How To Spend It in... Amsterdam
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
My family moved to Holland from England when I was a child. I studied here in Amsterdam and I had my first house on the same canal in the Jordaan where we now have our design studio. The city still has something very alternative about it. You come across so many different kinds of people. In the 17th and 18th centuries, we were the most forward-looking country in the world, and seafaring brought in all these different cultures. It definitely still has that feeling. And it’s down to earth, compact and fun. As soon as I drive into Amsterdam, I feel a surge of energy.
Nowadays, my husband Thomas and I like to book a hotel in the city every once in a while. We sleep in a different hotel each time and go to little museums that we’ve never been to, or to a play, or to a neighbourhood we don’t know that well and try a new restaurant. It’s funny – maybe I just have a vivid imagination, but I can feel like a stranger in my own city that I’ve known for a million years.
One of the great small hotels is Rika. It’s actually a clothes brand, but the owner has a nicely done room that you can stay in above her shop. On the grand side of things, a hotel I really like – I’ve done a lot of collaborations with them – is the Conservatorium. It has a spa and an indoor pool, and it’s in a historic building in the museum district. Because my background is in sculpture, they’ve had large installations of mine there. Sometimes I’ll stay there with a friend, particularly in winter if we want to just snuggle in for a night and have a good massage and a swim. I also love the Pulitzer, which is opposite our studio on the Prinsengracht. It has one of those really beautiful antique saloon boats with a little bar that’s super cosy to sit in on a rainy night with all the candles lit.
Soho House has the best spread for breakfast, especially at the weekend – a beautiful buffet with everything you can imagine which will reopen once restrictions are over. I love the atmosphere and we always run into a million people we know. At the weekends, we’ll make it into a half-day thing and go to the movies with the kids.
What I love about Amsterdam is that as soon as the weather turns, everything that floats goes out onto the canal. People have constructed all sorts of unusual craft: I’ve seen little wooden boats in the shape of clogs, and sofas with a motor behind, balancing on a raft – and others take out water bikes. There’s also a musical boat that you can rent for a party. It’s tiny, and the man who owns it has all these instruments hanging from it – maybe 30 of them. He even built a small organ on there. That, for me, is the definition of Amsterdam.
Prices are for a double room, where applicable
Conservatorium conservatoriumhotel.com, from £394
Maison Rika rikastudios.com, from €300 (currently closed due to Covid-19)
Pulitzer pulitzeramsterdam.com, from €304
Soho House Amsterdam sohohouseamsterdam.com, from €180
RESTAURANTS & BARS
Prices are for three courses and half a bottle of wine, where applicable
Breda bredagroup-amsterdam.com, from €52.50
Brut de Mer brutdemer.nl, from €34
Van Dobben vandobben.nl, from €1.75 for sandwiches
Duke of Tokyo dukeoftokyo.com, from €12 for karaoke
SITES & SHOPS
Albert Cuypmarkt albertcuyp-markt.amsterdam
Anne Frank House annefrank.org
Azzurro Due azzurrodue.com
Bibi van der Velden Studio bibivandervelden.com
Menno Kroon mennokroon.nl
Museum Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder opsolder.nl
Stubbe’s Haring Singel 1013 GA, Amsterdam
Tom Ensink +3120-662 5635
HOW TO GET THERE
Eurostar (eurostar.com) goes from London, from £78 return
My family keeps an antique boat on the Achtergracht, a small canal off the Amstel. I find it’s a really good way of experiencing the city, because you see things from an angle you can’t get when you’re on a bike or walking the streets – things like the gargoyles on the roofs. Amsterdam is one of those places where people will make a roof garden out of three square metres.
Dutch cuisine involves a lot of mashed potatoes; there’s nothing that I would especially recommend to people for dinner, but there are definitely some traditional experiences that I really like. Having a fresh herring, for instance, which you traditionally eat upside down, holding its tail. There’s a good food stall, Stubbe’s Haring, that sells them on the bridge across Singel, near to Centraal Station. Lots of people have an impression of herring from how the Scandinavians eat it: really tough and pickled. But if you have a good one and it’s fresh, it’s like eating sashimi.
