Amsterdam, with its 60 miles of canals, 90 islands and 1,500 bridges, is compact, relaxed and still one of the most distinct and beautiful cities in the world.
It was the birthplace of the world’s first multinational, the Dutch East India Company, in the 17th century, and that era was something of a golden age for the city.
After the commercial revolution came an artistic one, when it became the cultural capital of northern Europe and the home, at various times, to Rembrandt, Van Gogh and Mondrian.
Canal plus: With over 60 miles of canals laced across it, Amsterdam is an incredibly beautiful city
In the past two decades Amsterdam has attracted a less cultural crowd of stag nights and those seeking out its red light district. But the city is trying to shake that image.
And you don’t have to be a hedonist to have fun here: a two or three-day trip is plenty of time to soak up the culture – without the naughty bits.
YOUR TRAVEL BRIEFING
FLights to Amsterdam Schiphol airport take around an hour from London, but we opt for the train.
It’s wonderfully stress-free, and Eurostar whizzes you through the countryside to Amsterdam in four hours, including a change on to a regional train at Brussels.
Next year, Eurostar plans to open a direct service.
There are hundreds of hotels of all price ranges.
We stayed at the newest outpost of The Hoxton – its first outside London. There are canal-view rooms and, given it’s only a few minutes’ walk from all the main sights, it’s remarkably quiet.
The restaurant and bar, Lotti’s, has become one of the most popular spots in the city.
BE A SAVVY SIGHTSEER
As well as wandering along canals, your essential itinerary should include Anne Frank’s house — still heartbreaking despite the crowds – the recently refurbished national Rijksmuseum (home to Rembrandt’s The Night Watch and a handful of Vermeers) and the Van Gogh Museum.
As well as hundreds of his works, it has those of his contemporaries, such as Toulouse-Lautrec.
Make time for the new Museum of Modern Art, the Stedelijk, which resembles an upturned bathtub. Buy tickets in advance.
These are all in the museum district outside the old town.
The old town itself can be noisy even in the morning, but as the sun sets it becomes positively raucous, particularly at the weekend.
It doesn’t take much to escape this and the best way to see all the canals is on foot.
Alternatively, there are dozens of cruises, which depart from near the main train station.
WHEN IT’S SPRING AGAIN
British performer Max Bygraves made tulips from Amsterdam famous. And, in spring, the stalls in the Bloemenmarkt spill over with them in every shade.
Those wanting to make the tulip pilgrimage should hop on a bus to the small town of Lisse – about an hour’s ride – to see the Keukenhof Gardens where each year seven million bulbs bloom between March and May, attracting 800,000 visitors.
ON YOUR BIKE
The Dutch (and plenty of tourists) tear along on their bikes as if they own the streets – and that’s because they do.
The weekly shop, two or three children – we even saw someone having a video chat while cycling -won’t slow them down.
There are plenty of hire shops, and you’ll need to be cautiously aggressive to survive: watch for cars and unwary pedestrians.
But be bold at junctions and don’t get a tyre stuck in a tram line.
Petals and perfection: The city’s Bloemenmarkt is a must-see landmark if you want to shop for flowers
SHOP TILL YOU DROP
Amsterdam has an abundance of high-end designer fashion, vintage outlets, quirky interiors stores and chocolate shops.
The best are to be found around an area called the Nine Streets, and in the tiny backstreets of the old Jewish quarter, known as the Jordaan.
This district is a place to escape and see some of the most charming – and untouched – canals and houses.
Dutch cuisine isn’t refined – typically stews, sour cabbage and boiled potatoes.
And May is the time to sample pickled herring.
But like London, Amsterdam has soaked up multicultural offerings. Street food joints abound: try chips with oorlog, a spicy peanut, mayonnaise and onion sauce, at Vleminckx on Voetboogsteeg 33.
In recent years, cosmopolitan dining spots have sprung up boasting more modern European fare.
But if you really want local food, order grandma’s stamppot at Bij Ons, a canal house bistro that plays Dutch music.
The best food for us is at the Noordermarkt, where the Winkel 43 cafe serves the most comforting apple pie ever.
WHEN TO VISIT
For a quieter time, go midweek – though Amsterdam celebrates King’s Day next Wednesday (April 27) when the city becomes a gigantic party.
A more sedate event is the Canal Gardens in Bloom festival on the third weekend in June, where some of the hidden gardens behind the city’s poshest canal houses open their doors.
Travel Facts: Plan your own weekend in Amsterdam
Double rooms at The Hoxton (www.thehoxton.com, 0031 020 888 5555) cost from £119 B&B.
Eurostar runs trains from London St Pancras to Amsterdam via Brussels from £230 return, www.eurostar.com.