Several cities can lay claim to the title “The Venice of the North,” yet for romance, Amsterdam comes closer than any to matching its Italian counterpart for being the perfect romantic getaway. For over two months, the Robeco SummerNights Festival takes place, with around 80 concerts encompassing classical, jazz, popular and film music. The line­up of soloists is starry, performing with some of the best orchestras, including the famed Royal Concertgebouw. Why not combine some of this season’s musical events with some of the other delights the city offers?
Neuwe Kerk
Neuwe Kerk

Carved into the ten metre high pulpit of Amsterdam’s Nieuwe Kerk, which dates back to the Middle Ages, you may spot some angels sliding down the banister! These angels, carved by Albert Vinckenbrinck, are delightfully mischievous.

Gustav Mahler’s setting of “Das himmlische Leben” – a child’s vision of heaven, where angels bake the bread – was used as the final movement of his Fourth Symphony. Sleigh bells and flutes conjure up childhood innocence, yet the music also has great romantic intensity. Aga Mikolaj is the soprano soloist in a performance which opens the festival on 29 June, featuring the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic. There is a strong Mahler performance tradition in Holland – there is even a street named after him in South Amsterdam – and the Rotterdam Philharmonic, under its charismatic conductor Yannick Nézét­Séguin, performs Mahler’s massive Sixth Symphony on 19 August.

Amsterdam is rich hunting territory for art lovers. Rembrandt is renowned as one of the great Dutch painters and lived in Amsterdam from 1631. “Come back and see my etchings” may be one of the corniest chat­up lines, but when the etchings are by Rembrandt, it works rather better! In 1639 the artist and his wife, Saskia, moved to a house in the 'Breestraat' (Broadway), which is now the Rembrandt Museum, housing a virtually complete collection of his etchings. The museum also contains paintings by artists living and working in Amsterdam before he moved there. As well as the Rembrandt Musuem, visitors should also take the opportunity to see Rembrandt’s famous portrait of his wife Saskia van Uylenburgh which is currently on loan from Washington’s National Gallery of Art. It was begun shortly after they were married and was completed in 1640, only two years before Saskia died, aged just 29. 

Rijksmuseum © John Lewis Marshall
Rijksmuseum
© John Lewis Marshall

The greatest romantic pairing in literature is surely Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and they are celebrated in music in no less than three concerts. Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture opens the concert on 6 July, while the “Scène d’amour’ from Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette forms part of a ‘Romantic Summer Classics’ selection on 11 July, which also features Mendelssohn’s Wedding March. Shakespeare’s star­cross’d lovers make a double appearance on 24 August, through suites from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet ballet, as well as in the Symphonic Dances from Leonard Bernstein’s musical West Side Story.

If romance is on the menu, why not say it with flowers? Nothing could be more Dutch than tulips, but did you know that they were originally introduced to the Netherlands from Turkey in the 16th century? They became enormously popular, leading to what was described as ‘tulipmania’ in the 1630s, with prices of bulbs spiralling, making them a luxury item.

Still Life vase of flowers and a dead frog © Jacob Marrel, 1634
Still Life vase of flowers and a dead frog
© Jacob Marrel, 1634
 Buying a painting of the flowers actually became a cheaper option. The Rijksmuseum, just a seven minute walk from the Concertgebouw, contains a number of exquisite still life paintings from this period, well worth exploring.

Perhaps the world’s most celebrated still life has to be Vincent van Gogh’s series of Sunflower paintings. London’s National Gallery has recently seen the two most famous examples hanging side by side, but the Van Gogh Musuem’s most famous exhibit is back in Amsterdam this spring. The museum houses the largest collection of paintings by van Gogh anywhere in the world, with 112 works displayed there. It is also even closer to the Concertgebouw than the Rijksmuseum, so there’s no excuse not to pay a visit.   

It is open until 10pm on Friday nights, where you can take in a guided tour, a DJ and cocktails.

A floral theme follows in Verdi’s La traviata – the quintessential romantic opera – a doomed love affair stifled by social convention, ending with the death of the heroine. It was based on the novel La Dame aux camélias by Alexandre Dumas fils, itself semi­autobiographical, drawing on the author’s affair with the celebrated courtesan Marie Duplessis, but disapproved of by his father. La traviata is the novel’s most famous adaptation (although the film Moulin Rouge! – very loosely based on it – runs it close) and even people who profess to know nothing about opera will recognise its ‘Brindisi’ (a drinking song). Here, it is presented in a concert performance.

Some may do a ‘double­take’ on spotting Dominic Seldis, the principal double bass player of the Concertgebouw Orchestra, draped in flowing pink silk on the cover of the 2014 Robeco SummerNights brochure. Seldis presents his musical comedy show ‘Stand up Double Bass’ on 13 August, but also appears as concert soloist. Giovanni Bottesini was a virtuoso performer – dubbed the Paganini of the double bass – and Seldis performs works by both composers with the Concertgebouw Chamber Orchestra on 3 July.

Do you fancy arriving at your chosen concert by canal? The Robeco SummerNights Dinner and Cruise Concert allows you to dine on board, while cruising Amsterdam’s famous canals. Enjoy a leisurely dinner and disembark by 7:15pm in time to see the evening’s concert at the Concertgebouw, which starts at 8pm.

“If music be the food of love, play on” – if music doesn’t do the trick, perhaps coffee and cake may be the way to your loved one’s heart? There are a number of cafés offering mouthwatering menus, serving delicious cakes and pastries. Or perhaps ice­ cream is just the thing?

For another touch of luxury, experience what it was like to live in a high class Amsterdam canal house by visiting the Willet-­Holthuysen Museum. The house was bequeathed to the city on condition it was preserved and opened as a museum. Abraham Willet enjoyed the finer things in life and enjoyed the rich culture Amsterdam offered, accompanied in the evenings by his wife, Louisa. They built up a fine collection of artworks, now on display.

A few Spanish and Latin American evenings could turn up the romantic temperature. The smoky bars of Buenos Aires and late night tango are evoked when Isabelle van Keulen and friends perform the music of Astor Piazzolla on 22 July, while you can enjoy an evening of ‘Intimate Flamenco’ on 8 August. Star classical guitarist Miloš Karadaglić gives a solo recital of Spanish favourites Rodrigo, Granados and de Falla on 3 August.

Other than by canal, the other great way to see Amsterdam is by bicycle… and what more romantic way than by hiring a tandem? There are plenty of bike rental shops, but but our suggestions are here and here.

Ferdinand Bol, one of Rembrandt’s pupils, was the first resident in what is now the Museum Van Loon. Named after Willem van Loon, a co­founder of the Dutch East India Company, it was designed in 1672 by architect Adriaen Dortsman. It now houses impressive silver and porcelain and from 20­24 August, it is staging Othmar Schoeck’s short opera Vom Fischer und seiner Frau as an ‘Opera in the canal garden’ event.

However your romantic break in Amsterdam turns out, you’ll be sure to fall in love with the city itself.

Cycling along a canal
Cycling along a canal

 

Click here to find out about other Amsterdam festivals and the opportunity to win tickets!