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Amsterdam Travel Guide

Easy on one's nerves and sense of direction.


Orientation

Amsterdam—compact and quiet, its predominant sound not car horns but bicycle bells—is easy on one's nerves and sense of direction. The city's commercial center is the slightly raffish and touristy Dam Square and surrounding streets. Here you will find the Royal Palace and the Nieuwe Kerk, where monarchs of the Netherlands have been crowned since the mid-19th century.

But the heart of Amsterdam lies just to the west in the semicircle of grand canals constructed in the 16th and 17th centuries, the city's Golden Age. The Herengracht, or Gentlemen's Canal, is considered the most prestigious; the Keizersgracht, or Emperor's Canal (named after the German Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian), and the Prinsengracht, or Prince's Canal (after William the Silent, Prince of Orange), follow in descending order. The ornately gabled townhouses that line the canals are one of the best examples of ensemble architecture in Europe, with the zenith being the Golden Bend stretch of the Herengracht (between Leidsestraat and Vijzelstraat). The finest hotels, restaurants, and shops, including those located on Nieuwe Spiegelstraat—Amsterdam's art and antiques row—lie within this area, which is easily traversed on foot.

Just west of the canal area is the Jordaan, long a working-class district but which in the 1970s and '80s followed the trajectory of so many such areas and became gentrified. There are now galleries and artisanal shops, along with a network of small, particularly picturesque canals. (Among the prettiest for strolling: Bloemgracht.)

The cultural center of the city is Museumplein, where the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, and Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art, as well as the Concertgebouw concert hall, are clustered. Pieter Cornelisz Hooftstraat, the street of international designer boutiques, is also in this area. It will seem modest to those who've shopped Via Condotti or Madison Avenue.

Two other main areas are the Red Light District, northeast of Dam Square, at one time picturesque but now sordid; and Leidseplein and Rembrandtplein, ground zero for youth culture. This guide divides the city into three areas: Dam Square and Vicinity; Canal District/Jordaan; and Museumplein/Amsterdam South.


Amsterdam Basics

Telephone Numbers The country code is 31; the city code for Amsterdam is 20 when phoning from abroad, 020 from within the country.

Local Time Six hours ahead of EST.

Currency Dutch guilder, abbreviated NLG or fl., a reference to the old name florin.

Current Exchange Rate NLG 2.1=$1.00

Best Time To Visit April and May, with mid-April being peak tulip season. (Note that April 30th, the queen's birthday, is a holiday.) Also September and October. Summer months are pleasant, as the city is far north, but crowded.

Airlines Served By British Airways, Continental, Delta, KLM, Martinair, Northwest, Singapore, TWA, and United.

U.S. Gateways Nonstop flights from Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Memphis, Miami, Minneapolis, New York, Orlando, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington D.C.

Flight Time Seven hours from the East Coast.

Cab from Airport to City Center $35.

Airport Car Rental Hertz, Avis, Europcar.

Taxis At taxi stands or by phone.

Taxi Tipping Ten percent of the fare.

Hotel Taxes Eleven percent.

Restaurant Tipping Service is for the most part included, but it is customary to leave an extra 10 guilders.

Further Information Contact The Netherlands Board of Tourism at 212-370-7360 or use their Web site: www.goholland.com.


Getting Around

By foot or by trolley, in that order. Cabs are available at taxi stands and by phone, but the canals and narrow streets make them the slowest means of getting around. Use them if you're going long distances or to get to and from restaurants at night.


A Note on Shopping

Most of the luxury stores in the Canal District are closed on Monday, and most don't open until 10 a.m. Many antiques stores keep irregular hours.


Dam Square and Vicinity

Restaurants

RESTAURANT VERMEER I was rushed and rattled, having gotten into town late and contended with torrential rains, when I stormed into this elegant room. Its civilizing effect took hold immediately. Michelin-starred chef Edwin H.H.T. Kats has a light touch and an exquisite sense of presentation, even with dishes that sound strange and heavy, for instance a terrine of Jabugo ham, goose liver, and stewed beef with oxtail jelly and Sichuan pepper. It turned out to be a rich mosaic of contrasting, wonderfully earthy flavors. The more mainstream dishes that I tried—turbot and truffle wrapped in potato spaghetti served with braised chard stalks in a veal gravy, and fillet of monkfish with a coulis of lobster and verjus—were absolutely delicious too. And for my first dessert in Amsterdam, the almond and chocolate cake filled with chocolate ganache and decorated with gold leaf couldn't have been more perfect. $100. In the hotel Golden Tulip Barbizon Palace, Prins Hendrikkade 59-72; 556-4564; fax 624-3353. www.alliance.nl/excelsior-de-leurope

