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Cool things to see and do in the Dutch capital from March through May

Spring is a glorious season to visit Amsterdam. As the days lengthen and temperatures rise, locals recover from the winter blahs. Barren trees turn to shades of neon green. Parks and café terraces fill with sun-starved Dutchies eager to absorb the first rays of the season. In the most anticipated seasonal display, crocus, hyacinth and narcissus blooms debut as an opening act to the floral showstopper of the Netherlands—the tulip.

Tulip-tourists descend on Amsterdam in April.

Beginning a crescendo that peaks in summer, tulip-tourists descend on the Dutch capital in April, followed by a steady stream of European weekend-breakers and American college students. The Dutch celebrate some of their biggest and most important holidays—King’s Day, Remembrance Day and Liberation Day—in spring, making it a good time to see how the locals get their groove on.

For visitors, here’s a baker’s dozen of cool things to do from March through May in Amsterdam:

MARCH

Amsterdam Coffee Festival: Westergasfabriek gets a caffeinated jolt as more than 100 artisan roasters, equipment makers, mixologists and coffee junkies descend on the transformed gas factory on the western edge of town. The annual fest spills the beans on the European coffee scene with tastings, demonstrations, food stalls, live latté art, music and other coffee-inspired entertainment.

Restaurant Week: Sample the cuisine of some of the best chefs in town when 90+ Amsterdam restaurants offer discounted lunch and dinner menus. The twice-yearly event showcases the fare of Michelin-starred venues, celebrity favorites and trendy eateries at prices that won’t make a major dent in your wallet or leave a bitter taste in your mouth.

Chefs’ menus at discounted prices are on offer during Restaurant Week.

Roze Film Dagen (Pink Film Days): What started as a small, underground event in 1996 has morphed into the Netherlands’ largest film festival for LGBTQ films. Over 11 days, view features, shorts and documentaries from some 40 countries that testify to the diversity of the LGBTQ experience. Most screenings are held at the Ketelhuis cinema in Westergasfabriek.

A visit to Keukenhof is a MUST in spring.

Keukenhof: Europe’s most stunning spring garden is open just eight weeks a year, from mid-March through mid-May. Set in the tiny town of Lisse, about an hour from Amsterdam by public transport, the crown jewel of Holland’s bulb-growing region showcases over seven million prize blooms of some 500 Dutch growers in dazzling flower displays, inspirational gardens, and indoor pavilions.

Europe’s most stunning spring garden is open just 8 weeks a year.

Open Toren Dag (Open Tower Day): Amsterdam’s tallest towers might be overshadowed by the skyscrapers of Manhattan and Dubai, but what they lack in height, they make up for in historic relevance. On Open Tower Day, you can scale some of the town’s tallest towers and church spires to usually inaccessible parts offering great views across Amsterdam.

Enjoy free entry to A’dam LOOKOUT and other towers on Open Toren Dag.

APRIL

NEMO is one of many museums that feature special activities during Museum Week.

Museum Week: If viewing Golden Age masterpieces in Amsterdam’s world-renowned museums isn’t enough to inspire awe, visit during Museum Week, when many showcase the cultural heritage of the Netherlands by putting special collections in the limelight. Workshops, guided tours, tastings, children’s treasure hunts and other special activities add to the experience during this annual week in April.

Koningsdag is a day to eat, drink, dance and be merry on the streets.

King’s Day: If you’re a Koningsdag virgin, nothing can prepare you for the orange-tinged madness that begins on April 26, the night before the King’s birthday. On April 27, the actual day of his birth, some one million revelers descend on Amsterdam for the holiday formerly known as Queen’s Day.

One person’s junk becomes another’s treasure on Koningsdag.

The party begins with the vrijmarkt, a city-wide garage sale, when the tax authorities turn their heads as locals proffer unwanted treasures on the street and children sell toys and talents in Vondelpark. As the day winds down, the party ramps up, with dancing and drinking in the streets, party boats streaming down the canals, and beer-guzzling onlookers hanging from windows. If you don’t like crowds, this is NOT the holiday for you.

Party boats stream down the canals on Koningsdag.

Amsterdam Tulip Festival: Throughout April—or as long as the tulips are in bloom—displays of the flower synonymous with the Netherlands will appear in 85 locations throughout Amsterdam. Watch for them by museums, hotels, notable buildings and public zones, from Noord to Zuidoost and Oost to Nieuw-West.

