Image credit: Amsterdam Marketing

Katie McGonagle spends a weekend in Europe’s most relaxed city

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Criss-crossed by canals, home to some of the world’s most famous artworks, and the former centre of a global trading empire.

Sounds a lot like Venice, but sister city break spot Amsterdam has just as much to offer culture-seeking sightseers.

Forget its notorious red light district or its infamous ‘coffee’ shops, this Dutch destination deserves attention for its wealth of other attractions. In fact, the main problem clients will face is trying to fit it all in over a weekend.

Show them where to start with our guide to enjoying a couple of days in Amsterdam.

Day one

09.30: Every Amsterdam adventure should start in Dam Square at the heart of the city’s historic district and its public transport network too. Stand back and admire the grand 17th-century Royal Palace, Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) and National Monument, then snap back to the present with street entertainers and carts selling sweet waffles and tiny pancake-like poffertjes.

10.00: After a tour of the square, work off breakfast on a bike – the best way to see Amsterdam like a local. Hire a bicycle in the square or pre-book a guided ride such as Cycle Amsterdam – Small Group Tour through Do Something Different (three hours, £30, departs 10am daily March-November from the National Monument), offering an introduction to the historic warehouse district and canals.

13.00: Having sped past some of those waterways on two wheels, it’s time to explore the Unesco heritage-listed Canal Ring – dating from the Dutch Golden Age – at a slower pace. Its pavement cafes offer busy but beautiful outdoor terraces to enjoy a leisurely lunch or just grab a quick broodje (sandwich) and a beer while watching the world go by.

14.00: Hidden behind one of the signature narrow houses along these canals is the tragic tale known to every schoolchild in the UK and much of the western world – that of Anne Frank. Visiting the house where the young girl and her family hid from the Nazis is undeniably chilling, but hearing first-hand about the courage of those who helped them makes it strangely uplifting too. Recommend clients pre-book their tickets as queues can be lengthy.

15.30: Recharge over a koffie verkeerd (milky coffee) with a slice of appelgebak (apple pie) en route to Our Lord in the Attic, a canal-side house used as a secret church during the 17th century when Catholics were prohibited from worshipping in public. If they’ve had their fill of history, direct clients towards the colourful floating flower market on the Singel canal for Dutch tulips.

20.00: After freshening up for the evening, it’s time to experience Amsterdam after dark. Lisa Mackinnon, reservations consultant for Osprey Holidays, says: “Leave your canal cruise to the evening when the canals are lit up, making the experience even more beautiful – maybe even romantic.” The Unique Dinner Cruise includes a four-course meal and departs at 8pm from Holland International Office on Prins Hendrikkade.

22.30: Those who aren’t quite ready for their night to end can hit the bars and clubs of Leidseplein (check out the two Irish pubs for sport) or Rembrandtplein for a mix of higher-end clubs and live music.

Day two

09.30: There’s no time for hangovers – Amsterdam’s finest art awaits. Start in the splendid Rijksmuseum, recently renovated and packed with 800 years of Dutch artistic excellence including masterpieces by Rembrandt, Vermeer and Van Gogh. Just don’t spend too long gazing open-mouthed at the majestic exterior – the real treats lie inside.

11.30: That’s not all for artistic appreciation – the Van Gogh Museum holds the largest collection of the artist’s works, including the famous Sunflowers. The contemporary gallery lies just across the Museumplein from the Rijksmuseum – but don’t forget to stop and take a photo with the giant ‘I AMsterdam’ sign on the way.

13.00: There are plenty of street food options around for a quick bite, but those who need to rest their feet after a morning of museums could opt for simple and tasty fare at Cafe Martinot, or great steak at Cafe Loetje, a five-minute walk away.

14.30: After a morning devoted to high culture, relax with a beer at The Heineken Experience. This brewery-turned-interactive museum still has original 19th-century machinery and old photographs, so even if its interactive elements get mixed reviews for being too touristy, it’s still worth dropping in. Attraction World has skip-the-queue admission starting at £16.

16.00: Need to pick up a few souvenirs? Albertcuyp street market was established in 1904 and has grown to more than 300 stalls lining each side of the street. They sell everything from fish, fruit and flowers to clothes, jewellery and some seriously tempting cheeses. Stop along the way for a traditional herring served ceviche-style (tastier than it might sound) or for those with a sweet tooth, naughty-but-nice stroopwafels.

17.30: On the way through the market, eagle-eyed visitors will have spotted the array of ethnicities clustered around this bohemian area known as De Pijp (The Pipe), with a particularly strong showing from former Dutch colonies such as Indonesia and Surinam as well as other cultures from Europe and the Middle East. That also makes this the best spot to dine on pretty much any style of cooking, so if guests aren’t too full from street snacking, squeeze in drinks and an early dinner in this super-cool district. Moroccan restaurant Mamouche, Bazar set in a former church, and reasonably-priced The French Cafe are all excellent choices.

21.00: Stay out enjoying evening drinks in the sunshine, or pack in just one more unique experience at the nearby Rialto Cinema. Worth visiting for its art deco architecture alone, it also shows a mix of subtitled Hollywood films and Dutch films in late-night showings.

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Osprey Holidays offers a three-night stay in Amsterdam at the three-star Mercure Arthur Frommer Hotel from £250 departing July 28, including flights from Gatwick.
0131 243 8098

A two-night stay at the three-star Tulip Inn Amsterdam Centre starts from £281 with SuperBreak, including easyJet flights from Gatwick in mid-September.
01904 436000