After attending Travel Bloggers Unite 2013 (TBU) in Rotterdam, NL, I had the good fortune to be hosted by Amsterdam Marketing, the folks behind I amsterdam, on a post-conference “Amsterdam by Bike” tour of my adopted city. Although the three-day romp was dampened by weather that kept me and a dozen fellow travel bloggers off two-wheelers, we explored several hot spots I never knew existed and others I’d never fully appreciated, by foot, tram, taxi and Dutch rickshaw.
First Stop: Hotel Casa 400: Sleek, modern, with vibrant lobby furnishings and a friendly, knowledgeable staff, Hotel Casa 400 is not only a fine tourist and business hotel in Amsterdam’s quiet Amstel district. It’s also a student dorm, fall through spring. Recognizing a confluence of needs—more student and visitor accommodations—the hotel offers affordable lodging for Amsterdam students in low season and additional rooms for tourists and business travelers in high season. Year-round, 151 hotel rooms can be booked by guests; from June–September, 520 hotel rooms are available.
Opened in spring 2010, Hotel Casa 400 was named Best Hotel Concept of the Year by the end of that year. It’s also been honored with the HotAm award for most exciting hotel development in Amsterdam. After pizza and sandwiches at the hotel’s Restaurant Circles, a casual spot for breakfast, lunch or dinner, we headed to our first non-touristy highlight:
1. Amsterdam Public Library: A library may not seem like a sexy or hip place to visit in a foreign capital. But think about it: you’re likely to need WiFi on the road, if only to email Mom or reserve your next hostel bed. You may want to catch up with news in your ‘hood via magazines and newspapers in your native language. What better place to accomplish these missions―for free!―than a public library with panoramic city views, open long hours, seven days a week?
More an information and culture center than a stuffy repository for books and multi-media, Europe’s largest public library or OBA (Amsterdam Public Library) rises like a giant monolith, 28,000 m2 over the watery Ij. Opened in July 2007 on the Oosterdokseiland, a five minute walk heading east from Central Station, it now draws some 2.5 million users and visitors annually.
The library was conceived by Jo Coenen, former state architect of the Netherlands, who designed its interior with the aim of making time spent at the library as pleasant as possible. In addition to unique collections, it houses a 250-seat theater, radio station, meeting rooms, exhibition space, a music department, study pods, readers’ café, and a restaurant with an outdoor terrace overlooking the city. Members can borrow books, e-books, audio books, magazines, CDs, DVDs, games, CD-ROMs, Blu-ray discs and sheet music.
On the damp day we visited, the notes of Beethoven’s Fifth greet us, played live on the OBA piano by a young visitor. I crane my neck to take in an interior stretching seven floors high, more similar to a modern art museum than any library I’ve seen. Of course, it’s not just about looks. Visitors can use any of 600 Internet-connected computers, 50 multi-media workstations, 110 reference terminals and 11 print stations. You can also browse newspapers and magazines from around the world at no charge.
In 2008, OBA was named Most Sustainable Public Building in Amsterdam. Every year, it organizes some 7,500 activities, including exhibitions, film showings, workshops, Internet instruction, game events, readings, concerts and lectures. .
Felix Meritis Observatory: Set royally on the Keizersgracht, the Netherlands’ oldest existing observatory offers a spectacular panorama of Amsterdam. Telescopes on the top floor are part of Amsterdam of Above–Amsterdam of Below by artist Joseph Semahno. No longer focused on the night sky as they were when the building served as a Temple of Enlightenment for 18th century scientists, they now overlook city rooftops and citations from famous thinkers, writers, artists and philosophers, e.g., Spinoza, Heidegger, Galilei and Frank Zappa, inscribed on iconic landmarks: the Westertoren, Nederlandsche Bank, Stadsschouwburg and World Trade Center.
Latin for “happy through merit,” the Felix Meritis society was founded in 1788 by 40 prosperous citizens seeking to promote the arts and sciences in Amsterdam. Meetings took place in what is now a European center for arts and science, offering debates, lectures, concerts and theater productions. With its neoclassical facade, the building is a typical monument of The Enlightenment. Inside, such greats as Robert and Clara Schumann, Camille Saint-Saëns and Johannes Brahms have performed. Although the society dissolved in 1888, its aim goes on in a landmark that still serves as a hub for artists, scientists and culture vultures. Open daily except Sunday; entrance: € 6,50
3. Pllek: Dubbed “A Creative Hangout on NDSM,” Pllek offers a panoramic view of the IJ, as well as meals, workshops and gezelligheid in a revamped shipping container. Transformed from its industrial roots into a gathering place for musicians, artists and diners, the restaurant uses organic, seasonal produce in its lunch and dinner offerings.
In addition to food, the funky establishment also serves up live music, theater, yoga and workshops focusing on a conscious lifestyle. Sometime specials feature massage, detox cocktails, raw pies and alternative movies. Open daily, noon–21:00. Every Friday, come to dine, dance and enjoy free cocktails and hot bites with DJ Marcelo Umaña, from 17:00.