from Vondelpark is location heaven.
■ Rooms: Dorms from €22.50 (£19.86), doubles from €61 (£53.86). Kerkstraat 136-138. T: 00 31 20 622 0687. www.hans-brinker.com
Amsterdam’s role as a former world-class trading post is best seen in the Eastern Docklands. The last ships sailed from here in the 1970s and the area has increasingly become the preserve of experimental developers and architects. Visit the futuristic KNSM and Java Islands, a brisk walk or tram ride from Central Station, and don’t skip the Venetian-style wonders of Scheepstimmermanstraat (Shipwright’s Street) on Borneo island, where residents were given free rein to design their own abodes.
Lloyd Hotel & cultural embassy
Doubtless the coolest hotel in Amsterdam, the Lloyd embodies the creative spirit animating this revitalised part of the city. Originally built as the headquarters for a shipping company that connected the Netherlands to Latin America in the 1920s and ’30s, it also functioned as a hotel for many emigrants from Eastern Europe — often pogrom refugees awaiting their ocean passage. After the firm’s bankruptcy in 1936, the Lloyd became a prison and it was not until 1996, when the city held a competition to decide what to do with the building, that it was reinvented as a ‘cultural embassy’ and hotel. Thoroughly renovated, it now has 117 rooms, all different and rated at one- to five-star, although a one-star is better than your average three-star apart from the shared bathrooms. Don’t expect 17th-century opulence here (the default in many places across town); the design scheme at the Lloyd is bright and stark, with surprises in most rooms, from grand pianos and 13ft-wide beds to bath tubs in the middle of the room.
■ Rooms: One-star doubles from €95 (£84), three-star doubles from €168 (£148), five-star doubles from €262 (£231), breakfast not included. Oostelijke Handelskade 34. T: 00 31 20 561 3636. www.lloydhotel.com
■ X-factor: The unusual design features.
Hotel Ibis Centre
Even those who scoff at the banality of chain hotels will want to make an exception for the 363-room Amsterdam Ibis. Pitched behind the multilevel Central Station bike garage, the higher floors offer dazzling views of the city on one side and the busy river IJ on the other. While rooms here are basic, the friendly pricing and central location make this a solid option for those passing through. The quieter, equally beautiful cities of Haarlem, Utrecht, and The Hague are a short train ride away — and those looking to discover Amsterdam by foot or bike.
■ Rooms: Doubles from €99 (£87), breakfast not included. Stationsplein 49. T: 00 31 20 638 9999. www.accorhotels.com
For design buffs:
Grand Hotel Amrâth Amsterdam
With its beautiful art deco-style brick facade overlooking the city and the docklands, the Grand Hotel Amrâth makes the best of first impressions. Inside, the architecture is elegantly styled in mahogany and marble, with many nods to the building’s nautical history — the most striking being the towering stairwell, capped with a vast stained-glass roof inspired by the ships that first launched from here over 400 years ago. As befits a five-star hotel, the 165-room Amrâth has a pool, a wellness area, and a choice of French and American breakfasts.
■ Rooms: Doubles from €241 (£212), breakfast not included. Prins Hendrikkade 108. T: 00 31 20 552 0000. www.amrathamsterdam.com
Those heading west from the centre of town must cross the fancier canals to get to the Jordaan, a neighbourhood priding itself on its rough-and-tumble authenticity. While certainly cosy and crowded, this old blue-collar community has over the years become as expensive to live in as most other central areas of the city. Excellent for shopping and sightseeing, it’s a short walk from the attractive Nine Streets district and the sobering Anne Frank House. Towards the north-west, you can saunter through the Westerpark, where the renovated Westergasfabriek zone offers clubbing, dinner, and movie options galore.
Unabashedly fancy, the Dylan hotel takes a singular position among Amsterdam hotels. Each one of its 40 rooms is appointed to the highest standards, with free internet and great Bose speakers. Its high prices are almost made up for by spacious rooms and opulent duplex suites, but it’s the in-house restaurant Vinkeles, under chef Dennis Kuipers, that clinches the deal.
It’s not the only hotel restaurant in the city with a Michelin star (the Okura has three, shared between two of its restaurants), but is a sublime place to dine, housed in an 18th-century bakery (ovens intact) with a French-inspired menu serving delicacies such as pickled sea robin, Anjou pigeon, and Chinese Asetra caviar. The quiet courtyard is an ideal place to wind down after the chef’s signature menu, or a long day of sightseeing.
