Exploring Amsterdam by I Amsterdam City Card

Robert Spellman explores the Dutch capital via the I Amsterdam City Card

Culture & History

Robert Spellman explores the Dutch capital via the I Amsterdam City Card

You know what they say: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Well, that old maxim certainly applies to the Amsterdam city card, going strong since 1966, and still the smartest way to explore the Netherlands capital.

Amsterdam City Card

I’m a permanent fan of this beautiful city, and while I haven’t always intended to hit the museums and art galleries on visits, I invariably end up doing so with gusto, as wherever one looks, there’s an interesting or quirky exhibition. With the city card, I paid up front and Amsterdam was my oyster, with more than 70 attractions at my disposal, including food and walking tours, canal cruises, bicycle rental and not forgetting those marvellous houses of culture.

The Rijksmuseum or Rembrandt Museum might be the better known of those, but the card gives free access to another 61 places from the Jewish Cultural Quarter and extraordinary Fortress Island Pampus, to typically off-beat Dutch enterprises such as the Embassy of the Free Mind and the Outsider Art Museum. The variety of galleries is quite dazzling and significant savings can be made over a relaxed few days. However, with an early start and strict timetable, a dedicated culture vulture can make a killing with this pass. For instance, most galleries charge €15-20 per ticket, while a canal cruise averages at €20 per person. And of course the more hours you book, the cheaper everything gets.

There’s the city card mobile app, and, rather helpfully, an old school physical version for anybody holding out with a “dumbphone” (and my utmost respect if you are). Either way, you pay €60 for a 24-hour card, €85 for 48 hours, €100 for 72 hours and €115 for 96 hours. Card-carrying luddites can purchase the physical thing at the I Amsterdam Store at Amsterdam Central Station, but first of all of course you have to get there.

I Amsterdam Card

Proeflokaal Arendsnest

Seizing the opportunity not to fly, I jumped on the Eurostar at St Pancras International at 8.16am and arrived at 1.15pm (includes the hour-forward jump) nicely composed and without that shifty feeling I always get after a flight. My first stop had nothing to do with cards, but a simple desire to revive over a glass of beer so it was straight to the recommended Proeflokaal Arendsnest bar in the heart of the Grachtengordel, the world-famous, horseshoe-shaped canal district in the city centre.

With 50 beers on draft and more than 100 bottles, you could call it a sweet shop for some, with its speciality in Dutch brews old and new, and fifteen minutes later I was installed in the pleasant wood-panelled dwelling, sipping their fine house beer, PotA Pils, before trying a fiendishly smooth porter called Howling Wolf. My route from the station? By metro and courtesy of the city card, which also includes all forms of public transport, so that means trams and buses too.

Westergas – Fabrique Des Lumieres

Pulling myself away from the Grachtengordel, limited time meant sticking to my mission of experiencing the new, and so the first stop was the Westergas area north-west of the old centre. It’s the sort of freeform place with an industrial past that all European cities now seem to have, where freelancers come to work and sip coffee and art and commerce rub along well together.

As well as great eateries, there’s a theatre and even a hotel, but the Fabrique Des Lumieres gallery was my destination, also included on the city card. The 19th-century factory building was once part of Amsterdam’s gas industry and helped keep the city’s light’s burning, but today functions as an art gallery with a difference. The vast hall currently hosts the From Vermeer To Van Gogh exhibition, a quite transportive experience where the walls, floor and ceiling of the main hall screen the works of Dutch masters. The projected paintings slither, shift and explode into life around you, their pigments flooding every surface, be it a Rembrandt portrait or a plane of enlarged Van Gogh blues moving beneath your feet to create a sensation of hovering. Accompanying music from Prokofiev or Nina Simone ups the emotional charge. This really is not to be missed.

Zaanse Schans

I Amsterdam Card

My next city card call was the Zaanse Schans, an area about 20 minutes by train from Amsterdam Central, and perhaps best described as a life-sized model town or district that represents many things Holland is known for. Here some of the country’s oldest windmills overlook the Zaan river and visitors pass pleasing examples of traditional wooden housing and wild gardens.

The museum contains thousands of antiques, Dutch paintings and also oils of the lowlands by Monet, who visited in 1871 and commented that there was a lifetime’s worth of subject matter here. There are craft-making workshops and a still-operative 100-year biscuit factory. Kids can even design their own wrappers for chocolate bars.

Later on it was to dinner at the funky Kaap West, attractively situated on the lip of Sloterplas, before turning in at the nearby Met, an elegant single-floor hotel about 15 minutes from town by bus. The combined reception and bar also make it friendly neighbourhood watering hole and the rooms are simple but luxurious affairs and average at €150 a night.

Noordermarkt and Grachtengordel

Brilliant sun the next morning had me drifting city-ward and quite by accident into the Noordermarkt, situated on the Prinsengracht canal. The market has Golden Age pedigree and is spilt in two on a pretty triangular plaza. It offers a wealth of organic produce, assorted snacks, vintage clothes and bric-a-brac. It was a Saturday and bustling but far from unpleasantly so, very much what you’d expect of a city with a population of just under a million. The market is also open on Mondays.

On such a blazing day being indoors was out of the question, so there was nothing for it but a lunchtime float around the canals of the Grachtengordel. The barge tours provide alcohol and nibbles, they are fun and informal and generally don’t overdo the commentary. An ideal way to end to any holiday in Amsterdam.

I Amsterdam City Card

You can acquire your I Amsterdam City Card here.


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Rob Spellman

Robert Spellman

A former Fleet Street music journalist, Robert’s love of jazz spurs him around the globe in search of it and any related or indigenous sounds. More likely to be scribbling about Herbie Hancock in the southern Med than held aloft at a Taylor Swift gig – although you never know. His stories can also be found in France Today and Reach titles such as the Daily Mirror. London based, Robert is a subeditor at News UK and the Guardian.

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