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Pancakes, art and world-class culture – there’s more to the Netherlands capital than “the city of sin”

“Some tourists think of Amsterdam as the city of sin,” wrote John Green in his best-selling literary neo-classic The Fault in Our Stars, “but in truth it is a city of freedom.” And there’s perhaps no better way to surmise the Netherlands capital than with John’s words.

Freedom to be and express one’s self is celebrated down every cobbled street, floating on every winding 17th century canal, on the faces of every passing cyclist or rosey-cheeked coffee shop patron, and throughout the halls of every world class museum. It’s what makes Amsterdam a city like no other in the modern world.

First of all, let’s address the lingerie-clad elephant in the hazy, smoke-filled room. Yes, Amsterdam is home to De Wallen – or the red light district, as it’s more commonly known – which makes the city synonymous with legalised prostitution. But it looks like Toys R Us when compared to the red light district of, say, Hamburg, and is just as much a tourist attraction as London’s Soho or Berlin’s Kreuzberg.

Yes, there are some gentlemen callers who squeamishly scuttle up to the brightly-lit windows looking for affection, fun and companionship from time to time, but the streets of De Wallen are more often-than-not filled with lighthearted and good-humoured holiday makers looking to pique their curiosities, above anything else. It’s a little light on entertainment for men seeking men anyway, so probably not the go-to spot in the city for guys like us, although the live sex shows are somewhat of a rite of passage.

And yes, Amsterdam is also word famous for its coffee shops; a place where you can buy marijuana and hash for your own consumption. You’ll find them on most of the city’s streets and will be able to recognise exactly where you can go for a smoke by a sticker in the window. But just like with pubs, restaurants and, well, anything else in the hospitality industry, every coffee shop is different. Some offer amazing food – although our credibility as critics might’ve been somewhat skewed – and others are just pleasant places to lounge and watch the city pass you by.

Others, as you might expect, are terrible – filled with barely-18-year-old “lads” spending their pocket money and Instagramming pre-rolled splifs. Of course, you can have an incredible time in Amsterdam without smoking a joint, but if it’s something you want to do, you’re best staying away from the high streets and exploring the beaten path for some of the more local hotspots; they’ll be better priced, better quality and, most importantly, patronised by better clientele.

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This all adds up to make the “city of freedom” moniker the city quite rightly deserves. You want to get stoned? Sure, go for it. You can even do it before heading to the city’s Natura Artis Magistra (Amsterdam’s zoo) and spend far too long looking at penguins. You want to pay for sex? Fill your boots! Amsterdam is quite possibly one of the most evolved cities on the planet because it knows that indulging in one’s impulses – as long as that doesn’t come at the expense of anyone else, of course – isn’t “sinful”. But there’s so much more to the Netherlands’ capital than that.

What’s often overlooked is the fact that Amsterdam is home to world-class culture. The Van Gough Museum and Rembrandt Museum (in the house where Rembrandt worked and lived, no less) are a must for any art connoisseurs – giving you the chance to see how the Dutch masters changed the art of painting forever with their brush strokes – while the Rijksmuseum is a real insight into the arts and history of Amsterdam, from the Middle Ages to the present day. No visit to the city is complete though without a pilgrimage to Anne Frank House – a biographical museum dedicated to Anne Frank, the Jewish diarist and Holocaust victim whose words have inspired countless millions the world-over. Since Donald Trump assumed office we’ve been reminded far too often how history can often repeat itself – especially by his attempts to ban Muslims from the US – and this monument to the fight against fascism and persecution for being who you are becomes more poignant with each passing day.

“Amsterdam is possibly one of the most evolved cities on the planet.”

Luckily, most of the major museums are pretty much in the same areas and you can while away day after day without even needing to leave the museum quarter. What’s worth remembering though is that with millions of tourists passing through the city every year, if you want to skip queues or even guarantee entry, it’s best to buy your tickets the day before – and absolutely essential if you want to visit Anne Frank House.

Even if the museums weren’t all in such close proximity, Amsterdam is among the easiest cities to navigate; the tram system alone is pretty succinct and easy to follow. But the best approach to take with Amsterdam is to just get out there, walk, and explore. There’s charm and whimsey pretty much on every street corner, and it’s the best way to work up your appetite for a pancake pitstop.

Jon Arnold

With that in mind, then, there’s only one place you need to think about staying, whether you’re having a long, drawn-out week or just a relaxing weekend break – the Amsterdam Marriott, which has been a firm fixture in the city’s Stadhouderskade (just a stone’s throw away from most of the museums) for more than 40 years and is well underway in in serving tourists and visitors for 40 more.

The hotel underwent a massive refurbishment of its guest rooms starting in 2015 to celebrate its 40th anniversary, led by Dutch design powerhouse Studio Piet Boon, which are inspired by the Brutalism movement. With a soft colour palette of white and grey, the rooms optimise the use of space while creating a warm and contemporary atmosphere in which architectural elements, refined raw materials, thoughtful and charming little details and smart uses of space form a balanced whole.

The hotel also has the usual amenities you’d come to expect from a first-rate hotel in a European capital, like lobbies, dining rooms, gym, bars, making it a place you can meet with friends, work, or just relax and chat – versatile is always best, after all. But the crowning jewel in the Amsterdam Marriot Hotel is undoubtedly its Midtown Grill steak restaurant, which more than backs up its claiming of offering the finest steak in the city.

Inspired by quintessential American steakhouses and serving only USDA certified steaks, the emphasis is on pureness, freshness and quality while still remaining reasonably priced. You’ll find it a vibrant, warm and welcoming evening hotspot any night of the week, with diners coming from all over the city. If you’re anything like us, though – with temptation being the only thing we can’t resist – Midtown Grill is definitely the place where Amsterdam turns from the “city of freedom” into the “city of eating too much and having to be helped back to your room…”

Absolutely worth it, though.

Gay Times stayed with Amsterdam Marriott Hotel with rooms from £163/€187.

For more information or to book visit marriotthotels.com or call +31 20 607 5555.

For more info on Midtown Grill steak restaurant or to make a reservation visitmidtowngrill.nl.

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