Journey by Design: Our Editor’s Guide to Amsterdam
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Journey by Design: Our Editor’s Guide to Amsterdam

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By Kathryn McLamb
With its centuries’ old architecture, world-class museums, and contagious energy, Amsterdam is a magnet for adventurers across the globe. Here, contributor and former Dwell editor Kathryn McLamb takes us on a guided journey.

"Now, make sure one of you keeps a hand on this lever so you don’t suddenly smack into any speeding tour boats," the energetic staff member advised me and my husband as we climbed aboard the small, silver watercraft we’d rented. "Most people don’t have accidents, but you never know," he joked, pushing us away from the creaky, wooden dock. Eager, and (thanks to that last comment) a bit anxious, Derek and I locked eyes and laughed, wondering what we were getting ourselves into. 

Commonly known as the "Venice of the North," Amsterdam has 165 canals and a total of 1,281 bridges. The most prominent canals are Herengracht, Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht, and Singel.

Commonly known as the "Venice of the North," Amsterdam has 165 canals and a total of 1,281 bridges. The most prominent canals are Herengracht, Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht, and Singel.

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We hadn’t been in Amsterdam but a mere 24 hours, and yet we were already hypnotized. The feeling had hit as soon as we arrived at the bustling railway hub of Central Station, navigating past the rumble of buses, bikers, and fellow tourists, and laid eyes on the quaint streets that straddle the celebrated canal zone. Despite our overly stuffed backpacks, the sight of the medieval, gabled houses lining the narrow brick lanes seemed to act as a balm. 

Fun fact: Amsterdam features the only museum in the world you can cycle through—the Rijksmuseum. While bikes were once introduced to reduce car traffic, the city now has more bikes than people. 

Fun fact: Amsterdam features the only museum in the world you can cycle through—the Rijksmuseum. While bikes were once introduced to reduce car traffic, the city now has more bikes than people. 

For centuries, brick has played an important part in Amsterdam's architecture. For instance, throughout the 17th century, wooden buildings were torn down and replaced with brick ones. Today, local architects heavily rely on this durable material in both traditional and experimental projects.

For centuries, brick has played an important part in Amsterdam's architecture. For instance, throughout the 17th century, wooden buildings were torn down and replaced with brick ones. Today, local architects heavily rely on this durable material in both traditional and experimental projects.

Once we arrived at our lodging—a lovely, historic abode sandwiched between two similarly charming residences—our host briefly explained his method of navigating the steep, tapering stairs to the little room he referred to as "The Toaster," where we’d be sleeping. Graciously, he offered many local recommendations while feeding us handfuls of thin, gooey, caramel-filled stroopwafel cookies—a common (and delicious) Dutch snack. 

Along with Renaissance and Baroque, another form of architecture you'll commonly see throughout the city is that of the Amsterdam School, a style of architecture that arose from 1910 through about 1930. Part of international Expressionist architecture, buildings of the Amsterdam School are characterized by brick construction and integrate an impressive scheme of building elements inside and out—such as ornate masonry, art glass, wrought ironwork, and decorative spires.

Along with Renaissance and Baroque, another form of architecture you'll commonly see throughout the city is that of the Amsterdam School, a style of architecture that arose from 1910 through about 1930. Part of international Expressionist architecture, buildings of the Amsterdam School are characterized by brick construction and integrate an impressive scheme of building elements inside and out—such as ornate masonry, art glass, wrought ironwork, and decorative spires.

A peek inside Sukha Amsterdam, a whimsical store offering  fair-trade finds, flowing fabrics, and a calming, neutral color palette. 

A peek inside Sukha Amsterdam, a whimsical store offering  fair-trade finds, flowing fabrics, and a calming, neutral color palette. 

Fueled by our sugar rush, we embarked on a busy afternoon. After stopping to smell the roses (and tulips, of course) at Boerenmarkt, the organic market on Noordermarkt; chowing down on both traditional and around-the-world cuisines at the impressive Foodhallen; and popping in and out of the design-centric shops peppered throughout the trendy, quirky corners of Jordaan and the Nine Streets, we finally treated our feet to a break by ordering a flight of beers at Brouwerij 't IJ, a small modern brewery nestled under the De Gooyer windmill. 

If you're looking for a unique place to sip on locally crafted beer, stop by Brouwerij 't IJ—a small modern brewery nestled under the De Gooyer windmill.

If you're looking for a unique place to sip on locally crafted beer, stop by Brouwerij 't IJ—a small modern brewery nestled under the De Gooyer windmill.

The recent whirlwind of experiences came alive again as we found ourselves leisurely cruising down the canals, waving back to the local residents sitting atop their bobbing houseboats. 

With Derek steering from the rear of the boat, we discussed the contemporary art we’d seen that morning at the Stedelijk Museum, as well as made plans to visit the Van Gogh Museum later that day. Tall, tilting, toy-like houses lined the canal. 

Founded in 1862, Bloemenmarkt quickly became known as the world's only floating flower market. Conveniently floating near the city's southern canal belt, this is a great place to browse souvenir and gift shops, and score fresh flowers.

Founded in 1862, Bloemenmarkt quickly became known as the world's only floating flower market. Conveniently floating near the city's southern canal belt, this is a great place to browse souvenir and gift shops, and score fresh flowers.

The further we sailed, the quieter we became, captivated by some of the most renowned, 17th-century architecture in the world. We had somehow been transported back to the Dutch Golden Age—and all we had to do was glide along. 

Insider tip: If you're in the mood to rent bikes but aren't necessarily keen on riding in the heart of the city, take a five-minute ferry ride to Durgerdam—a small village in the Dutch province of North Holland located in the municipality of Amsterdam. With only about 400 residents, you'll have plenty of space to freely roam.

Insider tip: If you're in the mood to rent bikes but aren't necessarily keen on riding in the heart of the city, take a five-minute ferry ride to Durgerdam—a small village in the Dutch province of North Holland located in the municipality of Amsterdam. With only about 400 residents, you'll have plenty of space to freely roam.

More to Eat & Drink

Vinnies Deli: This delightful cafe and deli not only offers a tasty menu full of vegetarian-friendly cuisine, but all the modern designer furniture is also for sale. 

CT Coffee & Coconuts: Formerly home to a popular cinema in the 1920s, the historic building of CT Coffee & Coconuts now houses cool, casual vibes and serves craft coffee, fresh coconut juice, and an abundance of healthy food options. 

The Pancake Bakery: Located in a converted, two-story warehouse, here you can devour both sweet and savory pancakes with beautiful canal views. 

More Shops 

Waterlooplein Market: Serving as the oldest flea market in Amsterdam, this market houses new and old treasures throughout its 300 stalls and is open six days a week. 

Sukha Amsterdam: Thanks to its calm, neutral color palette and flowy fabrics hanging throughout, this dreamy, design-forward store offers unique fair-trade finds. 

Store Without a Home: A hotspot for modern home decor and lighting, prepare to carve out plenty of time to meander around this oasis of eclectic homeware. 

More to See & Do 

The Architecture Centre of Amsterdam (ARCAM): Designed by René van Zuuk, this compact, sculptural building is conveniently located in center-city and offers remarkable tours and lectures on the history and future of Amsterdam architecture. 

The Anne Frank House: Dedicated to Jewish wartime diarist Anne Frank, this biographical museum allows visitors the intimate experience of walking the writer’s house. 

The Rijksmuseum: Located at the Museum Square—close to the Van Gogh Museum and the Stedelijk Museum—the Rijksmuseum is a Dutch national museum focused on the arts and history in Amsterdam.

Where to Stay

More Journey by Design: Mexico City; Marfa, Texas; Austin, Texas