Displays of tulips pop up throughout Amsterdam during the Tulip Festival in April.

World Press Photo: View the world’s best visual journalism and storytelling at this annual event featuring presentations, meetups, workshops, screenings and guest appearances. A roaming exhibit showcases prize winners at venues throughout the city.

MAY

Remembrance Day: The Dutch Memorial Day commemorates the soldiers and civilians who died in World War II, subsequent wars and peace missions. Hundreds participate in a “silent tour” from Museumplein to Dam Square, where the king places a wreath on the National Monument. At 8pm, the city observes two minutes of silence.

Liberation Day: In contrast to the solemnity of Remembrance Day, Liberation Day is a nationwide celebration of the Netherlands’ emancipation from Nazi Germany by Allied troops in 1945. On May 5, Amsterdam marks the occasion with art exhibits, public banquets known as Freedom Feasts, and a giant floating concert on the Amstel River, with the king and queen in attendance.

Vondelpark Open Air Theater: From May–September, enjoy dance programs, children’s theater, standup comedy, and classical to contemporary music at this open-air theater in Amsterdam’s beloved Vondelpark. Donations are requested, but all performances are free.

Kinderdijk windmills are among 700 that open their doors to the public on National Mill Day.

National Mill Day: Windmills may have little economic value today, but they played an important role in reclaiming land in bygone days and remain a..

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When the trees go bare and the sun starts to set before 5pm on those rare days it appears at all, one thing is clear: winter is coming. In Amsterdam, the change from 18 hours of daylight at the height of summer to a measly seven by mid-December can wreak havoc on a body, both physically and mentally.

Circadian rhythms—those hormonal mechanisms that run the internal clock impacted by the amount of light our brains receive—can make sleep/wake cycles go haywire in an Amsterdam winter. When gray skies and rainy days go on for what seems like forever, it’s easy to hibernate and give in to depression. Indeed, many locals experience the “winter blues” in the short, dark days between November and the first signs of spring in late February.

Twinkly lights brighten winter gloom in Amsterdam. 

Fortunately, there are antidotes (beyond escaping to warmer climes) for winter in Amsterdam. Plus many reasons to visit at a time of year when airfares are lower, museum lines are shorter, and aromas of speculaas and glühwein permeate a postcard-perfect city. Pubs are cozier when a dusting of snow creates a fairytale scene beyond a crackling fireplace. And a hearty plate of stamppot seems more like sustenance than guilty pleasure on a cold, winter night.

Everything’s gezellig when there’s a dusting of snow outside.

Beyond a potato masher, winter wardrobe, and industrial-grade umbrella, here are a dozen reasons to love Amsterdam in winter:

Roam the Rijksmuseum until 2am on Museum Night.
  1. Museumnacht. For a single night in early November, 50+ museums—from the ever-popular Rijksmuseum, Anne Frank House, and Van Gogh Museum to smaller venues like the Resistance Museum, NEMO science museum, and Rembrandt House—welcome guests until 2am. One ticket buys access to all museums, with a few exceptions. At many, the agenda includes live music, DJs, dance, film, special tours, food and drinks. Buy your tickets early, as the annual event routinely sells out to a young, local crowd.
Dam Square sparkles with holiday lights by mid-November. 

2. Turn on the Lights. Amsterdam’s end-of-year holiday season begins in earnest in mid-November, when thousands of LED lights are switched on at the posh de Bijenkorf department store on Dam Square. Fireworks explode in the sky for the free, annual event.

Amsterdam’s holiday season begins when the lights go on at De Bijenkorf. 

Winter Wonderlands with market stalls and twinkly lights also appear around Leidseplein, Rembrandtplein, and Museumplein by mid-November.

Holiday markets pop up in public squares for the winter holidays. 

3. Sinterklaas Comes to TownWhile Santa and his elves hunker down at the North Pole until December 25, the Dutch Father Christmas—who is NOT Santa Claus—makes a splashy entrance in Amsterdam, traditionally on the third Sunday in November. Onlookers line the canals as the beloved Sint and his merry band, the controversial Zwarte Pieten (Black Petes), chug into town from Spain on their steamship, thePakjesboot.

Sint parades through town on his white horse, Amerigo.

The world’s largest St. Nicholas parade features more than a kilometer of boats sailing down the Amstel River, past the Royal Theatre Carré and Magere Brug. At the Maritime Museum, Amsterdam’s mayor welcomes Sint, who trades his boat for a white horse named Amerigo to parade through town as the Pieten toss pepernoten cookies to onlookers. The party ends at Leidseplein, where Sint addresses his smallest fans from the balcony of the Stadsschouwburg theater.

