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Amsterdam's best-kept secrets


Amsterdam has plenty to offer visitors who are prepared to head away from more well-trodden paths. Lydia Bell discovers some of its hidden delights

Lydia Bell ,

While Amsterdam is well explored, there are myriad up-and-coming, less well-trodden pockets to discover for the more adventurous visitor. A case in point is De Pijp (‘the Pipe’), one of Amsterdam’s most vibrant districts. Its beating heart is the Albert Cuypmarkt, one of the largest outdoor markets in Europe, named after the 19th-century painter. Fruit, vegetables, fish, clothes, shoes and even cameras compete for attention at stalls run by good-humoured Surinamese, Antillean, Turkish and Moroccan vendors. Holland’s most multicultural spot is a great place to sample stroopwafels (caramel-filled waffles) and preserved raw herring, as well as countless ethnic dishes and goodies.

It’s not all about Albert Cuypmarkt though; the neighbourhood is packed with multicultural shops, cafés, restaurants and bars, which is why it’s often known as the Quartier Latin of Amsterdam. The best chicken satay in town can be found at the lively Pilsvogel, while Couscous Club is dedicated – as the name suggests – to the North African speciality, and Moksi does the best curries, as well as superb satay and roti.

Another Amsterdam development has been the gradual, and haphazard, gentrification of the classic red-light districts, with ultra-trendy barbers, art spaces and retro-styled upmarket coffee bars popping up among the less-reputable outlets. In the heart of De Wallen, recent openings include a ‘barcade’ (a post-industrial bar teamed with a vintage amusement arcade) and a hip café, Quartier Putain, both in buildings with a far from salubrious past, and the self-styled ‘modern aristocratic’ Sir Albert hotel in De Pijp has some interesting neighbours.

To sample Amsterdam’s upmarket boutiques, the nicest area to head for – and pleasantly compact – is de Negen Straatjes (‘the Nine Little Streets’), a treasure trove of 17th- to 19th-century buildings in the Unesco-protected western canal district. Here you'll find more than 200 speciality shops: shoemakers, ceramicists, boutiques selling locally made fashion (such as Hester van Eeghen, with her eye-catching accessories, and Noa Lifestyle), concept stores, homeware specialists, cookbook sellers, delicatessens and more.

The Rijksmuseum reopened in 2013 after a 10-year hiatus for renovation, and is a must-see, but there are many smaller and less obvious cultural institutions to explore. Among them is the Tassenmuseum Hendrikje, the museum of bags and purses, housed in an elegant townhouse and run by antique dealer and bag aficionado Hendrikje Ivo. Highlights of the collection, which includes pieces dating back to the 16th century, include everything from delicate French silk bridal purses to sparkling evening bags. A short walk away, Museum van Loon is a handsome private home built in 1671, and filled with antiques and Dutch Old Masters; a visit provides an enthralling insight into both the life of a wealthy mercantile family and the typical décor of Amsterdam’s more sumptuous canalside houses.

From the historical to the experimental: Eye film museum and cinema is housed in a futuristic building which looks like a grounded spaceship and has become a highlight of Amsterdam’s urban landscape. As well as exhibitions about all things cinematic, there’s a restaurant with stunning waterfront views, and regular screenings of ground-breaking independent films. You can even check into a digital booth to quietly watch a classic film of your own choice. To get there, take the free foot ferry from Centraal station, one of the city’s more pleasant and local-style commutes.

Parents might be drawn to Nemo, the science museum, which offers floors of chemistry labs, video-production booths and giant-bubble blowing. Finally, De Hortus provides a more whimsical kind of pleasure: this is one of the longest-established botanical gardens in the world, and its butterfly house is a fluttering, ethereal delight.

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