3 mins

Go now: Amsterdam

The Dutch capital is reopen for business, and this time without the crowds. Add in the new Eurostar return train to London, and there’s never been a better time to go…

Night life The area around Amsterdam’s Keizersgracht canal lights up as evening descends (Shutterstock)

Few travellers get to have Amsterdam ‘all to themselves’. Even locals struggle. But the COVID-19 lockdown in the Netherlands unveiled a murky truth previously hushed: far fewer people live in the vibrant Dutch capital than you’d think – around 820,000 – not least compared to the 20 million visitors who swarmed the city each year.

Post-lockdown, Amsterdam’s quietened streets are preparing for footfall, though a little less of it, at an easier pace. So, now could well be your best chance to seize a hidden corner, spot a queue-less attraction or find a private oasis in a peaceful park.

Arriving into Centraal Station, the city unfurls before you, a sprawling web of 17th-century canals, cycling lanes, cultural relics and mauve-coloured houses. Opportunities for personal discoveries can be sought out by tram or on foot.

Head west to Jordaan – a district known for kitschy shops, modern restaurants, markets, brilliant brunch spots and the towering Noorderkerk, as well as the Anne Frank House. It’s next door to the unusually empty De Wallen (red-light district) – a sight in itself.

To the east (oost), Oosterpark offers a breath of fresh air, and the multicultural Tropenmuseum, the offbeat former bathhouse Badhuis Javaplein and local outdoor markets cement the notion that east is always hippest.

Moving south (zuid), you’ll wander through the architecturally awe-worthy streets to the classics: the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, the Heineken Brewery in De Pijp, and Vondelpark, a golden paradise for cyclists in autumn.

Whichever route you take, you’ll stumble across tucked-away bookshops, quirky antique galleries and street food gems – start small with poffertjes (mini pancakes) and kibbeling (fried fish bites). If finding your own piece of Amsterdam still feels futile, escape into nature instead. Most trains, trams and cycle paths will lead to the forest (Amsterdamse Bos), the beach (Blijburg and Zandvoort two of the best) or an idyllic windmill park (Zaanse Schans).

Explore Da Plantage

Hortus Botanicus, one of the world’s oldest and best botanical gardens (Shutterstock)

Hortus Botanicus, one of the world’s oldest and best botanical gardens (Shutterstock)

Further embrace Amsterdam’s autumnal colours and nature by paying a visit to the petite neighbourhood of De Plantage. A short walk away from the city’s seedier side, you’ll find Hortus Botanicus, one of the world’s oldest and best botanical gardens. It requires an online ticket to enter (dehortus.nl) to see the Snippendaal medicinal herb garden, and the pretty Semicircle; together with the uber-modern Three Climate Greenhouse and collection of carnivorous plants, it all helps to make the Hortus cheerfully unconventional.

Search nearby for the hidden Zootje Sculpture Garden, packed with bizarre sculptures of neon dinosaurs and boxy robots, some said to be by Burkina Faso-born artist Papa Adama. Before you go, check out Micropia, the microbe museum, and the 130-year-old Waterlooplein flea market.

A trio of offbeat outings in Amsterdam

Browse the city archive

(Shutterstock)

(Shutterstock)

Free to peruse, the Amsterdam City Archives are often empty, despite containing a host of historic documents and Dutch treasures, all stored in a mosaic-covered vault dating back to 1926.

Enjoy electric ladyland

(Electric Ladyland)

(Electric Ladyland)

Billed as the first museum of fluorescent art, this one-of-a-kind attraction costs just €5 (a steal for Amsterdam). Expect dazzling minerals, trippy paintings and
a unique art experience.

Hop over to Haarlem

(Shutterstock)

(Shutterstock)

Around 10-15 minutes away by train, this small city offers the medieval Grote Markt, the cultural Teylers Museum and Windmill De Adriaan, a working replica of an 18th-century windmill, which peeks into Haarlem’s history via a guided tour.

(Shutterstock)

(Shutterstock)

The numbers

 

9: The number of streets making up De 9 Straatjes, a picturesque neighbourhood found between three  of the main canals – Keizersgracht, Prinsengracht and Herengracht. It’s known for its vintage stores and unique boutiques.

 

881,000: I Amsterdam’s official estimate of the number of bikes parked in or whizzing around the Dutch capital. By the time you read this, there will probably be thousands more.

 

1887: The year Dutch artist, Vincent van Gogh began painting his Sunflowers series; see one in Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum, along with many of his  other works.

Getting there


Make the most of the Eurostar direct London to Amsterdam service, which from 26 October includes a direct return train. Weekend return trips aren’t running at time of press, so treat yourself to a midweek break (though you can arrive in Amsterdam Sat to Sun). Journey takes around 4hrs; prices start from £40 each way.

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