Smudged faces have replaced blackface makeup in response to widespread controversy. 

In response to controversy that’s gone all the way to the UN, the Pietens‘ get-up has changed in recent years. Smudged faces have replaced the blackface makeup that sparked the outcry over regressive racism. The new look gives credence to the theory that the Pietens‘ faces are dark from chimney soot. The 17th-century slave garb, hoop earrings and ruby lips remain, to the delight of revelers nostalgic for an age when blackface was politically correct.

A light sculpture mimics an iceberg for the Amsterdam Light Festival. 

4. The Amsterdam Light Festival. From late November through mid- January, landmarks along Amsterdam’s historic canals are literally in the limelight. Spectacular light sculptures by both Dutch and international artists highlight a festival that includes programs at local museums, theaters, shops and restaurants. The 2018-19 edition takes its “The Medium is the Message” theme from Canadian scientist Marshall McLuhan.

View the Amsterdam Light Festival at your leisure or on a boat, walking or cycling tour.

5. Ice Skating. Every year, Dutchies pray temps will drop below zero for a few days, so the Elfstedentocht (11 Cities Tour, the world’s longest ice skating competition) can take place. It rarely happens. But even in years when the canals don’t freeze solid, Museumplein reliably transforms into a giant winter experience from mid-November through January. At ICE* Amsterdam, tourists stumble around on rental skates while locals practice jumps and twirls under a replica of the Magere Brug. Non-skaters can warm up over hot chocolate, with the magnificent Rijksmuseum and iAmsterdam sign as a backdrop.

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“Food is everything we are,” said the late, great Anthony Bourdain. “It’s an extension of nationalist feeling, ethnic feeling, your personal history, your province, your region, your tribe, your grandma. It’s inseparable from those from the get-go.”

Some of the best hummus in town is at De Gouden Tent in the Ten Kate market.

Had the bad-ass celebrity chef ever visited Amsterdam’s Oud-West, we might have seen him slathering Lebanese flatbread with hummus at the Ten Kate street market, washing down French pastries with a ginger-infused cocktail in Foodhallen, and devouring Belgian fries topped with spicy Indonesian rendang sauce at a potato laboratory run by a scientist obsessed with the culinary possibilities of spuds—a staple of the Dutch diet.

Bourdain would have felt right at home at Foodhallen’s Gin & Tonic Bar.

True to form, Bourdain would have admired the multicultural influences that define the newly trendy ‘hood wedged between Vondelpark, De Clercqstraat and Nassaukade. He’d have expounded on the hard-won battle to build a mosque in the Oud-West and extolled on the creativity behind the neighborhood’s “Wall of the Poets.”

Press a bell to hear a poem recited at the Wall of Poets.

Tragically, the gifted storyteller’s chance to digest one of Amsterdam’s most diverse neighborhoods evaporated this year. But you can bring some Bourdain-inspired gusto to Trendy at Twilight, an excursion into the culinary underbelly of the Oud-West. On Eating Europe‘s newest addition to its repertoire of small group foodie tours, you’ll savor, sip and nibble on Indonesian, French, Turkish, Moroccan and Dutch treats in an ever-evolving district often ignored by tourists.

Treats from a Street Market

Think hummus refers to that beige spread sold in plastic cups in supermarkets? You won’t after sampling the sweet and savory creations at De Gouden Tent, the first stop on Trendy at Twilight. After tinkering with hummus recipes for two decades, Iranian owner Amir now offers an eye- and mouth-watering array of variations on the classic dip, including beet, mango, grilled vegetable and smoked lemon versions. Along with Mediterranean salads and the aforementioned flatbread, the yummy fare is available from both a store and a food truck in Amsterdam’s century-old Ten Kate market.

Try mango, smoked lemon and Persian-spiced hummus on Trendy at Twilight.

Immigration laws that brought a wave of guest workers from Morocco to Amsterdam in the late 20th century also ushered in many Turkish immigrants. Expats from both cultures brought their families, food and traditions to the neighborhood just beyond the city’s 17th-century canal belt that’s now known as the Oud-West.

Turkish bakeries dot the Oud-West, the result of a 20th-century immigration wave.

