In the know
The hidden courtyards of Amsterdam
Go on a walking tour of the city's 'hofjes' (pronounced hof-yus). These tranquil courtyards surrounded by pretty little houses, were the country's first social housing system, some dating as far back as early as the 14th century. They were built to provide shelter to poor, elderly ladies and were originally overseen by nuns, later by well-to-do citizens and then by the local council. Of the 53 that were built originally, 47 still exist. Most are open to the public, but they can be hard to spot. On this tour you'll visit four hofjes in the attractive Jordaan district, once Amsterdam's poorest neighbourhood.
A stroll through the market
On Saturday mornings, a visit to the Noordermarkt is a treat. The market is held on a picturesque square overlooked by the Noorderkerk, a church built in 1623. There's an excellent flea market with affordable prices. Adjacent is an organic market with a variety of sustainably produced products, including wild mushrooms, cheeses, artisan bread and other delicacies. Just around the corner you'll find the Lindengracht market with fresh food, clothes, shoes, flowers, nuts and much more. The area around the markets is a great place to take a break from your shopping in a nice café or restaurant. www.noordermarkt-amsterdam.nl/en/
If you're planning to visit several of the main museums – the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum or Stedelijk Museum (modern art) – it's best to buy a Museumkaart (museum card) from one of the museums or from the Uitburo on Leidseplein. To avoid the crowds, it's advisable to set off early. The Museumkaart gives you free access to 400 museums in the Netherlands for one year.
Cruise around the canals in your own boat
Would you like to go on a boat trip and explore the Amsterdam canals by yourself? Rent a boat for an hour or two from Sloepdelen. The calming water, the charming canal houses – you'll get a completely different experience of Amsterdam as you sail through the canals. The boats all run on electricity, helping to reduce emissions (and noise) in the city. The company even invests in green projects to offset the CO2 emitted generating the electricity used to charge your boat's batteries. www.sloepdelen.nl
A day out to Haarlem
The historical city of Haarlem is just 15 minutes away by train and has much to offer. The pretty centre is full of good shops and some beautiful museums. The Frans Hals Museum has an extensive art collection from the Dutch Golden Age. A visit to Teylers Museum, the oldest museum in the Netherlands (1784), is like stepping back into the 18th century. Museum Het Dolhuys offers visitors an interactive experience of the history of psychiatry. www.haarlemmarketing.co.uk
If you like antiques or art, the Spiegelkwartier is the place to go. This friendly area, just across the bridge opposite the Rijksmuseum, has been the heart of the national art and antiques trade for the past eighty years. Over seventy specialised dealers offer a wide variety of objects. www.spiegelkwartier.nl
Canal Museum: gateway to the historic centre
One of the world's greatest urban projects – the 17th century Amsterdam canal district – is presented in six rooms of the Grachtenhuis (canal house) museum. Visit the multimedia, interactive exhibition and travel through 400 years of history in 40 minutes. The audio tour is available in eight languages. Open: Tuesdays-Sundays 10 A.M. to 5 P.M. www.hetgrachtenhuis.nl
In awe of Amsterdam's concert hall
The Royal Concertgebouw is a spectacular concert hall, renowned the world over for its fabulous accoustics. Conductor and violinist Bernard Haitink described the Concertgebouw as the orchestra's finest instrument. The concert hall, begun in 1881, was a gift to the city funded by donations from its prominent residents. Seven years later, on swampy fields just outside the then city limits, arose this wonder of neoclassic architecture. The Concertgebouw is home to the equally celebrated and renowned Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. www.concertgebouw.nl
A horseriding school in the middle of town
This special building near the Vondelpark, hidden behind a 19th-century townhouse, is easily missed. The Hollandsche Manege (the Dutch equestrian academy) was established in 1744. Mozart, then a ten-yearold child prodigy, performed a concert at the original location of the manege in 1766. The present neoclassical building, dating from 1882, was inspired by the famous Spanish Riding School (Spanische Hofreitschule) in Vienna. The nineteenth century atmosphere has been preserved in all its glory. From the beautiful foyer and balcony you can enjoy a cup of coffee or a light meal whilst observing the old stables and the horses and riders. You can also watch a short film about the history of the manege. Open: daily from 10 A.M. to 5 P.M. www.dehollandschemanege.nl
9 Straatjes (the nine little streets)
These picturesque streets straddle the 17th Century canals from the Singel to the Prinsengracht. Spend a fabulous day wandering from one to the next, exploring designer and vintage boutiques, art galleries, jewellers and the many bars, cafés and restaurants. www.de9straatjes.nl/uk
Cycle out of the city and into the countryside
The pretty villages of Durgerdam, Holysloot and Ransdorp are just a thirty-minute cycle ride away from the city centre. Rent a bike at any of the bike rental shops close to Central Station and ask for a map of 'Waterland', northeast of the city. You can either join an organised cycle tour or go off and explore on your own. A good tip is to walk (don't ride!) your rental bike through to the rear (river side) of Central Station where you can catch a (free) ferry to 'Buiksloterweg'. Hop on your bike from there and soon you'll be cycling happily among cows, birds and polders.