Amsterdam - recommendations from a local

My lovely home town Amsterdam has about 800,000 inhabitants. It feels like a big village, easily covered on foot, by bike, or by tram/metro/bus, but has all the amenities of a metropole.

Some visitors see only the inside of a coffeeshop, and women behind red lighted windows. This tiny part of Dutch culture might be an interesting experience for some. Most Amsterdammers hate it.

For those of you who want to get to know the many blissful sides of Amsterdam and the parts that the locals like: here are my personal recommendations. Enjoy our beautiful city!

- Cecilia -

 

Amsterdam from above

Amsterdam from above
   
Singel
Singel


Nice areas for a stroll, some coffee, some shopping
De Jordaan
The part of the centre called De Jordaan is really nice. Beautiful centuries old houses, canals, quaint shops and restaurants. Good for a full day of strolling around.

Grachtengordel
The 'grachtengordel' (canal belt) right next to De Jordaan is also beautiful. It's part of the city centre and consists of Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht, Herengracht and Singel.

I especially love the giftshops in Herenstraat and Prinsenstraat (not to be confused with the much bigger Herengracht and Prinsengracht).

One of my favourite places for coffee or lunch is "Spanjer & Van Twist" on Leliegracht.

One very famous house on Prinsengracht of course is Anne Frank's House. Touristy as it may be, it truly is interesting. TIP: get tickets in advance through the internet, that way you won't need to queue. TIP 2: it's open in the evenings, and a lot less crowded then.

Climb Westerkerk tower

You can climb Westerkerk church tower (right next to Anne Frank House) and have amazing views over the old rooves of the Jordaan area and canal belt. Anne Frank describes the sound of these church bells in her diary.

Tickets can only be bought on the day itself and are € 7.50 per person. Only 6 people get to go up with a guide every half hour, you will hear explanations about the 400 year old church, the bells etc. You go up to a viewpoint at 42 meters height.




Haarlemmerstraat and Haarlemmerdijk
This is actually one long street changing its name in the middle. It was recently nominated best shopping street. It has many unique, cute little shops, no big chains. For example check out the ecologically and humanitarily responsible clothes shop Nukuhiva on Haarlemmerstraat 36. There are also various restaurants, coffee bars and lunch cafes (Stout has nice outdoor seating, you can lounge on the matrasses on the little wall). Du Lac is a popular place for drinks and a game of pool.

Double Tree Hotel roof terrace
Amazing views all over the city, while enjoying a nice drink or some food. Just take the elevator to the 11th floor even if you're not a hotel guest.

9 straatjes (9 little streets)
One particular block of 3 x 3 streets in the centre is known as 9 straatjes and is very good at promoting itself. It has various expensive shops, some restaurants and bars and nice architecture.

Prinseneiland
Why do tourists never go here? Very centrally located Prinseneiland (Island of Princes) is a very picturesque historical area with beautiful old houses, draw bridges, canals. You'd never guess you're in the capital city of a country.

Utrechtsestraat
Lots of quaint little shops, hairdressers, brown bars and terraces. If you're into music don't miss Concerto, the city's best record/ cd shop. (Can easily be combined with a visit to the photography museum FOAM.)

Eastern islands (architecture)
If you're into modern architecture, then a visit to the eastern islands of Amsterdam is well worth it. Wander around on Java-eiland and on KNSM-eiland.


  De Jordaan
De Jordaan area
Anne Frank
Anne Frank

wester tower

View from Westerkerk tower


Double Tree Double Tree Hilton Hotel, 11th floor terrace

Prinseneiland Prinseneiland


Java eiland
Java-eiland, eastern islands Amsterdam


Rijksmuseum tea garden

Rijksmuseum tea garden

Marriage book at Stadsarchief/ City Archives


Scheepvaartmuseum
Scheepvaartmuseum

 

Museums
Only visit Van Gogh museum if you actually like his work. I personally prefer other museums like:


- Huis Marseille (photography)


- FOAM (photography)


- Rijksmuseum reopened in 2013 after 10 years of renovations and turned out splendid. It contains works of the great historical masters (Rembrandt, Vermeer etc) and more. It's most crowded on Fri-Sat-Sun between 11am and 3pm, so try to avoid those times if you can.

