Amsterdam is renowned for its beautiful gabled canal houses and is perfect for sightseeing by bicycle. But it can be daunting to find yourself in a long queue to see the artworks in world-famous museums. Aware of the city's hidden secrets, Amsterdam-based writer Siobhan Wall invites readers to seek out more than one hundred idyllic and rarely-seen places.
Quiet Amsterdam tells you where to find small shops and intriguing galleries, as well as restaurants and bars which don't play music. It encourages both visitors and locals to wander away from the crowds for peaceful walks in little-known woods and gardens. A perfect book for anyone who wants to discover serene and restful spaces amid the hustle and bustle of this fascinating city.
Parks, gardens and nature reserves
Places to relax
Places of worship
Restaurants and cafes
Places to sit
Places by water
Small hotels and B&Bs
It may seem surprising to publish a book about quiet, tranquil places in one of the liveliest cities in western Europe, but there are many reasons why Quiet Amsterdam came into being. When I moved to the Netherlands a few years ago, I decided to explore the city by taking photographs of undiscovered places. I would write in the mornings then go out in the afternoon with just a map, my camera and my notebook. Like the Situationists in 1960s Paris, I wanted to derivé, to wander without a definite plan and see where I ended up. I often found myself in unusual places well off the beaten track – like the lush, overgrown nature garden in Westerpark where I was hidden by tall, waving reeds. Most days, I got on the best form of transport for the Dutch landscape – my 25-year-old trustworthy bicycle – and just set off . . .
I cycled to little-known lakes and unfamiliar parks, even when it was snowing, because Amsterdam looks really beautiful in winter. What was most pleasurable was finding things I hadn’t expected. Maps can’t tell you about the amazing field of shaggy headed flowers in Erasmuspark, for example, or the strange ‘skritch, skritch’ noise made by the ice skaters’ blades on a frozen pond. My travels were often interrupted by serendipitous moments – seeing two swans flying about the Diem Lake near Ijburg and a semi-camouflaged hare crouching in the undergrowth alongside De Poel Lake. I also remember the croaking frogs in the dyke in Holysloot, which were so noisy they made me laugh. (This pretty village is the only location that took more than an hour to cycle to. Everywhere else in this book is accessible from Central Station within 45 minutes by tram, bus or bicycle).
Aware of how noisy the city could be, I began taking photographs of tranquil and inspiring parks, gardens, little shops and any other places to escape from daily stress and noise. On my travels I discovered that many locations have a fascinating history. I learnt about how the initials of the former owners were an integral part of the design in the Museum van Loon’s magnificent brass staircase, for example. I came across picturesque landscapes as well as some strange places, including Diemer Vijfhoek, with its deserted ponds and isolated rocky shoreline. Entranced by overgrown graveyards, deserted woods and still ponds, I realised that photographs might entice readers away away from the crowded city centre towards some less familiar but amazing hidden parks and wild spaces.
Unlike typical sightseeing guides, Quiet Amsterdam invites a gentle gaze and patient looking, closer to the unhurried consumption of culinary delights proposed by the slow food movement than the fast thrills of the red light district. I was often reminded that it is not only people with hearing problems who would benefit from finding quiet(er) restaurants to meet friends. Knowing that I was working on Quiet Amsterdam, I was often asked to recommend less busy places to eat and drink, so I was pleased to find a few cafes and restaurants which still don’t play recorded music.
There were other ways in which I realised that I wasn’t alone in appreciating quiet places. I often saw people sitting on benches reading, others walking their dogs along riverside paths and, even in the middle of winter, a lone cyclist on the tree-lined avenue alongside the Noordhollandsch Kanaal. It is also worth remembering that at certain times of the day even busy places can be quiet, as on Sunday morning, when almost everyone in Amsterdam is still asleep. This is the perfect time to wander past 17th-century houses along the canals or visit a small museum.