Filmmaker Floris Leeuwenberg’s Insider Guide To Amsterdam

The filmmaker, photographer and director of High Cuisine, a psychedelic dining experience and TV series, takes us on a cycle around his hometown, with stops at a smart store, island restaurant and art deco cinema along the way

Born in Amsterdam, Floris Leeuwenberg spent most of his early years on a boat. Living on a Dutch barge his parents had restored until he was 11, the photographer and filmmaker describes his childhood as "alternative"; a free-spirited upbringing he cites as one of the reasons for his interest in legalising psychedelics. Now an award-winning photographer and filmmaker, Leeuwenberg's most recent project, High Cuisine, is a multidisciplinary experiment introducing psychedelic ingredients to a fine-dining experience.

"Psychedelics should be treated like medicine. We need to educate ourselves on what nature has given us," says Leeuwenberg. "I wanted to do something a bit crazy, so I approached a few chefs and together we created a menu that would elevate diners into an altered state over three courses." Kicking off with sashimi infused with high-THC weed to give guests the munchies, the climax of the meal was a pork cheek seasoned with psychedelic truffles, followed by a high-sugar sorbet to bring diners back down. The experience was developed into a TV series, and the team have since released two psychedelic recipe books - Bites and High Cocktails.

Floris Leeuwenberg, left, and the Jordaan district. | Photo credit: Kevin Faingnaert (left)

Here, Leeuwenberg shares his favourite spot for a morning coffee, lets us in on his tips for experimenting safely with psychedelics and walks us through the best harbours just outside the city.

An alternative guide to Amsterdam

What's your favourite neighbourhood in Amsterdam, and why should we go?

The Jordaan, where I've lived for the last 40 years - it's one of the oldest and most diverse parts of the city. Head to any neighbourhood café in the area and you're just as likely to come across locals in their dressing gowns as you are hipsters in head-to-toe vintage. It's the perfect mix.

When's the best time to visit?

I love all seasons, so for me there's a different kind of appeal to Amsterdam throughout the year, but spring is particularly beautiful as there are so many parks in the city. A new law has recently been passed that allows residents to plant mini gardens on the pavement just outside their homes in a bid to reduce litter, so Amsterdam is looking greener than ever at the moment.

Where should we stay?

There are plenty of great hotels around the city, but I'd pick the Grand Hotel Amrâth for its history and sheer grandeur. Shaped like the bow of a ship and located in a former shipping house, it's one of the earliest examples of the Amsterdam School - a socialist style of architecture that was often applied to working-class housing estates between 1910 and 1930. Now a lavish 205-room hotel filled with art from all over the world (some 40 or 50 woodworkers from Indonesia were involved in its design), it's ideally positioned just opposite the central station, and a must-see for any architecture enthusiasts.

How should we get around?

On foot or by bicycle. If you're new to cycling, make sure you go for a spin in the nearest park first to get a feel for your bike - us Amsterdammers can spot tourists on bikes from a mile away!

Tell us about a secret spot only locals know about…

Vuurtoreneiland, a magical small island that's about an hour's boat ride from the city, just off the coast of Durgerdam. It's home to the only lighthouse left in Amsterdam, and an old bunker that's been turned into a spectacular sustainable restaurant with its own organic kitchen garden.

Kokopelli | Photo credit: Kevin Faignaert

We're interested in safely experimenting with psychedelics, far from the partygoers. Where should we go?

I think Kokopelli is the most reliable smart store in Amsterdam - it was one of the first in the city, and staff are informative and always on hand to talk you through the safest dosage. Experimenting with psychedelics in a city isn't for everyone, so my best advice would be to have your first dose in nature. Amsterdamse Bos is a great place to start, or you could take the train out to Zandvoort beach and go for a walk among the dunes.

Where should we head for breakfast?

My favourite place to pick up a coffee and freshly baked bread in the morning is Bakkerswinkel in Westerpark. It's a cantina-style café in a light-filled former power station, where everything is baked in-house each day.

Any favourite restaurants in the city?

If I'm after something quick, Ladybird - a funky, American-style diner that serves delicious artisanal fried chicken - is my go-to. If I've got a work meeting, I'll usually head to Cradam - a spacious café-restaurant with a great casual lunch menu. My family and I usually eat dinner at home, but if there's a special occasion we might go to De Belhamel, a beautiful art deco-style restaurant on the canal.

It's Saturday night. Where should we head for drinks?

I love cocktails, so I always recommend starting the night off with a negroni at Flying Dutchmen. It's a great bar right in the centre of the party district, just next to the flower market. If you're into karaoke, make sure you end your night at Duke of Tokyo.

The Flying Dutchmen

We've got 12 hours to spend outside of the city. Where shall we go for a day trip?

The best way to experience Holland beyond Amsterdam is on the water. I'd take a bus and meander through the pretty harbours of Edam, Volendam and Marken, which all used to be on the sea before the land was reclaimed into a freshwater lake.

Where's your favourite place to catch a film?

Royal Theater Tuschinski, an Amsterdam School-era theatre that's full of magnificent art from the 20s and 30s. Make sure you see something in the Big Room if you can; it's a mind-blowing space in which to watch a film.

We've just got a new camera. Let us in on the best spots for taking photos of the city…

If you're after a city skyline view, climb the Westerkerk tower. Otherwise, I think the best street photographs always come about unexpectedly, so you can't beat a spontaneous stroll through the canals.

Finally, what's your favourite thing about living in Amsterdam?

In one word, freedom. It's so easy to get around - I go everywhere on my bike and so do my kids. Despite how quickly the city is growing, you can be anywhere on a bike within 15-20 minutes, and in that way Amsterdam still feels like a village. A lot of streets in the centre don't allow cars, so it's much quieter than other capital cities, too. More importantly, Amsterdam is a city that allows you to be who you want to be - whatever your gender, race, class or sexuality.

Read about the city of Amsterdam's pioneering spirit in Vol. 40: Visionary

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