Entered through an ornate gate off Spui, this cluster of photogenic gabled houses around a leafy garden courtyard is the perfect place to feel the ambience of old Amsterdam. Built as a hofje (almshouse) intended to offer beguines (devout women) the option to live independently of husband and children, but without becoming a nun, the 47 houses of the Begijnhof today provide sheltered residence for elderly people. Amsterdam was a destination for religious pilgrims and an important Catholic center before the Calvinist rebellion and Alteration in 1578. It remained in operation for centuries after the changeover of the city from Catholicism to Protestantism and the last beguine died in 1971 at the age of 84. In the southwest corner of the cloister, at no. 34, stands Het Houten Huys, one of Amsterdam’s pair of surviving timber houses, built around 1425. The Engelse Kerk (English Church) dates to 1607 and is used today by British ex-pats. Opposite the church, at no. 30, is the Begijnhofkapel, a secret Catholic chapel dating from 1671 that’s also still in use today.