Lovely girls riding bicycles along canals illuminated by Vermeer light. Cheese shops with gabled roofs and vivid orange awnings. Yellow tulips in glass bottles on tables in sidewalk cafés. This is the
Amsterdam of the Nine Little Streets — just one of the city’s many storybook neighbourhoods. (Even the infamous nearby Red Light District is getting a makeover — see “Tough Customers.”)
Home to designers like Viktor & Rolf and the up-and-coming Bas Kosters, Holland’s capital is in the midst of a style surge. ELLE shares the city’s top spots so that you can drink, dine, shop and spa like an insider.
Best spot for people-watching
Café Luxembourg (luxembourg.nl) This iconic institution offers everything you could want in an Old World café: a cool and eclectic clientele, an impressive selection of international newspapers on the polished wood bar and tall windows framed with crimson curtains that offer views of the beautiful people pedalling through Spui Square. Start your day here with the
International Herald Tribune and a quintessentially hearty Dutch breakfast: a croissant, toast and a crusty French roll with butter, jam and cheese, a boiled egg and a pot of strong coffee with cream.
Strangest concept hotel that actually works
Lloyd Hotel (lloydhotel.com) Located in the up-and-coming Eastern Docklands area, the Lloyd has been both an “immigrants hotel” (a place for penniless new arrivals to stay in Amsterdam) and a prison. Today, it’s a concept hotel that takes its artistic pretensions seriously, hosting frequent readings, concerts and screenings. But the hotel’s true masterpieces are the rooms themselves. With ratings ranging from one to five stars, the rooms have been designed with surrealist gusto. One boasts a four-metrewide bed that stretches the length of the space; another offers both a swing and a bed that hover a foot off the floor.
Most calming way to spend an afternoon
Sauna Deco The wainscotting and art deco stained glass found in this beautiful spa were rescued from Au Bon Marché in Paris, but the vibe is more relaxed than regal. Book the Beauty Day, which includes a luxurious facial, all the mint tea you can sip and access to the spa’s two saunas, steam room, plunge pool and outdoor terraces.
Most delicious (and affordable) lunch option
Bertram & Brood To really experience Amsterdam like a local, enjoy a gourmet picnic on the bank of one of the city’s 165 canals. At Hartenkaas, a boutique cheese shop in the Nine Little Streets, there are dozens of cheeses to choose from. (Pick up a freshly baked baguette too.) A few doors down, Bertram & Brood has been selling the city’s best
appelflap, a deep-fried pastry with sweet apples, since 1898.
Chicest place for a glass of Dutch beer
Brasserie de Joffers ( 31-020-673-03-60) Like the Café Luxembourg, this bistro has a distinctive European flair: Its outdoor tables and chairs face the street — all the better to admire the stylish passersby — the terrace is heated from above and silk pashminas are available in case there’s an afterdark chill. Inside, the ceilings are high, the fireplace mantels are laden with bouquets of pink and white tulips, and well-heeled patrons sip Grolsch and Amstel Light while they wait for their croque monsieurs and niçoise salads.
Best place to buy accessories
Hester van Eeghen Often cited as one of Holland’s most influential designers, van Eeghen is best known for the striking colour combinations she chooses for her exquisitely crafted leather work. The “Gloria Gainer” shoes, for example, are as colourful as the disco queen herself — a sunny mix of pink, green, yellow and blue that still manages to look ultra-chic.
Best place to admire accessories
This private museum isn’t just for Carrie Bradshaw fans; it features a fascinating scholarly collection of fashion history, with pieces from the Middle Ages (bridal bags, beadwork purses) to the brand-saturated present day. (Hermès’ Kelly and Birkin are both represented.) Once you’ve studied the 3,500 bags on display, head to the sunroom for the museum’s high tea — a suitably luxurious offering of scones with clotted cream and handmade bonbons.
Best place to browse
Mendo creates the experience of stepping into the private library of someone impossibly cool and cultured — Tom Ford, say, or Charlotte Gainsbourg. (And that’s how it should be when you bill yourself “the best creative bookstore in the world.”) The focus is on gorgeous coffee-table tomes — if you’re looking for the last word on fashion, art, design and travel, you’ll find it here.
Best niche shopping
Amsterdam is home to many niche stores (including one dedicated solely to toothbrushes!), but the Button Shop has to be the sweetest. It’s more art gallery than sewing studio and has buttons of every hue on display, along with necklaces, handbags and lampshades made out of the pretty, textured discs.
Top boutique for A-list designer labels
The P.C. Hooftstraat near the Rijksmuseum is Amsterdam’s best area for stand-alone designer shops (Chanel, Louis Vuitton), but
Van Ravenstein in the Nine Little Streets is the ne plus ultra of cutting-edge, fashion-forward labels. The carefully curated selection includes pieces from A.F. Vandevorst, Ann Demeulemeester and native sons Viktor & Rolf.
Top boutique for indie designer labels
Sky Fashion ( 31 020 320 00 81)
Fashion designer Lilian Konings offers Amsterdam’s best selection of cool-kid French labels (Isabel Marant, A.P.C.). Her own line, She Rebel (which she creates in collaboration with Peter Suers), has a similar brand of relaxed chic that features patterned leggings, tailored tunics and
beaucoup de plaid.
There has never been anything stylish about the Red Light District — a few square blocks delineated by neon, with half-naked women posing half-heartedly in windows as the pungent smell of hash drifts from the many legal drug bars. But the city is hoping that this is about to change. In 2007, it launched RedLight Fashion Amsterdam, a program that encourages fashion designers to move their studios and showrooms into the neighbourhood in an effort to add some glamour to the grit. So far, there are 17 participating couturiers, from Bas Kosters, who specializes in underground streetwear, to Jan Taminiau, whose avantgarde draped dresses are also shown in Paris.
For the latest in fashion, beauty and culture, sign up to receive ELLE's daily newsletter.