Some immigrants opened shops like Bakkerij Dunya, the second stop on Trendy at Twilight. The tiny bakery alongside the Ten Kate market offers Turkish favorites like kebabs and sandwiches stuffed with shoarma meat, as well as some of the city’s best baklava. Have yours with pistachios or try a less traditional version topped with flaked coconut.

Sample pistachio- or coconut-topped baklava at Bakkerij Dunya. Drinks & Snacks in Foodhallen

Before De Hallen opened in 2014, the Oud-West was already on track to becoming one of Amsterdam’s hippest ‘hoods. An evolving crop of ethnic restaurants, hip boutiques and concept stores along Overtoom, Kinkerstraat and Bilderdijkstraat provided a draw for both locals and visitors. But it was the debut of the derelict tram depot-turned cultural hotspot—complete with indoor food court, funky shops, an arthouse cinema, and cozy neighborhood library—that really put the Oud-West on the map.

The industrial vibe of an old tram depot still pervades Foodhallen.

No tour of this trendy neighborhood would be complete without a visit to Foodhallen, De Hallen’s culinary enclave proferring street food from around the world. Note the still-intact tram tracks in the renovated structure as you enter the buzzing food court for the next stops of your tour.

Beyond sharing edibles, food tours are about getting to know people from other cultures.

At the stylish Gin & Tonic Bar, cocktails arrive in fishbowl glasses garnished with fresh botanicals. Try the V2C Orange, mixed with spicy, V2C Dutch Dry Gin, infused with ginger and dressed up with an orange slice. On Trendy at Twilight, it’s paired with gourmet bitterballen from Foodhallen’s De Ballenbar, the brainchild of Michelin-star chef Peter Gast. To introduce Dutchies’ favorite snack to a wider audience, Gast creates the crunchy, fried balls with non-traditional shrimp, bouillabaisse, cheese and spinach, and truffle fillings—all served with the obligatory mustard.

Michelin-star chef Peter Gast adds modern twists to a classic Dutch snack.

Also in Foodhallen, Petit Gâteau is a reminder that France ruled Holland under Napoléon Bonaparte in the early 19th century. The family-run patisserie offers a freshly baked assortment of miniature tarts daily, as well as macaroons, madeleines, éclairs, and other classic French goodies.

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With its industrial vibe and open expanses, Amsterdam-Noord is as far from the Dutch capital’s medieval center as the North Pole is from the rest of the planet. In practice, it’s a short ferry-hop across the river IJ from Amsterdam Central Station. The free ride takes you to a neighborhood often overlooked by tourists, encompassing both a hip waterfront on the IJ’s northern bank and serene villages straight out of a fairytale just beyond.

An industrial vibe distinguishes Noord from Amsterdam’s historic center.

The addition of many socially conscious businesses has made Noord a lab for progressive culture. Once a dilapidated shipyard, NDSM Wharf is now home to Discovery Channel, MTV and Red Bull, as well as cutting-edge architecture and edgy festivals. Over the last decade, old warehouses have become artist studios. Used shipping containers have been transformed into waterfront cafés and student housing. At Kunststad (Art City), an old NDSM hangar is now a 200-studio creative space.

An abandoned sub welcomes visitors to Noord.

To best appreciate Noord, try to adjust your expectations. If you’re looking for an extension of the postcard-perfect vistas of Amsterdam’s UNESCO-recognized canal belt, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Rather than 17th-century canal mansions, NDSM Wharf is peppered with moored ships, angular structures, and old trams turned into hippie housing. An abandoned submarine greets you as you step off the ferry. Just inland, traditional Dutch farmhouses in pastoral villages are a throwback to the past.

Serene Nieuwendam offers relief from the buzz of central Amsterdam.

In non-touristy Amsterdam-Noord, here are 7 wondrous ways to have fun:

#1: Wine, Dine, and Hang Out on NDSM Wharf

On what might seem like a desolate shipyard, you’ll find myriad options for dining or just chilling with a cocktail in hand on a waterfront strand. Just to the left as you disembark the ferry, IJ Kantine serves breakfast, lunch and dinner in a sunny brasserie that was once a cafeteria for shipbuilders.

Old shipping containers house a bistro with a waterside terrace at Pllek.

For a more holistic experience, head for Pllek, where old shipping containers house an organic restaurant fronted by a man-made beach. A panoramic view of the IJ offsets metallic edges and concrete floors at this bohemian hangout crafted from upcycled materials and salvaged marine artifacts. Weekend DJs, live music, and Sunday yoga add to the fun. Films with a View are presented on Tuesdays, June–September, weather permitting.

