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Living the high life in Amsterdam

Over the past decade, the capital of the Netherlands has undergone a major makeover in an effort to leave behind its racy reputation in favour of five-star hotels, exciting exhibits and a host of homages to its history. Amy Laughinghouse picks the city’s best new attractions

Five-star luxury. Creative cuisine. Innovative fashion and design. These aren’t the sort of enticements that typically spring to mind when you think of Amsterdam.

But the city is making an effort to leave its racy reputation behind and lure tourists with a taste for a different sort of “high life.”

Over the past decade, Amsterdam has invested €10-billion (about $14-billion) in cultural offerings, including renovations to the Van Gogh Museum, the Stedelijk Museum of modern art and the Rijksmuseum, home of Rembrandt’s masterpiece The Night Watch.

Today, the Netherlands’s capital encompasses 44 museums, 55 theatres and performance halls and more than 1,300 restaurants capable of satiating the most ravenous attack of the munchies. Even alleyways are getting a makeover.

Here are our top picks for Amsterdam’s best new attractions, including this winter’s festive holiday events.

Haute cuisine

Amsterdam’s foodie scene is a culinary constellation of sophistication these days. At the Dec. 12 launch of the 2017 Michelin Guide to the Netherlands, Amsterdam earned three new stars – one each for Bolenius, Mos and Rijks – bringing the city’s total count to 21.

For superb seafood, check out the one-star Bridges at Sofitel Legend the Grand Amsterdam. For veggie-centric fare with flair, try Vork & Mes, which Michelin dubs “a particularly pleasant restaurant,” or wrap your tongue around the “flexitarian” victuals at Swych, a new eatery at one of Amsterdam’s oldest hotels, the Doelen.

Jordaan food tour

Combine an appetite for architecture, history and traditional nibbles which embrace the savoury contributions of the Netherlands’s erstwhile colonies on an Eating Amsterdam walking tour of the hip Jordaan neighbourhood. You’ll visit eight proprietors, who dole out Dutch treats such as puffy poffertjes pancakes, herring, baka bana (fried plantain with satay sauce from Surinam), deep-fried bitterballen (flour-coated balls, usually filled with meat) washed down with a local brew.

Puffy poffertjes pancakes are among the dishes you’ll taste on an Eating Amsterdam walking tour of the hip Jordaan neighbourhood

Guide Jelte van Koperen ensures you get your fill of interesting facts, as well. He explains, for instance, that canal houses lean forward by a few degrees to make them look taller – and not because drunken builders had indulged in too many pints of India Pale Ale, which, as van Koperen can tell you, originated with Dutch merchants who added extra hops to their beer to keep it fresh on journeys to India.

A’DAM Lookout

The A’DAM Lookout, which opened in May across the IJ River from Amsterdam Central train station, offers a new way to get high. The tower’s rooftop terrace, Lookout, boasts 360-degree views, but the main attraction is a pair of metal swings that extend over the edge of the building. As your legs dangle nearly 330 feet in the sky, there’s nothing but air between you and the city below.

You’re going to need a drink after that (or, perhaps, before), and A’DAM Lookout is not short on options. Sip on a cocktail from Madam as you explore multimedia exhibits about Amsterdam, reserve a table at Moon revolving restaurant or head to the Butcher Social Club on the ground floor, which serves “bloody delicious burgers” in a lounge-like atmosphere kitted out with a billiard table, pinball machines and video games.

The A’DAM Lookout in Amsterdam boasts 360-degree views and a pair of metal swings that extend over the edge of the building.

If you don’t want to wobble back across the river afterward, book a room at the just-launched Sir Adam hotel. It’s got a chic, minimalist aesthetic and a music theme which extends from a “disco elevator” to in-room records and turntables and a “room service menu” of guitars which you can play during your stay. adamtoren.nl

Pulitzer Amsterdam

In September, the Pulitzer Amsterdam – a 225-room, five-star hotel flanked by the Prinsengracht and Keizersgracht canals – emerged like a butterfly from an 18-month chrysalis of renovation. Housed within a luxe labyrinth of 25 interconnected 17th-century buildings, the property occupies an enviable position in the Nine Streets, a neighbourhood packed with one-of-a-kind boutiques and restaurants.

The Pulitzer Amsterdam, a 225-room, five-star hotel, occupies an enviable position in the Nine Streets, a neighbourhood packed with boutiques and restaurants.

