Amsterdam has been known as “The Venice of the North” for so long, it’s time it shed that appellation and claimed its own special title. This charming capital, with its meandering canals and pedestrian-friendly bridges; wooden shoes and cheese; master artists and world-class museums; gracious people and wonderful food; and bicycles, bicycles, bicycles, is a city on the move!
Officially the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the country consists of 12 provinces including North Holland and South Holland. But often the name Holland is used to refer to the entire country due to the fact that this region incorporates the major cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and The Hague, which were mostly responsible for the overall prosperity of the Netherlands. Amsterdam is the capital, Rotterdam is Europe’s largest port, and The Hague is the seat of government and home of the King and Royal Family.
Amsterdam is named after the Amstel River that crisscrosses the land. It’s a city that does not easily accommodate cars, let alone trucks, and narrow streets make walking harrowing considering the more than 700,000 bikes being pedalled around or parked in giant clusters, restricting pedestrian access to the even narrower sidewalks. And in Amsterdam, bikes have the right of way! Every year some 35,000 bikes are fished out of the canals; no statistics exist for how many went in still attached to their riders.
Amsterdam boasts a plethora of museums, with the world-class Rijksmuseum filled with classical artists the likes of Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Rubens; the eponymous Van Gogh Museum in honour of its much beloved native son; and the Stedelijk Museum of modern art nicknamed the “bathtub” for obvious architectural reasons, as well as numerous others.
Burgeoning Foodie Destination
From hand-held street food to Michelin-starred, white-glove service, Amsterdam is rapidly becoming the foodie capital of Europe and has been inching its way up the “food chain” as a gastronomic destination. The aim is to attract the new breed of travellers not so much interested in feeding their hunger for ancient ruins and antiquities as filling their bellies with good food. Whether you go high or go low, it’s all good.
Our eating odyssey began with a chef’s tasting menu at the Michelin 2-star Ciel Bleu (Blue Sky) in the luxury Hotel Okura. The restaurant occupies the top floor of the hotel with an outstanding view of the city. This inviting space was recently refashioned in soft elegant grey with the wait staff outfitted in stylish suits coordinating with the decor. The food delivery was white glove with silver-domes covering the beautifully presented dishes and synchronized multiple-reveal for full dramatic effect. Both food and service were divine.
In contrast was our Eating Amsterdam food-lovers’ tour in the trendy Jordaan section of the city. Many of the items we sampled are acquired tastes like poffertjes, tiny pancakes doused with powdered sugar and syrup that were easy to get used to, and bitterballen, a local delicacy made of smooth, savoury gravy encased in deep-fried batter. Fried battered cod was another staple along with the local beer—Heineken, of course—and raw herring fillet dipped in chopped onion and dressed with a pickle slice, which tastes much better than it sounds.
We also sampled cold-smoked and grilled savoury sausages, followed by cheese. The aromas of the many different cheeses Amsterdam is renowned for was mouth-watering. Next stop was a tiny shop featuring food from Surinam and Indonesia, unusual flavours that my taste buds were not yet ready for.
Our final stop was one of the oldest cafes in Amsterdam known for its amazing apple pie. Our guide for this foodie trek was the chatty and charming Aileen who entertained us with stories and tidbits of information that added immeasurably to the long walks between stops. Foodie or not, this is a must-do tour.
We stayed at the unique Sofitel Legend The Grand Amsterdam located between two canals in the heart of the city. It was once a royal residence and a city hall, and is now a hotel in the highest tradition of luxury. The Michelin-starred Restaurant Bridges located on the first floor serves both an outstanding breakfast and dinner par excellence. A trendy restaurant featuring seafood and fish, Bridges’ motto is based on the English writer Jonathan Swift’s quote: “Fish should swim three times: first in the sea, then in butter, and finally in good wine.”
A fitting end to a tasty sojourn.
Amsterdam Marketing/Tourist Board: iamsterdam.com/en/visiting
Ciel Bleu Restaurant at Okura Hotel: okura.nl/en/culinary/ciel-bleu-restaurant
Sofitel Legend Hotel The Grand Amsterdam: sofitel-legend-thegrand.com
Eating Europe Tours for Amsterdam: eatingamsterdamtours.com
Barbara Angelakis is a seasoned international traveller and award-winning writer based in the New York City area. To read more of her articles and adventures visit LuxuryWeb Magazine at www.luxuryweb.com