RESTAURANT EXCELSIOR Take a table by the window in this formal restaurant in the Hotel de l'Europe . The views over the Amstel River are beautiful, plus looking out the window will divert you from the dining room's drab, tired decor (also the case throughout the hotel). However, the classic cooking of French chef Jean-Jacques Menanteau is first-rate. Admittedly, white asparagus flamande didn't exactly test his talents, but it was perfectly prepared; sole fillets and medallions of lobster in a crustacean sauce and roast spring lamb did, and both were exceptional, tender, and rich with a good balance of flavors. In good weather the hotel's waterside terrace is one of the best places for a drink. $90-$110. Nieuwe Doelenstraat 2-8; 531-1777; fax 531-1778.

CAFÉ DE JAREN This soaring, bi-level, modern space overlooking the Rokin Canal is perfect for a midday broodje (sandwich) or late-night coffee. Newspapers are provided, and you can stay for hours. $50. $ Nieuwe Doelenstraat 20-22; 625-5771. www.cafe-de-jaren.nl

Sights

ROYAL PALACE The queen is in residence only for state occasions, but this 17th-century building is worth seeing for its extraordinary Empire furniture, the largest collection in the world, courtesy of a previous occupant, King Louis Napoleon. By appointment only. Best time to visit is July and August; irregular opening hours the rest of the year. For a private tour ($60), contact Kristel Smelt at the Royal Palace. $ Dam Square; 624-8698; fax 623-3819. www.kon-paleisamsterdam.nl

BEURS VAN BERLAGE This massive brick building, formerly the Amsterdam stock exchange and now home to special exhibitions as well as concerts, owes some of its design to medieval Tuscan town halls. The soaring Commodities Exchange Hall was the site for 1999's debut of the Amsterdam Arts & Design Fair, which showcased furniture and objets d'art from 1880 to 1950. This year the fair will be held here May 31-June 4. Damrak 243; 626-8936. (Information: 330-7070; fax 330-7080.)

MUSEUM AMSTELKRING This is the city's only museum boasting an original period room—the living room of this 17th-century merchant's house. It contains a massive, carved-oak table, original Delft tiles, and paintings that have hung in the same spot for generations. There is also a lavish, 18th-century attic church, complete with ceiling frescoes and a pipe organ that's still in use today. It's proof of an Amsterdam paradox: a tolerant city that for two centuries kept a law on the books prohibiting public worship of any religion other than the Dutch Reformed Church. As a result, members of other religions worshiped in places like this. These days the church is rented out for weddings. Private tours are available when the museum is closed—after 5 p.m. or on Sunday morning ($170-$350, contact Sandra Wokke). Oudezijds Voorburgwal 40 (an unfortunate location, on the edge of the Red Light District); 624-6604; fax 638-1822. www.go-amsterdam.org/museums/amstelkring

MUSEUM HET REMBRANDTHUIS The house in which Rembrandt lived from 1639 until 1658 was recently restored to reflect the decor it might have had in the 17th century. The most interesting room, on the top floor, contains objects from the artist's personal collections—paintings, primitive weapons, albums filled with prints, Oriental porcelain, and the alarmingly lifelike skin of a lioness, among other things. (A passion for collecting is one of the reasons that Rembrandt succumbed to bankruptcy.) Admission: $6. Jodenbreestraat 4-6; 520-0400; fax 520-0401. www.rembrandthuis.nl

ROYAL PALACE The queen is in residence only for state occasions, but this 17th-century building is worth seeing for its extraordinary Empire furniture, the largest collection in the world, courtesy of a previous occupant, King Louis Napoleon. By appointment only. Best time to visit is July and August; irregular opening hours the rest of the year. For a private tour ($60), contact Kristel Smelt at the Royal Palace. $ Dam Square; 624-8698; fax 623-3819. www.kon-paleisamsterdam.nl

BEURS VAN BERLAGE This massive brick building, formerly the Amsterdam stock exchange and now home to special exhibitions as well as concerts, owes some of its design to medieval Tuscan town halls. The soaring Commodities Exchange Hall was the site for 1999's debut of the Amsterdam Arts & Design Fair, which showcased furniture and objets d'art from 1880 to 1950. This year the fair will be held here May 31-June 4. Damrak 243; 626-8936. (Information: 330-7070; fax 330-7080.)

Shopping

P.G.C. HAJENIUS A connoisseur's cigar merchant, both for imported Cubans and the house blend, a mix of Sumatran, Brazilian, and Cuban tobacco, all displayed in briarwood boxes. There's also a glassed-in smoking room to try out purchases before buying; it's popular with traders from the nearby Commodities Exchange. But even if you have no interest in cigars or Dutch handmade pipes, also a specialty, this store is worth a visit to admire the interior, particularly the woodwork, the delicate gold chandeliers, and the gilded leather ceiling, some of it dating from 1915. Rokin 92-96; 623-7494; fax 638-7221.

