Still very much intact, Amsterdam’s central historic core is filled with landmark 17th- and 18th-century buildings, as well as some of the city’s finest shops and restaurants. This tour focuses on the southern quarter of the historic center.
Start at the (1) Amsterdam Historical Museum (Kalverstraat 92; www.ahm.nl), which tells the story of Amsterdam’s evolution from a small medieval settlement on the Amstel River to a 17th-century world power.
Walk through a series of small courtyards after exiting the museum and then right through the Schuttersgalerji, lined with Golden Age paintings of Amsterdam guilds. Continue walking to the end of the small street Gedempte Beginjnensloot. At the corner turn right through the wood door of the (2) Begijnhof (Begijnhof 30; www.begijnhofamsterdam.nl). This is one of the city’s secret gems—an oasis of 17th- and 18th-century gabled houses circling a village green, where unwed women and widows were charitably housed. Breathe in the tranquility.
Then walk through the Begijnhof’s southern entrance to the (3) Spui, a lively square crowded with bookshops, cafés, and students (many of the surrounding buildings are owned by the University of Amsterdam). Turn right through the square. Stop at the (4) Athenaeum bookshop (Spui 14-16; www.athenaeum.nl), which stocks a wide selection of global literature and fine arts books. Then walk past the statue of (5) Het Lieverdje just outside the shop, an Amsterdam urchin who is the mascot of the bohemian quarter. Pause for a drink at (6) the Café Hoppe (Spui 18-20). “It’s one of the oldest brown cafés in the city, and a good place to get traditional Dutch gin,” says Benjamin Draijer, manager, Café de Pool.
Proceed west and cross the Singel canal; then turn left on the (7) Herengracht, lined with particularly elaborate canal houses. Look up a the sculptures framing the neck gables on numbers 390 and 392, representing a man and woman connected by a sculpted cord, symbolizing their marital union.
Continue walking the long canalside block until you come to the Leidsestraat and then turn right and walk one block to the Keizersgracht. Turn right and stop for a meal at (8) Walem (Keizersgracht 449; www.cafewalem.nl), a stylish hangout, which dishes up the best beef carpaccio sandwich and smoked salmon plate in town.
Then turn left after exiting Walem and walk along the Keizersgracht for a block; turn right onto the (9) Nieuwe Spiegelstraat (www.nieuwespiegelstraat.com), a long, narrow street lined with Amsterdam’s best antique shops. “Try (10) Evert Zandvliet (Keizersgracht 543) for a good range of European portraits, silver, and antiques,” says Harald van de Goot, antiques dealer. Turn right upon exiting and you will see the (11) Rijksmuseum (Jan Luijkenstraat 1, www.rijksmuseum.nl) sitting at the end of the street, where the Rembrandts are waiting.