The Netherlands is all about the sea. Firstly because it exists in constant danger of being flooded by the North Sea and therefore spends a fortune on defensive dikes and floodgates, and also on reclaiming land. Secondly because the Dutch Golden Age in the 17th century – during which all those glorious buildings and artworks that we flock to see in Amsterdam originated – was built on an incredibly successful seafaring trade in spices, silk, porcelain, etc.
Since 2009, the famous Hermitage Museum of St Petersburg in Russia has had an offshoot in Amsterdam. They hold exhibitions curated from the incredible collection held in St Petersburg. For those unlikely to travel to Russia, it’s a great opportunity to see art from the huge collections of western and other art exhibited there.
If you can handle the cold, January is one of the best times of the year to visit Amsterdam. This is the time of year you’ll find the fewest tourists on the narrow streets and many of the 1,200-odd bridges criss-crossing the 160 or so canals are festooned with lights to counter the dark winter months.
I love Christmas music. Not as much as a friend of mine who has it on his iPod and plays it year round; for me it signals the festive season and is associated with holidays, family and gift-giving (in no particular order!). In Amsterdam this December, you can get into the holiday spirit with concerts and carol singing, as well as ballet.
He might be an old man with a flowing white beard and a long red cape but The Netherland’s Sinterklaas is a little different to the Coca-Cola-type Santa Claus we all know. For starters, he comes from Spain! This is probably due to the Low Countries long ago domination by Spain and it means there is no tradition of snow and reindeer and sleighs. Instead, Sinterklaas arrives by boat from Spain, coming up the Amstel River in mid-November, this year on Sunday 13th November.
The Van Gogh Museum is one of Amsterdam‘s most popular attractions, flocked by tourists during all day long. But real insiders know that when the sun sets, the Van Gogh Museum really shines. Every Friday night, the museum is open until 10pm and hosts a variety of programming and events for all the late-night art lovers. Rotating DJs, guided exhibition tours, and lectures on contemporary art projects offer a lot for any curious mind.
Amsterdam gets cold. Very cold. When the winter winds rush across that flat land from the North Sea, the air can feel brutal and riding a bicycle is a challenge to say the least. But there are places you can go to thaw out those freezing bones. Here are my top five
One of the most exciting things about Amsterdam is its diversity. Its history as a trading nation has made it very open-minded, especially in terms of food. To really explore this facet and enjoy the thrill of the bargain find, head for Amsterdam’s markets. My top five are:
You cannot visit Amsterdam without thinking of canals, mainly because the city is centred on a ring of canals. The inner, historic ones Herengracht, Prinsengracht, and Keizersgracht date from the Golden Age of the 17th century. Another inner canal Singel is older, having been the moat of medieval Amsterdam in the 16th century. In total, Amsterdam has around 62 miles (100 km) of canals, 90 islands and 1500 bridges.