Jacu Strauss – whose recent projects include the Mondrian London in the old Sea Containers building along the Thames – oversaw the top-to-toe transformation, creating a clever mix of modern art and antiques that pays homage to Amsterdam’s history. In lieu of a chandelier, the new double-height entrance features a grand piano suspended from the ceiling, in recognition of a classical concert the hotel co-sponsors each year. In the lobby, massive wooden ceiling beams and reception desks encased in Delft tiles accompany swathes of velvet drapes and sleek upholstered sofas, a nod to the riches wrought during Amsterdam’s Golden Age of trade. New glass hallways connect the two main wings, offering views onto a quartet of courtyard gardens.

The Pulitzer has also introduced a casual café, Pause, and the elegant Jansz, providing fine-dining throughout the day. Pulitzer’s Bar is dark and seductive, with Persian rugs, cozy seating and bookshelves filled with antique leather tomes.

Every room is different, although each includes thoughtful touches such as a bicycle-repair kit, a specially designed desk that converts into a dressing table and a wooden headboard with a silhouette echoing Amsterdam’s distinctive rooftops. For a treat, book the expansive Pulitzer’s Suite, with its super-king-sized bed, or one of four new Collector’s Suites, each of which is devoted to a different creative passion: art, antiques, music and books.

Holiday Happenings

The Amsterdam Light Festival, now in its fifth year, brightens up the night with whiz-bang illuminated installations along the canal belt. Through Jan. 22, you can board a “Water Colours” boat tour to view 20 sculptures, ranging from a neon rainbow to Day-Glo tulips. For more seasonal cheer, check out the outdoor ice-skating rink (through Feb. 5) at the Museumplein facing the Rijksmuseum.

X-Bank

This 700-square-metre concept store, located in a former bank, is completely devoted to Dutch design. Spend as little as €7 on wine-flavoured candies or as much as €1,700 on a black leather dress from Blck. You’ll also find art installations, bicycles, liqueurs, lacy lingerie and everything in between.

Save time for a drink at the Duchess, the glamorous bar and restaurant next door. Here, senior bartender Wouter Bosch serves up a dangerously more-ish punch, as well as philosophic punchlines (ahem).

Beurspassage

If you’ve ever wondered what lies beneath the surface of Amsterdam’s ubiquitous canals, skip the dip and take a stroll through the Beurpassage. The barrel-vaulted alley, which opened in December, connects Nieuwendijk and Damrak, but it’s more than a shortcut between two of Amsterdam’s busiest shopping streets. It’s a 30,000-square-metre artwork that serves as a witty tribute to this multifaceted city, where cast-off items form a sort of primordial soup within the aquatic melting pot of the canals.

Artists Hans van Bentem, Arno Coenen and Iris Roskam have incorporated elements such as a red stiletto (a winking reference to the red-light district) within the intricate mosaic ceiling, a green glass wall sconce in the shape of a flaming spliff and gilded chandeliers comprised of bicycle parts, thousands of which are hauled out of the canals every year. “We were not afraid of clichés,” van Bentem grins. You can even drink from a fish-shaped water fountain, dispensing what van Bentem calls “Amsterdam’s tolerance elixir.”

Museum Van Loon

Passersby can’t resist peeking in the windows of historic homes lining the canals, but Museum Van Loon offers an eyeful with rare, behind-closed-doors access to a 17th-century mansion that once belonged to a founder of the Dutch East India Company. Filled with 18th-century furnishings and portraits of stern-looking ancestors, with a manicured garden and renovated coach house at the back, the estate has welcomed key players on the world stage, from Vladimir Putin to François Hollande.

“We don’t cut off the rooms with ropes, and there’s no audio guide,” says director Tonko F. Grever, who wants visitors to feel at home. museumvanloon.nl

Otentic Perfumes

Follow your nose to Otentic, one of only three outlets in the world where you’ll find these exotic perfumes, produced in Grasse, France. At the light and airy shop, which opened in April, you can sample more than 64 unisex scents, which are divided into various “mood” categories, from Grasslands (“earthy and spicy”) to Sedux ("sweet and fruity”). Touchscreens offer detailed descriptions of each, and bulb-bottomed vials allow you to take a sniff before you spray.

Nieuwe Kerk

Amsterdam’s “new church” actually dates to the 1400s, but it does embrace a novel concept. Since 1980, this neo-Gothic landmark has served as an exhibition centre, focusing mainly on biographic showcases.

Through Feb. 5, the former church is hosting a retrospective dedicated to Marilyn Monroe. Highlights include a documentary about the iconic blonde bombshell, costumes and scripts from some of her most popular films, and intimate artifacts, including cosmetics, hair curlers and a bottle of her favourite perfume – “Chanel No. 5, of course.”

The writer travelled as a guest of iamsterdam.com. It did not review or approve the article.

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