Felicity Cousins explores the River IJ and the canal-side streets of the Dutch city
Just behind Amsterdam Central station, across the River IJ, a whole new world is developing. GVB ferries depart from a small dock free of charge, and their destination is Amsterdam Noord, some 27 hectares of land that used to belong to Shell – the iconic crown-topped tower that used to house its offices is easy to spot. High-end residential properties, restaurants, bars and a film museum are all planned here. Take the NDSM Werf-bound ferry, which leaves every 15/30 minutes, to the NDSM shipyard, now one of the city’s creative centres. Artists have set up workshops in a huge hangar, while on the east side is the Noorderlicht (Northern Lights) café, a good place for a coffee stop – it offers wonderful views over the river and a sprawling garden where people lounge on comfy sofas and armchairs. Open 11am-10pm; noorderlichtcafe.nl, ndsm.nl
Once the return NDSM ferry has dropped you back at Central station Waterplein West, hop on the free ferry to IJplein. This journey is much shorter – about five minutes. Once you arrive, turn right and walk along the riverside on a small path past a couple of blocks of flats, and you’ll soon see an orange building on the waterfront. This is the delightful Wilhemina-Dok restaurant, which serves continental organic fare.
Prices range from about £10 for a starter and £20 for a main – try the delicious carpaccio of smoked beef with sun-dried tomatoes, cheese and pine nuts, or the mackerel with black pasta, beans, capers and carrots. The interior is cosy with wooden tables, candles and a marine theme. The windows overlook the activity on the river and there is also a terrace for fine-weather dining. Open 11am-12am daily – book in advance if you can. Noordwal 1; tel +31 206 323 701; wilhelmina-dok.nl
Nemo Science Centre
Get the ferry back to Amsterdam Central and head for Nemo, the Science Centre, located to the right of the station as you face it and well signposted over a bridge. From the outside it looks like a huge ship jutting out of the water. Inside, there is plenty to do for all ages, with five floors crammed full of interactive displays, machines, experiments and films. Blow a human-sized soap bubble or experiment with electricity and gravity. There are also quizzes, reaction tests and memory games, and at the Age Machine, you lean over a screen that takes your picture and shows what you will look like in years to come, or what you looked like as a child and teenager – it is surprisingly accurate.
A roof terrace offers good views over the water and the city and is free to visit even if you are not visiting the centre. Nemo can also be hired for corporate events, with eight individual spaces including a ballroom for 600 people and a cinema for 200. Open Tues-Sun 10am-5pm. Entry is €12.50 or free with the I Amsterdam Card (see box, facing page). Visit e-nemo.nl/en
Jump on trams two or five outside the station to Hobbemastraat, for the Rijksmuseum. Built in 1876, this grand building is the Netherlands’ largest museum and has been under extensive renovation for a number of years (to be completed in 2013). Much of its extensive collection has remained available for viewing and as each phase is finished, more will be unveiled.
I headed straight for the Golden Age “Masterpieces” exhibition, in the newly refurbished Philips Wing. The space is bright with plenty of light flooding in from the glass ceiling, which seems to be an appreciative nod to Rembrandt’s own use of light. His all-encompassing The Night Watch painting is a privilege to see, as is Pieter de Hooch’s domestic scenes depicting everyday life in the 1600s. Open daily 9am-6pm; entry is €12.50. Visit rijksmuseum.nl
If you enjoy the museum’s pieces then keep in mind that you can see more at Amsterdam Schiphol airport – the Rijksmuseum has a collection on Holland Boulevard, in the area behind passport control (between the E and F piers). Open daily 7am-8pm; free entry.
From the museum, follow Spiegelgracht over three canals and turn left on to Prinsengracht, a pretty road with houses, cafés and shops beside the water. You’ll soon be in the De Negen Straatjes, the nine roads that run between the main canals. They are full of restaurants and quirky shops that are perfect for an unusual gift. Look out for the cyclists, as they are quiet but speedy.
Bear right and you will join Keizersgracht running parallel – it’s another pretty canal street perfect for photographs. Take another right at Huidenstraat and you’ll find Patisserie Pompadour – a delightful cake shop with an 18th-century interior and such a glorious array of treats that you won’t be able to leave without buying a few chocolates or a carefully crafted tart. If you don’t want to sit on a bench outside trying to avoid getting whipped cream on your nose, you can take a seat in the lavish Louis XVI tearoom and gorge yourself in secret. Open Tues-Fri 9am-6pm, Sat 9am-5pm. Huidenstraat 12; tel +31 206 239 554.
Buy an I Amsterdam Card for free access to more than 40 tourist attractions, discounts and free use of GVB trams, buses and metros. It costs €38 for 24 hours, €48 for 48 hours or €58 for 72 hours. Visit iamsterdam.com