I’m not a big souvenir person. My souvenirs have always been the pictures I take or the occasional piece of jewelry or cool scarf.
It’s harder than ever to find a product unique to its country these days — and I don’t want to end up with something I can find on junk-clogged Canal Street in Manhattan.
To be sure, that doesn’t mean I don’t like to shop. Since my last visit to “the Venice of the North,” many of the unique antique shops in the Spiegelkwartier, with soon-to-reopen Rijksmuseum as a backdrop, had closed. Still, the area is lovely, with cool art galleries, a cute toy shop, and cozy cafes. You can also walk to nearby Pieter Cornelisz Hooftstraat for that Fifth-Avenue feel, with high-end shops like Chanel and Louis Vuitton.
But for that true taste of A’dam, head to “De 9 Straatjes.” Three major canals (Herengracht, Keizersgracht, and Prinsengracht) divide the Central Canal district into nine little streets that are big on personality. While the more casual shopper may breeze through in an hour or two, serious shoppers can spend an entire day (or more) exploring the quaint boutiques and eateries — all with signature Dutch style — down each lane. No matter where you fall on the spectrum, be sure to bring your camera because the views are phenomenal.
Here’s my guide to must-sees along Amsterdam’s “De 9 Straatjes”:
1. Reestraat: Noa Lifestyle carries a beautifully curated collection of clothes and jewelry from one of my favorite designers, gorjana. For a great hot or cold sandwich, pick from among five dozen choices at Hartenkaas. If you’re looking for something different, try Nooch for a great al fresco meal or stop by Tin Pan Alley for quality coffee and live music.
2. Hartenstraat: At Eddy’s Prints (Hartenstraat 30), you’ll find colorful lino prints at great prices, while Dutch designer Hester van Eeghen sells a different kind of art: bright, intriguing handbags and accessories (she also has a second boutique that sells shoes with her signature geometric flair right down the street). Browse books on graphic design, photography, and contemporary art at Joot, take an espresso break at Screaming Beans, and satisfy your craving for Indian cuisine in a sophisticated space at Purna.
3. Gasthuismolensteeg: You can pick up perfect baby booties as a gift at Antonia by Yvette, but don’t forget to nab a pair of colorful pumps or leather boots for yourself. The housemade pastrami at ‘t Kuyltje rivals what you’d find at the best New York delis, as does the smoked salmon and bacon. It’s a cabinet of curiosities at Nic Nic, with vintage clothing (think lace collars and flowery dresses) and a variety of pottery and art deco items.
4. Oude Spiegelstraat: On this very short street, you can pop into Simone to give your hair a boost or stop by Rika to pick up a chic studded handbag or a sexy leather jacket. But for a true taste of local living, book one of the two rooms above the shop.
5. Wolvenstraat: A great casual breakfast (and fantastic people-watching) can be had at Cafe Wheels. After that, dress up in sleek Scandinavian clothes at Filippa K and pay a visit to Scotch & Soda for a glimpse of the brand’s unique line for kids.
6. Berenstraat: If I had to pick a favorite street based on looks alone, Berenstraat would be it. Find fab books on fashion and architecture at Mendo, get wrapped up in noodle heaven at Thai Fusion, or try Mokka for an afternoon snack (it’s only open during the day).
7. Runstraat: While I will never lug a lamp home from Amsterdam, I was tempted at ‘t Runnertje. The street also boasts double-decker beauty emporium Skins Cosmetics (Runstraat 11), a shop dedicated to all things dental care, and De Kaaskamer, one of the greatest cheese shops in the world (they’ll shrink wrap for the plane ride home!). If you’re pressed for time, find coffee, cupcakes, and clothes in one-stop-shop The Darling.
8. Huidenstraat: Stop by Cafe de Pels to soak up some of their creative spirit and take in the walls full of funky art. Head to Pompadour Bakery just down the street to enjoy a mid-afternoon sweet treat in a dreamy space or create your own personalized jewelry at Beadies.
9. Wijde Heisteeg: On the shortest street of them all, you’ll find the goldsmith Wigmans, Lef, a tiny cafe that sells smoothies and sandwiches, and, last but not least, Emaille.nl, which has been making original signs for more than 40 years.