Experience Amsterdam through the senses

Amsterdam is full of surprises.

Hop off the tourist path to see, smell, hear, touch and taste them.

Content warning: this article contains no references to the Heineken Experience, coffeeshops, or Van Gogh.

Amsterdam is a wonderful place to revisit. It’s walkable, beautiful in all seasons, and big enough to find new things to do every time. For this trip, I planned things around sensory experiences.


If you avoid science museums due to dusty decor, disappointing gimmicks and dumbed-down information, have I got a surprise for you! Micropia, a museum dedicated to microbes, blends elegant design with inventive interactive displays in a space that reads more billionaire Bond villain than kindergarten.

Even those prone to the heebie-jeebies can find beauty in the seeing the unseen critters that make up our world. Who doesn’t want to see a live tardigrade, wiggling adorably? The contactless kinetic exhibit exploring the microbes on your body will make you smile the next time you go through airport security. For the brave: hit the smell buttons on the display of foods in various states of decomposition. Whoah!

Later that evening, this eukaryote found herself still contemplating microbe structures as she used diatoms to break up the bacterial biofilm on her teeth.


Every trip, I try to do One Big Thing. On my last trip to Amsterdam, it was visiting the Vermeer exhibit. This time, I decided to eat my art at Chef Peter Gast’s Michelin-starred restaurant Graphite.

Billed as a ‘speakeasy restaurant’, diners access the establishment with a QR code sent the day of. The atmosphere incorporates elements of the classic speakeasy – velvet cushions, privacy curtains, floral wallpaper- all reimagined through a contemporary lens that reflects the clean look of the food.

The perfectly-executed dishes, many featuring molecular gastronomy, made me wonder if Graphite’s lab rivals that of Micropia. The well-considered 12-course tasting menu allowed local ingredients to shine. I’m still thinking about that perfect Zeeland oyster with Champagne magically whipped into a cream and alium oil; a lighter, brighter take on the classic mignonette.

Open-air night cruise

After dark, Amsterdam twins itself with reflections of glowing architecture shimmering on the water. An evening canal stroll along a dimly-lit path is one way to enjoy the sights, but be aware of sneaky black bikes lurking in the darkness, waiting to bark your shins. There’s also the temptation to follow a route on your handheld atmosphere destroyer.

The most dramatic way to take in the view is from the canals.

Most tour operators offer night cruises with amenities like heating, meal service and toilets on large, enclosed vessels. These kid-friendly creature comforts create more of a noisy restaurant vibe and the interior light pollution detracts from the views outside.

For a moodier, more immersive experience, look for open-air night cruises. The boats are smaller and lower to the water, so there isn’t a bad seat. No bustling waiters, no toilets, no walking the aisles (no aisles) Minimal lighting allows a glorious display of light, water, architecture, reflection.

I expected terrific views – and got them – but what surprised me was the delicious soundscape! Before each bridge, I found myself holding my breath, eagerly anticipating the sound of the boat skimming through. Thanks to physics, each bridge delivered a different sonic painting.

As I explored my sense-based itinerary, I found myself noticing little surprises everywhere: the hilarious chorus of dinky bells angrily plinked when tourists strayed into the bike lane; the tight sinus-y smell of upcoming snowfall; the cosy feeling of warm clothes on a cold night.

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