Don't miss the lovely tea garden at the foot of Rijksmuseum.


- Verzetsmuseum / Dutch Resistance Museum (WWII)

- Stadsarchief = City Archives (loads and loads of black and white photos in their digital systems; varying exhibitions about Amsterdam's past)


- Scheepvaartmuseum (maritime museum)


- NEMO (technology and science, lots of buttons, static instruments and other things to play with)


- Stedelijk Museum (modern art and photography)

- Even the Museum of Bags and Purses is fun and interesting! And in a beautiful canal house.


- The Sex Museum on Damrak is actually quite funny and has some interesting historical items (but also a horrible bestiality room, luckily with warnings outside), especially fun if you're in a laughing mood.


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Parks
If it's not raining a walk through Vondelpark is lovely.
Have a drink at Blauwe Theehuis in the middle of Vondelpark or at Vondeltuin (way in the back near Amstelveenseweg; less tourists!).
Go see a show for free at the open air theatre (only a few weeks in summer, Wednesdays through Sundays).


Westerpark is great in summer. Bring a picknick blanket and some food and drinks and you need nothing else to get through the day. The old part with lots of trees attracts mainly families and low key locals.


The new part of Westerpark with the very big flat field and no trees attracts a hipper crowd not only from the neighbourhood but from the whole city, and more yuppies. In July a few big concerts are given in the park and you can listen in for free outside the gates. Big names such as Radiohead, R.E.M., Björk have performed.
There are also a few nice bars and a cinema in the park.
If you want to go for a stroll there is the ecological wilder park, and a 'kinderboerderij', a farm with animals like rabbits, goats and such for (grown-up) kids. Westergasterras has lovely outdoor seating.

If you want to go for some food, Cafe Restaurant Amsterdam (industrial building with very high ceiling) is within walking distance.

Sarphatipark is also nice for summer picknicks, so are Oosterpark and Museumplein.

Summer hotspots

Also see this blog with Top 10 summer hotspots in Amsterdam.



City beaches
Amsterdam has a number of small "city beaches" as well.

Blijburg has sand and safe water for swimming and a beach bar.




  Vondelpark, photo: Cécile Obertop
Vondelpark
Westerpark, photo: Cécile Obertop
Westerpark (new part)

blijburg

Blijburg


Boom logo   Boom Chicago
Go to a Boom Chicago comedy show on Leidseplein. It's in English and takes the piss out of both American and Dutch culture. It's half improvised. You can also take improvisation classes.





Canal boat

Pllek

Pllek (NDSM wharf)


Nieuwe Ooster

De Nieuwe Ooster cemetery


't Nieuwe Diep

Liquor / genever distillery 't Nieuwe Diep in Flevopark


eye

EYE Film institute

 

Canal boat
A tacky canal boat trip is actually very interesting and nice! You will see a lot of the city in one hour, and hear a lot about the history and the reasons why the houses stand crooked, or how many bikes are stolen or thrown into the canals every year.


The companies on Damrak are cheapest but have explanations over the speakers in multiple languages, causing lots of repetitions, and short explanations in your own language. Blue Boat company on Stadhouderskade near Max Euweplein offer headphones so you'll have longer explanations in your own language only.

There are also dinner cruises in the dark. The city is like a fairytale with all the little lights.

When you pass nice places you want to visit more indepth later, just write down the names and go there afterwards.

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Off the beaten track

Tired of running into other tourists? There's a good chance you'll be the only tourists at these places.

NDSM wharf

From the back of Central Station, take a free ferry to NDSM-werf. An industrial area gone cool with a few bohemian cafes/restaurants called Pllek (with a tiny tiny city beach and amazing views over the water) , and Noorderlicht (with indoor and outdoor seating, a nice garden and a bonfire). If you prefer something more traditional and indoors, try IJkantine.

Jaap Eden ice skating rink (October - April)

Go ice skating on Jaap Eden outdoor skating rink (400 meter circles), see how Dutch people enjoy themselves and be amazed by the nimble movements of kids on the slippery ice. You can rent skates there.

