It’s definitely a matter of opinion which the prettiest area of Amsterdam actually is. Some people prefer the ancient medieval centre with it’s dancing houses and narrow buildings, some love to wander the three canal belts of the Golden Age, but for me the most beautiful and elegant part of the city is the Museum Quarter. The first time we ventured up to this area it felt like we discovered an entirely different Amsterdam.
From the centre of Amsterdam you can walk straight up to the Museum Quarter, but I prefer to do this walk back into the city centre. Instead, take a canal boat up to the starting point at the Rijksmuseum, which gives you an entirely new perspective of the area from the water.
Floating into the Museum Quarter, you will notice the canals get wider, and are lined by beautiful greenery and drooping willow trees. Vondelpark isn’t far away, and you’ll also find yourself sailing past the enormous houseboats that line the banks.
You can’t help but be impressed by the Rijksmuseum as it looms above you, but there’s plenty time to enjoy it later, so make sure you don’t miss the equally breathtaking mansions on the opposite side of the canal.
This one is my favourite, it reminds me of the ice cream parlous at Disney World with the yellow and cream canopies.
The mansions are huge, with gardens leading down to the canal, and their private boats moored up at the side.
Walking up towards Rijksmuseum you realise how massive it is. The tulip gardens (depending on the time of year) surround the main walk up to the entrance, which you have to reach by going through the building.
The archways are similar to those found at Amsterdam Centraal, given that it was designed by the same architect. I’ve never been inside Rijksmuseum, I have to really want to see an exhibition to go inside museums, I prefer to admire them from outside.
Coming through to what is actually the back of the museum, you find the famous IAmsterdam sign – good luck getting anywhere near without a million other people spoiling your pic – and the giant fountain that spreads out down towards the museumplein itself.
There are plenty cafes and shops nearby to get refreshments if you need them, on the hot day I was there both people and dogs were throwing themselves into the fountain to cool off.
The Museumplein is the generous stretch of grassland found in the middle of Amsterdam’s three main museums. The Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh museum and the Stedelijk. Again I’ve never been in any of them, but if you’re into that type of thing then you could easily spend a full day exploring all the corners of each museum.
The only museum I have entered is off to the right, the MOCO museum.
The MOCO Museum isn’t big, especially next to the grandeur of the Rijksmuseum, it looks more like a house. On my last visit to Amsterdam I made a beeline for it though, as it was showing a Banksy exhibition. It was full of Banksy’s prints (sometimes people don’t really he isn’t just a graffiti artist, he does actually do prints and stencils as well), and there was even some recovered rubble and artefacts that were originally graffiti’d walls and street signs.
A full post on how amazing this exhibition was is coming your way soon so I’ll save most of the details.
After you’ve taken in all the museums or seen any exhibitions, I mentioned earlier the walk back into the city. This is my favourite part of every visit to the Museum Quarter, and I find it way more interesting than the museums themselves. Yes the museums are very impressive, but in Amsterdam it’s the street buildings and boutique shops that really bring it to life and give it character.
Come back through to the front of the Rijksmuseum, and cross the bridge of the canal where you got dropped off. The bridge is called Musembrug, and once crossed you’re in what feels like a story book. The streets are narrow, but so quaint, and the canal running alongside you is so pretty.
The buildings all have their own character, with more colourful canopies over the windows of cafes, big blooming hanging baskets from the street lamps, and so many antique clocks jutting out over their boutique shop entrances.
It reminds me a bit of Portobello Road in London, but also totally not at all as there’s no mistaking those Dutch buildings. It’s such an affluent area, with expensive art galleries, collectors and jewellers taking up most of the retail space nearest to the museum.
As you walk further down Spiegelgracht, the galleries and collectors turn into quirky boutiques and antique shops. You’ll find all sorts in the windows, from risky looking attire, to art that attracts a lot of attention.
Every time I walk around here I look for the chocolate paintings. They look good enough to eat straight off the canvas.
There’s also a bit of Banksy dotted about, and there were huge crowds stopping to look in this gallery window at the Bowie print. Underneath it you can just about see an photos of John Lennon and Yoko when they stayed in Amsterdam.
It’s a very sophisticated area, and the galleries slowly turn into more jewellers, and leather shops selling expensive handbags and shoes. Take your bank card!
The residential houses dotted about, mainly in the side streets off from Spiegelgracht are all incredibly well looked after, and a bit like Notting Hill, they seem to compete each other for the most decorated exteriors.
As well as some fancy looking restaurants and chocolatiers, there are plenty of little casual cafes too. The busiest are always the ones on the canal and street intersections, right on the corner with views overlooking both the streets and the canals.
I tend to avoid these ones, but Stef’s Cafe was perfect for a quick bite and a drink in the middle of a hot day. Stach is another one good if you’re on the go, with giant cookies and crumbling meringue’s piled high in the window.
This straight walk back through the canal belts and into the centre of Amsterdam can take you as little or as long as you like. It always takes me ages, as there’s so much to see and so many shop windows to peer in to. The people are eccentric and fabulous, and definitely watch out for all the cyclists that come flying down dinging their bicycle bells for you to leap out the way.
While this might not be something you get up to on your first few days visiting Amsterdam, especially if it’s your first visit, it is absolutely my favourite area of the city and you really should try and see it just by wandering through if you have to. So many people rush from one museum to the next, and then on to the next sight that they don’t realise the best parts are in the streets between.
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