Six of the best parks in Amsterdam

1. VONDELPARK

Just west of the UNESCO-feted canal belt, Vondelpark is the most popular of the lot. Good for jogging, it's also nice to explore in typical Dutch fashion - on a bicycle. On a loop of the park, you'll pedal past semi-wild meadows, kids' play zones and grassy stretches with water features, picnickers, drinkers and smokers (don't be surprised if you occasionally catch the scent of marijuana). Park landmarks include a bronze statue of Joost van den Vondel - the 17th-century Dutch poet and dramatist - and an open-air theatre that stages free concerts in spring and summer, ranging from classical music to gabber (Dutch-style techno).

2. REMBRANDTPARK

Spanning 45 hectares, this peaceful retreat is almost identical size-wise to the Vondelpark, but the crowds are thinner, and locals far outnumber tourists due its slightly out-of-the-way location, three kilometres west of the Leidseplein (a vibrant square in the heart of Amsterdam). Rembrandtpark is named after the Dutch master, Rembrandt van Rijn, and while he himself never stepped foot here (it opened centuries after his death), there is an artistic flavour to the place, with sculptures and graffiti dotted about and a pretty, rustic patchwork of open fields, woods and ponds that'll delight budding landscape painters. 

3. MUSEUMPLEIN

Not so much a park as an expanse of green slap-bang in the middle of one of Amsterdam's busiest tourist areas, Museumplein is ideal for winding down after you've had your art fix in the nearby visitor attractions. Backing on this tree-dotted public space is the Van Gogh Museum (home to some of the best works of the Dutch post impressionist), the Rijksmuseum (which showcases legendary paintings like Rembrandt's The Night Watch) and the Stedelijk, a hub of contemporary art and design. Behind this is a grass sloped roof that caps an underground car park and attracts its fair share of book-readers and sunbathers. 

4. SARPHATIPARK

Nice and snug (it stretches just two blocks), this is an oasis of tranquility in De Pijp, a gentrified working class inner-city neighbourhood just south of the centre. Named after Samuel Sarphati, a 19th-century Jewish doctor and philanthropist, the park is spread around a little lake and lures everyone from local hipsters to elderly dog walkers. A few minutes' walk away, there's a plethora of trendy bars and cafes plus the Albert Cuyp Market, a multicultural street market that has almost 300 stalls selling clothes, flowers and food. Stop by for some famous Dutch Stroopwafels (a sweet baked dough sandwich with a caramel-like syrup filling).

5. AMSTELPARK

A miniature railway, mini-golf course, hedge maze, playground, two galleries and a petting zoo are among the diverse attractions of this entertaining park, which flanks the River Amstel, within walking distance of the Zuidas, a booming, skyscraper-filled financial services enclave dubbed the "Dutch Wall Street". As well as grassy areas to chill out on, the Amstelpark has flower gardens made for scenic ambles, including Rhododendron Valley. For refreshments, there's the stylish Rosarium restaurant, which has a neat outdoor terrace, and stands serving quintessential Dutch snacks such as mayo-drenched fries and sweet pancakes. A great photo opportunity awaits on the park's southern border: the Rieker windmill, which dates back to 1636 and was sketched by Rembrandt.

6. AMSTERDAM FOREST

This man-made beauty on Amsterdam's south-western limits is by far the largest of the city's verdant escapes, measuring 1000 hectares - three times bigger than New York's Central Park. Whether you're walking, running, cycling, swimming or canoeing past its manicured mosaic of trees, grassland and waterways, it'll feel like you're deep in the countryside. Just ignore the muffled sounds of traffic from the highway that divides the bulk of the forest from its Kersenbloesempark (Cherry Blossom Park). Each April, while the rest of the Netherlands toasts its blooming tulips, the forest's Cherry Blossom Festival draws crowds with the promise of traditional Japanese food and drink under the vivid, flowering sakura.

Steve McKenna travelled as a guest of Crystal River Cruises.

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