■ Rooms: Doubles from €345 (£303), breakfast not included. Keizersgracht 384. T: 00 31 20 530 2010. www.dylanamsterdam.com
■ X-factor: Outstanding culinary offering.
For garden lovers:
Over the past 40 years, the 230-room Pulitzer has expanded to take up 25 buildings on a slice of Amsterdam between the Prinsengracht and Keizersgracht canals. Its 17th- and 18th-century origins are seen in a variety of rooms (and in the winding passages taking you there). The spacious courtyard garden is a wonderful discovery in a city where outdoor spaces are cramped. Should the skies default to a soggy grey, the Pulitzer also has three bars to while away the bad weather blues in.
■ Rooms: Doubles from €272 (£239), breakfast not included. Prinsengracht 315-331. T: 00 31 20 523 5235. www.pulitzeramsterdam.com
All Inn the Family B&B
The best way to experience Amsterdam is to stay with locals, sit at their breakfast table, and climb their unbelievably steep stairs to upper-floor bedrooms. Of the plethora of independent B&Bs, the All Inn the Family stands out for its personable service and bright, homely rooms. Simply decorated in black and white, these historical lodgings epitomise the Dutch city-pad dream: a central location; sheltered, lush garden; and a warm kitchen with a steaming pot of tea.
■ Rooms: Doubles from €95 (£83). Minimum stay two nights, breakfast included. Tweede Egelantiersdwarsstraat 10. T: 00 31 20 7763 636. www.allinnthefamily.nl
South of the centre, the greenest part of the city is blessed with three parks: Vondelpark, Beatrixpark, and the smaller Sarphatipark. Along with jogging and people-watching, this side of Amsterdam also offers ritzy shopping on PC Hooftstraat and classier strolling at the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum, which has Dutch masters such as Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Dick Bruna — the creator of Miffy. De Pijp, a vibrant neighbourhood east of Museumplein, is worth a stroll for the Albert Cuypmarkt, an outdoor market where you can buy anything from lingerie to foodstuffs from the former Dutch colonies of Indonesia and Surinam.
While your average traveller to Amsterdam has to make do with slightly cramped, or at least quirky, spaces in converted centuries-old buildings, the CitizenM hotel has found a different solution to the high density situation: welding together 215 shipping containers to create just as many overnight pods. And although 150sq ft per pod doesn’t allow for much extraneous decoration, the rooms include a king-sized bed and two shower and toilet pods, all of which necessitate a degree of intimacy between sharing guests.
A special ‘Moodpad’ controls everything: the shades, the TV (with free movies on demand), the coloured lights, even the alarm clock and the temperature. Your preferences are saved on your key card, so the next time you visit, the room will look, feel, and sound exactly the same. The lobby, meanwhile, looks more like an upscale furniture shop, with design classics by Verner Panton and Hella Jongerius. The hotel’s proximity to Zuid-WTC station means public transport is close by while most of the city is no more than a 10-minute walk away.
■ Rooms: Doubles from €109 (£95), breakfast not included. Prinses Irenestraat 30. T: 00 31 20 8117 090. www.citizenmamsterdamcity.com
■ X-factor: Novelty factor.
Hotel Okura Amsterdam
The Okura’s pricey 301 rooms come in 1990s conference chic, complete with expensive wi-fi and hit-or-miss air-conditioning. Still, the towering hotel offers much compensation — most strikingly, the views, as its 23 floors deliver a unique panorama over what is otherwise a rather vertically challenged city. It’s also, refreshingly, not amid the hustle of Amsterdam’s narrows but in the quieter, airier south. Okura’s three restaurants serve up Michelin-starred French and Japanese dishes.
■ Rooms: Doubles from €203 (£177), breakfast not included. Ferdinand Bolstraat 333. T: 00 31 20 678 7111. www.okura.nl
Not to be confused with the chain of W hotels, the V has a distinctly local flavour. With their slate and wood decor, the rooms feel stylishly moody, while the enthusiastic and knowledgeable staff are great for hip shopping and late-night drinks suggestions. This commitment to guests’ authentic Amsterdam experience even applies to the rental bikes, camouflaged to look like the locals’ Dutch bikes (i.e. not painted the garish hues of most rental company machines).
■ Rooms: Doubles from €69 (£60), breakfast not included. Weteringschans 136. T: 00 31 20 662 3233. www.hotelv.nl
Vacation Rentals Accommodation
We recommend for small and large groups:
AmsterdamStay – Singel 540 Amsterdam – Phone +31(0)85 888 0610 http://www.amsterdamstay.com/apartments
Published in the Nov/Dec 2011 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)