A tangle of houseboat-lined canals and cobbled backstreets that grooves to the music of bicycle bells, Amsterdam is a city for all seasons. In summer it’s all about the pavement cafés and urban beaches; in winter snow piles on the sidewalks and the bridges are picked out in fairy lights – but whatever the time of year, this is always an enchanting place to visit. Once home to the great Impressionist Vincent Van Gogh, Amsterdam is still a hive of artistic activity, with more museums, galleries and studios than anywhere else in Holland. And when the sun goes down, the city rocks to the beat of a thousand different bars and nightclubs.
Amsterdam’s summer season begins with an explosion of colour as the tulip displays at world-famous Keukenhof (Stationsweg 166A) burst into bloom. It’s the start of an action-packed few months, beginning with the artistic Holland Festival in June and ending with sparkles and sequins at Canal Pride in August. When the temperature gets truly sweltering, Amsterdammers retreat to one of the city’s landscaped urban beaches – Strand West (Stavangerweg 900) has plenty of shaded hammocks to lounge around in, while Blijburg aan Zee (Muiderlaan 1001) is one of the few places where you can enjoy an alfresco swim. Balmy nights can be spent at the open-air cinema that runs in the park behind Ketelhuis (Pazzanistraat 4) throughout the summer.
The pancake-flat terrain and narrow streets of Amsterdam city centre are anathema for drivers but perfect for cycling. As a result, almost all Amsterdammers own a bike, and cyclists are served by more than 400km of bike lanes. Bike City (Bloemgracht 68-70) offers affordable bike hire in the heart of historic Jordaan, but if you’re not completely comfortable with peddling then the public transport is excellent. An OV-chipkaart will get you cheap passage on the tram, metro and bus. If you’re keen to travel further afield then trains run from Amsterdam Centraal – there is a regular service to the airport, which takes approximately 20 minutes.
Top cultural sites
The famous Rijksmuseum (Museumstraat 1) reopened in April 2013 after a decade of renovation, and the new space is nearly as staggering as the works of art it houses. Don’t miss ‘The Masterpieces’ – a permanent showcase of masters such as Rembrandt and Vermeer. For paintings by Amsterdam’s most famous native son, the Van Gogh Museum (Paulus Potterstraat 7) should be your first port of call. It houses the most extensive collection of Van Gogh’s works anywhere in the world, as well as a large selection of other Impressionist works. Anne Frank House (Prinsengracht 267) is another cultural highlight.
Best for families
Most of Amsterdam’s museums are family-friendly, but the fun, interactive exhibits at the Science Center NEMO (Oosterdok 2) are a top choice if you have young kids to entertain. Football fanatics of all ages will adore the Ajax Experience at the AFC Ajax stadium (Rembrandtplein/Utrechtsestraat 9), while the Amsterdam Dungeon (Rokin 78) combines historic exhibits with spine-tingling theatrical effects. Klimpark Fun Forest (Bosbaanweg 3) is a climbing park that hosts summer adventures for the whole family. In winter, the Jaap Eden skating rink (Radioweg 64) offers 400 sq m of skating space with a beginner’s corner for children and disco skating every Saturday evening.
Best for couples
Amsterdam is one of the most romantic cities in Europe, and wandering along the fairy-lit canals of Prinsengracht in the evening is sure to get you feeling starry-eyed. Start your day by exploring the Canal Ring on a tandem bike, followed by a picnic breakfast at the beautifully landscaped Vondelpark. The intimate canal-side terrace at organic café Spanjer en van Twist (Leliegracht 60) is the perfect place to snatch a quick lunch, before chartering an afternoon cruise on one of Holland International’s salon boats (Prins Hendrikkade 33A). Finish the day with a meal at Michelin-starred Restaurant De Librije (Broerenkerkplein 13-15), which is housed in an old 15th-century convent.
If you love a thrill
Most Amsterdammers get their daily dose of adventure on a breakneck bike ride through the city’s busy streets, but if you’re looking for an instant adrenaline shot then make the half-hour journey to IJmuiden aan Zee. This long, tapering strip of sand is a haven for kitesurfers and flyboarders, with schools on hand to tutor beginners. In the city itself, thrillseekers can test their ski skills at SnowPlanet (Heuvelweg 6-8), tackle the climbing wall at Klimmuur Centraal (Dijksgracht 2), drive a go-kart at Race Planet (Herwijk 10) or guide an Formula One racing car around the famous Circuit Park Zandvoort (Burgemeester van Alphenstraat 108).
Best hidden gems
Most visitors to Amsterdam make a beeline for the Rijksmuseum or Anne Frank House, but exploring the city’s maze of cobbles and canals is a better way to get beneath its skin. The recently opened EYE Film Institute (IJpromenade 1) is a new addition to Amsterdam’s impressive portfolio of museums, offering a fresh new experience for old hands. Looking for something a little different to take home with you? Rummage through the piles of fascinating bric-a-brac at ARI Vintage (Overtoom 532) or discover a bewildering range of cigars at 19th-century art deco tobacco shop PGC Hajenius.