And have typically Dutch hot drinks (with or without alcohol mixed in) at the nice bar called Skeeve Skaes, with many ancient skates hanging from the ceiling.

Radioweg 64, Amsterdam (east).

De Nieuwe Ooster cemetery

While you're in the neighbourhood, visit the beautiful cemetery called De Nieuwe Ooster. Okay, it might be weird, but this cemetery is really pretty. It has trees from all over the world, is park-like, and lots of famous Dutch people are burried there. They even have a little museum Tot Zover, about death and rituals people from all over the world use.

Kruislaan 126, Amsterdam (east).

't Nieuwe Diep distillery

The lovely old building of 't Nieuwe Diep in the middle of Flevopark and is now a distillery of jenevers (Dutch gin) and liquors in many flavours with a cafe.

Indoors it's small but cosy and bustling with people, children and dogs in winter. Outdoors there is lovely seating by the lake. Very friendly owners are happy to explain you everything.

Buurtboerderij Ons Genoegen - local farm & cafe

This formerly squatted farm Buurtboerderij is a tranquil and unique place in Amsterdam. It's a hippie sort of place with very cheap tea from a big tank and pancakes (not always), and all kinds of different chairs and tables in the gardens around it.

Spaarndammerdijk 319, Amsterdam (west, walking distance from Westerpark).

EYE Film institute

This funky new building is bliss for modern architecture fans. But it also has a sunny terrace and indoor restaurant with amazing views across IJ. It's also a film museum and cinema.

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Flea markets / vintage / second hand clothes
There is a flea market on Waterloo-plein 6 days a week, Mon-Sat from about 10 am to about 4 pm. More and more stands offer new clothes though... but the shop called Episode on the corner near Rembrandt House is nice for second hand clothes. A bit expensive though. They also have a shop on Keizersgracht.

Petticoat on Lindengracht has really nice second hand clothes and fair prices.

If you're there on a Monday morning, go to the Noordermarkt, with lots of second hand clothes and books and antiques. Open until 13.00h. Afterwards, have the best apple pie in town at Winkel, Noordermarkt 43.

A brand new second hand shop called Zora has opened on Linnaeusstraat in eastern Amsterdam (tram 9), opposite the police station.

There are various quite expensive second hand shops in 9 straatjes, for example the shop called Lady Day.

Some nice ordinary markets can be found on Dapperstraat, Albert Cuijpstraat, Ten Katestraat. More about markets....

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Noordermarkt

Noordermarkt

Restaurants
For good restaurants go to
www.iens.nl, you may need to use Google Translate. You can search by area (wijken) and by cuisine (Spanish, vegetarian, etc, 'keuken'). The restaurants are graded and most have visitor's comments too (most in Dutch but some in English).

  IENS logo

Some of my personal favourite restaurants
- Beyrouth, Kinkerstraat 18. Amazing Lebanese food, great service. Interior is a bit tacky but cosy. Low prices.

- 't Gasthuys, Grimburgwal 7. Brown cafe with cheap meals: big portions and tasty. Outdoor seating too. Staff is sometimes a bit clumsy but friendly. Very central, not far from Dam square or Munt.

- Moeders, Rozengracht 251. Basically the only place I can think of that serves 'traditional Dutch food'. The Dutch nowadays eat Italian, Thai, French, Ethiopian and all kinds of food but not many eat traditional 'veggies+potatoes+a piece of meat' dishes, or the stews from the old days. This restaurant Moeders (Mothers) is a tribute to all mothers and the walls are covered with pictures of moms.

- Roopram take-away, 1e Van Swindenstraat 4, the best Surinamese 'roti' in town for only 7 euros. The place itself looks horrible so bring it to a park or somewhere else.

Zeedijk has many cheap Asian eateries.


Places to have drinks
- One of my favourite places for coffee or lunch is Spanjer & Van Twist (picture right) on Leliegracht 60 (canal belt). It has a lovely (though a bit scarily close to the water) terrace by the canal. The waiter has to cross the street to bring the food and drinks. This place tends to have super friendly waiters which is rare in Amsterdam (in other places do not be surprised by grumpy waiters or no service at all).

