Art and soul of Amsterdam

Cafe in Amsterdam. See PA Feature TRAVEL Amsterdam. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Renato Granieri. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature TRAVEL Amsterdam.
Cafe in Amsterdam. See PA Feature TRAVEL Amsterdam. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Renato Granieri. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature TRAVEL Amsterdam.

Bicycles jingle and clatter across red-brick bridges - some carrying “wheelbarrows” filled with children, others with passengers riding side-saddle on the back.

While locals confidently tear through the streets at ferocious speed, 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, while on land riverside bars have strewn blankets and cushions over concrete ledges to create surprisingly inviting daybeds.

Window boxes are bursting with sunset-orange flowers, the tulip season is in full swing, and spring has arrived in Amsterdam.

This lively snapshot of a city in motion could very easily have been a subject for Dutch Master Rembrandt, whose works of art have come to typify the heart and soul of the Dutch capital.

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 10-year renovation - which perhaps also explains why the streets of the sea-hemmed city are so busy today.

Costing £300m and heralded as one of the world’s most ambitious gallery projects, it’s set to make Amsterdam one of this year’s most exciting city break propositions.

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 - a palette-cleansing introduction to the shades of grey, dark and light that leap from the masterpieces housed within.

For the first time, the museum’s 8,000-plus artefacts have been displayed in chronological order, including religious panels from the Middle Ages right through to a newly-acquired Mondrian-inspired dress by designer Yves Saint Laurent.

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.

In fact, when the painting was re-hung in the gallery, following the works, it was done so with a procession through the streets.

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. Colourful wooden clogs and dazzling blue and white Delft pottery vie for attention with neon design-led furnishings.

The artistic areas of Jordaan and Pijp are home to some of the best cafes, bars and restaurants.

But if you just want to watch the watery world go by, there’s no better spot that the corner of Prinsengracht and Leidsegracht with a drink from the 17th century brown bar De Pieper.