I was recently in Amsterdam for a couple of days, then rented a car and drive out along the North Sea and down to Rotterdam. Some highlights - De Pijp restaurant in Rotterdam, an old-school steakhouse that reminded me a lot of Peter Luger. The Netherlands Architecture Institute was fantastic, and I had a nice time biking around the Kralingse Plas lake.
The best place for watching classic Jordaan bohemians, this canal-side market sits on a square at the foot of the Noorderkerk, one of Amsterdam's oldest, most austere churches, and does double-duty. On Saturdays, neo-hippie farmers and foragers sell organic produce and cut off wedges of prime artisanal Gouda from wheels bigger than tractor tires. On Mondays, the textile vendors take over, shaking out bolts of fabric (sold by the meter), and filmy lengths of jewel-toned saris alongside hawkers of antiques, clothing, and bric-a-brac.
See + Do
Van Gogh Museum, Netherlands
Amsterdam 1071 CX, Netherlands
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).
See + Do
Eastern Docklands, Netherlands
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).
Amsterdam has a wild reputation, thanks in part to its coffee shops, but it is very much a café society, filled with places to quaff a bier topped with two fingers of foam and to get a taste of gezelligheid, the Dutch personality trait at the crossroads of conviviality, friendliness, and knowing others' business. 'T Smalle sets the model for "brown cafés" (named for their cocoa-colored walls, said to be the product of tobacco smoke over many generations). Sitting at the confluence of two charming Jordaan canals, it has a Vermeer-worthy interior of leaded-glass windows and tile floors, and open-air tables on the dock (12 Egelantiersgracht; 31-20-623-9617). Equally classic Hoppe, by Spui Square, dates from 1670 and keeps up the old ways with no music and daily replenishment of the sand on the floor (18-20 Spui; 31-20-420-4420). Intimate Spanjer & Van Twist looks out on its own timeless Jordaan canal intersection and draws determinedly arty patrons; the traditional menu of croquettes and apple pie is a bit lighter here, and includes chicken on ciabbata (60 Leliegracht; 31-20-639-0109). New-wave cafés have zealously whitewashed walls and more varied menus. Walem is centrally located, and packed by noon with the aimlessly stylish noshing on sandwiches such as beef carpaccio and shaved parmesan sprinkled with pumpkin seeds (449 Keizersgracht; 31-20-625-3544; www.cafewalem.nl). Nouveau scensters head to the café-deli Envy Delicacies, where meat cutters carve off thin shavings of prosciutto and serrano ham (381 Prinsengracht; 31-20-344-6407; www.envy.nl). "Grand cafés" think big enough to roll out soaring ceilings, canal-side terraces, and splashier decor. The three-story De Jaren, overlooking the Amstel River, is one of the largest (20 Nieuwe Doelenstraat; 31-20-625-5771; www.diningcity.com/ams/dejaren), while Luxembourg has a lovingly preserved Art Deco interior and coveted Spui-side terrace seats (24 Spui; 31-20-620-6224; www.luxembourg.nl). Even their drama is outdone by a new constellation of Frenchified brasserie-style cafés, including Café-Restaurant Dauphine, which is so roomy and French, it's housed in a former Renault garage (175 Prins Bernhardplein; 31-20-462-1646; www.caferestaurantdauphine.nl).
See + Do
Amsterdam 1071 CJ, Netherlands
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).