- Brouwerij 't IJ, Funenkade 7. A beer brewery underneath a windmill which makes its own Columbus beers in different flavours. A mellow laid-back place with mostly locals. Open until about 8pm.

- Latei, Zeedijk 143. A kitsch place full of vintage furniture and decorarations, all of which are for sale. Nice organic cakes and good coffee and tea. Open until about 7 or 8 pm.

- Studio/K, Timorplein 62. Lunch cafe, restaurant, cafe, bar, cinema and nightclub all in one. With sunny outdoor terrace in a residential neigbourhood right nextdoor to StayOkay Zeeburg hostel.

- De Ruyschkamer, Ruyschstraat 34. Mellow cafe full of soft couches and chairs and other vintage furniture. Juices, smoothies, more than 30 types of bottled beer, friendly staff.

- And of course all the cafes I mentioned under Nice areas for a stroll.

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Spanjer & Van Twist

Spanjer & Van Twist

Latei

Latei


Paradiso Amsterdam
Paradiso





trouw
Club Trouw




OT301

OT301

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Nightlife
Amsterdam has a wide variety of nightclubs and bars. For concerts or a night out dancing try the following clubs.

Paradiso - www.paradiso.nl
Lovely medium sized nightclub in old church, great atmosphere. Due to several levels (stairs, balconies) you always have a good view during concerts. After a concert you can stay inside for free for the club night that follows.

Melkweg - www.melkweg.nl
A bit similar to Paradiso, but a less beautiful building from the inside.

Studio 80 - www.studio-80.nl
Alternative, underground, dance / electro, cheap or free. Especially the M.U.L.T.I.S.E.X.I. parties are cool.


De Nieuwe Anita - www.denieuweanita.nl
Alternative, squat, live music, vintage, quirky, gay-friendly.

Club Trouw - www.trouwamsterdam.nl
Cool alternative nightclub that has great deejays and live performances, and a nice restaurant too.

Jazz
Lots of info on Iamsterdam.com

Other
Other clubs / parties to try are:



Getting around
9292 is a perfect door-to-door public transport planner to help you find which tram, bus, metro, train or ferry you need to get around Amsterdam or the whole country for that matter.

It shows you how long it takes and how much it costs, allows you to enter street addresses as well as stations and public transport stops, and shows you the bits you need to walk to and from stops (on a map if you want to).


Another great way of getting around is by bike, as most locals do...

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  9292 logo
Rent a bike and do tours in and out of town
If you can steer a bike, it would be nice to rent bikes and cruise the city by bike. Please read this! How to bike safely through Amsterdam.

There are special bike lanes and bike traffic lights. Don't get stuck in the tramway-lanes, do not ride on the wrong side of the street, and don't hit any other cyclists or pedestrians! :-)

Daytrip to the countryside by bike
If the weather is good, it's also really easy to get out of the city and do a daytrip to the lovely countryside, with windmills and meadows, and a view on water with boats. For example to the picturesque village of Durgerdam (tiny wooden houses on a dyke) and further down on to Marken (old fishermen's village with wooden houses). From Marken you can take a ferry to fisherman's town Volendam, and then bike to Broek in Waterland where you can eat pancakes at the picturesque restaurant called Witte Swaen. This ride takes about 4 hours apart from breaks.

Or to the area called Het Twiske (also a windmill), or a bit further to Zaanse Schans (lots of windmills).

Or there are also other nice routes towards the east or the south of the city (the ones I mentioned are to the north), all routes will involve picturesque old villages (Ouderkerk or Abcoude or Weesp...). Or to Muiden and Muiderslot castle, or Naarden-Vesting fortress town.

Maps and signposting systems

Buy maps at Pied a Terre, Overtoom 135; or at A La Carte, Utrechtsestraat 110. The tourist information office at Central Station also sells some basic maps, as do many other shops. But the two I mentioned are specialised map shops.

