The lush Hortus Botanicus, the city’s botanical gardens, were founded in 1682 for medicinal purposes after an especially bad outbreak of the plague. Thereafter, many of Amsterdam’s merchants made a point of bringing back exotic plants from the East, the result being the 6000-odd species exhibited here today – both outside and in a series of hothouses. The gardens are divided into several distinct sections, each clearly labelled, its location pinpointed on a map available at the entrance kiosk. The outdoor sections are mainly devoted to temperate and Arctic plants, trees and shrubs, while the largest of the hothouses, the Three-Climate Glasshouse, is partitioned into separate climate zones: subtropical, tropical and desert. The gardens also hold a butterfly house and a capacious palm house with a substantial collection of cycad palms. It’s all very low-key – and none the worse for that – and the gardens make a relaxing break on any tour of central Amsterdam, especially as the café, in the old orangery, serves tasty lunches and snacks.