Amsterdam See And Do
Netherlands 1016 GV
Tel: 31 20 556 7105
Even if you've heard the story of Anne Frank time and again, a visit to the house is a must. You'll be surprised at how emotional a walk through the secret annex can be, imagining how the Franks and their friends lived their lives and catching a glimpse of the diary. The Anne Frank House is the city's most popular attraction, with more than 950,000 visitors annually. To avoid crowds, visit first thing in the morning or inquire about advance tickets purchased off-site. To learn more about the 400-year-long story of the Jews in Amsterdam, head across Amsterdam Centrum to the Jewish Historical Museum. The building is an act of reclamation in itself; its glass-and-steel structure combines four restored synagogues in the heart of Amsterdam's original Jewish quarter (1 Nieuwe Amstelstraat; 31-20-531-0310; www.jhm.nl).
Open daily 9 am to 7 pm.
First things first: Marijuana is not fully legal in the Netherlands, although possession and consumption of small amounts are tolerated—a prime example of the Dutch personality trait called gedoogbeleid, or turning a blind eye. Amsterdammers are also realists, who recognize that—as with prostitution, euthanasia, and same-sex marriage—people are going to smoke pot anyway, so they might as well do it safely. Coffeeshops (as marijuana cafés are called) are permitted to sell up to five grams of the stuff to each customer. There are also "smart drugs" shops, which dispense magic mushrooms and the like. There are as many types of coffeeshops as there are visitors to Amsterdam, from fancy and literate to down and dirty. One classic is Dampkring—you saw it in Ocean's Twelve—near the University of Amsterdam. The painted and sculpted central column, like a giant toadstool, is hallucinatory even if you don’t smoke (29 Handboogstraat; 31-20-638-0705; www.dedampkring.nl). Don't want to toke up with the college kids? Siberië looks out on a handsome canal in central Amsterdam and could pass for an East Village café were it not for its mind-altering wares. Show up on the right night and you might find DJs spinning or get your horoscope read (11 Brouwersgracht; 31-20-623-5909; www.siberie.net). If it's all about the pot, go to tiny, straightforward Grey Area, a frequent winner of the Cannabis Cup (Oude Leliestraat; 31-20-420-4301; www.greyarea.nl). When buying any variety of marijuana, make sure that you ask its properties and be prepared for the effect—if the menu doesn't give you a solid description, the staff will be happy to. And remember, a coffeeshop is emphatically not a coffee house (koffiehuis in Dutch). The latter serves a concoction called coffee; don't even think about lighting up in one.
The 1888, neoclassical Concertgebouw, on the southwest side of Museumplein, is one of Europe's legendary venues for classical music, famous for the near-perfect acoustics in the main auditorium. It hosts more than 800 classical concerts a year, many by the resident Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and the Dutch Philharmonic Orchestra, under the direction of Mariss Jansons. On Wednesdays between September and June, the smaller auditorium hosts free concerts at 12:30 (2-6 Concertgebouwplein, Old South; 31-20-671-8345; www.concertgebouw.nl). The city's newest musical showcase for contemporary classical and chamber music, the Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ (Music Building on the IJ) has heralded acoustics of its own. Rotating ensembles take the stage in the main auditorium, which is all untreated wood and stadium-style seating, while that black box protruding from the side is the Bimhuis, Amsterdam's most storied jazz and improvisation venue. Kids can enjoy themselves in the interactive Sound Playground, and the Star Ferry café affords harbor views through the building's glass facade (1 Piet Heinkade, Eastern Docklands; 31-20-788-2000; www.muziekgebouw.nl).
The city's "Quartier Latin" of 19th-century buildings is populated by a mix of cultures, especially Moroccans and Turks, plus students, hipsters, hippies, and yuppies. It's packed with restaurants, both ethnic and trendy, and plenty of cafés. Watch it all pass by in one visit to the huge street market Albert Cuypmarkt (Mon. through Sat., 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.); or at night, the intimate square of Gerard Douplein is the center of De Pijp's café culture.
Amsterdam contains one of Europe's highest concentrations of exciting modern architecture, and the hottest hotbed is in the eastern harbor, where more than 8,000 homes were built in the 1980s and 1990s by innovative architects like Hans Kollhoff of the DaimlerChrysler headquarters on Berlin's Potsdamer Platz. The area is now home to families and professionals, and is a favorite haunt of packs of curious, bespectacled architects. Design highlights include residential "super blocks": Look for the dark facade and irregular shape (determined by the shipping warehouse that previously occupied the site) of austere Piraeus on KNSM island (by Kollhoff/Christian Rapp) and the sloping roofline of zinc-clad De Walvis—appropriately named "the Whale"—on Sporenburg (by Frits van Dongen/Architecten Cie). Equally one-of-a-kind are the single-family houses along Scheepstimmermansstraat—individually designed by the owners, they make up a fascinating architectural collage that's best seen from Borneo Island. The Stedelijk Museum's temporary location in the former TPG post office tower a few minutes' walk east of Centraal Station makes for a good gateway to the area. Check with the Amsterdam Centre for Architecture for information on other landmarks and to purchase self-guided tours (600 Prins Hendrikkade; 31-20-620-4878; www.arcam.nl).