Festivals are held on Pllek’s man-made beach.

Also popular for waterfront dining is Nooderlicht, a hip bistro housed in an old airplane hangar. In summer, bonfires on its man-made beach light up the night sky. Poetry readings and DJ nights take place throughout the year. The neighboring GeWoonboot is a self-sustaining houseboat with its own heating, electric and water purification systems.

Noorderlicht is housed in an old airplane hangar on NDSM Wharf.

You can cruise along the IJ fueled by all the Dutch pancakes you can eat on De Pannenkoekenboot. As its name suggests, Noord’s Pancake Boat offers a moving feast on a scenic tour of the harbor.

#2: Shop for Vintage Treasures

On the second weekend of most months, NDSM’s maritime history combines with the neighborhood’s creative spirit at IJ-Hallen. Europe’s largest flea market takes place in two warehouses filled with 750 stands selling second-hand clothes, shoes, antiques, books, furniture and other vintage treasures.

Ij-Hallen hosts Europe’s largest flea market.

For more interior inspiration, check out nearby Woodies at Berlin, featuring hand-crafted wooden furniture, plus vintage and modern items. For retro fans, Neef Louis offers a broad selection of furniture, lamps and mid-century knickknacks. One warehouse down, Van Dijk & Ko is a treasure trove of vintage sideboards, dressers, tables and home accessories.

#3 Explore a Clean-Tech Playground

Noord’s progressive culture is on full display at De Ceuvel, a clean-tech playground comprised of old houseboats fitted with clean technologies. Set on a “forbidden garden” of pollutant-eating plants that keep the once-toxic soil clean, the experiment in sustainability is a role model for energy efficiency. Innovative treatment, composting and filtration systems recycle much of its own waste.

Hang out in a land-locked boat at Café de Ceuvel.

The centerpiece of the complex is Café de Ceuvel, a mellow hangout with a sustainable mission. Crafted from upcycled materials, the building incorporates 80-year-old bollards from the port of Amsterdam and an old lifeguard pavilion from Scheveningen beach. The world’s first Biogas Boat, designed to turn the cafe’s organic waste into cooking gas, is now under construction.

Join a hip crowd at Café de Ceuvel.

With dishes made from local, organic ingredients, seasoned with herbs grown in a rooftop aquaponics greenhouse, Café de Ceuvel adds new twists to Dutch favorites. Bitterballen and croquettes substitute oyster mushrooms grown on coffee grinds for beef.

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Amsterdam’s historic heart is a magnet for tourists. Some 16 million descend annually to admire Europe’s largest and best-preserved 17th-century center—an enchanting, open-air museum secured within a 400-year-old canal belt that was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010.

Click to view slideshow.

Many are drawn by the city’s world-class indoor museums—repositories of Golden Age masterpieces, iconic sunflowers and tormented starry nights. Yet without some pre-planning, visiting such popular sights as the Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum and Anne Frank House can put you amidst hundreds of others intent on ticking off attractions on their bucket list. It may also entail spending significant time waiting in line with them—hardly a way to experience local culture.

Click to view slideshow.

With all its charms, Amsterdam’s medieval center can be a victim of its own popularity. And you’ll do yourself a disservice if you don’t go beyond it to discover cool neighborhoods with far fewer tourists and far more local flavor. Here are three of my favorites:

The Newly Wild Oud-West

Since the opening of De Hallen in 2014, Amsterdam’s Oud-West—a neighborhood wedged between Vondelpark, De Clercqstraat and Nassaukade—has undergone a renaissance of sorts. The turn-of-the-century tram depot-turned-cultural hotspot brings new life to a district that developed as Amsterdam rapidly expanded in the late 19th century. Today the Oud-West is also called the Hallenkwartier, presumably to highlight its new centerpiece.

The Oud-West’s De Hallen has been a popular hotspot since it opened in 2014.

Inside the once derelict tram depot, street food from around the world is served up at Foodhallen, an ever-popular indoor food court. You can catch an independent film at Filmhallen, a nine-screen arthouse cinema that includes the posh Art Deco Parisian Room. Browse for treasures in De Hallen’s funky shops, or just chill at Café Belcampo, adjacent to the cozy library.

Oud-West Sights

A century before De Hallen opened, vendors were selling fresh produce, flowers and plants at the Ten Katemarkt. A local vibe still infuses this street market, where snacks like Dutch stroopwafels, Vietnamese loempia, and Indonesian soup reflect the Oud-West’s multicultural makeup.