Van Dobben is another landmark spot. You sit on a stool at the bar under harsh lighting and eat broodjes, which are like buns or sandwiches, with tartare and onions – that’s a typical Dutch way to have lunch. Or you have croquettes, which are super-Dutch; they’re like a deep-fried veal-stew sausage, which you eat with mustard on a sandwich. They sound awful but they’re actually very nice. Van Dobben is one of those places that everyone in Amsterdam knows. You’ll see famous people there who want to get a quick snack, as well as Dutch aristocrats.
Breda, on the Singel canal, is one of my favourite restaurants. It’s a place that hasn’t tried to be hip or oversell the interior. It’s a set menu and you can choose how many courses, but five, six or seven at least. Another place I really like is Brut de Mer, a tiny fish restaurant on a square in the Pijp that has amazing oysters. It’s nice to sit on the terrace in the evening – it’s a very buzzy neighbourhood. I always buy flowers from a guy who has a market stall in the Pijp. He has fantastic amaryllis and lots of typical Dutch flowers that are more like wildflowers, as well as fantastic peonies when it’s the season. I’m not such a tulip lover, but my most recent collection, Memento Mori, which is based on 17th-century Dutch still-life paintings, featured really big, wilting parrot tulips, with insects eating away at the decay and laying new eggs. It’s about the cycle of life.
The Cornelis Schuytstraat area also has a beautiful flower shop called Menno Kroon, along with a good fruit and vegetable store, Tom Ensink, that we call “the vegetable jeweller” because it’s not cheap – but they have amazing things. A short walk away is another shop I love called Azzurro Due, which is owned by a friend of mine who has a very good eye. I bought a Valentino bag there that I love, and a thick Celine turtleneck that I practically live in. Skins is another great store, but for beauty products. It sells my favourite perfume, Mister Marvelous by Byredo. Another place we go to a lot, often with our team from the studio, is the Duke of Tokyo on Reguliersdwarsstraat. They’ve built a Japanese street scene indoors, so you have the feeling that you’re walking outside. It has a great bar – you drink Japanese beer – and there are all these different rooms you can rent for karaoke. It’s so much fun. Typically, we’ll go on until two in the morning, when no one can speak any more because of all the singing.
Near Brut de Mer is the big market, the Albert Cuyp. I love to get fresh stroopwafels there – the famous caramel cookies, like very thin waffles. You can get big warm ones too. And then the other thing is to eat a pointed bag full of Dutch chips as you’re wandering around. They’re thicker than normal fries, and you have them with a dollop of really creamy, sour-ish mayonnaise on top.
Our biggest art museum is the Rijksmuseum. Normally, they organise a lot of events there. I’ve had a dinner party under De Nachtwacht [The Night Watch] by Rembrandt. They had a beautiful concert by a Dutch musician called Joep Beving. He’s this huge guy with a big beard, and he was crouched behind this delicate little piano in the Gallery of Honour, where they have the Vermeers and Rembrandts, playing achingly beautiful music.
I also love the museum called Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder – Our Lord in the Attic. It’s a hidden church in a 17th-century house that belonged to a rich merchant. At the time, you weren’t allowed to practise Catholicism, but Amsterdam being Amsterdam, people had hidden churches, like this one. You reach it by going through the house and up into the attic, which is really high, with a beautiful altar.
And of course, the other place that is so special and so connected to Amsterdam is the Anne Frank House. My family actually owned the building, but they donated it to the city. I also have my own gallery/studio in the Jordaan, where I create a mix of sculpture and jewellery. I’m currently doing a collaboration with a ceramic artist and we’re making huge necklaces with ceramic beads, which anyone can come and see.
When we need a break from the city, it doesn’t take long to get outside Amsterdam and into nature. On a nice day you can take a bike for a short ride and soon you’re in a beautiful forest. You’ve got the fields and the cows, and meadows with lots of wildflowers. If it’s really warm, we take the boat out to where all the river plains are, throw the anchor and dive into the Amstel.