Famous for its tree-lined canals, cozy coffee shops and red-light district, the Dutch capital is also a centre for cutting-edge architecture and design.
Fashion designer Analik Brouwer, 36, outfits Amsterdam's artistic avant-garde -- body and soul. Her boutique and B & B showcase chic clothing, updated vintage furniture, home accessories, art and photography.
"Very laid-back -- it's a relaxed city where you can do anything you want," says Brouwer of the city's gezellig (friendly and informal) atmosphere. "What makes it interesting is that it has two streams running against each other -- the old-style Amsterdam that is quaint, and a new modern thing with lots of cool events like Amsterdam International Fashion Week in January and July."
The centre of Amsterdam is compact and easy to get around on foot or -- like the locals -- by bike. Don't miss out on the Hermitage Amsterdam and Van Gogh museums, Hortus Botanicus (one of the oldest botanical gardens in the world) and The Anne Frank House. You'll no doubt be charmed by the cobbled streets and colourful 17th-century townhouses, but don't be fooled into thinking this city is stuck in the past. The Dutch are happy to embrace all things daring and different. The Eastern Docklands area -- the Stedelijk Museum's temporary home -- has had an extraordinary makeover, with contemporary canal houses and housing developments, as well as the Bimhuis, a music theatre specializing in jazz, and the new wave-shaped cruise-ship Passenger Terminal designed by Larry Malcic.
"Everybody's really into fashion," says Brouwer. "The style used to be very casual, with lots of second-hand clothing, but now the younger crowd has made high- street fashion the main thing. Girls wear H&M and Zara -- it's almost a uniform of jeans and small jackets. The big names -- Cartier, Gucci, Louis Vuitton -- are on PC Hooftstraat." Van Ravenstein -- the only designer boutique in Amsterdam that stocks clothing by local designers Viktor & Rolf -- is on Keizersgracht. "But for me, the best place to shop is De Negen Straatjes, or The Nine Streets," says Brouwer. Crossing the three main canals, the lively neighbourhood is brimming with bakeries, galleries, cool cafés and fashionable shops. "One of my favourites is Lady Day, a great place for army jackets, sweaters and kimonos," says Brouwer of the famous vintage store with designer stash from the '50s, '60s and '70s. "And I always find really nice vintage pieces at Laura Dols -- beautifully constructed woollen winter coats, princess-style dresses, as well as little handbags and track suits."
What to bring
"Good shoes for walking, an umbrella and -- if you hire a car -- lots of coins to put in the parking meter. It costs a fortune if your car gets clamped!"
Analik's best list . . .
The Jordaan, a trendy former blue-collar neighbourhood, is home to one of the best markets in town: Noordermarkt. On Monday mornings, bargain hunters scour the open-air stalls for vintage fashions, furniture and fabric. Be sure to stop at Winkel for coffee and homemade appeltaart (Dutch apple pie).
Amsterdam is a great place to pick up eclectic home furnishings and one-of-a-kind designs. Part houseware haven, part designer collective, Droog & Co. exhibits work by local and international designers. The best part? It's all for sale. Head off the beaten track to Pol's Potten, a former cocoa-bean warehouse in the Eastern Docklands area that offers everything from lacquered birdcages to candle holders. "It's a big place filled with all the things you want to have," says Brouwer. "I always buy too much there!"
Get a taste of Amsterdam's multicultural vibe among the candles and copper-topped tables of Mamouche, a trendy Moroccan restaurant with a French twist. "There are all these old Moroccan men in the kitchen -- it's great classic food but with a lighter, more modern edge." Another riff on Parisian chic is Brasserie Harkema, a former tobacco factory in the theatre district that serves up unpretentious food like salads, steaks and grilled fish to an ultra-hip crowd.
Amsterdam has a number of "concept clubs" with bar, restaurant, lounge and dance floor. Current hot spots are Rain, with its minimalist Asian style, The Mansion, with its ostrich leather and gold-leaf walls, and the lime-and-viridian modern café-restaurant-nightclub 11. "Club 11 is one of my favourite places to watch the sun go down over the city from the wraparound windows," says Brouwer. After dark, it becomes a nightclub showcasing the hippest DJs, performers and video-art projects. Celebrities like Pharrell Williams and Brad Pitt head for the swanky club Jimmy Woo. "On some Mondays, they have jam sessions with young DJs," says Brouwer. If talent-spotting is your scene, sit in the balcony of the city's much-loved music hall, the Paradiso, and watch the action on the dance floor. "It's a really charming place, an old church. If you're lucky, you can see a band there just before they get really big," says Brouwer.
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