Though its winding canals and quaint façades are steeped in historic charm, Amsterdam has recently begun a notable push toward more modernity. New museums strengthen assert a new focus on contemporary arts, of-the-moment chefs bring fresh flavors to the table, and even those iconic canals are now being approached from new directions (locavore cruises, anyone?). Here, a few new ways to see old Amsterdam.
1. Get an elevated view
A city of homes, Amsterdam’s skyline mostly tops out at just four stories (plus an attic). But across the IJ River in the newly bustling North Amsterdam, a repurposed 22-story building stands tall under a new name, A’DAM Toren. Now open to the public, the single structure represents many options — a hotel, nightclub, and several restaurants — but its high-point is the A’DAM Lookout. The 360-degree open-air observation deck overlooks the historic city from a higher post than ever before, affording a full view of Amsterdam’s harbor and the rest of the city's iconic, fanned layout. Sky-high swings were unveiled in last month, perched on the building’s edge and pushing visitors over 22 stories high.
2. Swap frites for fusion
In the past, local flavors were touristy indulgences, from Belgian frites to stroopwafels (though both are as delicious as they are ubiquitous). Today, Amsterdam’s creative chefs hit more complex notes in newly opened kitchens, riffing on a breadth of cuisines from Bangkok’s street food to trendy burger joints and brasseries. Chief among them, Jansz., which overlooks a canal and features elegant brass accents and classic fare with a global zeitgeist. Dishes include a wedge salad with pork belly instead of bacon and a hanger steak with a side of Jerusalem artichokes rather than potatoes. Meanwhile, popular restaurant Happyhappyjoyjoy has opened a second location in order to feed the frenzy for its playful take on pan-Asian, and third-wave coffee still ripples throughout the city at spots like Black Gold, whose owner spins records from his personal collection while you sip.
3. Take a contemporary canal tour
The canals cannot (and should not) be missed, but they can be seen in new ways. For starters, the Museum of the Canals has designed an interactive exhibit with a sequence of rooms that follow the development of Amsterdam's famed waterways; each historical period is told through a different medium, from claymation to light shows. If you'd rather tour the canals themselves, the chief operator, Gray Line, offers classic cruises with new taste. One tour courses the canals over a Dutch cheese and wine pairing, and its newest offering is a private dinner cruise aboard a classic saloon boat, where the meal is brought in from one of Amsterdam’s contemporary restaurants.
4. Make space for new museums
A nod to the city’s flux, Amsterdam’s art world showcases both new and old after the reopening of Rijksmuseum, which houses Dutch works starting from the Middle Ages, as well as the Stedelijk Museum, the country’s largest museum of modern and contemporary art. This spring, the Modern Contemporary Museum (or Moco) opened in a 20th-century townhouse. Its first exhibits highlighted the works from contemporary figures Andy Warhol and Banksy — though, respectfully, you’ll find very little graffiti along Amsterdam’s pristine and protected streets.
5. See it like a local — and look like one, too
A city that just inaugurated the world’s first Bike Mayor (though it's only a semi-official position), Amsterdam as a cycling city is nothing new. But for most travelers, coasting like a local meant renting glaring yellow bikes from popular rental shops — or from its competitor, glaring red bikes — making it tough to blend in with residents. For those who prefer to glide under the radar, hipster-like bikes, painted in sleek black, are now available at Adam Local. Conveniently located across the street from one of Amsterdam’s famed spots for apple pie, the shop also touts products made by local designers, and offers small-group, low-key tours of the city.
6. Stay in old places with fresh faces
Buildings throughout Amsterdam, as old as they are, aren't always stuck in the past. A range of repurposed spaces now host travelers, like the newly opened Generator Hostel, which moved into a former zoological university building. With bold colors and modern furnishings that are certainly too-cool-for-school, the former lecture hall is now a spacious bar, and the library is now a more convivial hangout, complete with a ping-pong table. Alternatively, the houseboats, which flourished decades ago during a period of limited housing, are also the newest place to rest. After the introduction of Airbnb, booking the floating homes has never been easier, and the majority of these host visitors more often than full-time residents.