Amsterdam has always been an important and cultural European city for centuries but the reasons why certainly differed over the years. Once upon a time, in the 1600s it was because of its association with art thanks to classicist painters like Rembrandt, Lievens and Vermeer settling in the Dutch capital. Fast forward 400 years and it still has a pivotal role to play in the world and history of art, one that you can certainly enjoy finding out about while staying in Amsterdam.
By far the best place to start exploring the history of art in Amsterdam is at the Rijksmuseum, which has several rooms dedicated to the most famous and influential Dutch painters and the collection of original Delft china is an unexpected charm. Though “The Girl with the Pearl Earring” is to be found down the road in Utrecht, many of Johannes Vermeer’s other iconic paintings are housed in the Rijksmuseum accompanied by an interesting explanation about how one of them was lovingly restored.
On the other side of Museum Square from the Rijksmuseum is the Van Gogh Museum, which is another crowd pleaser, so if possible, visit during the week to avoid the crowds. However, it’s still worth wading through floods of tourists for a chance to get up close to so many recognisable works of art crafted by such a complicatedly fascinating man.
To complete a worthy trio of classical art museums head slightly east to Rembrandthuis, where you will learn why Rembrandt is revered for how he and his contemporaries changed traditional portrait painting techniques. This house where he lived isn’t just a museum, it’s an insight, where he worked, how he lived and what he saw in the Amsterdam that surrounded him from 1639 to 1658. For other more traditional art and painting exhibitions be sure to also find out what’s currently showing at Hermitage Amsterdam.
If you prefer art in the shape of photographs then don’t leave Amsterdam without popping into Foam. With regularly changing exhibitions from some of the most renowned film and digital photographers, this is one of the best photography galleries in Europe and possibly beyond.
Amsterdam is also full of galleries showcasing modern and contemporary art, from sculptures to street art and among the best are ArTicks, Galerie Rademakers and Reflex Amsterdam. Another venue where you can find up to date offerings from local, national and international artists is The Garage, a canal-side gallery hosting temporary modern art exhibitions. As secretive as it is cool, you need to sign up to the newsletter in order to be in the know about their next event.
Art isn’t just to be found in museums and galleries; keep your eyes open around the streets of Amsterdam for the city’s equivalent of Banksy. Laser 3.14 is a street artist who spray paints thoughtful and random lines from his own poetry around the city.
For a true overdose of artistic Amsterdam ensure you time your visit with one of the city’s many art fairs and events, like the visual arts festival Kunst RAI Amsterdam in June or Art Amsterdam in September.
To book your own art filled escape to Amsterdam, click here to browse the range of holiday apartments, and feel like a local.
When travelling, sometimes there is nothing better than being treated like a local, and there is arguably no place better to experience this than Paris, France; a city which embodies the concepts of chic, à la mode and couture. From Kylie Minogue to Carrie Bradshaw, many women have lusted after la vie Parisienne. These tips serve as an excellent guide to achieving that during even a short stay in Paris.
French women have mastered many arts – looking impeccable (always) and pulling off three quarter length trousers better than most – but very near the top of that list comes shopping. Many of the world’s most elite fashion houses have long called Paris home like YSL, Chanel and Dior and it’s only too easy to get lost (and lose money!) in the grand department store Galleries Lafayette.
For second hand and vintage treasures be prepared to get up early and haggle for them as the locals do at the many flea markets and antique shops which make up the famous Les Puces de Saint-Ouen near Porte de Clignancourt.
Like many places in Europe, locals in Paris often don’t wander the boulevards to see things, they do so to be seen. However, it is possible to do both. Parisians regularly enjoy springtime strolls through Bois de Bolougne, they often indulge in summer pique-niques along the banks of the Seine and they will even take advantage of the city’s many museums.
During low season they explore the Louvre (knowing as the locals do that entry is free on the first Sunday of every month) and they regularly frequent en famille the best free museums like Musée Carnavaelt, Musée d’art moderne, Musée Cognacq-Jay and Maison de Balzac.
If you’ve ever wondered how Parisian women stay so trim, you may find the answer as you walk up the hill to Montmartre. Even the most aloof Parisians aren’t immune to the stunning views from the top, not to mention the beauty of the famous Basilica of Sacre-Couer, which looks down on all of Paris.
Walking up there will burn enough calories to justify a coffee and pastry (or one of the city’s famous macarons) at one of the many cafes in the nearby up and coming Abbesses. Another favourite locals walk is La Promenade Plantée, a raised garden walkway following an old railway line on Paris’ right bank.
