12 Amsterdam

PopulationMetro: 6,424,275
A relentless optimization of city assets gives Amsterdam authenticity to spare.

Surprised to see a mid-sized European capital with a fading party reputation ranked so high? You obviously haven’t visited in a while.

Not content with its raunchy, pot- and prostitution-fueled rep (and the tourist ‘quality’ it drew), Amsterdam doubled down on its rich architecture, mobility and anti-authoritarian confidence.

That’s why new museums open annually, with velocity picking up with the recent opening of the Warhol and Banksy-stuffed Moco and in full cultural sprint presently now that three of the city’s most important museums—the Rijksmuseum (home of Dutch masterpieces and other prized European art collections), the Van Gogh and the Stedelijk (for modern and contemporary aficionados)—are open again after extensive renovations. Nor surprisingly, the city ranks #15 on the planet in our Museums subcategory.

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But it’s not like you’ll need to confine yourself to the indoors to experience the city’s history. With its urban grid distilled for pedestrian discovery and generously seasoned with storybook architecture that spans centuries, Amsterdam has always been about discovery by foot. That the entire dreamy streetscape is lined with waterways and all manner of watercraft just adds to the otherworldliness of the city.

Local leaders are channeling the planet’s #18 Nightlife into a more communal, less icky affair. Take the practically named Amsterdam Dance Event, where the city threw open club doors for five days and hosted “the biggest club festival in the world” in October 2018.

Amsterdam’s bike culture Cale Weaver

All that walking makes for some hungry flaneurs, and the city is busy keeping up with a culinary boom the likes of which it has never seen. You should absolutely fuel up at local chip institution Vlaams Fritehuis Vleminckx and walk and eat as Indonesian peanut sauce and fresh chopped onions spill onto the cobblestone.

But you should also bite into the city’s sizzling food revolution—and sample urban renewal—at the repurposed, semi-suburban former Shell complex known as A’DAM Tower, complete with 24/7 music and dining.

Amsterdam's hottest bakery shop Roman Kraft

But first, food. Take the elevator to the 20th floor and eat, drink and view at Madam, a casual daytime spot that turns into a DJ-heavy bar when the sun goes down.

For something a bit more buzzy, get off one floor below—on 19—and slide into Moon, a revolving restaurant where the creative cuisine and daring combinations stretch from the menu all the way to the cocktail list.

When it’s time to leave, Amsterdam makes it easy to return, with its airport ranked #6 on the planet for connectivity (to say nothing of its cultural cache with its outpost of the lauded Rijksmuseum right on site). The airport will keep growing, with current additions and a new terminal in 2023, all to accommodate the four-fold increase in city visitors over the past 20 years.

Not to be outdone by air travel, Amsterdam Central Station just opened its direct London Eurostar service twice a day, with four hours between the two capitals and will only draw more visitors to Holland’s magnetic center.