City Travel Guide: The Auditory, Alimentary and Artistic Pleasures of Amsterdam

- Heidi Atwal, London-based by way of California, is a lifestyle, music, and arts and culture writer. Her work and wanderlust have led her to all corners of the world, including a teaching stint in Barcelona, working as a fashion editor in San Francisco and covering film in Los Angeles. Heidi's writing has also appeared in SOMA Magazine, The San Francisco Bay Guardian, and on Condé Nast Digital.

Known for its wealth of cafes, canals, and forms of recreation considered illicit elsewhere, Amsterdam has long been one of Europe’s most trafficked travel hubs. But beyond the Red Light District’s neon-lit goings on and its abundance of “greenery,” the city offers much by way of progressive arts, culture and cuisine.

On a recent summertime jaunt to “Dam,” my wayfaring companions and I sidestepped touristy trappings to experience a more authentic side of the Netherlands’ capital. Our experience was defined less by activities loved by college-aged backpackers, more by the richness of Amsterdam’s quaint, yet still cosmopolitan, surroundings. Read on for a quartet of highlights from a trip that may not win points among the Spring Break set, but will among experiential travelers.

The Music Festival: PITCH
During the height of festival season, music enthusiasts can see any number of indie-rock luminaries and Top 40 stars grace the stage at popular events such as the U.K.’s Bestival, Spain’s Sonar, and the U.S.’ Bonaroo, among several others. What PITCH lacks in marquee names it more than makes up for in an impressively well-curated lineup, decent price of admission, and refreshingly relaxed ambiance.

A mélange of avant garde electronic music and sultry R&B took center stage at PITCH, its headliners including masked producer DJ SBTRKT and 2011 internet phenom The Weeknd. Members of Los Angeles’ lauded “beat scene”—Nosaj Thing, The Gaslamp Killer, and U.K.-transplant Kutmah among them—brought their genre-fusing brand of hip-hop-slash-electronica to PITCH, while the Buddy Holly-esque Nick Waterhouse introduced a divergent style of retro rock to the festival.

Its laid back atmosphere meant no jostling for space around any of the stages on Cultuurpark Westergasfabriek’s grounds—a rare luxury at any festival. The combination of taste-making event producers, enthused-but-not-obnoxious attendees, and a generally stress-free undercurrent makes this boutique festival one to watch in coming years.

The Restaurant: Wilde Zwijnen
Amsterdam has been earning quite the reputation among food savvy globetrotters as of late, with places such as De Kas earning acclaim from critics the world over. While Amsterdam now boasts nine Michelin-starred restaurants, it’s a pretense-free eatery that’s generating buzz among in-the-know locals. Wilde Zwijnen (“Wild Boar” in English) is located in Amsterdam’s up-and-coming Eastern district, standing out among the storefronts on an otherwise austere looking street. Reserved tables have guests’ names scrawled across their wooden tops, while standard fashionable touches such as exposed brick hint toward an rustic, informal approach to cuisine.

Rustic, perhaps, but not sloppy. Its three-course pre-fixe menu priced at a very reasonable €30,50, Wilde Zwijnen serves the kind of seasonal, hyper-local food that has become oh-so chic in recent years. Here, you’ll find modern twists on Dutch classics sans superfluous foams, cubes of savory side jellies, and other touchstones of haute cuisine. Our main was a well-executed cut of beef cooked to medium-rare perfection, its cheeks sitting atop a bed of haricot vert and flavorful jus. The dish’s simplicity belied its balance, depth, and the technique behind it. As true connoisseurs recognize, this is where some of the most exciting strides in Dutch cuisine are being made.

The Walkabout: Jordaan
While many Amsterdam-bound travelers are titillated by the prospect of wandering through its famed Red Light District, we opted for a decidedly more bourgeoisie neighborhood walkabout. Forgoing the former’s come-hither neon lights for a self-led foot tour of Jordaan, we were met by quiet canals, courtyards, and smattering of boutiques, gelaterias, and gated gardens in the upscale quarter. Amidst these charming surroundings, the bizarre, Alice in Wonderland-like Moooi showroom stands out on Westerstraat, housing massive chandeliers, armoires, and other furniture oddities (life-sized horse lamp, anyone?) that make you go “hmmm.” A wander through its zany interior is essential for any design enthusiast.

The Exhibit: Stanley Kubrick
There is anything but a dearth of museums in Amsterdam, from the famed Van Gogh to the classical Hermitage. A welcome contemporary addition to this crop is the EYE Film Institute, an expansive complex dedicated to film heritage situated on the waterfront (no pun intended). Amsterdam’s streets are currently peppered with posters advertising the traveling Stanley Kubrick Exhibition, a must for any cinephile worth his/her salt. Covering the visionary auteur’s work from his early documentary photography through the voyeuristic dreamscape that is Eyes Wide Shut, it also boasts letters of correspondence between Kubrick and Vladimir Nabokov, costumes from Barry Lyndon, and the axe from The Shining on display. In Amsterdam through September 9, 2012 before departing for Los Angeles, local and visiting film geeks will want to seek out the show while it’s still on European shores.

Where to Stay:
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