Amsterdam, like most cities, has two sides. But unlike other metropolises, the city’s touristic side is particularly nasty. What greets visitors leaving the central station is best described as sex, drugs and techno music. Sprinkled with plenty of high street stores, what you get is an assault on the senses.
On the other hand, local Amsterdam is much more resemblant of a Dutch city by excellence with a young and energised population. Beyond the canal belt, where the grip of central Amsterdam starts to subside, neighbourhoods like De Pijp, Oud West and Jordaan are inviting, dynamic and enjoyable.
There are plenty of Amsterdam city guides, but this one aims to show you a different side of the city and all the good places that locals love and cherish.
When it comes to choosing a place to stay in a city, location is vital. But enjoying a city life like a local would means that sometimes compromises need to be made. However, this is not the case with Oud West.
Well connected to public transportation and a lot of bike rentals around, it’s perhaps the best area to enjoy a couple of days in the city. Despite Airbnb being more and more restricted(you are only allowed to rent 60 days per year according to locals Jessica and Sean from A Wanderlust for Life) there are still places affordable places in the neighbourhood.
To that add bustling market streets, great cafés and restaurants and you get a dynamic neighbourhood with plenty to enjoy.
Oosterdok • Free
A rooftop with great views of the city is nothing new. But what about if said roof is on the top of a science museum in a part of town that most tourists don’t consider visiting?
That’s what you get from the top of NEMO, Amsterdam’s Science Museum. Located east of the central station the museum distinct ship hull silhouette towers the nearby harbour containing 19th Century boats.
While there’s a fee for visiting the museum itself, the rooftop is free and reachable by climbing the steps on the side of the building. Sitting down with a drink, friends and feeling the warmth of the last rays of the sun is the perfect way to end a day of sightseeing.
1012 Amsterdam • Free
As I stepped through the door of the enclosed courtyard, the frenetic pace of Amsterdam’s city centre melted away. Standing in the middle of the square the silence was only broken by the wind brushing on the leafy trees and the birds chirping away.
Beigijnhof, as is known, is a small cluster of houses surrounding a courtyard dating back to the 14th Century. Built as a sanctuary to the Begijntjes, a pious Catholic sisterhood that lived like nuns despite taking no monastic vows.
As I walked past the neatly tended houses, the enclosure appears to retain the calm atmosphere of yesteryear. Complete with a church, the Begijnhofkapel, this little space right off Spui is pure bliss. And the perfect place to relax after walking around the area.
Museumplein 10 • 17€
Pristine white walls, round arches and a spotless marble floor. Breaking the stark Neoclassic architecture pops of colour in the shape of posters, signage and light decoration adorn the walls.
Since the 1870’s, Stedelijk Museum is Amsterdam’s number one venue for modern and contemporary art. And throughout the years the museum has held exhibitions from renowned artists such as Jean Dubuffet, Matisse, Malevich and others.
But it’s their permanent collection highlighting the works of the Amsterdam School and De Stijl that shines the most. Presenting the Dutch oeuvres of Mondrian, De Kooning and Theo Van Doesburg in such a disparate stylistic environment achieve, oddly, a favourable environment to enjoy art.
With a staggering amount of pieces (around 90000) from several key art movements, Stedelijk is a design paradise. And not to be missed.
EAT & DRINK
Coffee & Coconuts
Ceintuurbaan 282-284 • Vegan Options • ££
What does a former cinema built in the roaring 20’s and a funky corner coffee place serving tropical-inspired food have in common?
Nothing, one would say, until you would realise that we’re talking about Coffee & Coconuts in De Pijp. The converted cinema now hosts a three-tiered coffee/bar/restaurant that’s as popular with locals as with expats. At any given day you can sit next to students doing revisions, a philosopher discussing the Metaphysics of Consciousness or a group of friends catching up.
Serving up fresh food, smoothies and moreish cakes, it’s a solid choice for a meal or a coffee break. Most of their menu can be made vegan upon request, and they serve a wonderfully decadent Kalamansi coconut vegan cheesecake.
Go during the week to avoid the weekend rush.
Jan van Galenstraat 70h • £
Deep in Oud West on a nondescript street, there’s a little gem by the name of Selma’s. Established by a Swedish couple, at Selma’s all focus in on delicious homemade Nordic food and perfect coffee.
The atmosphere is familiar, and the clientele is all local. From the gym owner down the road to the hip middle-aged lady and the single father of two girls, everyone seems to gravitate around Selma’s cardamom-scented coffee place. The warm smile and friendly faces of the owners together with the place’s impeccable decor, make it a must visit.
Pijlsteeg 31 • £
I had been promised a good drink at a quiet and local place. But as Jan guided me through a side street away from the frenetic pace of Dam Square, I started to wonder if it such a place existed in Central Amsterdam.
Jenever, a juniper-flavoured liquor from where gin evolved, is one of the Dutch alcoholics drinks per excellence. And as it happens one of the best places to have in the city is right off Dam Square, in the tiny Wynand Fockink. Established in 1679 this tasting tavern and distillery currently produces more than 70 flavours of Jenever!
Squeeze past the front door (did I mention the place is tiny?) and reach the bar to make your order. When the jenever is served, there’s a whole etiquette on how to take the first sip, before moving your tulip glass outside to enjoy it.
Problems choosing the flavour? Ask yourself, sour or sweet and go from there. I’d recommend passion fruit for if sour is your thing.
Good to know
- Most budget airlines have routes from London to Amsterdam. But don't forget to check flights from City Airport, as they sometimes are much more value for money. Skyscanner can help you on this.
- Getting from Schiphol Airport to the centre of Amsterdam is a quick, 17 minute ride away.
- While Citymapper is great to get around Amsterdam, the best way to know which train to get for day trips is the 9292 App (also a website).
- For the weather forecast, BuienRadar is the most accurate place to see how many layers you'll need to take.