Peirene Press recently asked me to contribute to their Facebook page feature “Three of my favourite things”, and I decided to focus on literary spots in Amsterdam. There are so many great places for writers and readers in Amsterdam, but here are the three that I selected – just for starters!
Three of my favourite literary locations in Amsterdam:
1) Hotel Ambassade
In 1986, staff at Amsterdam’s Hotel Ambassade decided to start a collection of books by visiting authors. The hotel, which has long been popular with writers and local publishing houses, now has a large library dedicated to its signed copies of books by writers from all over the world, from Martin Amis to Nigella Lawson and Umberto Eco, and featuring titles of all kinds, from thrillers to gardening books and great literature. It’s one of the few hotels in the world that has its own librarian, Eelco Douma, who says that there are now so many books in the library that the hotel is planning to extend it into the suite next door and create even more shelf space. Guests are welcome to sit in the comfy library and leaf through the many visitors’ books signed by authors over the years. The hotel is a great little hideaway right in the middle of the city and is perfectly located for visiting the many local bookshops. In fact, my only regret about living in Amsterdam is that I don’t have an excuse to stay at the Ambassade!
Choosing Spui as one of my favourite literary locations in Amsterdam could be considered to be cheating, as it’s actually a collection of great spots for booklovers. This square in central Amsterdam, just around the corner from the Hotel Ambassade, has a popular open-air book market on Fridays and a number of very good bookshops. The Athenaeum Boekhandel sells a great variety of titles, mostly in Dutch, but also with an interesting English selection. Just across the road is the American Book Center, which describes itself as ‘the largest independent source of English-language books in Europe’ and offers three big floors of books to browse, as well as frequent literary events. On the other side of the Spui square is a large branch of Waterstone’s, which sells the same titles as the shops in the UK and also has a section of Dutch books in translation, including, of course, Peirene Press’s Tomorrow Pamplona by Jan van Mersbergen. Perhaps I should also mention Jan’s favourite Amsterdam bookshop here: Schimmelpennink, a lovely and friendly bookshop with a great atmosphere, on Weteringschans about a twenty-minute walk from Spui.
3) The OBA
The main branch of the OBA (Openbare Bibliotheek, or Public Library) on Oosterdokskade near Central Station in Amsterdam is, of course, a fine literary location, but it also attracts a lot of attention for its architecture. The streamlined white interior offers not only a calm environment to work in, but also a really nice coffee bar with newspapers, free WiFi and, up on the seventh floor, a restaurant with one of the finest views out over the city of Amsterdam. It’s a great spot for reading and pondering over a plate of pasta and a glass of wine. What could be better? Well, the Sky Lounge at the new Mint Hotel, just a few doors down from the library, is providing some stiff competition with its view/cocktail combination…