After a frantic few months, we now have five weeks ‘at home’ in Amsterdam, with no travel plans.
It’s a good excuse for me to spend a day in the bike saddle, my camera slung over my shoulder, getting reacquainted with my favourite spots around this beautiful town.
Two years ago I blogged about the ten streets voted Amsterdam’s most beautiful by readers of the Parool newspaper. That’s proved to be a massively popular post (thanks very much, all you people who click on it a few times every day).
So this time I’ve picked ten other places I like to take visitors to show them Amsterdam’s variety as well as its charm.
On the southern border between Amsterdam and its neighbour Amstelveen, the Kalfjeslaan (‘Calves Lane’) is on my favourite cycling route out of town. At the eastern end of the road is the Amstel River, with green fields and windmills and black and white cows – the Dutch stuff everybody comes to Holland to see, in other words.
Of course I had to pick something in the old canal belt area. There are plenty of candidates here for ‘Amsterdam’s most beautiful’. I went for the Bloemgracht for its name (‘Flower Canal’), the boats moored along it, the geraniums on the bridges and the spire of the Raampoort police station – no, it’s not a church – at the end.
You wouldn’t say Haarlemmerstraat is particularly beautiful, but it is always fun and lively. I know it as the place where I spent my first nights in Amsterdam in 1976, in the appropriately named Hotel Arrive. It’s still there, and still one of Amsterdam’s cheaper establishments, though it has been cleaned up a lot and no longer has the smell from a fish shop downstairs seeping up through the cracks in the floorboards.
It must have been particularly beautiful in the days before the canal was filled in to make parking for cars, but the Lindengracht still has two very appealing features for me. The first is the lively Saturday market where we often do our shopping, and the second the little statue of writer and teacher Theo Thijssen by sculptor Hans Bayens.
Anyone with the slightest interest in architecture shouldn’t miss the chance to see some buildings of the ‘Amsterdam School’ – the style of the 1920s which was designed to build affordable ‘people’s palaces’ for the Dutch working class. The building known as Het Schip (the Ship) in the Westerpark area is a prime example of this. We love the attention to detail in the ornate brickwork and arched windows.
6. Cornelis Schuytstraat
We live on the fringe of the area known as ‘Oud Zuid’, leafy streets filled with stately homes of people richer than us. It’s one of the wealthiest parts of Amsterdam. The shops are chic and the food and coffee are predictably overpriced, but it costs nothing to stroll or pedal through the area.
This is not a street anybody has ever heard of. I had to check the corner sign to find out the name. But I do like the way the designers of the buildings on the reclaimed area known as Java Eiland have gone about their work. Since every building there is brand new, it’s too early to see whether it will become a ‘gezellig’ district, with the cosiness Dutch people so highly prize. But in this little corner I like the way the narrow buildings pay homage to the eccentric differences found in Amsterdam’s older canal streets.
8. Nieuwe Spiegelstraat
It’s not the architecture that attracts me to this one, it’s what’s in the shop windows. Amsterdam’s fine art and antique businesses are all crammed together in the short stretch leading away from the Rijksmuseum.
This is another street with hardly anything to it, just a short lane leading from the Harlemmerstraat to the Parool readers’ pick for Amsterdam’s most beautiful street, the Brouwersgracht. Maybe I’m prejudiced in its favour because it’s between two streets I really like, but I think it’s very attractive in its own right.
Finally I came close to home, and included a spot I love not for its appearance (though it’s pleasant and shady under the plane trees) but for what happens there. This little stretch is for bikes only, and every morning and afternoon it sees a steady stream of cyclists of all ages, and obviously from all walks of life, riding between the Vondelpark and the residential areas to the south.
It’s been a good day, one worth repeating many times. And I’d be very interested to hear other people’s suggestions for Amsterdam streets, districts or sights I could include in a future post. Leave your suggestions in the comments box.