The Dutch capital may be famed for its postcard-perfect canal houses, but look beyond the waters of the famous grachtengordel and you’ll find all manner of architectural delights, from the art deco to the avant-garde.
Amsterdam’s modern art museum, the Stedelijk, may be less famous than its neighbours the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum, but its architecturally adventurous extension certainly made a splash when it landed on Museumplein in 2012. Nicknamed “the bathtub” for obvious reasons, this pristine new wing designed by the Dutch architect Mels Crouwel now houses a dazzling array of highlights in art and design from 1880 to the present. In fact, the new wing itself is something of a who’s-who of contemporary Dutch architecture – the Rotterdam-based firm OMA designed the coated-steel fittings that display works by Barnett Newman and Piet Mondrian to high-impact advantage.
Dwarfing everything in its vicinity, including the floating-city cruise ships making their way to dock, REM Eiland is an enormous wrought iron rig rising 80 metres from the waters of the IJ river in the unpronounceable industrial neighbourhood Haparandadam. Originally devised as a loophole-exploiting broadcast facility for pirate television stations in the 1960s, the huge red-and-white structure was dismantled in 2006 and towed from its original North Sea location to Amsterdam, where, five years later it has reopened as a blustery eatery serving modern Mediterranean food alongside incredible panoramic views over the city’s industrial suburbs.
As a rule, the Dutch aren’t massive fans of shopping malls, but they make an exception for Magna Plaza, an architectural gem of a retail destination hiding in plain sight right in the middle of Amsterdam. Originally conceived by 19th-century architect Cornelis Peters as the main post office for the city, nowadays its grand neo-gothic stairwells have been supplemented with glass ceilings and escalators for a thoroughly dazzling shopping experience. As you’d expect for a building with such airs and graces, the stores here are decidedly upscale, with international brands such as a Lacoste and Swarovski rubbing shoulders with independent boutiques.
A truly kid-friendly science museum, NEMO eschews exhibits in favour of hands-on trickery, gadgetry and tomfoolery (in English and Dutch): you can play DNA detective games, blow mega soap bubbles or explode things in a “wonder lab”. Still, the building is something of a glorious experiment in itself – a ship-shaped behemoth surrounded by water on three sides. Designed by the Italian engineer and architect Renzo Piano in the late 1990s, it doubles as an “urban beach” – at the first sight of clement weather, Amsterdammers of all stripes grab a drink and make for its sun-trap roof. Proost!
Is it a boat? Is it a shark? Rising from the depths of the IJ (the body of water that stretches out behind Amsterdam Centraal Station) the dazzling angularity of the EYE Filmmuseum really put the post-industrial district of Amsterdam-Noord on the cultural map when it appeared here in 2012. These days it’s a much-loved hive of celluloid-related activity, hosting red-carpet film premieres and esoteric film festivals with the cinematic sweep of the waterfront as its majestic backdrop. Check out the free-to-access permanent collection of exhibits relating to the Dutch film industry, catch a screening in one of the state-of-the-art cinemas or just enjoy a coffee in the light-flooded restaurant and watch the action float by.
Even if your pockets aren’t deep enough for a stay at the fabulously ritzy five-star Conservatorium Hotel, it’s worth a detour through its fragrant shopping galleria, which is home to discreetly luxe stores such as the Skins cosmetics trove. In past lives, this building just shy of Amsterdam’s Museum Square has been both an elite music school and a bank, and vestiges of high finance in the Art Nouveau wall tiles, which reference money and growth. The show-stopper, though, is the glorious, light-flooded glass atrium by designer Piero Lissoni, which makes a feature of the original building’s warm-hued brickwork. Take a coffee in the bustling brasserie and gaze up at the astonishing suite that’s suspended in mid-air.
One of the Oud-West district’s architectural treasures – a glass-roofed Victorian depot for the maintenance of the first electric trams – has been reborn as De Hallen, a rain-or-shine community centre with an indoor food market at its heart. Inspired by similar gastronomic destination in Copenhagen, London and Madrid, FoodHallen attracts locals and tourists of every age and persuasion with 20-plus food stands to choose from. Our advice? Start with a sizeable G&Ts from the gin bar, accompanied by truffle bitterballen from De Ballenbar, which specialises in tarted-up versions of the spherical Dutch staple. Also recommended are The Rough Kitchen’s ‘hot pigs’, Shirkan’s Indian tandoori lamb wraps, Viêt View’s rice-paper rolls and Petit Gâteau’s yuzu meringue tarts.