Coverings are now mandatory in parts of the city – but they are easily (and best) avoided, says Greg Dickinson
As a period of scorching weather begins across the Netherlands, Amsterdam has become the latest European city to introduce mandatory face coverings in public areas.
The move came as something of a surprise, after Dutch public officials last Wednesday appeared to peddle a position they have adopted since March: “There’s no scientific evidence for the efficacy of non-medical masks,” they said.
Yet here we are, the decision looped back on itself like a half moon canal in Amsterdam, to some consternation to those who have celebrated the Mark Rutte’s so-far “common-sensical” approach to exiting lockdown.
As of today, anyone stepping foot in the Red Light District or the Kalverstraat and Nieuwendijk shopping streets must wear a face covering. The rule also covers market hours at Albert Cuypstraat and Plein ‘40–’45.
To those not au fait with Amsterdam, this can broadly translate as “the busiest bits”. Although, slightly confusingly, the central Dam Square and Damrak, the avenue leading to Centraal Station, will not require face masks. Nor will Nieuwmarkt, a square just to the east of the Red Light District.
This is part of a ‘phased’ introduction of face coverings in the Netherlands, according to the City of Amsterdam website, suggesting more of the city could face restrictions in the future. But for now, it only applies to these parts of the city (certain parts of Rotterdam have new face mask rules as of today, too).
What this means is that you must have something covering your face and nose when walking outside or perusing shops in these areas. Cafés, restaurants and brothels are exempt, since they already have social distancing measures in place.
At first glance, this appears to be bad news for anyone with a trip booked to Amsterdam in the coming month (the pilot scheme is due to last three to four weeks) and who has an aversion to wearing face coverings in the sunshine.
But something that the locals, and indeed adopted residents like me who are staying here for a period over the summer, know all too well is that the city has a whole lot more to offer beyond the areas covered by these new restrictions. While the Red Light District warrants a pass through and a tick off a list, the Kalverstraat and Nieuwendijk shopping streets are as avoidable as Oxford Circus for anyone visiting London.
The first piece of advice would be to focus on the middle and outer rings of Amsterdam’s canal network, which are less tacky, empty of paralytic Brits Abroad (of which I have seen many, in central, in the witching hours), and offer unrivalled people watching opportunities through the gaping windows that line the canals. Make a beeline for the Jordaan area or De Pijp and the face-covered hubbub of central will seem a distant memory.
But if it’s a proper breath of fresh air you’re after – outdoors, with no crowds sheathed with bits of elasticated cloth – here are a few gems I have uncovered during my time here so far. There are many more.
Explore psychedelic gardens, all to yourself
Nestled in the northwestern reaches of the city, and unknown even to some of the locals I have met because it has been closed to the public until this year (open March to October), is the labyrinthine world of Volkstuinvereniging Sloterdijkermeer, which is as easy to pronounce as it is to navigate.
Accessed through Westerpark, Sloterdijkermeer is a hodge-podge of stunning allotments, featuring 274 gardens, each with a little summer house attached. In here you will find gambolling bunnies, wending algae-filled canals, and Amsterdammers proudly pruning their hedges and almost neon hydrangeas.
Pop along on a Sunday between 4pm and 7pm for a beer in the little clubhouse, which feels like just about the least pretentious place in the whole of the city. Think €1.75 for a beer and a crackling soundsystem.
A serene dip, a walk from the city centre
It is not yet an “official swimming spot”, although visit the Marineterrein's inner harbour on a sunny day and you will observe that this is a technicality that few Amsterdammers observe (at their own risk).
Head east from Central Station towards the space-age NEMO science museum, wrap around the back of a rather impressive replica of an 18th-century merchant ship, and you will find a pier with some swimming lanes and buoys in the water.
On a quiet morning or evening, you may well have the water all to yourself. Even if you don’t want to risk a dip, it’s a serene spot to while away an evening with a beer – on my last visit, there was an amateur tap-dancing class taking place across the water. If you don’t have beers to hand, you could head to the nearby Pension Homeland brewery or the uber cool Hannekes Boom bar – where some guests arrive by boat.
A cocktail (or two) with a superlative view
One thing Amsterdam has in short supply is hills, which means to get a look at the city from height you need to sniff out the city’s rooftop bars.
One of the finest options is Canvas, on the seventh floor of the Volkshotel in the south of the city, with a 360-degree view of the Amstel River and across to the city centre. Go for the sharing nibbles; if you haven’t tried raw smoked herring before, this could be the place to do it.
The hotel itself is as idiosyncratic as they come, describing itself as: “a place for single moms. For Stockbrokers and punk rockers. For dandies and poets. Dishwashers and Underwater welders. For biologists, night bloomers and artists.” I can confirm the welcome also extends to regular visitors, looking for a drink with a view.
The vibe is a stylistic hotel, which could have been air-dropped from Berlin or Shoreditch, kitted out with bedrooms like the Cabin in the Woods complete with hammocks and a raised mini-mezzanine bed. Somehow, even with the Covid-19 social distancing measures in place, the Volkshotel retains its cool. And not a face covering in sight.