HANS APPENZELLER "I think of jewelry like an architect . . . what will its function be, who will wear it, how will it be worn, the shape," says Hans Appenzeller, whose pieces spanning the last 30 years were just exhibited in the Stedelijk Museum. In the beginning his designs were clean and simple, usually executed in silver. But over the years they've expanded to gold and stones—from aquamarines to diamonds—become more complex and at the same time more fluid. Now he's going back to smaller, more delicate pieces. $100 for a simple silver ring to $45,000 for a sculptural gold ring with large diamonds. Grimburgwal 1; 626-8218; fax 638-6128. www.appenzeller.nl


Canal District/Jordaan

Hotels

HOTEL PULITZER This canal-side hotel is a labyrinth of 25 buildings that have been connected. It is often listed as one of the best in the city, and in fact the location can't be beat for atmosphere and convenience. The rooms, however, are a mixed bag. As we went to press, 35 percent of them had been renovated, and these are the ones to get. (The unrenovated rooms have, astonishingly enough, a sort of tropical decor!) Renovated rooms are quiet, medium-size, handsomely decorated (the chaise at the end of the bed is a nice touch), and come in two color schemes, green and burgundy or blue. Bathrooms, however, are modest, with only one sink and no separate toilet. In general, the best rooms are the large deluxe doubles on an upper floor overlooking the Keizersgracht, the canal behind the hotel. However, the character of any given room also comes from the building it's in, as some of the houses that make up the hotel are grander than others. Based on our tour, Saxenburg House is the richest architecturally, yet the rooms are the same price as those in the rest of the hotel. Among our favorites: 273, a spacious suite with a blue-and-gold color scheme, a huge, beamed-ceiling bedroom, and windows that look into the garden; 373 (above), which is similar; 474, an L-shaped, attic apartment that looks onto the garden; and 584, a deluxe room right under the roof. The roof beams run through it. If you love garrets this is your place. $330-$880. Prinsengracht 315-331; 523-5235; fax 627-6753. www.sheraton.com

BLAKES For two years, London designer Anouska Hempel has been working on bringing her flagship hotel, Blakes, to Amsterdam. The project, which involved redoing a 17th-century canal house, formerly the offices of a Catholic charity, has been the talk of the town. And now that Blakes has opened, it's still the talk of the town because there's no other hotel like it in Amsterdam (and because Hempel's extravagant ways reportedly made the project go millions over budget).

Blakes, like all Hempel's projects, is a study in extremes, beginning with the signature black-and-white decor. There are black-lacquered beams, black-and-white couches in the lobby, a staff dressed all in black—even black baskets on the bicycles in the front courtyard for guests' use.

The theme is carried out metaphorically in the 26 rooms, where the decor swings from spartan to plush, black-and-white to vividly colored. My favorite rooms were 22, an elegant white-and-cream suite, one of only three rooms with canal views; and 10, which with its bamboo chairs, oversize Asian wood armoires, and lush black-and-gold Thai silk drapes and canopy felt like a silk merchant's boudoir.

As with all of Hempel's hotels, drama often takes precedence over practicality. In the three duplex suites, 16, 17, and 18, the only mirror is upstairs, the only phone downstairs. The staircase itself is narrow, circular, and lacquered: If the phone rings while you're brushing your teeth you can risk your life getting to it. Lying in bed and looking up at the blue-and-white Japanese porcelain pots perched on the ceiling beams, I also couldn't help but wonder what would happen if a truck roared by and gave the building a good shake.

The restaurant, while popular with locals, also could use some fine-tuning. The tone is Asian/European fusion, but some of the dishes either miss in concept or in execution. I would never have expected foie-gras soup with sweet Thai basil and lime (a curious enough dish anyway) to look and taste like puréed pumpkin (the foie gras was imperceptible) and to be very spicy. On the other hand, chicken Fabergé, with lobster, ginger, and lemongrass sauce, which should have been spicy, was bland. And the sirloin of beef with green papaya salad and peppercorn dip featured the very tender Japanese Wagyu beef, so only improper cooking could have made it so tough. But some dishes were great: piquant soup with Thai money bags (dumplings), wok-tossed soft-shell crab, chili-seared langoustines, and chocolate comma, a dense chocolate mousse.

