I welcomed 2015 in Amsterdam for a Dec-Jan holiday, a city that’s sprawls with beautiful brick buildings and interspersed canals. Charming living rooms visible to passersby, inviting cafés and pubs to sip fresh mint teas, craft beers and tasty menus.
The city is walkable, bikeable, tram-able and taxis abound. It’s delightful to wander and the mood is hip, elegant, matter-of-factly well done.
As a recent Brooklynite in New Amsterdam, I recognize the array of creative workspaces, farm to table deliciousness and relaxed atmosphere, and yet it seems the Dutch have been expertly onto this way before us and have truly mastered design, taste and vibes.
Where we stayed
This magnificent Sweelinck Music Conservatorium, built at the end of the 19th century by Dutch architect Daniel Knuttel was converted into design hotel, The Conservatorium three years ago. It combines perfectly Industrial Age elements of steel and glass with brick and thick wooden beams from yesteryear. The lobby is simple and spacious with wide leather seating areas beneath a towering glass atrium allowing for natural light to fill the space. The Italian architect Piero Lissoni, responsible for the recent design transformation, plays a lot with shadow and depth, constantly playing on this idea of combining and celebrating textures. There are no seamless lines – there are recessed spaces between walls and elevators and even the stone shower wall includes to recessed lines on either side before meeting a wall on one side and glass door on the other side, creating mystery, depth and elegance.
Atrium at The Conservatorium
The modern materials compliment perfectly the original structure and the hotel itself offered everything you could ask for and everything you didn’t even think of, such as an exquisite turn down service with a signed note sharing the next day’s temperatures, gifts like the Dutch delight Stroopwaffel for sharing the holidays with them and automated day and night curtains to block out even the quiet eve of the museumplein quarter. Other highlights include a chandelier of violins – an ode to the building’s heritage and a chic upstairs bar, which offers a full cigar room for those whom partake.
Café Kultur – Great spots with not spotty WiFi
While here, if you’re looking for a spot to bring your laptop and enjoy some pannenkoeken or a cucumber sandwich with Old Amsterdam Cheese, note that it’s a café or koffie place you seek, for a CoffeeShop is purely a weed shop.
Corner Baker, corner
1. Corner Bakery
This charming farm to table corner bakery is a quintessential brunch spot with delights like a beet and goat cheese wrap or an oven baked tuna melt with Old Amsterdam Cheese. It has a country charm with reclaimed wood, white hand built cabinetry and thick red-and-cream stitched cushions adorning the wrap around bench of the place that goes along the windows and the back door. It’s a spot to stay cozy and transition from your morning brunch to your warm afternoon beverage with a piece of carrot cake.
2. Hut Spot
This place is more than a café, more than a working hub. It’s also a barber shop, a store, an eclectic Sylvester & Co. mix of beautiful fabric and designer tees, artisanal stone cutting boards, great scents, low balls, Navajo rugs and coffee table books. It’s a taste of your dream eclectic living room with a barista and wifi.
Now, 3 and 4 are on the same street. This is just a really neat street and neighborhood that we kept finding ourselves coming back to – check out Cornelius Schuyt Straat.
A couple that eats pannenkoeken together…
3. United Pancakes
This side street coffee shop offers the Dutch specialty, pannenkoeken with any sweet or savory delight in between this thick, crêpe-like encasement. Try the goji, blueberry maple or the brie and arugula, with a fresh mint tea — a menu staple in Amsterdam.
This daytime work koffie shop turns into a cool night spot with great music, sexy lighting and a fun color palette with walls of turquoise and the bar, a sandy beige. Try the bitterballen with a Hendricks and cucumber on ice.
New Year’s and The Purge
To describe Amsterdam is to describe a thought out, civilized, planned city. Good sensibility and good manners seem to abound. And much like the 2013 blockbuster, this utopian society goes all out kjdgf*&***!!!%% bonkers on New Year’s Eve. Fireworks here, there and everywhere, smoke bombs, firecrackers. Explosions at your feet, in the sky, it’s… terrifying.
Andrew and I began our evening at friend of a friend’s apt. sipping gin and champagne with expats, old friends and kind strangers and then it was time to hit the streets to the next party: The Privileged at Club Abe. We decided to skip on Uber and its surge pricing and took the streets, running with sparklers and away from the snap, crackle, pop, boom of the quaint canals and quais. We arrived just in time for the countdown and a free bubbly. As to be expected, New Year’s dance parties are always better in the comfort of someone’s living room but we came, we saw and good company is everything, thanks to our good friends who joined us for the adventure, even if the club didn’t have the Armin van Buuren, Tiesto, Afrojack playlist I had hoped for.
The next day, the streets were orderly. Until next year’s purge.
A History Lesson
The history of the Netherlands is intertwined with the sea. Dating back to the 17th century, Holland was a leader in international trade and maritime masters.
FUN FACT: To learn more about how the Dutch East India Company funded Henry Hudson to look for a northeast trade route to Asia, but after a few failed attempts, he instead made his way to the modern New York metropolitan area, check out the podcast Stuff You Missed in History Class: Henry Hudson Part 1 and Part 2.
The Het Scheepvaartmuseum (Maritime Museum) showcases the strong nautical heritage in one of the best immersive museum experiences I can think of. You are led on a tour through models of sailing ships from the centuries ago to modern day yachts. A play of light and sound and well-placed wallpaper make your feel like you’re on a journey at sea.
Museum Courtyard Ceiling
Another room is dedicated to the array of compasses these seafarers used, and the room itself lit like the night sky, the astronomical guide for the landless.
Great exploration leads to great atlases. Yet another room is dedicated to showing original, color (hand-painted most likely) atlases from Ptolemy, Mercator, Claesz, and Blaeu.
This museum is incredibly well curated and after immersing yourself in incredible history, science and cartography you meet a room filled with expertly crafted paintings by Dutch artists bringing everything to life.
Check out the café for a tasty boterham (open faced sandwich) on your way out.
If you want to know more about good eats in Amsterdam, check out the post on Screaming Beans in the Eat. Drink. and Be Merry section.
We hope to be back in Amsterdam soon on our bicycles.
If you enjoy this guide to Amsterdam, you can take it with you. Using the GPSmyCity app guides can be downloaded to your phone for offline use.
Download it here.