Amsterdam offers fantastic venues for meetings, but beyond that, the city is chockablock with great things to do before and after taking care of business.

In 2008, the Amsterdam Tourism & Convention Board is shining the light on some of its lesser-known treasures, from the Tulip Museum to some of the city’s hidden courtyards and architectural jewels. And 2009 focuses on art, with the opening of two new museums: the Hermitage Amsterdam (an annex of the renowned Saint Petersburg collection) and the Stedelijk Museum of modern art and design.

Check out the “i Amsterdam” card, available through the ATCB, for free or discounted entry to most of the city’s museums, free access to the city’s public transport system, and savings on everything from canal boat tours, to dining, to bike and walking tours.

During a too-short four-day trip, I explored the streets and canals, the shops and museums, the cafes and nightspots of this “Venice of the North.”

The InterContinental Amstel Amsterdam opened in 1867 and has continued to hold claim as Amsterdam’s grand dame, and I had the good fortune to stay there. I slept like a queen on the fine, soft bedding—and, apparently, so have many queens. Queen Elizabeth of England, Queen Silvia of Sweden, the tsarina of Russia, and many other nobles and notables have made this hotel their home base in Amsterdam. My opulent, two-level suite overlooked the never-ending parade of boat traffic on the Amstel River below. With its two casement windows thrown wide open, the suite was hard to tear myself away from—I don’t think I once turned on my television, so compelling was the show outside the windows.

Known popularly as The Amstel, the hotel has 79 rooms (including 24 suites. The Amstel Lounge is a light-filled conservatory for casual lunches; it is also where one can indulge in Amsterdam’s most famous afternoon tea, featuring tiny, elegant sandwiches of smoked salmon, cucumber, egg, and watercress; focaccia with pastrami and Parmesan cheese; tarts, madeleines, and scones with cherries and clotted cream; and a flowing chocolate fountain. Locals often spend an entire leisurely weekend afternoon communing over the six courses of tea and assorted delectables.

The hotel also features a wood-paneled Bar & Brasserie filled with water-reflected light streaming in through floor-to-ceiling windows. In fine weather, the outdoor riverside terraces are the place to dine, just inches above water level, where one can watch boats passing just a few feet away. And the elegant La Rive, a Michelin star–rated restaurant and a member of the prestigious Alliance Gastronomique, serves memorable contemporary French-influenced cuisine on its custom-made Villeroy & Boch dinnerware.

The hotel’s light-filled Health & Fitness Club has an indoor pool, sauna, Jacuzzi, steam room, cold plunge, gym, and solarium, with massage and personal training available seven days a week.

The Amstel’s six banquet and meeting rooms, including a 2,000-square-foot ballroom with windows on three sides, can accommodate anything from an intimate lunch for 10 persons, to a meeting for 180, or a reception for 350. All meeting spaces have natural daylight.

But when the meeting is over, all of Amsterdam is waiting for exploration, and much of it is within walking distance through charming streets and across myriad canals. The city is a haven of art, music, and culture. The world-famous Concertgebouw is home to the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. The city’s 37 museums include the Rijksmuseum (filled with the works of such Dutch masters as Rembrandt, Frans Hals, and Vermeer), the Van Gogh Museum, and the Anne Frank House. One could easily spend an afternoon strolling through the “Nine Little Streets,” a charming shopping district filled with tiny shops, boutiques, and cafes. Or for an overview of the city, a Yellow Bike Ride might be just the ticket for your group. It’s a kind of rolling, magical history tour: lively, knowledgeable guides lead small groups through the winding streets, over canal bridges, and through parks, with stops for mini-lectures on the compelling history of this city.

Back at the hotel, one can explore those canals close up. The InterContinental Amstel operates three century-old “classic saloon boats.” The smallest accommodates 12 guests, the largest 24. The boats can be fully catered, so groups can enjoy anything from snacks and beverages, to a champagne reception, to a full dinner on board. It’s a wonderful way to see the city, and a blissful end to the day.