The service in the hotel is inconsistent. Some staff members were extraordinarily personable and efficient, others couldn't do simple things like find a phone number of a well-known business. Despite the inconsistencies, I would go back. (I actually grew to like the black-and-white style, as pretentious as it looked at first.) And the location couldn't be better. $220-$1,250. Keizersgracht 384; 530-2010; fax 530-2030. Reservations: 800-525-4800.

SEVEN ONE SEVEN This hotel, named for its address, is impeccably decorated—French antiques, English brass beds, Asian lamps and baskets, couches and drapes in luxurious fabrics. I loved Seven One Seven immediately; but while there I learned the hotel was for sale and worried that a hotelier would make it too much like a—well, a hotel, and that the owners would take all the furniture when they departed.

That didn't happen, as I learned on my second visit a few months ago. The eight rooms still have their charm and beautiful furniture—my favorites are the Picasso and Schubert suites, the largest rooms and only two with canal views—and the staff is as friendly as ever. Everything here is cosseting, from breakfast served downstairs or in your room on vintage Spode to the fireplace-lit library piled with newspapers and coffee-table books. $265-$455. Prinsengracht 717; 427-0717; fax 423-0717.

Restaurants

BORDEWIJK Neon lights stream out from behind the bar and run along the ceiling of this dining room, providing a jaunty, and characteristically Dutch, bit of irreverence toward what is some of the best cooking in the city. Chef and owner Wil Demandt, who is short, portly, and has a twinkle in his eye, comes out himself to explain the menu and take the order. His cooking combines a clear mastery of French technique with international outlook. Thus the menu has Irish rib roasted on coarse sea salt, roasted sweetbreads with a confit of shallots and baked paksoi, and Roman oxtail. But this is not a grab bag of cuisines. Every dish that we had was superb and a good value, as the portions are generous. The wine list here is excellent and very well priced: A '91 Bonneau Cuvée Marie Beurrier, a top Châteauneuf-du-Pape, was 95 guilders ($45). $60-$90. Noordermarkt 7; 624-3899; fax 420-6603.

CHRISTOPHE' Chef Jean Christophe Royer is a fan of Apicius in Paris, and it shows in his cooking—clean, understated, no fireworks but sure technique—and in the modern, sleek dining room. The galette of eggplant with fresh anchovies is a perfect example of the cooking here: The anchovies were flavorful, but not strong, and perfectly harmonized with the eggplant. The two fish dishes we tried—roasted sea bass on rock salt with cumin and fennel; steamed fillet of brill with black truffles and leeks—were also studies in harmony and in addition very light. The service was attentive, as you would expect. The restaurant lies on the Leliegracht, one of the most beautiful small canals in Amsterdam. Walking along it after the meal was the pièce de résistance. $80-$110. Leliegracht 46; 625-0807; fax 638-9132.

SPECIAAL Woven palm-frond fans, an autographed picture of Jane Seymour on the wall, wooden idols: This Indonesian restaurant will never win an award for decor. However, the food is sensational, the portions enormous, and the owners lovely. "Please tell me you're taking a break and you'll eat more!" pleaded one. $22-$60. Nieuwe Leliestraat 142; 624-9706.

ZEST! This restaurant lives up to its name, as the food is some of the liveliest I had anywhere in Amsterdam, with influences from Asia, India, Italy, and California. Plus lemon is an ingredient in every dish. Ceylonese pumpkin soup was rich and flavorful with quite a kick, lemon guinea fowl with runner beans and lychee chutney was tender and sweet. $80-$90. Prinsenstraat 10; 428-2455; fax 428-2466. www.dinner-in-amsterdam.nl/zest (In Dutch)

OESTERBAR We weren't here for the ambiance, we were here for Dutch oysters, local lobster, and shrimp. So we ignored the brusque waiter and plain white room (fish tanks are the sole decoration). But once the food arrived we understood why this no-nonsense oyster bar has been a local draw for half a century. The fish is as unadorned as the setting, but it couldn't be fresher or more perfectly cooked. $115. Leidseplein 10; 626-3463; fax 623-2199.

Sights

MUSEUM VAN LOON This mansion/museum showcases some three centuries of domestic life. The facade is 17th-century, but the interior is mostly in the style of its 18th-century occupants, the Van Hagens, including a sweeping copper staircase railing in which the owners spelled out their names in intricate iron designs. (Despite that, the building is named for one of its 19th-century owners, banker Hendrik van Loon.) The dining room, which contains a 240-piece set of Amstel china, can be rented for private catered dinner parties, and the house is also available for private tours ($40). The garden and coach house, modeled on a Greek temple, are among the most beautiful in the city. Open Fri.-Mon. Keizersgracht 672; 624-5255. www.channels.nl/amsterdam/loon.html

