Travel review: Amsterdam - a city of culture, canals and cuisine

The world famous-Keukenhof tulip gardens ' a must-see in springtime.
The world famous-Keukenhof tulip gardens ' a must-see in springtime.
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Amsterdam is a city of fine culture, canals and cuisine. Tom Richmond sampled its springtime pleasures.

The symbolism is striking as the early evening sun shimmers on the waters of the Prinsengracht – Amsterdam’s very own Prince’s Canal. Under the beating sun in the early evening rush-hour, the only tailbacks are from the boats and cruisers waiting to negotiate one of the iconic bridges that define Holland’s capital.

It’s the same on dry land as pedestrians, and cyclists embrace the cafe culture and vibrancy that is so self-evident in one of the world’s most diverse, and inclusive, cities.

Archetypal Amsterdam, it’s also a spot where the past meets the present – I am standing outside the Anne Frank House where the Jewish wartime diarist, and her family, went into hiding.

The poignancy is palpable. As the 90th anniversary of Anne Frank’s birth approaches, it is hard to comprehend that the secret annexe above a canalside office still defines wartime persecution and resistance in Amsterdam – and the world’s struggle against fascism.

She, and her family, would have had no view of the canal as they sat in silence. “Will I ever become a journalist or writer?” she wrote before her family were ultimately betrayed. “I hope so, oh I hope so, because writing allows me to record everything, all, my thoughts, ideals and fantasies.”

What she would make of her city in 2018? Today Amsterdam is a truly diverse city of the world – its population of 850,000-plus citizens encompasses 180 nationalities. It is famed for its canals, culture and cuisine.

It’s also never been more accessible. KLM flights from Leeds Bradford or Humberside Airports mean visitors can be in Amsterdam in less than an hour.

The KLM connection is integral to the development of the Pulitzer Hotel, just a short stroll along Prinsengracht from the Anne Frank House and other attractions.

In 1960 Peter Pulitzer – grandson of Pulitzer Prize founder Joseph – was meeting KLM executives in Amsterdam when he had the vision to convert a network of canal houses into a hotel.

The result is five-star elegance and excellence like no other. Not one of the 225 rooms is the same – each has retained its character and identity from 400 years of heritage. My idyllic room with views of the canal used to be a silk shop.

Nothing is too much trouble at a hotel where the highest standards of craftsmanship, service, food and beverages prosper in a leafy oasis of tranquillity – the peaceful gardens in the heart of the Pulitzer are the perfect place to relax.

Yet the beating heart of Amsterdam should never be viewed as the beginning of the end of the journey to Holland. Quite the opposite. To paraphrase, it’s only the end of the beginning.

Amsterdam Marketing – which hosted this special trip alongside KLM – could not be more accommodating and is working tirelessly to persuade visitors to broaden their horizons and travel further afield.

To help, the I amsterdam City Card is, arguably, the best holiday purchase you will make. It affords free entrance to museums, a free canal cruise – and free public transport.

The cost in 2018? From 59 euros for a 24-hour pass to 98 euros for 96 hours – the equivalent of an euro an hour if you’re staying for four days. This, and the frequency and reliability of public transport, puts Britain to shame.

If you want to explore the beaches of Zandvoort, the historical city of Haarlem or the world famous Keukenhof tulip gardens if you’re visiting in the spring, a one-day ticket for Amsterdam and surrounding region costs 18 euros. Three days and its just 33 euros.

Yet, while the kaleidoscope of colour at the Keukenhof is open to the public springtime only, Holland is a country that takes great pride in its natural environment. With many houses, or apartments, not having gardens, its neighbourhoods and towns place a premium on their open spaces and parks.

This is self-evident in of Haarlem where its ancient buildings, cobbled streets and winding waterways are also home to a magnificent cathedral and museums dedicated to the Golden Age portrait painter Frans Hals who was born here.

Haarlem is a must – it has all the appeal of Amsterdam in a slightly less frenetic environment and yet it is still within touching distance of the capital and its suburbs which are also places not to be missed.

Places like De Pijp. Home to Heineken, this once working-class district – possessions had to be lifted into flats via hoists that can still be seen – is famed for its architecture, art, cafe culture and nightlife.

Authentic Amsterdam at its multicultural best, it is most famous for the Albert Cuypmarkt where vendors sell everything from fresh seafood, meat and cheese to flowers, clothes and jewellery.

And, in this city of contrasts, the Plantage district – home to the Hermitage Museum and other cultural attractions – was also the Jewish Quarter before 
100,000 people were taken to the Nazi death camps. They’re remembered by a memorial of six panels of broken glass – “never again on this spot will the sky be whole”. Today this area is home to Amsterdam Royal Zoo and Micropia museum which is undertaking cutting-edge research about microbes.

This is a city where you can’t go wrong. From Indonesian cuisine on the Restaurant Blue Pepper dinner cruise along the canals to traditional cheese and wine tasting, Anne Frank herself would find no shortage of inspiration in the Amsterdam and Holland of today.

A city where tourists, pedestrians and cyclists come before the car – Amsterdam is home to more bicycles than people – it’s quicker, and easier, to fly to the Dutch capital than it is to struggle from parts of this region to London.

That’s why I will be returning at the earliest opportunity – this visit to Holland, my first, exceeded expectations to such an extent that it definitely won’t be my last.

GETTING THERE

Tom Richmond travelled to Holland with KLM which operates flights to Amsterdam from 17 departure points across the UK.

Passengers can enjoy a city break in Amsterdam or connect via Amsterdam Airport Schiphol to KLM’s extensive network of worldwide destinations.

KLM operates three daily flights between Leeds-Bradford Airport and Amsterdam. Return economy fares start from £78, including taxes and charges. There are three daily flights from Humberside Airport, with return economy fares starting from £118.

Passengers can book online at www.klm.co.uk or by calling reservations on 0207 660 0293.