The other day I received an inquiry from a friend of a friend. She wrote “I’m headed to Amsterdam at the beginning of May and was hoping you might have some recommendations on what neighbourhoods to stay in, can’t miss things, best restaurants/coffee/drinks…
I love an area that’s walkable with shops/restaurants. And looking for the best places a local would go to – not necessarily where tourists go.”
If you’ve ever been to Amsterdam you’ll know that almost anywhere in this city is a walkable distance to the center. You can easily walk from Club Air in the middle of the night to Oud-West – in fact that’s not dangerous at all but instead lovely. You’ll have the city for yourself with the occasional person biking by, the bridges illuminating the peaceful canals.
So when thinking about the city and what areas I usually avoid, I drew up a map to mark where you can expect to encounter the most tourists:
Not surprisingly, there is a correlation to the map I found online where you can see where tourists take pictures versus where locals bring their cameras:
Based on the above, here are some tips for planing your stay:
Don’t worry that you might not have enough time to see the entire city – you’ll have a good impression of Amsterdam just walking around for half a day. The best part of Amsterdam is not it’s sights but it’s atmosphere, the easy and relaxed way of life where you can be yourself and let others live their life. Just soak it all up and dream of living here 😉
So if you don’t have enough days planned to explore, just come back to see more. Having said this, there are a few things that you’ll want to see:
- Central Station: This is where you’ll most likely arrive. The building is beautiful and after the renovation that took decennia, you’ll be able to explore new shops and restaurants here. Under the Central Station (which was built on an artificial island) you’ll find the brand new subway station connecting Amsterdam Noord with Amsterdam Zuid.
- Red-light district: While I do my best to avoid this area of the city as much as I can, this is what Amsterdam is famous for. Personally, I would avoid it altogether, but if you are determined to explore it you’ll find sex shops, a few bars, the famous windows with ladies advertising their services, groups of drunk British low-cost tourists screaming and singing, bachelorette/hen parties, trash.
- Kalverstraat and Nieuwendijk: Shopping streets with chain stores and too many tourists.
- Dam square and Palace: the heart of Amsterdam with lots of pigeons, tourists, H&M, the Bijenkorf (our luxury department store), Madame Tussaud’s, Ripley’s Believe it or Not.
- Rembrandtplein: (straight) party central and 3D life-size version of “The Nightwatch”.
- Leidsestraat: more shopping.
- Leidseplein: (straight) party central II, but also the city theatre (Stadsschouwburg), the Apple Store, (good) party venues – Melkweg, Paradiso, Sugar Factory, etc.
- Vondelpark: The Amsterdam version of NYC’s Central Park – touristic at the top end and the further away you go from the center the less tourists and more locals you will see hanging out on the grass.
- The 9 Streets, between the Jordaan, city center, and the outermost canal – a grid of nine quaint streets with local shops, crossing the three famous canals that make Amsterdam so recognisable when you see a map of the city.
- Elandsgracht, Kinkerstraat, and Foodhallen – shopping streets where you’ll find mostly locals, however since the Foodhallen (hipster food courst) opened this area also attracts Dutch and international tourists. Next to the Foodhallen is the Ten Kate Markt, one of three daily markets in Amsterdam.
- The Begijnenhof: located in the middle of the city, yet hidden, it’s a surprising place of tranquility – unless you have tourist groups there.
- Albert Cuyp Market: Biggest and most crowded market, also popular due to its proximity to the Heineken Experience.
- Also popular:
- Eye Filmmuseum, great architecture
- Artis, the Amsterdam zoo
- Homomonument and Westerkerk, a few minutes walk from Dam square
- Most popular musea:
- Van Gogh museum (buy your tickets early online to avoid queues)
- Anne Frank House (buy your tickets early online to avoid queues)
- Foam – small photography museum
Neighbourhoods to explore
Center – try not to stay here, it’s too expensive and busy
Jordaan, Oud-West, Zuid, De Pijp, Oost, all central, less tourists, more locals.
Where to stay
Amsterdam is crazy expensive. If you cannot stay with a friend or family, you’ll have to consider an AirBnb or Hotel. My experience with the hostels is that they’re expensive and not too great. If you find an AirBnb in the city that fits your budget – great! Otherwise I would recommend the following:
- Schiphol: I hear that hotels at the airport are not as crazy expensive and connection to the city is fast and cheap.
- Sloterdijk: A number of hotels recently opened here. You can get to the city by bike, tram, bus, and train. Connection to the airport is easy. The only drawback: there’s nothing to do here – it’s a business area where people go to office towers to work.
- Zaandam: Just a 5-minute train ride from Amsterdam Centraal, also close to the Zaanse Schans, a nice area not too far from Amsterdam with typical Dutch windmills (and Chinese tourists).
Food in Amsterdam
I once tried to create a map of cafes and restaurants that I particularly like, but the food landscape changes often and quickly. Google is your friend to find good places close-by.
Food with a view: I love restaurants with a great view over the city. If you like that as well, try any of the following:
- Close to Central Station: Sky Lounge for drinks, but they also have a restaurant there (not sure about the opening hours)
- Close to Central Station: On top of the library (OBA) there’s a La Place. However, I think the terrace is closed.
- In the center of the city on the top of the Kalvertoren: Blue
- In Rembrandt park: Floor 17
- On the Wibautstraat:
- Zoku (Weesperplein)
Cafes & Bars in Amsterdam
- Lot 51, Kinkerstraat
- Vascobelo in Scheltema Bookstore on the Rokin
- Screaming Beans, several locations
- The Dutchess (make a reservation beforehand) – fancy tea and treats
- After work hip and happening, the rooftop bar at the W Dam Square
Other “insider” tips
There are two networks: Train and city transport. The train tickets you buy at Schiphol or any of the train stations.
You can buy city transport passes on the tram or bus, or in a metro station. Most people buy the 1hr ticket for 3,60 Eur, but there are a lot of other ticket options available.
What you can also do is buy an anonymous OV-Chipkaart and load up some credit, then simply pay for what you use, without any time limit.
Amsterdammers seriously dislike tourists on bikes – because we are experienced and aggressive bikers ourselves. Still, biking through Amsterdam is the fastest and best way to get from A to B. Just keep your eyes and ears open, use common sense, don’t use your phone while biking.
The pecking order in Amsterdam is: Tram first, then taxi (don’t challenge them), then bus, then bikes, then cars, then pedestrians.
Your tips and suggestions
Did you find anything that I haven’t mentioned yet that should be added to the list? Let me know in the comments! Enjoy your trip to Amsterdam! 🙂