While antiquated stereotypes of Amsterdam persist, the Dutch capital has quietly moved on.
The famed districts of red-lit windows and green “coffee shops” are now littered with intimate wine bars and contemporary art galleries. The cleaned-up canals are as picturesque as ever, lined with handsome gabled merchant houses and leafy cobblestone lanes traversed by packs of cyclists. And on the global stage, this vibrant city is vying for membership in the vanguard of world-class capitals. After Brexit, the search for the next financial center within the E.U. to replace London had many experts pointing immediately to Amsterdam. Robust cultural institutions, including newly restored art museums, bolster the city’s widespread appeal. Add to that a stream of openings around town—from design shops to gourmet food halls to high-end restaurants—and Amsterdam appears to be entering a modern-day Golden Age.
When to go
The height of tulip season runs from mid-March through May, when the flower markets and local parks bloom with colorful perennials. At the end of April, crowds clad in orange—the national color of the Netherlands—flood the streets and pile onto boats to celebrate Koningsdag (King’s Day), one of the largest national holidays.
Warm weather means spending long days and nights outside, enjoying a packed roster of outdoor music, dance and arts festivals, al fresco film nights and open-air theater performances.
Amsterdammers are back in town after long summer vacations in southern Europe, and the tree-lined canals are at their most beautiful, reflecting the brilliant golds, ambers and russets of the changing leaves.
When temperatures dip below freezing, grab a wool scarf and warm up in the city’s cozy, candlelit cafes. In early December, locals celebrate Sinterklaas, the arrival of St. Nicholas, with a parade through the streets that marks the beginning of the holiday season.
Amsterdammers are among the most enthusiastic cyclists in Europe, and biking is the preferred mode of transportation in this pancake-flat city. To get a feel for how locals live, rent a bike by the day or hour and explore the compact city on two wheels (there are rental shops throughout the city, many of which are clustered around the central train station). Uneasy pedaling in traffic? The efficient network of trams, buses, metros and ferries is also easy to navigate.
- Although Amsterdam’s seedy reputation is a thing of the past, the city has not shed its tolerant, anything-goes attitude. Those seeking debauchery will still find it with relative ease, but cultural treasure-hunters now outnumber traveling hedonists.
- It’s a free five-minute ferry ride from behind Amsterdam’s central station to the Noord district, where the local spirit for urban renewal is on impressive display. Rent a bike and explore the area’s critically acclaimed restaurants, sprawling antiques shops, excellent craft brewery and modern architectural landmarks such as the EYE Film Museum.
- The city’s tourism office pushes its popular I Amsterdam City Card, which includes a canal boat cruise, unlimited use of public transport, various discounts and free entrance to many museums (though, notably, not the Rijksmuseum or Anne Frank House). A better option, especially for those with many museums on the itinerary, is the lesser-known Museumkaart (€59.90), valid for non-residents for 31 days of unlimited free entry to 400 museums across the country, including all major museums in Amsterdam. Passes can be purchased at participating museums; the I Amsterdam City Card can also be purchased in advance online.