WILLET-HOLTHUYSEN MUSEUM Named after the last residents of this grand house, which dates from the late 17th century, the museum consists of lavishly decorated rooms in the ornate styles of that period. It also houses the collections of the last owner—European glass (16th-19th centuries), 19th-century copies of Greek statues, 18th-century Delft and Meissen, French and Dutch paintings of the 19th century, and German silver (16th-18th centuries). Herengracht 605; 523-1822. www.ahm.nl/english/willet

BARTOLOTTI HOUSE This house—dating from 1618—is part of the Theater Instituut Nederland; however, it's open to the public. The original owner, one Van den Heuvel, took the name Bartolotti in exchange for an inheritance from his father-in-law, who was of Bolognese origin. He parlayed those funds into a trading fortune and lavished some of his wealth on the interior, such as the marble hall, which has ornately carved walls with figures of gods and goddesses. Herengracht 168-172; 551-3300; fax 551-3303. www.go-amsterdam.org/museums

ANNE FRANK HOUSE This shrine to Anne Frank is on everyone's list, which is why the wait is often interminable. Best time to try: near closing time (9 p.m. in summer, 7 p.m. the rest of the year). With all due respect, the house itself is an anticlimax, a series of bare rooms. Read Anne's diary and bring along your imagination. $5. Prinsengracht 263; 556-7100. www.annefrank.nl

Shopping

VAN ROSSUM & CO. The setting, a 17th-century mansion with a 17th- and 18th-century garden, is the perfect stage for the patrician furniture and art sold here: Louis XVI mahogany chairs made in Holland, 17th-century Dutch and French sculpture, a mid-18th-century Spanish carved-wood bed frame, and 18th-century Dutch glass. The display rooms on the ground floor of this mansion on the Golden Bend are furnished with pieces from the 17th to 19th centuries. Officially they're not for sale, but the owners aren't immune to good offers. Open Thu.-Sat. and by appointment. Herengracht 518; 622-1010; fax 624-2541.

AALDERINK B.V. Tops in Asian art and objets, such as Japanese raku ceramics, New Guinea statues, Burmese bronzes, Chinese blanc de Chine, and Japanese sword ornaments. But this store also veers out of its geographical sphere of influence for such worthy objects as pre-Colombian statues and 19th-century French Les Animaliers—exotic animals on wood tables. Spiegelgracht 15; 623-0211; fax 639-0533.

KUNSTHANDEL DEGENAAR Extreme pieces (the most ornate clocks, Empire mirrors, Russian crystal chandeliers) are the norm. By appointment only. Prinsengracht 572; 638-1010; fax 638-1020. Another branch specializes in 19th-century ship models. Spiegelgracht 8; 638-1010; fax 638-1020.

COUZIJN SIMON Try to pay attention, I kept telling myself, but to no avail: Couzijn Simon's mustache, dyed cherry-red, was stealing the show. Simon is the colorful owner of this unique shop specializing in 18th- and 19th-century toys—vintage trains, dolls of painted wood dressed up for 18th-century balls. The shop dates from the mid-18th century, when it was a pharmacy. Behind the shop is a pocket garden, and behind that a cottage with the works of Dutch painter Anton Hoeboeur, whom Simon has represented for the last 25 years. Prinsengracht 578; 624-7691.

THE FROZEN FOUNTAIN The city's best cutting-edge design shop—chartreuse bookcases; sleek plum, yellow, or animal-print chairs; silver cabinets; spaceship-aesthetic light fixtures. Partners Dick Dankers and Cok de Rooy try to stop passersby in their tracks by putting such pieces in the window—and they succeed. They work with young designers, so words like "of the moment" and "now" come up a lot in conversation. Yet, they also traffic in traditional styles, reproduction Shaker designs, for instance. They just don't put them in the window. $ Prinsengracht 272; 627-219; fax 627-2197; mobile 31-6-547-75599.


Museumplein/Amsterdam South

Hotels

THE AMSTEL INTER-CONTINENTAL Amsterdam's only grand hotel, opened in 1867, underwent a $40 million renovation in the early '90s that brought it back to life. It's often criticized for being inconveniently located, but in fact it is only a 10- to 15-minute walk from the Canal District. The 79-room property stands on the Amstel River, and river-view rooms are the ones to get, particularly one of the suites on the end of the building facing the city. Suite 322, for instance, has not only city and river views but a bedroom with a diagonal wall that makes for a dramatic layout. (The living room is a bit narrow, however.) The largest rooms are on the second and third floors; those on the fourth are smaller but have an inviting garret feel. $430-$2,400. Prof. Tulpplein 1; 622-6060; fax 622-5808. www.interconti.com