Asian flavors are on tap at HappyHappyJoyJoy, a great place for sharing small plates with friends.

Along shopping streets like Kinkerstraat, Bilderdijkstraat and De Clercqstraat, you’ll find an ever-evolving crop of ethnic restaurants, hip boutiques and concept stores. Savor Asian favorites at HappyHappyJoyJoy or feast on potatoes piled high with hearty fillings at Jaketz. On Overtoom, furniture shops and concept stores thrive alongside ethnic eateries like Stach Asian Foodcourt, a source for poké bowls and Asian salads, and Abysinnia, specializing in East African street food.

Scoop up East African street food sans cutlery at Abysinnia.

A bohemian vibe is alive and well at Lab 111, where quirky films and insightful documentaries are screened in a former pathology lab. You can rub shoulders with locals at OT301, a film academy-turned-artists’ squat that’s now a center for live shows and movies. Get a taste of Amsterdam’s creative community over an organic meal at De Peper, OT301’s not-for-profit vegan café.

Click to view slideshow.

Architecture aficionados won’t want to miss the Oud-West’s Zevenlandenhuizen (Houses of Seven Countries), a collection of homes bordering Vondelpark, each representing a different country. Designed by Dutch architect Tjeerd Kuipers, the architectural feast appealed to the 19th-century fascination with faraway places. The English cottage accepts guests as Quentin England, a two-star hotel.

At Hollandsche Manege in the Oud-West, the Netherlands’ national riding school is housed in a neoclassical structure inspired by Vienna’s Spanish Riding School. Even non-equestrians can admire the ornate architecture and watch the regal trotting from the elegant café.

Diverse De Pijp

Of all the working-class neighborhoods that developed as Amsterdam expanded beyond its historic canal belt, De Pijp is perhaps the most diverse. As the Jordaan overflowed with laborers in the 19th century, the district evolved to accommodate the surplus, becoming a multicultural melting pot.

Students, artists, yuppies and immigrants from some 150 nationalities discovered De Pijp in the 1960s, establishing the area as Amsterdam’s lively Latin Quarter. Along Albert Cuypstraat and Ferdinand Bolstraat, Syrian, Moroccan, Spanish, Indian and Surinamese eateries now coexist alongside Dutch pubs, Islamic butchers and Turkish delicatessens.

The neighborhood is renowned for its narrow townhouses, originally built to house low-income families. While no one really knows what De Pijp stands for, some surmise it owes its name to the district’s long narrow streets that resemble pipes, or to the “Pipe,” the gas company that once supplied energy to the area.

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De Pijp’s demographics are abundantly clear at the Albert Cuypmart, centerpiece of the neighborhood, where you can buy just about anything you need for daily life, including many specialty items from foreign lands.

More De Pijp Highlights

From the hip Avocado Show, serving—you guessed it—pancakes to poke bowls, all made with avocados, to Taart Van Mijn Tante, a fantasy tearoom for sugar addicts, and Scandinavian Embassy, where concept fashion meets food and specialty coffee, there’s no dearth of places to dine and unwind in De Pijp.

Sugar addicts can get their fix at De Pijp’s Taart Van Mijn Tante.

You decide what your meal is worth at Trust, a De Pijp bistro with a pay-as-you-feel policy. Or you can pay it forward at Dignita Hoftuin, an organic café in a serene urban garden, where former prostitutes get a second chance.

Click to view slideshow.

The adjacent Hermitage is set in a grand 17th-century building overlooking the Amstel River, just as Russia’s Hermitage overlooks the Neva. Modeled after its namesake in St. Petersburg, this museum of Russian-Dutch history reflects Peter the Great’s fascination with Amsterdam and its enlightened culture. In the 17th century, the czar enlisted the Dutch to save his capital from sinking into water-logged Russian soil.

De Pijp also encompasses Sarphatipark, an English landscape-style park developed by Jewish philanthropist Samuel Sarphati. After a long battle over a railway station originally conceived for the site, the park opened in 1885, 19 years after Sarphati’s death.

Just north of Sarphatipark is what remains of the establishment that once permeated De Pijp with the fragrance of fermenting hops. Now an overpriced brewery-turned-museum, the Heineken Experience pays homage to a beer now produced by a multinational firm. Even Amsterdam Marketing suggests you get drunk before visiting.

