The capital and most populous city of the Netherlands, the main destination of most Interrail trips, well known on Instagram for its beautiful canal views, built to be seen by bike or boat: here’s Amsterdam, as we all know it. And we all feel like we know it – even if we have never been there. Is such a touristy city worth a trip if what you’re looking for is an adventure and mingle with the locals? We believe that yes, it is!
With the help of our volunteer Spotters we created an Amsterdam city guide, where locals of the city share their favorite spots to help you experience the city from a new and authentic perspective. They are always on the lookout for great hidden places. Here, we selected some of the most unique local gems they’ve discovered. Enjoy!
Note: Covid-19 situation is incredibly unpredictable and rules are changing almost weekly: it is impossible to know if and when all of these spots will be accessible. However, the excitement of waiting for a trip is almost as thrilling as traveling itself. Therefore, we suggest that you to curl up on your sofa, get yourself a nice hot drink and some snacks, and start planning your future trip to the Netherlands with the help of this list and of our wonderful Spotters. Stay safe!
Amsterdam’s melting pot
Amsterdam East (Oost) is one of the nicest neighborhoods in Amsterdam, and like most of the city it is very diverse; shops and inhabitants of many cultures happily coexist here. Although like many other areas it has been subject to gentrification, it has managed to maintain an authentic character.
On the Javastraat, one of its lively streets, the staple bakeries, grocery stores and restaurants are now interspersed with new espresso bars, concept stores, and brunch cafes. And quite honestly, it makes for a good mix of old and new – you can shop at old family-owned establishments, then have a coffee in a cozy hipster cafe. Check out the article (link above) for Spotter Kara’s favorite spots to stop at while strolling through this area!
Hidden cultural garden
If you cross the water by ferry (which is a treat within itself) to “Buiksloterweg”, you’ll find a lovely city escape at Tolhuistuin. On the left-hand side sits Tolhuistuin Restaurant, with a concert hall (a successful branch of the legendary club “Paradiso”) downstairs. In the garden you’ll find a small stage for Sunday afternoon concerts, a cafe/bar, sometimes a spontaneous barbecue, groups of people doing yoga, meditating, or just flex-working with their laptops.
Everything is possible in this peaceful spot and activities are generally free of charge. One of the reasons it doesn’t get overcrowded is likely that information about activities is hard to find in advance. So check their page before coming just in case, but even if nothing is listed, it is more than worth visiting this cultural garden – and who knows, you might find a spontaneous concert or other surprise waiting.
Dining in a prison
The location of this restaurant is iconic for many Dutch people: a former prison called “De Bijlmerbajes”. Nowadays, the building is home to several businesses and organizations, including A Beautiful Mess. This restaurant offers a truly unique dining experience. Located in the old clothing repair section of the prison, the vibe is still very prison-ish – you can even see rows of old sewing stations in the corner of the room.
Another great reason to visit this restaurant is its concept of integration. Most of the people who work here are volunteers with a refugee background who need work experience. On some days, fusion meals are prepared by a team of a Dutch chef and one from Syria, Iran, Jamaica, or another politically-active zone. This is a must-visit place if you have some time in Amsterdam: the food is delicious and authentic, the location is unique, and the message optimistic.
A historic botanical garden
If you’re feeling the need for a green respite from clamorous city life, head to Hortus Botanicus, which is located centrally and provides a quiet break during an afternoon of exploring. Founded in 1638, this botanical garden is one of the oldest in the world and cultivates a large and varied collection of plants. Its exotic trees and greenery are divided into sections by original habitat. Exploring here takes no longer than an hour, and can be combined nicely with breakfast, lunch, or a short coffee break in the area.
Dutch detox in art deco
If you want to experience Dutch culture all the way, you should consider going to a sauna. And if you want to go to a beautiful one, we recommend visiting Sauna Deco. With its stained-glass windows, wood paneling, and gorgeous gold-plated interior, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back into the 1920s.
A couple of tips for the experience: firstly, the Dutch are not known for their puritanism. Saunas are generally enjoyed in your birthday suit. If you’ve never done this before, try it! It’s very freeing. Secondly, another classic part of the experience is enjoying hot water in a hot tub, then jumping into a cold shower or pool, then back into the heat. Again, if you haven’t tried this before, inflicting freezing water on yourself might sound like torture – but we promise, it makes the hot water that much more rewarding. You’ll leave this place feeling completely recharged.