Restaurants

LA RIVE The name means "the bank," a reference to the fact that this two-star restaurant, the only one in the city, is right on the water in the Amstel Inter-Continental. But it should be "le rêve," the dream, given the cooking. The dining room is warm and wood-paneled—a kind of humidor—and a nice change from the usual gilt-and-crystal two-star look. What I liked about the menu were the slight culinary twists given to what is essentially a French repertoire. Thus, the consommé was tuna-olive and came with small fennel-lemon raviolis, and the baked red mullet came with dried duck breast more or less laminated to the top of the fish, an excellent combination as it turned out. The braised turbot was a standout dish, the fish light and firm and accompanied by very lightly fried sorrel leaves. Service was excellent. All in all, a top dining experience. $130-$180. 622-6060; fax 622-5808. www.interconti.com/netherlands/amsterdam/dining_amsic.html

BEDDINGTON'S From her darkly tanned skin, ice-blonde hair, and deeply plunging neckline, it was clear that the solitary diner in the corner had a good night's work ahead of her. But her taste in food was certainly impeccable, for this restaurant, owned by Englishwoman Jean Beddington, has been turning out some of the most creative food in town for the past 16 years. Beddington traveled extensively in the Middle East and Asia before she settled in Holland, and it shows in dishes such as jerk-spiced skate fillet with a watermelon and sweet potato salad and lime dressing, and monkfish tandoori with cumin sauce. The food has real fire, but it's served in an environment of sophistication and subtlety: gray chairs, light-and-dark-wood block panels, and subdued light. $115. Roelof Hartstraat 6-8; 676-5201; fax 671-7429.

LE GARAGE This is the flashy showcase for Dutch media-star chef Joop F. Braakhekke, Amsterdam's Wolfgang Puck. The decor is Vegas: red banquettes, mirrored walls, rings of light bulbs. The crowd is Hollywood: a gaggle of ponytailed men accompanied by tall blondes outfitted in Fendi. The location is TriBeCa: a former garage located on a dark, deserted street. The kicker is the food: It's first-rate, even if not particularly inventive. I loved the salmon in the style of herring rollmop, rotisserie chicken, turbot poached with shallot-butter sauce and anchovy oil, and the perfectly sharp and rich lemon tart. $80. Ruysdaelstraat 54-56; 679-7176.

BRASSERIE VAN BAERLE This classic brasserie (brass chandeliers; mirrored, mustard-yellow walls; and carved plaster ceilings) is the perfect place for lunch before or after visiting the Rijksmuseum. Everything on the menu—a delectable country pâté, grilled Dover sole, a hearty stewed duckling with Dutch bacon and Brussels sprouts—is solidly prepared. $60. Closed Saturday. Van Baerlestraat 158; 679-1532.

VAN VLAANDEREN It was my last night in town, a Saturday, and everyone I knew had other plans. So I went to Van Vlaanderen by myself, but once in this sophisticated room I felt self-conscious. The wait staff sensed it, and for the rest of my dinner kept me company. I was touched by the attention, and once I tasted the cooking of Belgian chef Marc Philippart I was delighted. The lightly smoked salmon, the fillet of quail, the baked figs in red wine—all were delicate and impeccably flavored. $60-$75. Weteringschans 175; 622-8292.

Sights

RIJKSMUSEUM Head for rooms 207-236 on the top floor, where the Golden Age of Dutch painting—the 17th century—is on glorious display. There are 19 Rembrandts here, including The Night Watch, plus clutches of masterpieces by Vermeer, Jan Steen, Frans Hals, Pieter Saenredam, and Jacob van Ruisdael. The other collection that you shouldn't miss is 17th-century decorative arts, which includes carved dollhouses, Delftware (including a violin), and silver. These works are in rooms 162-165 on the ground floor and 254 and 255 on the first floor. Coming up: an exhibition, running through March, of the museum's holdings of gold and silver, and a show of 200 17th-century Dutch old-master paintings, "The Glory of the Golden Age," which begins in April. Stadhouderskade 42; 674-7000; fax 674-7001.

CONCERTGEBOUW The near-perfect acoustics of the Grote Zaal, the main concert hall of the Concertgebouw, are a mystery even today, 118 years after the building went up. The architect, Al van Gendt, was chosen for his technical skill, not his ear. In fact, Van Gendt himself was not a great music-lover and seems to have been more concerned that the outside of the structure, a neo-Renaissance building complete with colonnaded facade and four staircase towers, would "achieve harmony with the lines of the neighboring Rijksmuseum." The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra is one of the world's best. In February there will be a festival with such artists as Dawn Upshaw and Thomas Hampson. Box office: Mon.-Fri. 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Concertgebouwplein 2-6; 573-0573; fax 573-0570. www.concertgebouw.nl

