“Some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but in truth, it is a city of freedom. And in freedom, most people find sin.” ― John Green, The Fault in Our Stars
City of freedom or city of sin. You can experience Amsterdam in whatever way you like. If you want to smoke a joint and visit the red light district, do it. But please know that Amsterdam has so much more to offer. It’s beautiful, it has houses that were built over 700 years ago, it’s charming, it has dreamy canals to get lost in (and you will trust me) romantic lights, fairytale houses and… It’s full of bikes. Everywhere you look. They say there are more bikes than people.
It’s unlike the rest of the Netherlands. Amsterdam is like an old soul. And above all very gezellig, especially in winter with all the lights. It’s been my home for the past two years so I’m going to share some of my favourite spots with you, so you can experience life like a local.
First things first: get yourself a bike. If you want to be dutch, you have to get on those two wheels and surrender to the madness. It might seem scary at first, as it seems like everyone is riding in the Tour de France, cycling around like Speedy Gonzales. But just go for it! It’s the best way to get to know the city and feel like a local.
Secondly: get yourself a stroopwafel. Preferably a fresh one from the market, because those are the best. Yes, they are our famous dutch cookies. And while you’re eating maybe try out some kibbeling. But don’t eat it together with the stroopwafel, because that will probably make you puke. So the best place to get either the cookie or the kibbeling is at the market! The most famous one is the Albert Cuyp. Or check out this website for an overview of all the markets in Amsterdam.
Now it’s time to wander. So park your bike somewhere (make sure to lock it very well, as Amsterdammers are little bike stealers. Mine got stolen 8 times already. Not kidding). If you are at the Albert Cuyp market you are in De Pijp district, this is where the young and creatives go. It’s full of lovely cafés and restaurants, so a great area to walk around. My favourite café is Coffe & Coconuts, it has this cosy bamboo interior and beach vibes and the place makes me feel like I’m on holidays.
If you’re looking for a place to go for dinner (I realise I have only been talking about food so far, but I will share some other things below) one of my favourite places is De bazaar. It’s set in an old church and the food is so colourful and multicultural, just like Amsterdam itself. If you like tacos and cocktails head over to the pastel dream Loz Feliz. If you want to try out traditional dutch cuisine go to Moeders, for Annie’s, Betty’s or Corrie’s meal.
Another gezellige area to check out is Oud West. It’s a nice neighbourhood to walk around and admire the old dutch architecture. In de Kinkerstraat you can find De Hallen, a converted industrial building with a cinema, indoor craft market and a lovely indoor food market. Stop by at Wildernis for coffee and plants. It’s like the Amazon of Amsterdam, with plants hanging from the ceiling. They organise workshops about how to keep your plants alive too (very useful for people like me). Gesponnen suiker and Things I like, things I love are two local boutiques in this area that I like to go to.
If you get tired of walking or biking you can stop at the beautiful Vondelpark. It’s the most famous park -but still my favourite- in Amsterdam and in the summer it’s crowded with people having picnics, skating and cycling around. If you walk a bit further you get to Museumplein, I think this square is nothing special but you can stop at the “I Amsterdam” singn to take the touristic picture everyone wants to have. Altough that wouldn’t be a very local thing to do ofcourse. If you want to see famous art, go to the beautiful Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum or stop at the Moco Museum if you like modern and contemporary art.
If you want to see where the old Amsterdammers live, head over to the Jordaan! It’s originally a working-class neighbourhood where you find picturesque canals, romantic courtyards, art galeries and lots of small shops. Check out de Tweede Anjeliersdwarsstraat and de Tweede Egelantiersdwarsstraat to get the old dutch feeling. Also the Lindengrachtmarkt is a nice market in this area. If you want to have a real Dutch experience go to Café Nol or Café Lowietje where you can listen to terrible Dutch music and have drinks and bitterballen with the locals.
Also make sure to stop at Banketbakkerij Van der Linde at Nieuwendijk 183 for icecream! Seriously I don’t know what they put in there, but you have to try it. After this magnificent icecream moment you can just keep walking because the Kalverstraat has nothing special to offer, it’s the main shopping street with all the usual shops like H&M and Zara. If you walk a bit further towards Dam Square you find De Drie Graefjes at Eggertstraat 1. Here you can try the best red velvet cake you will ever have in your life (yes really).
Now continue to walk to the nine streets. This is where you find the smaller shops and boutiques. One of my favourite stores here is The darling and also Episode is a nice store with lots of vintage clothes. Close to DAM square you can find the red light district and Chinatown. Visit the temple, check out strange Chinese shops or stop at Dun young for Okonomiyaki -Japanese pancakes- at Stormsteeg 9.
If you want to get cultural, check out the film EYE museum in the North, it’s very interactive and the modern architecture of the building is very cool! Another nice museum is FOAM where you can visit photography exhibitions. And there is ofcourse the famous Anne Frank Museum. I have actually never been there as it’s always super busy, but you can order your tickets online before you go, it might save you some time.
You can also take a boat tour around Amsterdams canals or check out rentaboatamsterdam and rent your own boat with captain and float around Amsterdam for a day. Make sure to stop at Hannekes Boom for drinks in the sun. It’s one of my favourite chill spots in the summer! Another summertime favourite with bohemian, creative vibes is Amsterdam Roest. Head over to Brouwerij ‘t IJ at Funenkade 7 if you want to try out different beers. It’s located next to a windmill, how Dutch can you get?
Amsterdam North is another creative and different area, more industrial. Free ferries run from behind Central Station that will take you there and even allow you to bring your bike. Go to NDSM werf, a cultural and creative playground set in an old shipyard. It has this industrial Berlin vibe to it with creative art gallery’s and once a month you can go treasure hunting at the IJhallen, the biggest flea market in Europe. PLLEK is a great chill spot next to it.
A good spot for evening drinks is the rooftop bar at the Skylounge Double Tree by Hilton where you get a good view over Amsterdam. Or try Amsterdam Lookout and swing 100 meters above the ground to get a more thrilling view over the city. Door 74 is one of my favourite cocktail places, a hidden cocktailbar at Reguliersdwarsstraat 74I. From outside you can’t see there’s a bar and once you’re inside it’s like you step into a different time. Make sure to make a reservation as it’s very small and usually gets busy.
To sleep or not to sleep is the next question. And where. A pretty awesome and arty hotel is hotelnothotel. They offer rooms in a tram, a crow’s nest or hidden behind a bookcase. If you don’t mind sharing your room, stay at the design Generator hostel set in a former university building dating back from 1917. Check couchsurfing if you want to make friends with locals or Airbnb to stay at a typical Dutch house.
So that’s it for now. Go wander and get lost! Amsterdam has lots of other amazing places and activities to offer ofcourse, but these are some of my favourites. Enjoy! Veel plezier!