One of the easiest ways to undo all this hard work down and reveal your true colours as a tourist is in the evening when searching for an aperitif and dinner. Tourist trap restaurants will pop up on most street corners in central Paris so instead hope on the metro to the colourful Latin Quarter (in the 5th and 6th arrondissement) where tourists are a minority and the only trap you will fall into is ordering too much food and wine.
If you survive that and with your bright red lipstick still in a perfect pout, I think it’s fair to say “Baby, you’re a Parisian woman now”. To book your own authentic stay in Paris, browse the range of holiday apartments, or share your own top tips in the comments below.
You could say that Amsterdam’s image is at something of a crossroads. In January 2013 new laws will stop Amsterdam’s tourists from legally buying cannabis related products in the city’s famous coffee shops.
So, will Amsterdam struggle to keep enticing hoards of visitors from all over the world? It is highly unlikely. Holland’s capital city has long offered visitors more than just space cakes, canals and bicycles. It’s a bubbling hub of modern art, cool coffee culture, elegant dining and chic shopping.
Tourists flock to Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum and with good reason, but an artistic dose of modern history can be found at world leading photography exhibitions at FOAM on Keizersgracht and World Press Photo in Oude Kerk (Old Church). Other unexpected but lovingly curated museums include the Museum of Bags and Purses, which houses the largest collection of handbags in Europe, the oldest dating back as far as the 17th century. If that didn’t offer enough glitz and glitter the Diamond Museum and its valuable collection of ladies’ best friends should feature in your itinerary.
And who says you need to go inside to admire art? If you’re lucky enough to be in Amsterdam when the sun is shining take a turn on two wheels or two feet around Vondelpark, which is home to a number of modern art sculptures.
Furthermore, in spring the park becomes a mini Keukenhof as tulips in a surprisingly number of varieties start to bloom.
One of Amsterdam’s most pleasant surprises is that there are truly great coffee shops in Amsterdam that do indeed just sell coffee. The best places to enjoy your daily grind are in Amsterdam’s central suburbs of Oud West (old west) or Oud-Zuid (old south).
The locals’ favourite De Koffie Salon on Constantijn Huygensstraat is visually beautiful inside and out, and luckily the interior design doesn’t dilute their commitment to a great espresso macchiato.
It may not be top of your list of things to do in Amsterdam but there’s a small Dutch company based in this city, which is taking over the world… of suits. Suit Supply combine Saville Row customer service (Would you like a coffee sir? Sparkling water, madam?) with excellent off the rack or bespoke tailoring at a prices which won’t knock you off your rented bike.
For the ladies, the western suburb of Jordaan area explains why the women of Amsterdam are so well dressed as the cobbled streets are dotted with charming vintage shops and uniquely chic boutiques.
It is a well-kept secret in foodie circles that Amsterdam has some of the best restaurants in northern Europe. Momo offers ladies who lunch a fine Asian fusion menu, cleverly crafted cocktails and exceptional service and make sure you book ahead for dinner at the stylish and award-winning Lion Noir, which will introduce you classic Dutch home-cooking in style.
Perhaps changes in the law will stem the flow of some visitors, but it should only encourage those who are keen to seek a little chic in Amsterdam. Book your own memorable break, and live like a local by choosing to book an authentic apartment in Amsterdam. Click here for details.
Photo Credits: Lambert Wolterbeek Muller, Amsterdamized, Bas van Gaalen, Michiel S, Fabio Venni, Erno Hannink, David van der Mark, Jack Amick, Anton and Janet, Gabriele Quaglia, Matthew Kenwrick and Javier Lastras.
You could never call Barcelona boring, but as one of the most popular city-break destinations in Europe it is well explored, well photographed and its many beautiful tourist sights are already well-known. However, there are some spots that have stayed secret known only by locals or by those travellers who go off the beaten search engine determined to find something special.
By all means explore Barcelona’s El Gotic area for the Gaudi, the Gothic and the grand old buildings towering above you, but be sure to also wander down the narrow alleyways where you’ll find equally beautiful buildings and fascinating museums like Museu Frederic Mares or Sala Pares featuring lesser known Catalan artists and greats.
Alternatively you can appreciate your art on the street as many of the closed shop shutters are used as canvasses by local graffiti artists.
If you must gaze on some Gaudi, stroll down Passeig de Gracia, which features some of Gaudi’s less appreciated work, his dramatically modernist lampposts.
Stepping away from the city, wander through the marina to Barceloneta, Barcelona’s man-made beach.
