Compared with many parts of the city, there's a gracious and spacious feel to the Plantage with wide boulevards, parks, and elegant 19th-century architecture similar to the Museum District. It's a nice wander with a handful of family attractions and some excellent museums.

Its earliest roots are in the 17th century, when the area was divided into 15 parks and it was a recreational zone for the wealthy. Rare plants brought back on VOC ships were taken to the Hortus Botanicus, one of the oldest botanical gardens in the world, where famous botanists like Linnaeus researched. On the corner of the Linnaeusstraat (the street where Theo van Gogh was murdered), the Tropenmuseum provides insight into different cultures. Top draw in the area is Artis Zoo and its Neoclassical aquarium built in 1882, which you can also appreciate from the roadside.

Opposite the zoo is the marvelous Verzetzmuseum (Resistance Museum). There are other poignant reminders that from the late 19th century up to the Second World War, this was a neighborhood for wealthier Jewish families. In little Wertheim park is the Auschwitz memorial with its engraved message: Nooit Meer (Never Again). After German occupation in 1941, Jews were forbidden to assemble in public places, and the Hollandse Schouwburg became the Jewish theater where weddings (banned from the Town Hall) could take place. There's a film of one of the last in the exhibition upstairs. When the Germans requisitioned the theater in 1942, Jews were gathered here to be sent to their death. Between 1941 and 1944, 104,000 Jews were deported from the Netherlands; 1,169 survived.

Along the Amstel itself, the enormous Hermitage Museum has been a big cultural hit since it opened in 2009 with artworks direct from its base in Russia.

Cycling to village of Ouderkerk aan de Amstel (45 minutes away along the river) is a great bike trip. Pick up the river opposite the Stopera. The left bank (the Hermitage side) is quieter, past rowers, fishermen, munching cows and De Zwaan windmill, with a good view over the water of the Riekermolen windmill where Rembrandt sketched. The village itself includes ancient churches, the Portuguese Jewish Cemetery where Spinoza's family is buried and the enthusiastically curated Museum Ouder-Amstel about the area. If you return down the other side, you'll pass a couple of imposing 17th-century summer houses, including the Wester-Amstel (Amsteldijk-Noord 55), which is open from May to October, with an outside sculpture garden and period-authentic chickens (Hollandse Blauw: delicious) pecking away on their own little island.