Netherlands 1017 DS
Tel: 31 20 551 6500
A small, smartly curated museum with global clout (and worth at least an hour's visit), Foam specializes in conceptual exhibits from both power-house photographers and emerging talents. Exhibits change monthly and are often focused on social themes; past shows include Rob van der Nol's dreamy studies of adolescents on the brink of adulthood and Mitch Epstein's representations of American power. Two 2007 exhibitsa retrospective of the pioneering French photographer Jacques-Henri Lartigue's work and a pictoral account of Ryan McGinley's all-American road trip with his photogenic nudist friendssuggest that beauty, for its own sake, is often enough. The same message should pervade the Richard Avedon retrospective, which is slated for spring 2009.
Open Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays through Wednesdays 10 am to 6 pm, Thursdays and Fridays 10 am to 9 pm.
14 Nieuwe Herengracht
Netherlands 1018 DP
Tel: 31 20 530 87 55
The Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg has been loaning art and historical artifacts to Amsterdam exhibitions for years, although it wasn't until 2004 that a permanent space near the Amstel River was designated to house the treasures. The first phase, some 5,300 square feet of galleries in a 17th-century building redesigned by architect Hans van Heeswijk, has presented two shows from the mother ship each year. On June 20, 2009, doors will open upon a greatly expanded Hermitage Amsterdam, with an entertainment complex that includes a restaurant, terrace, concert hall, and landscaped courtyard garden. The opening show, At the Russian Court, will run until January 31, 2010, and will feature more than 1,800 works. Thereafter, the museum plans on two large-scale temporary exhibitions each year.
Open daily only during exhibitions. Call ahead or check website for details.
Netherlands 1016 CJ
Tel: 31 20 421 1656
The opening of the Grachtenhuis Museum coincided with the 2010 UNESCO crowning of Amsterdam's central Canal District as a World Heritage site, so the timing was fitting. Situated in a double-wide canal house, the museum sets out to tell the story of the development of the canal ring through more than four centuries using interactive technology, city models, and iPads that allow you to design your own canal tour.
Open Tuesdays through Sundays 10 am to 5 pm.
Netherlands 1017 ET
Tel: 31 20 624 5255
If you're itching to get behind the doors of one of those stately Golden Age canal houses, Museum Van Loon is your best bet. The 17th-century house museum, once home to co-founders of the Dutch East Indian Company (which pretty much co-founded Amsterdam), is stuffed with swirling plasterwork, marble, family portraits, silver, and sweeping staircases. The result, despite the Van Loon family's comic-relief name, is a lesson in gracious living.
Open 11 am to 5 pm. Closed Tuesday.
You needn't have any interest in the red lights and what's beneath them to enjoy a stroll here. The interplay of tree, canal, brickwork, and gable here may put you under a spell even without the influence of Amsterdam's other most famous pleasure. (Remember, despite all the freedoms here there is an etiquette to visiting: Don't even think about taking a picture). The Museum Amstelkring illuminates an era when Amsterdam wasn't so tolerant and Catholics were forced to worship in clandestine churches (40 Oudezijds Voorburgwal; 31-20-624-6604; www.museumamstelkring.nl), while the 14th-century Gothic Oude Kerk (Old Church—the city's oldest) is a frequent venue for special exhibitions (Oudekerksplein; 31-20-625-8284; www.oudekerk.nl). To learn about the ins and outs of the district's raison d'être, visit the Prostitution Information Center (3 Enge Kerksteeg; 31-20-420-7328; www.pic-amsterdam.com), established and run by former working girls.
1 Jan Luijkenstraat
Netherlands 1071 CJ
Tel: 31 20 674 7000
The vast neoclassical brick castle of the Rijksmuseum—is set in gardens leading to Museumplein and onward to the Van Gogh Museum and the Concertgebouw. The museum's incredible holdings include Rembrandts, Vermeers, and delftware. Although the displays rotate, Rembrandt's most famous work, The Nightwatch, is always on view.
Open daily 9 am to 6 pm (Fridays open till 10 pm).
5 Oosterdokskade (temporary location)
Netherlands 1011 AD
Tel: 31 20 573 2911
This modern art and design museum's permanent home on Museumplein was a little run down by the time it closed for renovations in 2004. The good news is that until autumn 2008, the museum's galleries have moved across town to the second and third floors of the former post office tower, near Centraal Station and a stone's throw from the IJ (an arm of the southern sea). Local architectural team Zwarts & Jansma (also responsible for the Rembrandt House Museum facade) played up the temporary nature of the galleries by fitting out the space with inexpensive materials. To our surprise, it's a great backdrop for the Stedelijk's temporary exhibits and permanent collection from Dutch Stijl through the Cobra movement, and video art through Gilbert and George. The Stedelijk Bureau Amsterdam also curates a tiny gallery space for intimate exhibitions of up-and-coming artists in the Jordaan district of town (59 Rozenstraat; 31-20-422-0471; www.smba.nl).
Open daily 10 am to 6 pm.
Netherlands 1071 CX
Tel: 31 20 570 5200
A 1973 building by Gerrit Rietveld along with a 1999 addition (locally known as "the mussel") by Kisho Kurokawa is the world's premier venue for works by tragically talented Van Gogh. In addition to some 200 paintings (including The Potato Eaters, The Yellow House in Arles, and Wheatfield with Crows), 500 drawings, and 700 letters from Vincent, there are works by his French post-Impressionist contemporaries, including Gauguin and Toulouse-Lautrec, and some Monets thrown in for good measure.
Open daily 10 am to 6 pm (Fridays open till 10 pm).