It may not be the most beautiful beach in Spain, but it does showcase some interesting sculptures like the spooky looking caged people, also known as A Room Where It Always Rains by Juan Muñoz and the famous “Olympic Fish” (El Peix by Frank Gehry).
A gentle word of warning, the furthest area of the beach is a popular nudist beach so you really might see more secrets in Barcelona than you bargained for there.
While Barcelona’s main road La Rambla is teeming with typical high street shops and the occasional tourist trap, to the north towards the trendier area of El Born you’ll find one-off boutiques selling handmade, pre-loved and artistic goods as well as a selection of cafes.
A few alleyways up is Mercat de Santa Caterina, the indoor market where mainly only locals buy their groceries or have a quick café y tostadas (coffee and toasted bread).
Markets and shopping aren’t everyone’s coppa di sangria and if liquid refreshment is what you’re after it shouldn’t be at the elevated cost of a tourist hot spot. Instead enjoy the well-hidden urban garden of El Jardi, an authentic Catalan ambience at Raim or for cocktails with both a kick and a killer view head up to W Barcelona hotel’s Eclipse bar, which offers sky-high views across the city and the sea.
Of course, to satisfy an appetite it’s only too easy to overdose on tapas in Barcelona, but you’d potentially be depriving yourself of experiencing some of Barcelona’s best restaurants. Why not grab a burrito by the beach at Casa Mexicana, some Vietnamese from Bun Bo or even a hamburger straight from 1950s America at Peggy Sue? However, if you didn’t come all this way not to eat Spanish food then check out paella specialists 7 Portes where you’ll be sitting on seats that have been graced by the bottoms of celebrities like Antonio Banderas and Woody Allen.
You see I was right. You really couldn’t call Barcelona boring. To book your own secret escape and discover the city like a local, browse the range of quality Barcelona apartments today.
On the surface, Berlin’s architecture is comprised of an eclectic collection of modern buildings. Large parts of Germany’s capital city were destroyed by air raids during World War II or demolished in the 1950s and 1960s to make way for reconstruction programmes. However, when you dig a little deeper, you will discover that there are centuries of history hidden in the sandy soil beneath your feet. The Berlin Underworlds association (Berliner Unterwelten) is engaged on an ambitious programme to unearth, explore and expose Berlin’s past.
By joining one of their guided tours, you can explore air raid shelters, command bunkers, subterranean escape tunnels and nuclear shelters, not to mention abandoned buildings, including an old brewery.
One of the most iconic symbols of the 20th Century was the Berlin Wall, which was constructed in 1961 and demolished in 1989.
While little of the wall remains, Berlin Underworlds has reconstructed seven of the escape tunnels that were built by East German citizens attempting to escape to the west. Citizens of East Berlin were prohibited from crossing over to West Berlin. Attempting to do so meant risking their freedom or even their life. A high level of subterfuge was required to outwit the Stasi, the notorious East German police force. Walking through these clandestine tunnels gives visitors an understanding of the enormous risks that fleeing East Germans were prepared to overcome to find freedom in the West. As part of the tour you will hear the fascinating stories behind some of the escape attempts, both successful and unsuccessful.
Other guided tours conducted by Berlin Underworlds allow visitors to compare and contrast the heavily fortified, complex bunker structures put in place by the Nazis during World War II with the nuclear shelters constructed during the Cold War in the 1980s, in preparation for the possible outbreak of World War III.
Formed in 1997, Berlin Underworlds now has 407 voluntary members from a variety of different backgrounds. Each member contributes a wealth of knowledge, skills and enthusiasm to the association’s inspiring programme of work.
The aim of the association is to restore as many underground structures as possible, opening them to the public to bring to life the history and culture of Germany’s capital city.
Through the summer months, there are two guided tours per day in English. Tours in other languages also take place regularly. Tickets can only be bought from 10.00am on the day of the tour, so our advice is to turn up early as they often sell out. It is best to take a pullover or jacket with you, as temperatures underground are always a little chillier than outdoors. For the Flak Towers, sturdy footwear and warm clothing is a must because the terrain is rough and the temperatures rarely get above 10 degrees Celsius, no matter how warm it in on the surface.
In 2011, Berlin Underworlds reached a key milestone, with the one millionth visitor touring their underground projects. With over 247,000 tourists exploring the subterranean structures during 2011, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep these captivating city secrets under wraps. To book your stay and discover the hidden sights of Berlin for yourself, browse the range of Berlin accommodation.