After a ten year renovation, one of Europe’s most important art galleries, The Rijksmuseum, has reopened in Amsterdam, and there’s much more to do in the Durch capital.
Bicycles jingle and clatter across red-brick bridges, while locals confidently tear through the streets at ferocious speed and a group of tourists riding convoy pedal nervously, hand signalling every turn.
Canals are equally busy with boats gently slicing through the sun-dappled water.
Window boxes are bursting with sunset-orange flowers, the tulip season is in full swing, and spring has arrived in Amsterdam.
At the beginning of April, national gallery the Rijksmuseum, home to the world’s largest collection of Rembrandt paintings, reopened to the public after an epic ten year renovation.
From the outside, the building has been restored to its gleaming 1885 glory, but inside Spanish architects Cruz y Ortiz have diverted the path of a canal to create a light-filled auditorium.
For the first time, the museum’s 8,000-plus artefacts have been displayed in chronological order. But the real showpiece is Rembrandt’s Night Watch, an intriguing work that hints at many untold stories and which depicted groundbreaking realism in its day.
The colossal 363cm by 437cm painting sits at the end of a long corridor lined with Vermeers and works from the 17th century Golden Age, and it’s as if not only the entire collection but also the Rijksmuseum itself was built around this one focal point.
But what really makes the Rijksmuseum a triumph is its commitment to Dutch art.
Displays are something the Dutch do well, and walking along the narrow canal paths, it’s impossible not to be distracted by inviting shop windows.
The most picturesque and charismatic canal is undoubtedly Prinsengracht, cutting through the artistic areas of Jordaan and Pijp, and some of the best cafes, bars and restaurants can be found here. Beer is a serious business, with an excellent choice on tap, but if you want to fit in with the locals, swap exports such as Amstel and Heineken for city brews - try Brouwerij ‘t Ij in the south east of the city, an organic brewery which sits beneath a windmill.
But if you just want to watch the watery world go by, there’s no better spot than the corner of Prinsengracht and Leidsegracht, with a drink from delightful 17th century brown bar De Pieper, which still has a 19th century Belgian beer pump in operation.
Glossy boats captained by Penelope Pitstop look-a-likes carry champagne-sipping picnickers, while downmarket dinghies whizz past with peroxide blondes listening to techno, and tourist boats saunter slowly - some even hosting five-piece jazz bands.
Patriotic pride and a respect for the past form the foundations of this city, with the national coat of arms - three St Andrew’s crosses - adorning everything.
As people decorate their homes and shop fronts with orange paraphernalia in preparation for this weekend’s Queen’s Day celebrations, it is evident Amsterdam is proud of its roots and quite rightly so.