Picnic in a vineyard
This spot is perfect for a staycation day, for visitors and Amsterdam locals alike. While it may not be as exotic as a French or South African vineyard, Amsteltuin is crazy cute. On your visit, the extremely friendly owners will welcome you with a smile and you can get a fully-stocked picnic basket with fresh and delicious Dutch specialties and, of course, a homemade wine. Then you’re off to explore the vineyard and pick a nice spot under a tree or overlooking the meadows to enjoy your picnic. Nature, delicious snacks, and wine – what more could you ask for?
Heartwarming Red Light ramen
Amsterdam’s Red Light District. For many locals, this is a place to avoid at all costs. Drunken tourists claim the narrow streets, bike taxis swindle their passengers, and on every corner, a shop sells either Nutella waffles or sex toys. There is nothing comforting or tasteful about it. But hidden in a seemingly small basement in this district is a place that is exactly those things.
Ramen-Ya is the perfect place to settle down when you’re looking for some quick heartwarming comfort in the form of homemade ramen. A “quicky” will get a whole new meaning. Everything here is homemade. The different broths are rich, flavorful, and almost milky, while the homemade noodles are stretchy with a perfect bite. So, if you’re hungry and in the neighborhood, you can have a steaming bowl of ramen in front of you within 5 minutes. The only quicky you’ll ever need.
Puzzle your way through the city
If you’re a fan of puzzles and logic games or looking for a way to entertain some friends or family, this is an interactive and fun way to spend a day in the city. Mystery City describes itself as “a cross between a treasure hunt and an escape room, where exploration, puzzle-solving and little-known stories from history are combined to offer an alternative way to explore the city”.
Book a date and time on their website for a wonderful couple of hours in which you will get to learn about the history of Amsterdam, take a nice tour through the city, and engage in some brain training. There are multiple languages on offer, so this can also be done with a mixed group of language speakers.
Relaxed waterfront terrace
Finding a spacious terrace to sit out on by the water can be a challenge in Amsterdam. When the sun is out, the canals are usually packed, and the inner city can feel cramped. If you want to chill out in a relaxed atmosphere right by the water, look no further than Meneer Nieges.
Its location on the Western Islands means it’s out of the way of the tourist route, but still easily accessible. Just about a ten-minute walk from the central station, Meneer Niegers has a large terrace with deckchairs, picnic tables, and lounge beds to chill on. It’s the perfect place to go for a coffee, lunch, or a few drinks and bites on long summer evenings.
Mezrab is pretty much everything you could hope for in a cultural venue while remaining a relatively hidden gem. It started with a bunch of folks getting together in a basement, sitting around a red carpet, and listening to people tell stories. In the meantime, you could get yourself a bowl of warm hearty soup, a beer, or a cup of tea. Or everything. And get cozy.
They have since moved to a bigger venue and the line for the soup may be a little longer, but there is still an intimate vibe to the place. Storytelling nights are held in English every Wednesday and Friday, and there are also comedy and live music events. The entrance is free of charge, although there’s a donation jar that helps pay the rent.
Hidden hipster haven in Noord
Floradorp, a neighborhood right in the middle of Amsterdam-Noord, used to have a pretty bad rep. But with more and more additions such as Pompet, it is a destination to add to your list. When you enter Noorderpark at its halfway point, you will quickly spot the bright red chalet of Pompet. It’s a comfortable restaurant/bar with brightly colored furniture, awesome graphics, and an outdoor area with an enormous croissant on the roof.
Use this as a starting (or ending) point of an exploration of the Noord district. The surrounding nature, the French-oriented menu, and organic wines make it more than just a nice place to show off on your Instagram feed. It’s more like taking a little hipster holiday in France – and it’s only two stops away from Amsterdam’s central station.
Gorgeous biking route
A “geveltuin” (something like “roadside garden”) is a sort of phenomenon in the Netherlands where, using only one square meter of fertile ground in front of an apartment, residents create magical gardens of flowers, bushes, even trees. Beautiful geveltuinen are one of the reasons that Nieuwendammerdijk is perhaps the most attractive street in Amsterdam-Noord. It is also the oldest street in this part of the city: the dyke goes back to 1514, and there are gorgeous houses from the 18th century.
Our Spotter Felix recommends the Nieuwendammerdijk as the starting point for a fantastic cycling trip to Durgerdam, a small village by the Ijsselmeer. From there you can continue along the dyke (sometimes with water on both sides) to Monnickendam, an ancient fishing village where you can get excellent smoked fish. In summer, you can even stop along the way for a nice swim; the water is usually very clean here.