Even Amsterdam Marketing suggests you get drunk before visiting the Heineken Experience.

De Plantage and The Old Jewish Quarter

Green and serene, De Plantage belies the horrors that occurred during World War II around nearby Waterlooplein, where many Jews fleeing the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions, as well as German, Polish and Russian antisemitic regimes, settled. In contrast to the medieval cobblestones and canals of Amsterdam’s medieval canal belt, it’s lined with leafy boulevards and elegant squares that make it far greener and less touristy than Centrum.

De Plantage is home to Artis Royal Zoo, Hortus Botanical Gardens, and the Tropenmuseum, showcasing the former Dutch colonies and Dutch East India Company. For culture vultures, the Dutch National Opera & Ballet and Royal Theatre Carré offer world-class productions of everything from classical dance to pop music.

Click to view slideshow.

Amsterdam’s most recognizable bridge is in De Plantage. According to legend, kissing on the Magere Brug will insure everlasting love. Allegedly built by two sisters living on opposite sides of the Amstel, the Skinny Bridge was once so narrow two pedestrians could barely pass each other.

Wartime Holland

De Plantage also encompasses Amsterdam’s Old Jewish Quarter, where Rembrandt lived at the height of his fame. Today his house on Jodenbreestraat is a museum replete with 17th-century objects and etchings. The square that bears his name is home to such hip nightclubs as AIR and Escape. Rembrandtplein also is where you’ll find Rembrandt’s statue and the protagonists of The Night Watch.

Click to view slideshow.

At the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam’s Jewish Cultural Quarter, you can trace the history of the Jews in Holland. The quarter also includes the Portuguese Synagogue modeled after Jerusalem’s Temple of Solomon. It was one of Amsterdam’s largest structures when built in 1675. Stumble Stones in the rear—each imprinted with a victim’s name, birth and arrest dates, camp deported to and fate—are part of a worldwide Holocaust project.

Stumble Stones in the rear of Amsterdam’s Portuguese Synagogue are part of a worldwide Holocaust project.

When the Nazis invaded Holland, 60,000+ Jews lived in Amsterdam—about 10% of the population. During World War II, the Jewish Quarter became a ghetto as German troops rationed food and arrested Jews in the streets. Most were taken to the Hollandsche Schouwburg, Amsterdam’s municipal theater building, which became an assembly point for mass deportation.

There’s more Holocaust lore, as well as exhibits about the Netherlands’ role in World War II, at the Dutch Resistance Museum. Despite massive efforts of the Dutch Resistance Movement, most of Amsterdam’s 20th-century Jewish population was slaughtered in Nazi concentration camps. Waterlooplein, once the central market for the Jewish community, is now better known for its flea market—a source for new and second-hand clothes, antiques, ’50s vinyls, and other curiosities, in 300+ stalls open daily except Sunday.

Read about more cool neighborhoods in Amsterdam, and where to stay in them, in Where to Stay in Amsterdam: A Guide to the Best Neighborhoods. What’s your favorite one?

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After a long, cold winter, Keukenhof celebrates love and seasonal renewal with Romance in Flowers, this year’s seductive theme. Through May 13, 800 varieties of Holland’s iconic tulip, plus showy displays of hyacinths, daffodils, orchids, roses, carnations, irises, lilies and other spring blooms, will dazzle more than a million visitors at Europe’s most stunning spring garden. For eight weeks, the park is open daily from 8am–7:30pm.

Dazzling displays of spring blooms create a Zen-like vibe at Keukenhof.

Set in the tiny town of Lisse, about an hour from Amsterdam by public transport, the crown jewel of Holland’s bulb-growing region, or Bollenstreek, features the prize blooms of some 500 Dutch growers. Around Keukenhof, ribbons of colorful blooms thrive in the moist, well-drained soil that stretches for more than 20 miles between Haarlem and Leiden in the Netherlands’ world-renowned tulip fields.

Translated as “kitchen garden,” Keukenhof’s roots go back to the 15th century, when Countess Jacqueline of Bavaria foraged for cooking herbs, fruits and nuts behind Teylingen Castle in South Holland. After that property was reduced to ruins, Keukenhof Castle rose from the ashes in 1641. Its gardens were redesigned in 1857, laying the foundation for today’s stunning seasonal display.

Keukenhof Castle recalls the 17th century in the tiny town of Lisse, NL.

