For the lucky Amsterdam visitor the many and varied attractions of this captivating and compact city are easily negotiated on foot, by water or by bicycle. Physically, Amsterdam is characterised by a distinctive network of picturesque intersecting waterways known as the canal ring, developed as part of the draining and reclamation of land during the Golden Age of the 17th century. This triumph of urban planning was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in August 2010. But Amsterdam is also the cultural, design and retail centre of the Netherlands with its many world-class museums, galleries and shops.
Sofitel Legend The Grand Amsterdam, the first Sofitel Legend hotel in Europe, has captured the elusive mix of outstanding contemporary accommodation while respecting the heritage of a landmark historic building. The Dutch Classical edifice is over 400 years old and was originally a convent and then, for many years, the Town Hall. In 1966 Princess Beatrix married Claus von Amsberg there in the Council Chamber. The site became a hotel when, in 1992, it opened as The Grand. In 2008 the premises underwent extensive renovations overseen by the French interior architect Sybille de Margerie, renowned for her work on the Hotel de Crillon in Paris, and reopened as a glorious synthesis of old and new incorporating both Dutch and French influences.
While wonderfully convenient to Amsterdam’s city centre, The Grand enjoys a peaceful location on the Oudezijds Voorburgwal, a beautiful canal featuring Amsterdam’s majestic canal houses. The heads of heads of state, celebrities and artists regularly grace the pillows of The Grand’s 177 guestrooms and 52 suites, which embrace the lovely view of the canal or the hotel’s enchanting courtyard garden. sofitel.com
From The Grand, the concierge can organize a private tour of the city however many of Amsterdam’s must-see attractions such as The Dam Square, Royal Palace with the nearby The New Church or De Niewe Kerk are just a short walk away. Also close by is the Nine Streets, or De Negen Staatjes, an outstanding shopping precinct.
Just across the Prinsengracht is Anne Frank House. Anne Frank was just 13 when she and her family went into hiding in 1942 during the World War II Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. The Jewish Frank family, along with the Van Pels family and Fritz Pfeffer, sheltered secretly in an annex behind the building at Prinsengracht 263 for more than two years until their betrayal on August 4, 1944. Anne died in the camp at Bergen-Belsen in March 1945. Through her diary the story of her short, tragic life has since become known to millions after her father first published it in 1947. The rooms of Anne Frank House are hauntingly empty but the original diary is on display along with historical documentation, photographs, film images and possessions of the people in hiding. It is a moving, sometimes harrowing, experience but sensitively done and not to be missed. To avoid crowds, visit in the evening during summer and/or buy tickets online. annefrank.org
The Van Gogh Museum houses the world’s largest collection of works by Vincent Van Gogh. It includes 200 paintings, 500 drawings and 700 letters by the troubled genius, as well as his collection of Japanese prints. Van Gogh’s works are organized chronologically into separate periods, each representing different stages of his life and work: The Netherlands, Antwerp, Paris, Arles, Saint Remy and Auvers-sur-Oise. There are also permanent works by other 19th century artists including Monet, Manet, Gauguin, Cezanne, Rodin, Picasso, de Toulouse-Lautrec and Pissarro. Nearby the relatively new Hermitage Museum, based on the St Petersburg collections, opened in 2004.
When it’s time to eat Momo Restaurant, Bar and Lounge is a fun spot for lunch, with its Asian fusion theme. It combines classic French bistro dining with Asian tastes, in a modern, adventurous atmosphere. Momo is on the ground floor of the Park Hotel within the fashion and museum quarter on the scenic Singelgracht canal, within close proximity to the city’s main attractions. momo-amsterdam.com
Amsterdam is a city of cyclists. It seems everyone here, young and old, rides a bike. There are many bike-riding city tours but take the opportunity to bike ride through Amsterdam’s, and possibly the Netherlands’s, most famous park, The Vondelpark. Landscape architect L.D. Zocher designed The Vondelpark in 1865 and it is now a national heritage monument.
Depending on budgets, there are many choices for canal cruises from the casual hop on/hop off Canal Bus (canal.nl/bus/en) to the more elegant fully restored 1910 saloon boat, Belle Epoque, ideal for a gentle sunset cruise. privateboattours.nl
It’s back to The Grand for dinner. Since reopening in 2010, Bridges Restaurant in The Grand is a far cry from its days as the canteen of the City Hall. With an emphasis on seafood complemented by seasonal and local organic produce under the mastery of French chef Aurélien Poirot, there is a distinctly French flavour to this magnificent dining experience. Sommelier Hans Tuin Hunen selects and serves a range of wine and vintage champagnes chosen from his impressive wine cellar haunt in the hotel’s Vinotheque at the rear of the restaurant. Sybille De Margerie drew much of her interior design inspiration from the vivid colours of the mural by Karel Appel that sits in pride of place at the entrance to the restaurant.
Emirates flies to Amsterdam from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth via Dubai, with economy fares starting from A$2,060 and business class fares starting from A$9,130.
When To Go
The most popular time to visit Amsterdam is between April and September, when the days are longer and temperatures are milder than during other months. The peak tourist season is July and August. However if you’re one of the growing numbers who favour off-season travel, you’ll find the city every bit as attractive during these months.
Where To Stay
Sofitel Legend The Grand Amsterdam
Address: Oudezijds Voorburgwai 197,
1012 Ex Amsterdam, Netherlands
Ph: +31 20 555 3111
Rates: Superior Room: A$457 per night, breakfast not included. Junior Suite: A$885 per night, breakfast not included.