Amsterdam is one of the most visited capitals in Europe, and rightly so. It has some of the world’s best art museums, beautiful architecture, the solemn legacy of Anne Frank, and of course the famous De Wallen red light district and certain coffee shops.
Amsterdam is a very accessible city break in Europe and most of the Dutch capital’s charms are to be found on and around the water. I have visited the Netherlands in all four seasons now and Springtime is my favourite, when the trees lining the canals are lush with bright green new leaves.
Whether viewed from a bicycle, from a boat, on foot or from the doorway of a Brown Café, watching the sun sparkling on the water and the curve of a stone bridge out of the corner of your eye will be an enduring memory of the Dutch capital.
The network of 17th century canals that form the heart of Amsterdam are a Unesco World Heritage Site and, along with the tall and distinctive buildings that line them, were a hubbub of trade and commerce during the Dutch Golden Age.
The four concentric half-circles of canals were originally used for defence, transport and water management but nowadays people (and pets) take to the water for pleasure.
And a whole community of people live right on the water in houseboats. Apparently thousands of them! Some in old, converted cargo ships and some in made-for-purpose houseboats.
Shining wood and gleaming brasswork give these old ships a very romantic image that is probably far from their original workhorse life.
Many have put a lot of effort into maintaining elaborate gardens, with plants growing in profusion along the canalside and on board.
Trees, flowers, temples; you don’t want for much living on a houseboat. This style of living was particularly in vogue in the 60s and it shows.
One thing you’ll see fluttering from many boats is the three black St Andrew’s crosses of the Amsterdam flag. The design has its origins in the city’s coat of arms and the black stripe apparently represents the River Amstel. (You’ll also see the flag worn as an armband by the captain of Amsterdam football giants Ajax FC.)
Staying on a houseboat – many are used as hotels or B&Bs – is a unique way of experiencing Amsterdam on the water.
By Natasha von Geldern