Exploring Amsterdam Zuid
Today, as from its inception, the Amsterdam Zuid remains one of the city’s most desirable addresses, its real estate Amsterdam’s most expensive and its residents arguably the most privileged. Amsterdammers dub the area ‘het reservaat’ (the reservation), but you can leave your passport at home – just don’t forget your credit card: some of the fanciest boutiques are to be found here – notably along the P.C. Hooftstraat. There are equally exclusive dining options – but also less stuffy alternatives.
The serene south
Of all the lovely streets in leafy Amsterdam, the Willemspark micro-’hood may just boast the loveliest. Around here, the elms and birches grow tall and full, throwing green shade across every road and giving a gentle charm to the century-old town houses with their bijou balconies and peaked gables.
And despite being within a well-flung Frisbee off Vondelpark and barely a few turns of a bicycle wheel from Museumplein, this idyllic little quarter is distinctly light on touristic bustle. While the Vondelpark gets skaters, sound systems and strollers – and even the least culturally curious visitors tend to pay Museumplein a visit, Willemspark remains a peaceful oasis and a chance to see how the city’s well-to-do have lived for more than a century.
History of the area
Part of the broader area known as Oud-Zuid – beginning just south of the Stadhouderskade at Museumplein and fanning out at Amsterdam’s ring road, mirroring the horseshoe formed by the Canal Ring – Willemspark is actually a relatively new part of this 800-year-old city, and has existed for barely more than a hundred years. In the late 1800s, Amsterdam officials were concerned that the city’s wealthier citizens were fleeing the overcrowded and (then) somewhat pungent Canal District in favour of nearby Haarlem and Hilversum. Clearly, this flight of the tax-paying core would not do for a city with Amsterdam’s ambitions, so a number of prominent citizens formed the Willemspark Construction Company to create a new area in what was then Amsterdam’s rural southern extreme. It would be a place that the city’s grandest would be happy to call home, and in keeping with the growing trend for ‘greening’ cities with parks and public spaces, the peaceful squares of Emmaplein (with its monument to the queen of the same name) and Valeriusplein were the central points around which homes were built.
The area’s streets curved around the Vondelpark, in stark contrast to the grid patterns seen elsewhere in the city. Due to the exclusivity of the area, only local residents and members of the park association were allowed to use this vast green space – now the city’s most famous park – with the grand entrance on the proudly-named Koningslaan acting as their own private gateway. The large homes around these streets, with private gardens backing on to the park’s lakes, give an idea of the exclusivity of the area. Today, it’s for everyone, but its peaceful cafés, combined with the high-end stores found along Willemsparkweg continue to attract the city’s elite, and are perhaps a calmer alternative to the equivalents immediately around Museumplein.