Bernd F. Meier finds out why the Dutch city is a paradise for shoppers.
Amsterdam is the shopping metropolis of the Netherlands, where visitors can find fabulous fashions in tiny shops, stumble over trendy items in trendy designer shops and scavenge the many street markets for odds and ends – even in winter.
From cheese to toothpaste
The shops packed along Runstraat are narrow and inconspicuous.
Loek de Loor’s shop has a selection of 440 types of cheese, for example. De Kaaskammer, the cheese room, is the rather modest name De Loor has given his business, which offers rounds of cheese from Edam alongside unpasteurized speciality cheeses from France.
The cheese aficionado will even find cheeses from Norway and Sweden.
Next door is De Witte Tanden Winkel, the white teeth shop, where there are more than 50 kinds of toothpaste along with special toothbrushes.
The nine streets
De Kaaskamer and De Witte Tanden Winkel are just two of the many small shops in a part of the Dutch capital called the 9 Straatjes – or nine streets, which is bounded by Singel-, Heren-, Prinsen- and Keizersgracht – gracht being the Dutch word for canal.
“These canals were dug during the Dutch Golden Century from 1612 onwards in a horseshoe shape around the old city centre.
“It was here that the wealthy merchants and voyagers built their imposing residences, while artisans moved into the narrow streets linking the main thoroughfares – the 9 Straatjes,” says art historian Bregtje Viergever.
The nine streets, Reestraat, Hartenstraat, Gasthuis Molenstraat, Berenstraat, Wolvenstraat, Oude Spiegelstraat, Runstraat, Huidenstraat and Wijde Heisteegh have only relatively recently become a shopping mecca.
Boutiques with trendy fashions
During the 1990s, businesses began to move in, and now this part of Amsterdam is one of the best areas to go shopping in – whether for zany women’s fashions, original handbags, children’s books or items for the kitchen.
Designer items for the home in general and exotic jewellery are to be had, alongside antiques and bric-a-brac.
There are wholefood bakeries, ultra-trendy hairdressers and a shop that sells more than 300 different kinds of whisky.
“The Straatjes are only a few hundred metres from the city centre, but few tourists stray into the area,” Viergever says.
She notes that there is constant movement in the area. “You see places where there was no shop yesterday, while today someone has come up with the idea to open another boutique with trendy fashions.”
Markets in Amsterdam
Apart from the nine Straatjes, Amsterdam has many other shops, markets and designer outlets to lure the shopper.
Given the 5,500 shops, 165 antique shops, 26 weekly markets and a flower market, the range is huge.
Those wanting to sample a traditional market where ordinary Amsterdammers do their shopping should seek out the Albert CuypStraat in De Pijp.
“This is our market,” says Els Wamsteeker, who works at the local tourist office. The market here is erected every working day from 9 am to 5 pm, offering fresh fish, meat, vegetables and exotic fruits, along with essential clothing items, like woolly socks for the winter.
The odd-looking corner cafe De Taart van m’n Tante, the tart of my aunt, on Ferdinand Bolstraat at one end of the market.
The confectionary decorated with figures is adored by Amsterdammers young and old alike.
Here women meet for a chat over coffee, families celebrate children’s birthdays and – it is also a haven for tourists seeking to rest their weary feet after a hard morning’s sightseeing.