Amsterdam - recommendations from a local

My lovely home town Amsterdam has about 750.000 inhabitants. It feels like a big village, easily covered on foot, by bike, or by tram, 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!


Amsterdam from above

Amsterdam from above

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.

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.

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.

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.

Lots of quaint little shops, hairdressers 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

Double Tree Double Tree Hilton Hotel, 11th floor terrace

Prinseneiland Prinseneiland

Java eiland
Java-eiland, eastern islands Amsterdam

Scheepvaartmuseum and replica ship

Huis Marseille

Huis Marseille museum of photography


Only visit Van Gogh museum if you actually like his work. I personally prefer other museums like
- Huis Marseille (photography)
- FOAM (photography)
- Scheepvaartmuseum (maritime museum)
- NEMO (technology and science, lots of buttons, static instruments and other things to play with)
- Stedelijk Museum (modern art and photography).
- Verzetsmuseum / Dutch Resistance Museum (WWII)

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.


If it's not raining it might be nice to go for a walk through the Vondelpark.
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 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, Juanes have performed.
There are also a few nice bars 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.

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

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

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

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. Try to get a balcony seat (be early).

NL20 logo   NL20 free magazine
Get a copy of the free magazine NL20 for tips on going out / movies. All in Dutch...


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. (The same in French / Spanish / Italian.)

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! :-)

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).

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...).

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.

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.

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.


  Tourists and rental bikes, photo: Cécile Obertop
Me and a friend on Zaanse Schans
Zaanse Schans
Zaanse Schans
Zaanse Schans

Canal boat


Pllek (NDSM wharf)

Jaap Eden

Jaap Eden iceskating ramp

Nieuwe Ooster

De Nieuwe Ooster cemetery


Buurtboerderij Ons Genoegen


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.
Meyer on Damrak is the cheapest company and they offer the same as the others.

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.


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 ramp (October - April)

Go ice skating on Jaap Eden outdoor skating ramp (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).

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).


Flea markets / 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....





For good restaurants go to, you may need to use Google Translate. You can search by area and by type of restaurant (Spanish, vegetarian, etc). 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.

- Spargo, Linnaeusstraat 37a. Nice decoration, good food, friendly service in this restaurant (almost) only frequented by locals.

- '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.

Places to have drinks

Spanjer en van Twist- 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.

- Canvas op de 7e, Wibautstraat 150. Cafe/bar/restaurant on the 7th floor (8th by American standards) with nice views over the city. Sometimes with live music.

- 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.

Paradiso Amsterdam

UNK @ Club 8

Canvas, photo Cécile Obertop
Canvas restaurant and nightclub




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

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

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

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

Club 8 -
Alternative, cheap. Check out the UNK nights, queer crowd but 'straigh friendly'. :-)

Amsterdam jazz city, an article telling you where to find live jazz performances every day of the week. It's written in Dutch but you'll figure it out. (Zaterdag = Saturday, and so on.)

Other clubs / parties to try are:

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.


  Buyskade Amsterdam, photo: Cécile Obertop

Spotted by locals logo

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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.

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.

Amsterdam in numbers
Inhabitants in January 2006: 743,027
Nationalities: 174
Bikes: 600,000
Parks: 28
Trams: 232
Markets: 21
Canals: 165
Bridges: 1,281
Wooden drawbridges: 8
Canal tour boats: 110
Houseboats: 2,500
Windmills: 6
Museums: 51
Art galeries: 141
Animals at the Artis Zoo: 6,100
Concerts and theatre shows per year: 16,000
Cinema screens: 61
Cafes and bars: 1,215
Discotheques: 36
Restaurants: 755
Hotel beds: 37,763
Camp sites: 5
Number of overnight visitors per year: 7,037,000
Day-visits per year: 15,749,000

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

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.


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


Last updated: June 2012