VAN GOGH MUSEUM The new, airy modern wing, designed by Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa, doubled the museum's exhibition space, allowing even more of the permanent collection to be shown. The 200 paintings and some 500 drawings, the largest concentration of Van Gogh's work in one place, include Sunflowers and Wheatfield with Crows. $6. Paulus Potterstraat 7; 570-5200; fax 673-5053. www.vangoghmuseum.nl

STEDELIJK MUSEUM OF MODERN ART A complete change of pace after the monumental Rijksmuseum, this modern space is a perfect setting for its choice selection of 19th- and 20th-century contemporary art with an emphasis on postwar artists. The selection is far-ranging, from Willem de Kooning and Piet Mondrian to Marc Chagall and Andy Warhol. Paulus Potterstraat 13; 573-2911; fax 573-2789. www.stedelijk.nl

BLOEMENMARKT The world's only floating flower market—the Bloemenmarkt—stretches along the southern side of the Singel Canal. The swaying boats, from which 19th-century nurserymen used to sell flowers and plants, have been transformed into permanent floating barges, and today more than 15 florists display and sell seasonal flowers, plants for house and garden, packets of seeds, as well as bulbs. If you visit in early September don't miss the stunning flower procession (Bloemen Corso), which ends on these quays. (If you plan to buy bulbs, check the Department of Agriculture's import regulations before you go.) Mon.-Sat. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Singel, between Koninsplein and Vijzelstraat.

Shopping

STENDER STYLE Netty Stender specializes in candlesticks from the 18th and 19th centuries, but also carries Venetian and French 19th-century chandeliers, English leather club chairs, and 1930s Amsterdam School chairs of ebonized wood. Cornelis Schuytstraat 50; 679-1772; fax 675-1909.

ODETTE WELVAARS Her father is an antiques dealer, and Welvaars, also an interior designer, followed him into the business. But it's hard to pigeonhole what she sells. "I buy what I like, it could be Italian, Spanish, Chinese," she says. "I like a mixture of pieces." A quick sweep through her crammed shop yields glimpses of Han Tang statues, Venetian chandeliers, Victorian microscopes, Louis-Philippe mirrors, French furniture, and Egyptian medallions. Plus, a number of local women drinking tea and talking to Odette about what she will do with their houses. $ Bosboom Toussaintstraat 20; 612-5961; fax 683-3462.


Opening Doors

"To see the Amsterdam side of Amsterdam, you need contacts," explains René W. Chr. Dessing, whose company, Artifex, specializes in getting behind the scenes. His background, and that of most of his staff, is in art history, but museum visits are only one part of the hidden Amsterdam Dessing can show you. He also has access to private canal houses, clubs, and special collections. You tell him what you are interested in seeing, and he organizes your visit. "Those beautiful canal houses with gardens in the back and other special places that are not in the guidebooks," he notes, "you can't get into them if you don't know anyone." Fees vary according to itinerary. Herengracht 342; 620-8112; fax 620-6908; www.artifex-travel.nl; e-mail: Rdessing@artifex-travel.nl.


Where to Purchase Dutch Old Masters

Gebr. Douwes Fine Art
Stadhouderskade 40; 664-6362; fax 664-0154.

Kunsthandel K. & V. Waterman
By appointment only. Stadhouderskade 69; 623-2958; fax 620-6149.

Kunsthandel P. de Boer B.V.
Herengracht 512; 623-6849; fax 623-1285.

Salomon Lilian
By appointment only. Keizersgracht 642; 620-6307; fax 624-6018.


This Boat for Hire

"I grew up on this canal," said Tommy van Riet as we glided under the seven bridges of the Reguliersgracht, perhaps the most romantic stretch of canal in all Amsterdam. There are plenty of boats offering canal cruises, but we found the charming Van Riet and his 1920 Paradis irresistible. The boat is a beauty, made mostly of teak, and it's low enough to fit under all of the city's bridges. (Some of the boxier, higher boats can't.) Champagne, cocktails, and canapés, or even a catered dinner, can be arranged. $150 for the first hour, $125 for each hour afterward. (Payment by credit card can sometimes be arranged through your hotel.) $ 684-9338; fax 684-2726; mobile 31-6-5476-5599.


The Best of Antiques Row

Nieuwe Spiegelstraat has some of Amsterdam's best antiques stores and art galleries. Here are some highlights.

ANTIQUE DELFT Aronson of Amsterdam has been the top Delft dealer in town since 1881. Nieuwe Spiegelstraat 39; 623-3103; fax 638-3066.

