I must admit, my previous impressions of Amsterdam were filled with neon lit windows, hazy fog-filled cafes, and the obligatory Insta-shot of the perfectly coordinated canal houses along Damrak. Of course, these things still exist but if you take time to delve a little deeper, you will soon see Amsterdam has a lot to offer the luxury traveller too. I was lucky enough to have the chance to travel to the Dutch capital and experience this more refined side of the city for myself. Check out the following guide for a very luxurious, 48 hours in Amsterdam. (FYI, I still took the Instagram shot at Damrak!)
Where to stay: Hotel De L’Europe
If you like hotels old-school in style and service but with a contemporary twist, the Hotel De L’Europe ticks all the boxes. Be greeted by doormen in coat tails and a top hat before being whisked through the revolving doors into a warm, relaxed but elegant lobby. On arrival, I was greeted with live jazz music filtering throughout the reception-come-lounge area, and staff who were more than happy to help. Huge replicas of Dutch masters hung along the room, with crystal chandeliers twinkling against the tones of russet and red of the walls. You will be awed as how comfortable and warming the hotel is, whilst still exuding exclusivity and luxury.
Although all the rooms in De L’Europe are equally stunning, we would definitely suggest pushing the boat out and upgrading to a junior suite. All the rooms and suites have distinctive décor and are themed around Dutch Master paintings in partnership with the Rijkmuseum (see culture below!).
The Junior suite I had the pleasure of staying in was themed around the ‘Woman reading a letter’ by Johannes Vermeer (of which the real painting is on display at the Rijksmuseum) and had a gorgeous view onto the Amstel river. There was a large mural version of the piece on one feature wall, whilst a smaller replica of the painting hung on another. The piece was complimented by powder blue oriental-style wallpaper, and the touches of brown leather and dark wood provided by the fixtures throughout the room. For those of us who love our sleep, the bed was huge and an absolute dream (sorry!) to sink into at the end of a busy day!
The bathroom was head to toe marble, with a deep bath and a lovely drench shower. I particularly enjoyed the Anne Semonin toiletries and the encouragement of the hotel for you to think about sustainability.
My suite had three massive windows offering stunning views onto the Amstel and the city beyond, plus a sweet little alcove containing a desk with a stunning view – quite the place to catch up on a bit of work in the morning, or for reading the newspaper with an espresso to start the day!
Everything is so elegant and stylish, you won’t want to leave this hotel – I certainly didn’t! But the best part? Waking up every day to a view of the Amstel River, watching the locals going about their daily business in their small boats. Truly romantic!
What to do: Culture
Van Gogh Museum private tour
It’s no surprise the largest collection of Vincent Van Gogh paintings reside in the Dutch capital. Encased in a strikingly modern building at Museumplein, the incredible collection is worth going to see regardless of whether you are an art-history buff or not. From his first break-through piece ‘The Potato Eaters’, to the renowned ‘Sunflowers’, alongside a vast collection of self-portraits, the museum is a fitting tribute to the Netherland’s most famous artist. But for those who have a particular interest, a private tour offers something extra special. The private tour gives you a much more in depth look into the artists’ life and how his journey really influenced his work. The gallery itself is beautifully set up in a way that guides you through Vincent’s life, but I couldn’t recommend a private tour enough, purely for the extra tit-bits of knowledge and trivia the guides pass on, which truly brings the artist to life.
Rijksmuseum private tour
How can any visit to the Dutch capital be complete without a visit to the Rijksmueum? It can’t! We suggest taking the time to book a private tour to fully understand and experience the artwork within these esteemed walls. With over 8000 paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, pieces of furniture, sculptures and objects from all throughout Dutch history, the museum can at first seem overwhelming in the depth and variety of its content.
Booking a private tour with an expert allows you to fully immerse yourself in the galleries and garner a fuller understanding of the incredible story of Dutch art history throughout the ages (Did you know that many of the Dutch still-life paintings from the 17th century included a half-peeled lemon as a moralistic message about the brevity of life and to remind families of their servitude to god?). Of course, no visit would be complete without viewing The Night Watch, Rembrandt’s greatest masterpiece, but the building itself is also quite the marvel!
The Royal Concertgebouw
Built in 1886, The Royal Concertgebouw is one of the most famous concert halls in the world. Known for its unparalleled acoustics and stunning interior, the Concertgebouw offers visitors a chance to experience the highest level of artistic programming from classical music to jazz. The concert hall has seen the likes of Richard Strauss, Vladimir Horowitz, Gustav Mahler, Louis Armstrong and even Sting take to its famed stage. With over 900 events a year, there is sure to be something to suit all tastes when you visit the city. Whilst in the city I had the chance to attend a seasonal concert by the renowned jazz singer Madeleine Peyroux and the Jazz Orchestra of the Concertgebouw. It was a truly special evening that got us right into the festive spirit!
What to do: Shopping
De Bijenkorf, which literally translates as ‘the beehive’, is a chain of luxury Dutch department stores, the flagship of which stands pride of place on Dam Square in Amsterdam. It would be hard to miss the imposing store right at the centre of the city, especially during the festive period when it is adorned with holiday lights! What once started as a family-run haberdashery and employing just a staff of four, this mighty brand has expanded across the country to be at the forefront of luxury lifestyle and fashion in the Netherlands. From luxe leather goods that make the perfect (and easily transportable) gifts, to top contemporary European fashion designers for both ladies and men, De Bijenkorf is a must visit for us on any visit to Amsterdam.
