Summer days have been few and far between so far this ‘summer’. Those we have had seem to arrive on week days rather than the weekend, when I might be able to enjoy them rather than observe them from my office window. Rain has been a constant companion for too long, and as I write it’s pouring down outside. We did get a couple of days of sun recently, a good opportunity for a stroll in Amsterdam.
When the sun does come out Amsterdam really comes to life. People head to the parks and boats take to the water in a frenzy of sun worship. That’s just what happens in northern Europe after a long miserable winter. It makes wandering the streets, absorbing the culture and atmosphere all the more enjoyable.
This is a city that harbours more that 6,800 buildings that are protected as national monuments, many dating from the16th and 17th centuries. All of this majestic architecture is built on ninety islands, criss-crossed with 165 water ways and connected by 1,281 bridges and counting. Exploring these fascinating streets is always an adventure, always turning up something unexpected.
Despite its global fame, Amsterdam is a compact place – a small big city. From the old city centre and the UNESCO World Heritage listed canal belt, many of the most interesting neighbourhoods and best parks are easily reached on foot or cycle. The streets are alive with art, architecture and activities, and full of photo opportunities.
The only downside of summer is the upsurge in tourism but, if you want to get away from the crowds, stay out of the old city centre and make for outlying neighbourhoods, De Pijp, Westerpark and the Jordaan. Or head for the wonderfully named Spaarndammerbuurt, where I found myself wandering quiet streets dotted with trendy bars and restaurants trying to find the Museum Het Schip.
The Spaarndammerbuurt is pretty new to me, but is famed for its expressionist public housing projects, and is considered the high point of the Amsterdam School movement of the 1920s. A radically progressive intellectual and architectural response to the squalid living conditions of the urban poor, the Amsterdam School created affordable housing that was also spacious and beautifully designed.
The Het Schip is one of the movement’s most important buildings, the museum a homage to this period in Amsterdam’s history and the social and political forces that gave rise to it. It draws a steady stream of architecture and history buffs to the area, including me.
The arrival of summer also heralds a flourishing of festivals across the Netherlands, no more so than in Amsterdam which hosts more than 300 each year, mostly in the summer months. Whether it’s the city-wide Pride or small foodie festivals, there’s something for everyone. Much of the entertainment is free and often in the open air. All we need now is a little more summer sun…