For many, Amsterdam conjures memories of cloud-filled coffeeshops, red-light seediness, and saggy townhouses along the rings of canals. But the city is hell-bent on scrubbing its image and is emerging with a host of sleek, cutting-edge establishments. The most startling addition is the EYE Film Institute (IJpromenade 1; EYEFilm.nl), the newest landmark in Amsterdam-Noord, a previously undeveloped area across the river from the train station.
Hop on a bike and take the ferry to visit the institute, dedicated to Dutch film culture and heritage, which looks like a white spaceship has landed. There's no shortage of screenings and exhibits, or just grab a seat in the café's dramatic spaces, order a coffee, and take in the unusual views of the city. Cycle through neighborhoods most travelers never experience, such as the Tuindorp Nieuwendam, a quaint garden village awash with orange gabled roofs. Follow the paths toward the water and end up at the Stork Restaurant (Gedempt Hamerkanaal t/o 96; RestaurantStork.nl), housed in a former aircraft manufacturing facility, which specializes in seafood. Order up a battered and fried kroket and enjoy it smashed on a piece of bread with a glass of wine.
Back along the canals, the red-light district also has an unusual new resident: ANNA (Warmoesstraat 111; RestaurantANNA.nl), a refined dining room with upscale European dishes. The nouveau menu never swerves off course, but the seafood dishes, like the grilled plaice and fried langoustine, are tops. Porn shops and darkened storefronts may surround the polished restaurant, but inside it's a tranquil, romantic retreat with windows overlooking a medieval church and gawkers trying to spy the sophistication within. --Jerry Portwood
This high-end hotel is in a converted 19th-century bank that was formerly a music conservatory. As you walk into the soaring glass-enclosed lobby/lounge, the interiors, by Piero Lissoni, will take your breath away. Van Baerlestraat 27; ConservatoriumHotel.com
An upscale hotel full of history -- it's composed of 25 restored 17th- and 18th-century canal houses'it retains its charm while also offering a wonderful restaurant and cocktail lounge. Prinsengracht 315-331; PulitzerAmsterdam.com
The De Pijp area is full of retro cafés and ethnic restaurants. Veer slightly from the main drag and you'll find Albert Cuypmarkt (AlbertCuypmarkt.nl), a flea market with over 250 stalls selling flowers and vegetables, toys and clothing. Exhausted from scouring stalls? Try Café Schilders' terrace (Eerste van der Helststraat 45; CafeSchilders.nl) for good people-watching.
Grab a cocktail at classy Eve (Reguliersdwarsstraat 44; Eve-Amsterdam.com), then head over to the newest scenester locale, Ludwig II (Reguliersdwarsstraat 37). Some may remember it as Amsterdam's most famous gay bar, the April, but Casper Reinders has transformed it into a fashionable destination, appropriately well DJ'd.
A shopping street that locals also frequent, you'll find boutiques selling everything from high-end fashion labels to unusual toiletries (like soap in the shape of baby hands), punctuated by upscale coffeeshops to "fuel" your shopping spree.
Peter Greenaway's film is a fictional account of how Rembrandt came to paint his famous work, Night Watch, on display at Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum. If you're up for even more esoteric fare, pair it with Rembrandt's J'accuse, Greenaway's documentary examining the same painting -- at great length.
Dark woods add to the seductive vibe, and the dining room upstairs is decorated with choice taxidermy and colorful art to cultivate a "homey" atmosphere. If the weather's nice, ask to sit on the back patio while the bartender makes you his own Genever concoction. Reguliersdwarsstraat 28, LionNoir.nl