De 9 Straatjes
De 9 Straatjes, or ‘The 9 Streets’, is the network of quirky and quaint streets which straddle the canals that surround Amsterdam’s central area – definitely a maze you don’t mind getting lost in!
Not only is the whole neighbourhood ridiculously photogenic, but every street has a whole host of indie boutiques, cafes and bars to explore. The Luxury Editor loves this area for discovering the best independent European fashion brands. My personal favourite? Denham jeans. FYI, they have multiple outlets in this area so no, you aren’t lost, it is just another Denham store.
What to do: Tour of the City
Private boat hire with Cruise with Us
When in Amsterdam you may notice the preferred mode of transport to get around the city is the humble bicycle. It’s a wonderfully active way of getting around but misses that extra unique element we look for in a trip. My suggestion? Hire a private boat tour for you and your party! Cruise With Us offer a selection of three bespoke canal boats, each suitable for parties of different sizes. Whilst in the city I was on board the Soeverein for one lovely evening, cruising along the canals and enjoying an exceptional view of the city!
Not only was the boat beautifully fitted out (dark wood and polished metal fixtures, rich and detailed furnishings, and an intricately painted ceiling), there is a kitchen and bar on board and staff who are knowledgeable and seem genuinely concerned with making your trip with them pleasurable. Not only will you learn about the city, you will also enjoy it amongst great company and with refreshment in hand! I highly recommend booking a tour during the Amsterdam Light Festival (which takes place every year from mid-November to the end of January) as one of the best (and surely most fitting) ways to see the artworks is by canal!
Where To Eat
Lunch at Rijks restaurant
After a private tour of the famous Rijksmuseum, you don’t even need to venture far for refreshment, with the equally renowned Rijks restaurant located in the Philips Wing of the complex. Executive chef Joris Bijdendijk (previously of Ron Blaauw, Le Jardin de Sens and Bridges) creates a blend of exotic tastes with traditional Dutch cuisine, whilst abiding by the principles of Slow Food. Looking at the menu, guests will see an abundance of local and high-quality ingredients, including many ‘forgotten’ local products.
The restaurant is also proud to only serve wines from Dutch-owned wineries. The interior of the restaurant is as stunning as the menu with a mix of materials like bronze, oak, marble and touches of blue, providing a luxe palette which is both calming but stylish. It’s worth keeping an eye out as they have regular guest chef spots, similar in concept to a guest curator at a museum. Time your visit right, and you could experience this beautiful restaurant with a renowned chef from the other side of the world.
Dinner at Hotel De L’Europe
When residing in such a stunning place, it only feels right to ‘stay in’ one evening. The hotel offers two dining options, the fine cuisine offerings of the Michelin-starred Bord’Eau restaurant, or the more casual internationally-inspired Hoofdstad Brasserie, both with stunning views out on the River Amstel, really showing off the unique location De L’Europe enjoys. Where the hotel is traditional in many respects, its gastronomical selection is anything but. Expect interesting textures, exciting taste combinations and contemporary, sometimes experimental, presentation.
Both restaurants have seen an executive chef change moving into 2018, so guests can be sure for some thrilling variations as the new chefs make their own mark. With a wine cellar with over 900 different types of wine and a Sommelier who spends some months in South Africa perfecting his own white, the Hotel De L’Europe is also quite the stop for wine fans. Finding that perfect pairing for dinner will be no bother at all.
Lunch at Bridges at the Sofitel Grand
This Michelin star fish restaurant located on the outskirts of the red-light district is a foodies’ paradise, generally considered one of the best eateries in the city – and rightly so! Executive chef Andrès Delpeut is constantly on the hunt for creative twists on traditional seafood dishes, and often to huge success. Contemporary and bright but still refined, the ambience in Bridges offers itself perfectly to a laid-back late lunch. Dishes are innovative and creatively presented without being intimidating.
Bridges also has one of the youngest, and only, female Wine Directors at the helm of its wine collection. Lotte Wolf is not only impressive at selecting vintages for the restaurant’s wine cellar and for recommending the ultimate pairing to any dish on the menu, she also spends many months of the year perfecting her own blends in South Africa. The restaurant is currently undergoing a refurbishment and will be back open in March 2019. f it is anything like the one before, expect beautiful things.
Dinner at Waldorf Astoria
Choose from the extraordinary two-Michelin starred Librije’s Zusje Amsterdam or the polished Goldfinch Brasserie, either way you are in for a culinary treat at the Waldorf Astoria. Executive Chef Sydney Schutte helms the Librije’s Zusje, creating a constantly evolving menu inspired by the seasons and designed to be a journey for all the senses. Enjoy the unforgettable dishes in modern but classic surroundings, with the refined but unfussy luxury so distinctive (and done so well by) Waldorf Astoria.
The restaurant offers particularly beautiful views onto the hotel courtyard which is a pleasing outlook whether in the heart of summer or covered in a snow (which I was lucky enough to witness on my visit!). The Goldfinch may seem more casual, but the attention to detail is not lost here either. The menu features many bistro favourites, but these are anything but boring. The aim here is to create exquisite food that you are sure to enjoy. Whilst in Amsterdam, I had the pleasure of sampling some creations from this innovative kitchen and can attest to the quality – not a foot was put wrong and I was thinking about the dishes for days after!
The Luxury Editor flew from Edinburgh to Schiphol with KLM. Flights start from £79 for a return.