ANTIQUE TABLEWARE Ingeborg Ravestijn is one of the few generalists on this street of antiques specialists. "I'm the only one who's selling everything!" owner Ravestijn says. Meaning 18th- and 19th-century silver—but not silver to display, silver to use for "nice dinner parties." Also 17th- and 18th-century glass, handmade 18th-century knives in ivory and silver, and 19th-century linen and silk tablecloths. The only item she doesn't stock: Delft. Nieuwe Spiegelstraat 57; tel/fax 625-7720.

CLOCKS Van Dreven & Toebosch ticks and tingles on the hour, filled as it is with mostly 18th- and early-19th-century French, Dutch, and English clocks. The place to buy a Dutch large-case clock with musical works. Also a good selection of antique music boxes. Nieuwe Spiegelstraat 33-35; 625-2732; fax 638-2923.

DELFT TILES Eduard Kramer has antique tiles dating from 1580. "We have thousands of tiles," the proprietor told me, "but no two are alike." Also wonderful, factory-made Art Nouveau tile. Nieuwe Spiegelstraat 64; 623-0832; fax 638-8740.

DUTCH FURNITURE Kunsthandel Frans Leidelmeijer specializes in furniture, objets, and glass produced between 1880 and 1950. His specialty: Amsterdam School furniture, which has long, geometric lines and symmetrical decoration. Nieuwe Spiegelstraat 58; 625-4627; fax 620-5672.

Van Nie & Winnubst carries 17th- and 18th-century pieces. Keizersgracht 600 (off Nieuwe Spiegelstraat); 626-1594; fax 423-6747.

DUTCH PAINTING Peter Pappot is the place to shop for 19th- and early-to-mid-20th-century Dutch paintings. By appointment. Nieuwe Spiegelstraat 30; 624-2637; fax 623-7857.

Stichting de Appel is an art gallery catering to the contemporary scene. Nieuwe Spiegelstraat 10; 625-5651; fax 622-5215.

GLASS Kunstzalen A. Vecht has impressive pieces: green Römer glass and Berkemiyer-carved glass, both from the 17th century; 18th-century blue-and-red Venetian engraved glasses that once belonged to a Dutch noble family. "One of the finest glass collections in the world," I was told by a collector. $ Nieuwe Spiegelstraat 40; 623-4748; fax 622-7058.

JEWELRY Inez Stodel has impeccable taste. The day I was there the selection ranged from a gold filigree necklace from 1702 to one of Italian jade from the late 1960s. By appointment. Nieuwe Spiegelstraat 65; 623-2942; fax 624-8982.

Marjan Sterk stocks exquisite, idiosyncratic, antique pieces, such as a 19th-century French necklace of lapis lazuli in Egyptian revival-style and a delicate Lalique bracelet of amethyst, diamonds, and silver. Nieuwe Spiegelstraat 63; 624-8703; fax 627-3755.


Dutch Treats

Puccini This is a good place to buy both chocolate and apple cake, two of the city's favorite sweets. Staalstraat 17; 626-5474; and Singel 184; 427-8341.

Pompadour's Locals swear by its pastry and chocolates. 1 Huidenstraat 12; 623-9554.


Color them Brown

"Brown cafés" are an Amsterdam tradition, beery, smoky places akin to English pubs. The most famous is Café Hoppe on Spui Square, but it's generally so jammed and smoky that it's an ordeal. Much friendlier and more charming, but still historic and authentic, are Café 't Smalle, dating from 1780, which has a beautiful carved-wood interior that is candlelit at night (Egelantiersgracht 12; 623-9617); and Café Papeneiland, which dates from 1641 and is furnished with a cast-iron stove and a wall of old Delft tiles. (Prinsengracht 2; 624-1989).


Islam's Splendid Legacy

Bejeweled objects, splendid ceramics and glassware, and finely crafted Qur'ans, textiles, and prayer rugs from the world's greatest Islamic art collections were recently on show through April 24th at the Nieuwe Kerk, on Dam Square. Earthly Beauty, Heavenly Art included pieces such as this gold flask with rubies and garnets, which once held libations for the 16th-century sultan Süleyman the Magnificent. For information: 638-6909.


About This Guide

Prices In U.S. dollars.
Hotel Prices For high-season, double occupancy, from the least expensive double to the most expensive suite.
Restaurant Prices For a three-course dinner for two, without wine or service.
Platinum Card Travel Service (PTS) or Centurion Travel Service (CTS)
For travel assistance, call 800-443-7672 (PTS) or 877-877-0987 (CTS). From abroad, call 623-492-5000 collect.


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$ Establishment accepts no charge/credit cards or accepts cards other than the American Express Card.

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Disclaimer: The information in this story was accurate at the time of publication in January 2000, but we suggest you confirm all details with the service establishments before making travel plans.