When I was 18 years old, I lived in a small town called Wel on a studyabroad program as an Emerson College undergrad. That town in Holland was so indistinguishable, you couldn’t find it on a map, and farm animals outnumbered humans. We lived in a secluded 16th-century castle, though traveled extensively, and I was well immersed in local culture, even able to carry a basic Dutch conversation without today’s handy translator apps.
While Wel was only two convenient hours from Amsterdam, I only visited there a mere handful of times. I wasn’t particularly fond of Amsterdam. It was uninspiring and seedy—chockfull of shady smoke shops with virtually no luxury hotels and mediocre restaurants, heavily relying on museums, canals, and the notorious Red Light District to woo travelers, and nothing more. Amsterdam wasn’t moving like Paris, Rome, Prague, and other top European cities.
The redemptive factor of having visited in the past is seeing Amsterdam’s slow and steady growth into the future. For 20 years and with deep ties, I watched Amsterdam develop from afar, and I visited regularly every five or so years, eventually feeling a different kind of energy and enthusiasm— and I’m not the only one.
Since 1996, overnight stays increased from four million to 14 million, according to Amsterdam tourism, an astounding number in 20 years. Defying expectations, Amsterdam cultivated a stronger arts scene, banged-out new attractions, and grabbed the attention of travelers with discriminating taste. Five-star hotels began opening doors in centuries-old canal houses, world-class museums received much-needed renovations, and local chefs started giving a damn. Holland’s most well-known city has become progressive without compromising its unique and rich Dutch heritage, proving travelers can experience the best of old and new Amsterdam in one unforgettable visit.
Famous for it’s Rijksmuseum inside the airport, Amsterdam Schipol Airport is set for major expansions to accommodate the 15 million travelers that arrive annually (53 million pass through, ranking it Europe’s fifth busiest airport). While it’s not slated to open until 2023, a new, $560-million terminal was announced, which will further expand the airport to welcome 20 million more travelers. One of the most interesting airports in the world, Schipol offers a new Hilton, notable restaurants and Panoramaterras, a massive, rooftop observation deck that offers supreme viewings of the runway.
Eurostar (www.eurostar.com), the highspeed rail system in Europe, recently unveiled new $1.4 billion trains that will have an Amsterdam route by the end of 2017. The London to Amsterdam route will be four hours on new trains with free wifi, more space per seat, 300 hours of entertainment via tablet or mobile phone, and a very cushy Business Premier cabin featuring gourmet meals by Michelin starred chef Raymond Blanc.
With Amsterdam’s revival, discerning travelers are rejoicing in the myriad options now available in the hotel landscape. No other city in Europe has had a luxury hotel boom like Amsterdam. In fact, the new fivestar pads are all the buzz in the city, so impressive they have become a lifestyle component for locals who dine in the hotel restaurants, luxuriate in their spas, and imbibe in their cool bars.
Opened in 2014, Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam (Herengracht 542-556 1017 CG, Tel: 31-20-718-4600. www.waldorfastoria.hilton.com. Rooms from $730) is the most luxurious hotel to debut in decades. Housed within six, carefully restored 17thand 18th-century townhomes, Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam oozes with extravagance (think: exquisite fabrics and furnishings, highbrow, afternoon tea, two-Michelin starred restaurant) with suited-up staff and priceless art drenched in sunlight from large windows. The 93-room hotel may be new but it feels timeless, offering a painstakingly manicured garden oasis, a private boat and jetty for canal cruising, Guerlin Spa with indoor swimming pool, and a fine art gallery. With this type of opulence, you’ll want to keep your back straight and shoes polished to fit right in.
The most iconic hotel in Amsterdam, Hotel Pulitzer (Keizersgracht 224, Tel: 31-20-5235235. www.pulitzeramsterdam.com. Rooms from $315) has recently underwent years of renovations and extensions through phases. Opened 45 years ago in ten canal houses, Amsterdam’s first five-star hotel now offers 225 rooms throughout 25 canal houses, in addition to a brand-new, decadent lobby and tuckedaway, sprawling garden. Opened by Peter Pulitzer, whose grandfather is responsible for the world-renown Pulitzer Prize, this five-star property is one of the most contemporary in Amsterdam, with well preserved design features (original marble floors, stairs, antiquess and artwork) and modern amenities (custommade furniture, free WI-FI, and windows that open). History resonates here (Winston Churchill once took the property’s private boat out for a spin on the canal), and a handful of suites have their own private entrances directly to the streets.
Original, unique, and unarguably posh, the Conservatorium Hotel (Van Baerlestraat 27, Tel: 31-20-570-0000, www.conservatoriumhotel.com. Rooms from $514) isn’t housed within historic canal houses but rather a monumental, 1897 building that’s served as a former bank and music school. The architecture is breathtaking: an indoor, lobby atrium, floor-to-ceiling windows, rafted glass ceiling, brick-lined walls, and a garden—it’s like a futuristic work of art merging with the past. Spacious rooms come in duplexes, and top-floor suites offer dazzling city views. Opened in 2011, the 129-room hotel, conveniently located next door to Rijksmuseum, is effortlessly the preferred hotel for top visiting celebrities and royalty. Simple touches paying tribute to the hotel’s history (like guest rooms featuring specially designed headphones, and music-themed artwork) are ubiquitous. The spa here is one of the best hotel spas in Amsterdam with a generously sized indoor pool, steam, sauna, pampering treatments, and a large gym equipped with fitness trainers.
Should you want an entire place to yourself, Eleven Experience opened CanalHuis 58 (58 Brouwersgracht, Tel: 31-63-814-8022. www.elevenexperience.com. One night from $5,600) last year. The 18th-century, four-bedroom/four-level townhouse is equipped with modern comforts (all showers have steam, the bar is fully stocked and included, as is complimentary bicycles), and the location, at the intersection of two waterways, is unbeatable. Daily rates include private chef-breakfasts, full bar, well stocked pantry, passes to museums, a guide and more.