Romantic Highlights

True to theme, Keukenhof’s 2018 attractions include a Cupid’s garden with red and white flowers and a “kissing gate,” a Holiday Romance Garden with tropical palms, and a rose show starring hundreds of flowers synonymous with love. There’s also a serene Oriental Garden, wild Rebel Garden, and an aromatic Tea Garden fragrant with mint, lemon balm and chamomile. A Delft Blue Garden pays tribute to Holland’s ubiquitous water and windmills, while a Hipster Garden is the floral version of a man cave.

Keukenhof’s Oranje Nassau Pavilion will be filled with tulips, then lilies.

Other highlights of Keukenhof’s 69th season include the annual flower mosaic—a romantic pastiche created with 50,000 bulbs planted in two layers. The Oranje Nassau Pavilion presents daily flower arranging demos and floral displays that change weekly. In the Willem-Alexander Pavilion, thousands of tulips are on display before the world’s largest lily show debuts in the final 12 days of Keukenhof’s 2018 season. Throughout its eight weeks, the Beatrix Pavilion will house masses of orchids and anthuriums.

The Tale of the Tulip

Keukenhof’s 2018 Historic Garden pays tribute to the tulip, a flower as synonymous with Holland as red roses are with romance. Highlighting 400 years of cultivation in the Netherlands, it offers clues to the bulb’s journey from the western Himalayas to Persia, China and Turkey, where it was prized in the Ottoman Empire. When Dutch trading with Constantinople increased in the 16th century, tulips were introduced in Holland, where prices rose to make them a status symbol for the wealthy.

Keukenhof’s Oranje Nassau Pavilion will be filled with tulips, then lilies.

A Tulpomania exhibit in Keukenhof’s Juliana Pavilion reveals how demand for tulips outstripped production in the 17th century, inspiring people to use tulip bulbs as currency. When speculation became rampant, a single bulb sold for more than 10 times the annual income of a skilled craftsman, creating the world’s first recorded economic bubble. After the market crashed in 1637, Tulip Mania became a metaphor for any unsustainable economic bubble marked by prices that wildly exceed an asset’s intrinsic value.

Holland’s bulb fields stretch for 40km, in dazzling ribbons of color from Leiden to Haarlem.

Keukenhof Celebrates Romance

Over its 2018 season, Keukenhof will host a flurry of romance-themed weekends, from a fairytale festival to a flower market with blooms sure to melt a lover’s heart. At the mill in the park, you can buy into the love theme (and give your feet a break) on a 45-minute whisper boat ride through the bulb fields. True to their name, the electric boats glide through the floral landscape with hardly a sound beyond the camera clicks of passengers.

Click to view slideshow.

Around 3:30pm on April 21, 2018, flower-covered floats in the 71st edition of the Bloemencorso will pass Keukenhof on the main car park side, on a 40km parade from Noordwijk to Haarlem. The 2018 season will conclude with Romance at Keukenhof, a classical music festival amid the park’s tulips.

Bike rentals are available at the car park adjacent to Keukenhof’s main entrance. For €10/day, you can peddle past dazzling blooms on cycling routes ranging from five to 40km. From March 31–May 6, big spenders can book a 30-minute flight over the flower fields in a Royal DC-3 Dakota aircraft. For €135, it’s an option to consider if you want to propose marriage or just invest in sky-high romance.

Love is in the air in Keukenhof’s themed gardens and pavilions.

Prices and Transport

Adult tickets for Keukenhof can be purchased online for €17 or at the gate for €18. Tickets for children 4–17 go for €8. A combo-ticket that includes transport from Amsterdam and entrance to the park is available online for €29.50/adults; €12.50/children. Rather than going to the cashier, it allows you to walk straight into Keukenhof from the bus stop. Another advantage is savings, as the combo-ticket may be cheaper than the combined price of your journey and entrance to Keukenhof.

It’s easy to reach Keukenhof via public transport. From stops on Marnixstraat, Leidseplein, the Rijksmuseum and Museumplein, you can pick up the Airport Express (Conexxion bus #397). Take it to Schiphol Plaza and transfer to the Keukenhof Express (bus #858). Alternatively, take the train from Amsterdam Central Station to Schiphol and transfer to the Keukenhof Express at Schiphol Plaza, near the exit by Arrivals Hall 4, next to Starbucks. Free maps of the park are available at Keukenhof’s ticket office, information desk and entrance.

Open to the public since 1950, Keukenhof started as a platform for Dutch tulip developers and is now a world-renowned spring garden open just 8 weeks annually.
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