Travel Black Book CEO Series

Travel Black Book: Go Dutch or go home

Amsterdam charms with its windmills, canals and diversity of its music scene

WHO: Mr Declan Ee, 35, Producer and Co-founder of Furniture Store Castlery.

Favourite destination: Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Its amazing creative vibe stems from the fact that it is arguably the most liberal city in Europe. I take a lot of inspiration from the diversity of the music scene there.

Amsterdam is also aesthetically beautiful, thanks to its canals. It is known by some as the Venice of the North. I go there about three times a year.

SEE

Amsterdam offers many cultural sites and interesting museums, including the well-known Anne Frank House (www.annefrank.org/en) and Van Gogh Museum (www.vangoghmuseum.nl/en), but to see something different, I recommend visiting IJ Browerij (tinyurl.com/jr6pl7k), a small modern brewery in the city.

At the brewery, a hidden gem located in a former bath house next to a windmill, visitors can experience a slice of contemporary Dutch culture and sample organic blond, pilsner and dark beers.

To gain another unique perspective of the city, go to Sama, the Street Art Museum Amsterdam (www.streetartmuseumamsterdam.com), which features 150 artworks on buildings in the Nieuw-West area of the city. On the visitor tour, you can learn about how street art is made and how each work is influenced by the building's architecture and surroundings.

The best way to experience Amsterdam is to ride a bicycle through the city's narrow streets and along its many canals, just like the locals do. It is actually slower to get around by car and you lose your sense of the city's charm travelling that way.​

  • WHO: Mr Declan Ee, 35, DJ, producer ad co-founder of furniture store, Castlery. He and his wife Sheryl Ang, 34, chief operating officer of Ikari Service pest control, have two sons, Elliott, two, and Emmett, 11 months. PHOTO: CASTLERY

  • GETTING THERE

  • KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and Singapore Airlines offer daily direct flights from Singapore to Amsterdam.

  • TIPS

    • Stay for a week and set aside some time to wander around and get lost in the city. Aside from hitting all the must-see spots, there are many pleasant and refreshing discoveries to be found.

    • Amsterdam is generally safe. Some soft drugs are legalised in the city. But consumption and possession of drugs carry harsh penalties in Singapore. Also, be aware that there might be street peddlers whom you should avoid. Apart from that, the locals are friendly, open and respectful.

    • Most of Amsterdam is 2m below sea level and it floods easily if the dykes are not working properly.

Amsterdam is one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the world, so bike rentals and tours are everywhere, including Yellow Bike (www.yellowbike.nl). Rentals range from $15 to $18 a day and accessories such as helmets and child seats are usually provided too.

When I have a few hours to spare, I head to Prinsengracht, one of the city's main canals in the west side of central Amsterdam. It is filled with historically rich buildings such as the Anne Frank House, churches, a houseboat museum, cafes and little stores where you can pass the time.

Blue Amsterdam (tinyurl.com/y84h2yrc), a cafe and restaurant in a glass tower, accessed by a glass lift, right in the city centre, offers the best views of the city.

The space has great coffee, ambience and fantastic 360-degree views. It provides binoculars, so you can make the most of the view.

EAT

Cafe de Jaren (www.cafedejaren.nl/en) is one of my favourite cafes. Located on the canal, with high ceilings, tall windows and natural light, it has a nice selection of food and coffee, which you can enjoy from the balcony or its patio on the water.

Ivy & Bros (www.facebook.com/ivyandbros) is where I go for my fix of healthy comfort food, such as egg muffins, hummus on toast, upside-down pear brownies, frittata toasties with harissa and desserts such as white chocolate cheesecake. It is also surprisingly affordable, at about $8 for a coffee and a pastry.

Pancakes are a breakfast staple in Amsterdam. Here, they are fluffy crepes which are usually served with fruit and chocolate or maple syrup.

One of the best spots for pancakes is a hole-in-the-wall place called Upstairs Pancake (tinyurl.com/yd89ta5t), which, with only four tables, is said to be the smallest restaurant in Europe. You must book ahead.

I also recommend The Pancake Bakery (www.pancake.nl/en), which has the best maple syrup and a huge selection of pancake flavours.

Try Dutch herring, a small fish which has been aged in brine for a few days until ripened. It is a local remedy for hangovers.

A good herring is fatty and smells fresh and salty, with a soft texture and a nice bite. A good place to get it is at a seafood eatery or fish market.

PLAY

Amsterdam Dance Event (tinyurl.com/yb3ct9y6), which takes place annually in October, is one of the world's biggest dance music festivals.

Over 400,000 people, including more than 2,000 music artists and industry professionals, attend the event every year for its showcases, conferences, speeches and performances.

Coming here, you get to experience the full spectrum of electronic music, from international chart-topping DJ-producers to underground indie acts.

One of my favourite hangouts is NDSM Wharf (www.ndsm.nl) - or "werf" as the locals call it - a former shipping and industrial dock that has been turned into a cultural hot spot with warehouses and refurbished industrial structures.

It is a melting pot of creative people, with cool cafes and many underground events and festivals.

If you have time for a side trip, visit The Hague. Just a 45-minute train ride away, it is the only city in Holland with access to the beach.

The seaside district of Scheveningen is known for its wide beaches, historic district, bustling shopping district, pier and amusement rides.

Fishing is a big industry in the city.

In June, Scheveningen's fishing community simulates the old tradition of heralding the season's first catch by bringing its fishing fleets back to the harbour with its flags unfurled.

SHOP

For clothes, I like fashion boutique Scotch&Soda (www.scotch-soda.com/sg/en/home) for its trendy gear.

For furniture, go to Neef Louise (neeflouis.nl), a huge warehouse filled haphazardly with furniture and home items. Shopping here is like a huge treasure hunt.

I go to Brut Amsterdam (www.brutamsterdam.nl/en) for unique, industrial-style furniture. Noordermarkt (tinyurl.com/y88aox3z), an authentic local market frequented by locals, offers second-hand clothes, farm fresh produce and a huge variety of local products on Saturdays and Mondays.

STAY

I love the Andaz Amsterdam, Prinsengracht (tinyurl.com/yb3rpohs), a quirky and creative hotel on the canal, and the W Amsterdam (www.wamsterdam.com), which has an amazing rooftop bar where you can take in the views of the city.

I also recommend spending a few nights in a houseboat.

You can book one for the night as you would a hotel, through sites such as AmsterdamStay (tinyurl.com/ydfaknuo) and BookaHouseboat (tinyurl.com/yccbkxuz).

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 19, 2017, with the headline 'Go Dutch or go home'. Print Edition | Subscribe