A route that is also signposted is easiest to follow. The system with numbered junctions ('knooppunten') is easy to follow. Biking signposts with green letters show you scenic routes.

(Normal white bike signs with red letters show the fastest route which can be boring and alongside a smelly highway.)

More info about cycling

In post #15 in this topic I give a lot of information about cycling scenic routes in the Netherlands, how to find your way, which signposts are for the scenic routes, how to bring your bike on a train etc.

These websites also comes in handy: http://holland.cyclingaroundtheworld.nl

http://www.nederlandfietsland.nl/en

Bike rides to villages around Amsterdam: http://www.gobyx.nl

For people who travel around the Netherlands by bike

Cheap bed & breakfast: "Vrienden op de Fiets"
This is an association for Dutch people and foreigners who travel through the Netherlands by bike (or even on inline skates, but NOT by car or public transport). It allows members to stay at one of the 3000+ bed and breakfast places for only €19 p/p/p/n.

This way you won't need to lug around a tent and other camping gear on your bike and you'll have a decent bed, a hot shower after a day of hard cycling, and breakfast included. And at the same time it's an ideal way to taste some culture and get a peek inside people's houses.

Families all over the country have rooms available, some are in farms, some are in the middle of popular cities, or anything inbetween. You'll find the addresses in the booklet that the association will send you as soon as you become a member. More info and rules on their website.

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  Tourists and rental bikes, photo: Cécile Obertop

Durgerdam Durgerdam

knooppunt

Knooppunten / junctions signposts for scenic bike rides

plattegrond


Me and a friend on Zaanse Schans
Zaanse Schans
Zaanse Schans
Zaanse Schans

Where to stay
Which neighbourhoods are nice? Which ones are to be avoided? If you're looking for a hotel, or want to live in Amsterdam, read my recommendations on zip codes to look for nice areas.

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  Buyskade Amsterdam, photo: Cécile Obertop


iamsterdam



Spotted by locals logo

 

Links, and tips from locals

I Amsterdam
The city's website for visitors and expats with lots of info about events, museums, hotels, parking, etc.


Your little black book
A fantastic website full of the latest new hotspots such as rooftop cinema nights, hip new coffee cafes and lunch places, cocktail bars, festivals.


Spotted by locals

The website Spotted by locals
gives you all kinds of recent and 'off the beaten track' tips by people who live in Amsterdam.

Amsterdam off the beaten track
This thread in the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree
has many excellent suggestions for 'off the beaten track' places to go and things to do in Amsterdam.

Underwater Amsterdam
A website run by a fun Brit living in Amsterdam, full of tips.


TimeOut Amsterdam
What's on? Check TimeOut Amsterdam. Also check out their good suggestions for 20 great things to do.


Safety in Amsterdam

I wrote an article about safety in Amsterdam on Tripadvisor.



Amsterdam in numbers


Source: Iamsterdam.com

Inhabitants 2012: 802,000
Inhabitants in Amsterdam Metropolitan Area: 2,289,762
Nationalities: 180
Bicycles: 881,000 (estimated)
Percentage of people who cycle daily: 58%
Parks: 40
Trams: 255
Ferries: 9
Markets: 32
Shops: 6,159
Canals:165
Canal Ring on UNESCO World Heritage List 1
Bridges: 1,281
Houseboats: 2,500
16th, 17th and 18th century buildings: 8,863
Windmills: 8
Museums: 51
Animals at Artis Zoo: 6,100
Concerts and theatrical performances per year: 16,000
Concerts and theatrical performances per day: 40
Theatres and concert halls: 55
Cinemas: 15Cafés and bars: 1,515
Discotheques: 36
Restaurants: 1,150
Hotels: 370
Hotel beds: 48,365
Campsites: 5

  View from Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ, photo: Cécile Obertop
View from Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ


prinsengracht

Prinsengracht


Go to Amazing Travel Tips
  Also check out my Amazing Travel Tips document which has a list of web sites about Amsterdam and the Netherlands.


Enjoy!

I hope you will enjoy visiting my city as much as I enjoy living here!

- Cecilia -

(go to my full website)

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Last updated: July 2014