‘Little pockets of resistance’, is how my friend alluded to the various districts in Amsterdam with shops so delightful you will want to spend time in them every weekend. I never really got the resistance part until I happened to over-indulge myself. Within the space of two hours, I had spent what I earn in a month without even noticing it really… To my psyche, hardened by years of journalistic endeavor, pockets of resistance were realities mostly to do with countries at war, but hey ho, losing a lot of dough just like that made my house an instant war zone, so I got the message in the end.
With December in full swing now, the delights in the shops are beckoning yet again and let me share some of the less safe shopping tips. Enter at your own risk:
Nine Streets, is the name of this collection of small boutique shops which straddles the three main canal streets, Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht. Its central location makes for a great decor and steep prices but the wares on offer compete very successfully with these two factors. You will find absolute gems in these quaint shops. There’s the odd vintage clothing store, there are great delicatessen shops, there’s a specialty tobacco shop, art galleries, designer shops – the list is endless. Hope your wallet is bottomless.
Forget Kalverstraat, Amsterdam’s high street, with its throngs of shoppers. Head out instead to Utrechtsestraat. It is way more scenic, even crosses a canal and will keep you entertained for hours on end come rain come sunshine. There are plenty of shops in this street to find the most perfect gifts. If you are not successful in a home designer outlet, you might find something highly appropriate in a designer accessories store, or a vintage LP of someone’s favourite band in the record shop. With plenty of opportunities to sip away at a latte or pinch a pint.
If you are up for a spot of upmarket shopping, you could try to mingle with the rich and famous. They spend their cash at P.C. Hooftstraat. It dubbs as Fifth Avenue and most people only can afford to windowshop in this street, where the Chanel shop can be found at close quarters with the Gucci outlet, which in turn is not far from the Louis Vuitton and Hermés shops. This definitely is a district where shop owners will be able to advise non-EU citizens on issues like claiming back VAT on purchases (read the guide I just wrote about this) In case you are jewelry shopping and have opted to forego the diamond factories which Amsterdam is famous for, you can do worse than Chopard or Cartier. In case you want more casual clothes at more casual prices, you might try Mexx and Claudia Strater.
De Jordaan is a neighbourhood which is dominated by old time Amsterdammers – a generation of people who could all star in Eastenders tomorrow; houseproud, the net curtains in the windows are always whiter than white and there’s the obligatory geranium plant in the window. Geraniums in a window is for the Dutchman/woman the epitome of bourgeoisie or old age or a mixture between the two. You might wonder what visitors to Amsterdam might want to see geranium people for, but as it turns out, De Jordaan has become a bit of a trade mark for funky stuff. Its tiny streets have become the object of desire for yuppies and bohemians who took a shine to the cosy cafes and opened up art galleries, boutique shops and second hand shops with designer labels. What’s emerged is a behemoth of cultures which have melted to something you only find in De Jordaan. This is great for sentiment and value alike. Shop here an afternoon and you’ll be a better person for it. For all the
Last but not least, the Haarlemmerstraat is great too. It resembles the Utrechtsestraat but is even more diverse, with series and series of small unique shops to cater to everyone’s needs. If you are stuck with a partner who really dislikes shopping, take him to the Haarlemmerstraat (or Utrechtsestraat for that matter) and chances are you will find him back somewhere with his nose in a book in a specialty shop for this or that merchandise. No one should be bored in this district. At the very end of the Haarlemmerstraat is The Movies, an iconic, smallish film house so you could round up the day by going to the movies. There are also plenty of dining opportunities in Haarlemmerstraat.