I was never the most confident bicycle rider, the result of an unfortunate incident as a nine-year-old attempting to take on a steep hill in Pretoria. From the day I arrived in Amsterdam, I was asked by city people, ‘So, have you got a bike yet?’ My response for almost a month was, ‘No, I’m very happy to walk.’ One day, I was forced onto a bike. I pushed off, made my way forward 100 metres down a cycle lane, and suddenly I understood the city better.
Amsterdam, it seems, is powered by the ease of getting around. It’s a city built for the people who live in it. And they do a lot of living. Long gone are the days when it was better known for its red light district, plumes of heady smoke and cheese sandwiches. It’s become a cosmopolitan hub and the gateway to the rest of Europe. Even Netflix has its European headquarters here.
I came to the city on a mission to get inspired. As the owner of Skinny Legs Café in Cape Town and having lived in many other cities, I was looking for a place to settle into that could offer something I hadn’t found elsewhere. I have been through Amsterdam many times while travelling for modelling work but never stayed long enough to get a sense of what it’s really like.
What I discovered was an international hub that feels like a village, with city neighbourhoods as quiet as the suburbs and others bustling with life. The differences in areas are vast, from the innovative, yet gritty container cities in the north, to the clean, quiet streets of the central Jordaan. Buildings leaning every which way threatening to fall into the canals they line and modern feats of architectural innovation stand side by side.
Amsterdam and its people invite you in and their natural ‘go slow’ attitude tends to rub off – in a very welcome way.
TIPS FOR YOUR TRIP
Get a bike! Remember that bikes rule Amsterdam and all halt for you, except the trams.
Download the Buienradar weather app, and listen to its forecasts. Always layer up. If you’re from Cape Town, you will be practised in this art.
WHAT TO SEE
The museum of cinema is located in the newly built Eye. I cycled straight onto the free ferry and was shuttled across the IJ dock harbour to watch and re-watch the Martin Scorsese collection. The NDSM area is where innovation meets grit. Think repurposed containers that house restaurants, pop-up jazz concerts and an old harbour crane housing a four-room hotel. eyefilm.nl/en
My favourite spot for lazing away a couple hours is Pllek, host to nightly live music, outdoor film screenings, wonderful views and the perfect ‘beachfront’ atmosphere for a cocktail.
Get lost in the wetlands of Westerpark, a welcome wedge of greenery at the end of the bustling Haarlemmerdijk. Bordering a canal and filled with ponds, streams and swamplands, this is the ultimate spot to throw down a picnic blanket and soak up the sun (when it’s out). Join the lively crowds at the bars and restaurants scattered across the Gasfabriek area of the park. Mossel & Gin offers herb-infused, artisanal gin cocktails and fresh mussels.
WHERE TO STAY
The Linden Almost every day I walked past a Flatiron-style building perched on a corner of the Lijnbaansgracht. One day I discovered it housed a perfect boutique hotel, The Linden. Rooms start at €185 (R2 909) per night.
Pulitzer Amsterdam For a little more luxury, try the newly renovated Pulitzer Amsterdam. After a hot day (they do exist in Amsterdam), I ended up with a hibiscus fizz in hand at one of their café tables along the canal. Rooms and suites range from€300 (R4 717) per night.
BuffetvanOdette borders the trendy De Pijp neighbourhood, serving beautiful food at its luxury café and offering a ‘Bed and Buffet’ apartment service. There are only two locations available, but they’re the best-outfitted apartments you can find in the city. The Wisteria Site starts at €275 (R4 324) per night, while the Wetering Suite starts at €200 (R3 145) per night.
WHERE TO SHOP
Six and Sons chooses its selection of wares based on sustainability. But this is no hemp and incense store; here you will find boxed card games alongside Nordic clothing brands, hand-thrown pottery and unisex utility bags.
This is Happening is a multi-use space offering well- selected accessories and brands like Komono, Native Youth and Champion, along with a hairdresser using top-range products.
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK
Toki Hangout is the first and only coffee spot you should try. This is a place you come to with at least an hour to spare to soak up the ultra-cool, but laidback attitude that is so very Amsterdam. Take your morning coffee out onto the street, lounge in a camper chair and watch people flock in for their daily fix.
Vinnies I found myself in Vinnies’ Haarlemmerstraat branch for brunch almost every week. Their seasonal plate is the perfect filler on a Saturday morning – if you can get a table. The 50/50 juice – half orange and half grapefruit – seems to be a thing in the city.
CropBox The best lunch to be found in Amsterdam is at CropBox. Owner Dominique Marsay, a South African vegan food whiz, is changing the world of food one lunchbox at a time. If you are only in town for a short time, email CropBox to order and pick up directly from their kitchen, which is located in a tunnel under an old railway. The visit alone will be worth it. cropbox.nl
BAK For a little more refinement try BAK, a cosy restaurant located in a warehouse on the water’s edge, with beautiful views across the old timber harbour. They serve a clever six- or seven-course set menu that changes daily, according to what they can source locally.
Mumu to the Moon For a sweet fix, Mumu to the Moon offers a selection of ‘vitamin chocolates’, raw cakes and vegan pastries.
By Donnet Dumas