Built on a myriad of canals interwoven with a labyrinth of atmospheric, narrow streets, Amsterdam is truly a delight to visit. The crooked buildings with traditional gabled facades house a multitude of enticing bakeries, vintage gift shops and stylish bistros, and with a number of world-famous museums and art galleries dotted around the cosmopolitan area, it's not difficult to see why Amsterdam is a favoured choice by many for a European city break.
The design of Amsterdam means that one day can easily provide enough time to immerse yourself in the culture of the city. With careful planning, the compact city centre lends itself perfectly to a day of culture, exploration and culinary pleasures.
Start the day off with breakfast and freshly roasted coffee in one of Amsterdam's many cafes. Traditionally, a Dutch breakfast is a simple affair, made at home and consisting of sliced bread, cheese and cold meats. However, there are an abundance of cosy breakfast spots in the city offering a range of dishes, from traditional Dutch cuisine to omelettes, pancakes and fry-ups.
Head to the Museumplein early to beat the crowds. The Museumplein, or museum square, houses Amsterdam's three major museums, the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh and the Stedelijk. The Rijksmuseum is Hollands largest museum, and boasts one million objects dating from 1200-2000, including, most famously, Rembrandt's 1642 painting, The Night Watch. The Van Gogh museum, an art museum dedicated to the works of Vincent van Gogh, houses more of the famed artist's work than anywhere else in the world. Finally, The Stedelijk is a fascinating museum dedicated to modern and contemporary art and design, and contains remarkable pieces from world renowned artists.
Alternatively, a poignant reminder of the history of the city can be found in a small, unassuming house on the Prinsengracht canal. Anne Frank, one of Amsterdam's most famous residents, spent two years with her family hiding in the annex of the building during the German occupation of The Netherlands in World War Two. Today, the Anne Frank House is an emotional museum that serves as a touching memorial of the life and struggles of a young girl in exceptional circumstances. The lines for the Anne Frank House are famously long, so if a trip is high on your agenda, visit early or reserve a time slot online in advance.
Often, when exploring an unknown city, the best food can be found in the form of regional delicacies served by street venders. Amsterdam offers a wealth of delicious street food, perfect for an impromptu lunch. From bitterballen (crispy, deep-fried meatballs served with mustard) and patatje oorlog (french fries with mayonnaise, raw onions and sate sauce) to poffertjes (small, fluffy pancakes) and stroopwafel (two thin waffles joined with caramel), the city boasts an array of unique culinary experiences to suit the tastes of every traveller.
Referred to as 'the Venice of the North', Amsterdam's landscape is defined by its concentric, half-circle canals, of which it has more than one hundred kilometres worth, as well as 90 islands and 1500 bridges. Take some time to relax from a unique vantage point on the famous waterways with a sightseeing canal cruise. Most cruises take around an hour and are a superb way to envelop yourself in the romance of the city and see the main sights, with hop-on-hop-off options allowing you to explore at leisure.
Wind down further in the afternoon with a scenic walk through Amsterdam, taking the opportunity to peruse any gift shops or boutiques that catch your eye along the way. Nature aficionados should head to the Hortus Botanicus in the Plantage district. Originally founded as a herb garden to serve local apothecaries, the intimate space is one of the oldest botanical gardens in the world, having regaled visitors with tropical and indigenous plants and trees for almost 400 years.
Or, choose to while away the afternoon at the impressive Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam, the largest public library in the Netherlands. The Central Library houses an impressive collection of literature spread out over seven floors, with cosy reading spots throughout, as well as a terrace with stunning panoramic city views.
The Dutch enjoy dinner early, with many establishments switching to an evening menu around 5pm. Amsterdam contains many restaurants and bistros offering traditional, local fare - meat and vegetables are especially popular, along with comforting, hearty stews.
For something a little different, spend an evening at one of Amsterdam's Indonesian restaurants. The Netherlands' colonial history has ensured Amsterdam has retained a vibrant Indonesian culinary scene - try a rijsttafel, or rice table, an elaborate, rice based meal consisting of many different small dishes, for a unique, customisable dining experience.
After dinner, head to one of Amsterdam's pubs or bars for a glass of wine or a perfectly crafted cocktail. Amsterdam has a reputation as a liberal city, and the nightlife here is accordingly relaxed. With a drink in hand, sit back and enjoy great company, excellent beverages and magical city views, in this remarkable European city.
This article was first publishing on the Raildiscoveries blog in December 2017