The storied Rembrandtplein, or Rembrandt Square, is one of the most famous squares in Amsterdam, with so much to recommend it to visitors. Beside the street performers who entertain the square and the cafe terraces where one can people-watch over a cup of coffee, this former butter market is a one-stop entertainment hub, with diverse attractions on the perimeter of the square and in its immediate vicinity.
Music Venues and Dance Clubs
One of Rembrandtplein's most notable claims to fame is its fashionable clubs, such as Escape (Rembrandtplein 11) and Club Rain (Rembrandtplein 44), which attract queues of impeccable dressers. Escape offers multiple spaces, each with its own purpose and atmosphere, from the classic Escape Venue – where clubbers move to dance and house hits – to their dedicated cafe space, where revelers can come for a pre-party meal. Club Rain has a similar set-up in its downstairs bar and dancefloor and upstairs restaurant, but while the music and cocktails receive rave reviews, the dinner experience leaves much to be desired.
But the square also has its share of more intimate, unpretentious spots for a variety of tastes. Cafe Bolle Jan (Korte Reguliersdwarsstraat 3), for example, is an Amsterdam institution and the sort of place visitors will find nowhere else – a crowded but convivial bar, its walls steeped in history, where Amsterdammers come to listen to traditional Dutch folk music. On the other end of the musical spectrum, hip-hop club De Duivel (Reguliersdwarsstraat 87) opened in 1992 as one of the few such venues in the Netherlands and continues to be a hub for Dutch hip-hop and street art.
Cafe Schiller (Rembrandtplein 24-a) is a "brown cafe" in the truest sense, where time seems to stand still for the literati that strew its Art Deco interior. The beer, liquor and bar snacks will tide most visitors over, but diners can also order simple Dutch dinners from the short-but-sweet menu.
Cocktail bar Door 74 (Reguliersdwarsstraat 74) deserves special mention for its secure status as one of the world's best bars, a place where expert bartenders deliver superlative craft cocktails. Its Prohibition-era speakeasy ambience – with a semi-secret entrance to boot - adds to its infectious charm.
Arctic and Antarctic animals flank the entrance of the Xtra Cold Icebar (Amstel 194-196), a clue to the -10 °C (14 °F) temperatures visitors can expect inside; at the Icebar, the interior is crafted of ice and the decor includes 30 tons of ice sculpture. Don the weather-resistant apparel that's provided to customers, and order a Heineken Extra Cold for the full experience; non-alcoholic drinks are on hand for the kids, who can strike poses with the costumed characters that occasionally make an appearance.
Restaurants and Cafes
Use discretion when it comes to restaurants and cafes on and around Rembrandtplein; quite a few are unabashed tourist traps (as opposed to just "touristic", which is understandable on such a popular square), and peddle subpar food at inflated prices. Even so, the square and its environs are full of delicious eats.
Set back from the bustle of Rembrandtplein proper, Szmulewicz (Bakkersstraat 12) looks out onto the crowds from a plain but typically Dutch facade, marked with a snazzy typeface. The affordable meals from around the world – from Latin America, to Europe, to the Far East – and the respite from the busy square makes Szmulewicz a draw for Amsterdammers. The restaurant takes its mouthful of a name – which resembles the Dutch word smullen, "to feast" - from a Polish actor who once owned a theater in the vicinity.
Tomo Sushi (Reguliersdwarsstraat 131) is often hailed as the best sushi bar in Amsterdam, but the quality comes at a premium, and diners sometimes feel rushed to vacate their tables. Thai restaurant Bangkok (Reguliersdwarsstraat 117), as the second Thai restaurant to open in Amsterdam, has served central Thai dishes to tourists and locals for over a quarter-century. Indrapura (Rembrandtplein 40-42) is a popular choice for Indonesian rijsttafel.
As manufacturers of the popular Dutch snack kroketten (croquettes), both Van Dobben and Kwekkeboom are household names in the Netherlands and both have lunchrooms just off Rembrandtplein. Eetsalon van Dobben (Korte Reguliersdwarsstraat 5) is worth a shot for typical Dutch lunches such as broodje kroket (croquette sandwich), but quality has become hit-or-miss over the years; more reliable is Banketbakkerij Kwekkeboom (Reguliersbreestraat 36), which supplements its croquettes with a full line of pastries.
International Food Chains
I'm not one to recommend international chains on trips should be meant to broaden one's horizons, but the Starbucks concept store (Utrechtsestraat 9) on Rembrandtplein is actually imbued with an attractive Dutch aesthetic, thanks to the blue and white Delftware tiles and wooden speculaas cookie molds that bedeck the walls. For a Dutch alternative to the ubiquitous Seattle-based coffee chain, head around the corner to CoffeeCompany (Amstelstraat 5), whose own above-par coffee, cozy ambiance and commitment to sustainability have made it a national favorite.
Another favorite franchise is Vapiano (Amstelstraat 2-4), whose own-made pasta, pizza and other Italian classics and cafeteria chic have earned it a loyal fan base; just be sure to visit at an off-peak hour, when the inherent lack of service is least noticeable. But Vapiano pales in comparison to Ristorante d'Antica (Reguliersdwarsstraat 80-82), west of Rembrandtplein, whose more sophisticated menu and superior service do, however, come at a loftier price; reservations are recommended.
Specialty Food Market
Self-caterers can discover locally produced food specialties at Marqt (Utrechtsestraat 17) - pronounced "marked" - an upscale Dutch supermarket chain, whose 1000m2 space on the Rembrandtplein is a wonderland of locally sourced products and other special finds. The selection is full of food and drink souvenirs and perfect picnic fare to take onto the square itself; a recent favorite find of mine is the all-natural John Altman mini cookies, with sophisticated flavor pairs like sour cherry and chocolate.
De Kleine Komedie (Amstel 56-58), the oldest theater in Amsterdam, is a classic venue for cabaret, comedy, theater and concerts; the theater's active concert calendar is the best bet for non-Dutch speakers. Its late 18th-century walls housed a French theater, a German theater, a Scottish church, a lecture hall and a conference center before the theater assumed its current, much-loved form.
For pre-recorded entertainment, Pathe Tuschinski (Reguliersbreestraat 26) shows mainstream international films on its multiple screens. Its eclectic architecture – a harmony of Amsterdam School, Art Deco and Art Nouveau – and plush interior has made it the most majestic cinema in the Netherlands with an ambiance closer to a venerable old opera house than the local movie theater.
Museums and Attractions
Sports fanatics can immerse themselves in soccer fandom at the Ajax Experience (Utrechtsestraat 9), a tribute to the capital's beloved soccer club. The interactive experience offers visitors an intimate look at the rise of the sports heroes and all the milestones in their full century of existence.
Two commendable museums are located just south of Rembrandtplein: the Bag and Purse Museum (Tassenmuseum Hendrikje) the Bag and Purse Museum (Herengracht 573), a fabulous fashion museum that traces social and visual history via this iconic accessory, and an excellent option for bachelorette (hen) parties in Amsterdam; the Willet-Holthuysen Museum (Herengracht 605) offers visitors a peek into the lives of the 17th-century patrician elite with its posh period rooms inside an authentic canal house.