An Insider Guide to Amsterdam

In Europe’s culturally rich city of canals, vacation becomes an art installation.

By Kristin Donahue December 21, 2015 Published in the January 2016 issue of Portland Monthly

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For half the year, Amsterdam’s days are dark and drizzly. (Sound familiar?) But meanwhile, the city’s indoor spaces pulse in vivid color. Cafés, bars, and hotels welcome visitors with bright hues. Museums luxuriate in beautifully ornate buildings dating to the 13th century. And when the sun is shining, it shines upon the 165 canals that radiate through the city. In short, Amsterdammers nail their spaces, indoors and out.

Though the city retains an old reputation as a nucleus of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, visitors will quickly discover a different story. The famed coffee shops and Red Light District do exist, but they are far from the soul of this city. First established in the 12th century when fishermen built a bridge over the River Amstel, Amsterdam slowly became one of Europe’s most important shipping ports—with the trades and vices to match. But today, the city’s DNA lives in its eminently walkable streets, world-class Renaissance and modern art, innovative urban design, and gracefully offbeat culture.

Amsterdam houses more bikes (881,000) than residents (811,185), and with more than 16 million annual visitors it ranks as one of Europe’s most popular destinations. But with just about everything a scant 15-minute ride away, it feels like more of a biggish village than an imposing metropolis. So join the crowds and get lost in the city’s latticework of canals to gaze at the gabled houses, the bustling promenades, and the 1,200 or so bridges.


Delta launched its year-round service to Amsterdam in 2008. With daily service in the summer and less frequent flights in the winter, Amsterdam became Portland’s only year-round European direct destination, offering a strategic link to other European cites as well as to Africa and the Middle East. Due to the flight’s increasing popularity, Delta upped the ante in 2015 with daily flights through the winter months. The summer flight is so popular that Delta uses its largest trans-Atlantic aircraft from March through October.



Located in the heart of the city along Herengracht, one of the main inner-ring canals, the Hoxton is a new boutique hotel comprising five houses—once the home of Amsterdam’s mayor in the 17th century—with rooms boasting rustic-luxe touches like leather headboards and gilded light fixtures. From $95

Housed in a former tram depot, Hotel de Hallen is part of a complex that features a library, a cinema, boutiques, an indoor food market, an outdoor terrace, and a restaurant. Eclectic rooms come decorated with modern art and vintage Scandinavian furniture. From $105

The Student Hotel thoughtfully combines the concepts of dorms and hostels: some rooms are reserved for students and can be rented for up to a year, while the rest provide short-term lodging with artful design. From $53


The trendy Restaurant C, located next to the Student Hotel in Amsterdam’s old publishing district, organizes its menu by temperature. Expect everything from granitas garnishing ceviche (20 degrees Celsius), slow-cooked salmon with rice noodles (40 degrees), and fiery grilled meats (200 degrees).

The ArtDeli, in an old tobacco factory, is both restaurant and exhibition hall. Every three months, visiting Michelin-star chefs collaborate with designers to marry food with art. Make a reservation in one of five exhibition spaces to have a bite, grab a drink, and wander wide-eyed.


The Anne Frank House, Rembrandt House, Stedelijk Museum, Houseboat Museum ... the list of Amsterdam’s cultural institutions goes on. At the top of your list should be the Rijksmusuem, with countless masterpieces, and the Van Gogh Museum, housing the world’s largest collection of works by Dutch native son Vincent van Gogh.

Created over the centuries to stimulate trade and transport, Amsterdam’s 165 canals offer a lovely perspective on the city. Book a one-hour canal cruise with a local operator like Holland International, or opt for the “hop-on hop-off” service from Canal Bus and take the day at your own pace.

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Need a break from the city? Head out to the beaches of Bloemendaal or Zand-voort, or take a day trip to Haarlem, a lovely small city full of historical monuments and small museums.


Flight time: 10 hrs

Average Price: $1,380

Season: year-round

Aircraft: Airbus A330-300; Boeing 767-300ER

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