The Ajax style reflects the character of the Dutch capital and its inhabitants: head up, chest out, facing the world with confidence and swagger. Amsterdam has the buzz of a major European metropolis, but also the compactness and ease of a provincial town, perfect for an away fan looking to get a taste of the place on a whistle-stop tour.
Amsterdam has everything from chic 17th-century canal-side townhouses and world-renowned museums to colourful hipster cafés located in regenerated docklands. It’s also the place most closely associated with Total Football and pure dedication to sparkling, imaginative play. This is the city where Dutch masters such as Johans Cruijff and Neeskens, plus Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkaard, Patrick Kluivert and Clarence Seedorf, and – more recently – Matthijs de Ligt, Frenkie de Jong and now Ryan Gravenberch have bedazzled the footballing world.
The centre of Amsterdam is ideal for exploration by foot. That said, in normal times the area from Centraal station through Dam Square to the Leidseplein, as well as the red-light district, can often feel choked by visitors. But it’s easy – and rewarding – to go a little further afield.
Wander through the city centre’s UNESCO-listed canal belt for a taste of Dutch Golden Age opulence. The Herengracht, for example, was where many of Amsterdam’s social elite built their grand gabled houses several centuries ago, and that sense of prestige is still palpable. Almost every building is a work of art. The nearby Jordaan, a previously working-class neighbourhood that has been thoroughly gentrified, serves up an abundance of tight little streets, cafés, shops, galleries and bars. On the eastern side of Centraal station, a short walk will take you to Hannekes Boom, a wooden bar/restaurant with a large outdoor sitting area overlooking water, which has the feel of an old Mississippi gin shack.
Otherwise, hop on a free ferry behind the station and check out the EYE Film Institute, with wonderful views from its café back across the river. Or have lunch 100 metres up at the top of the A’DAM tower, which also boasts Europe’s highest swing. A different ferry takes you further out to the NDSM Wharf, where you can eat and drink at Pllek, cobbled together from former shipping containers and close to an artificial beach. And, while it may sound tacky, a canal tour really is a good way of getting to know the city.
So too, of course, are the ubiquitous bicycles. And among the many great places to cycle to (and in) is the Westerpark, where greenery mixes with culture, including a former gas factory now transformed into bars, restaurants, live music venues and a cinema. Or, for a different feel, don’t pass up the chance to drink local beer in a windmill. East of the centre, Brouwerij ’t IJ (Funenkade 7, also reachable by tram 14) boasts a vast selection of suds brewed on the premises and elsewhere, in a location reminiscent of a scene from a blue-and-white Royal Delft tile.
The Johan Cruijff ArenA on Amsterdam’s southern outskirts is worth a visit even on non-matchdays to catch a glimpse of the four shiny replicas of the European Cup/Champions League trophies in the club museum
The Johan Cruijff ArenA on Amsterdam’s southern outskirts is worth a visit even on non-matchdays to catch a glimpse of the four shiny replicas of the European Cup/Champions League trophies in the club museum, as well as other Ajax memorabilia. Then there’s always a pilgrimage to Akkerstraat in the Betondorp (Concrete Village) area of the city, and the house where Cruijff lived until he was 12. The old Olympic Stadium in Amsterdam Oud-Zuid, where Ajax played until 1996, is now a national monument and can also be visited.
After the game, jump on the metro at the Amsterdam Bijlmer ArenA, zip up to the Nieuwmarkt and celebrate/drown your sorrows in one of the many nearby bars, while the players are still going through their cool-down routines on the pitch.
So much to do, so many choices to make. But don’t worry if you run out of time to see even a fraction of what Amsterdam has to offer. You’ll be back.