(that aren’t the red light district or the Heineken brewery)
I lived in Amsterdam for six months while I was on an exchange through university! I spent my days cycling around the city, searching for the coolest, trendiest, and most Dutch places I could find. This is a list of ten of my favourite activities and places to go in one of the most beautiful cities in the world!
1) Get around like a local
Amsterdam is probably the most bicycle friendly city I have ever been to (Copenhagen is a close second…), and I firmly believe you can’t go to Amsterdam without renting a bicycle. Not only is the city built completely for them — it is faster to bicycle anywhere than walk, take a tram, or drive — but the bicycle is the king of the road, and has the right of way. The best place to rent your bicycle from is Starbikes located behind Amsterdam Centraal. It is not cheaper than any other bicycle rental place, BUT it does not have a huge “I am a tourist” bicycle rental sign plastered on the front. The bicycle you rent here will allow you to blend in and you will get less eye rolls from the locals on the bike path.
2) Learn the difference between a cafe and a coffee shop.
A cafe is where one can purchase coffee, tea, sandwiches, cakes, etc. A coffee shop is where one can purchase different varieties of smokeable herbs… Coffee and Coconuts in De Pijp is a cool old theatre that’s been turned into a crazy, 5 story loft Cafe with organic food and delicious tea and coffee. Coffeeshop 137 is a really cool cannabis store in the Jordaan area. You can tell them how you want your weed to make you feel and they will recommend the perfect blend for you. This coffee shop is a little less cliché. You won’t find any Bob Marley references here, and you may not even see another traveller here — just locals!
3) Wander around the Negen Straats (the Nine Streets)
In the heart of Jordaan, you will find nine intersecting streets that are home to super hip vintage shops, artisanal restaurants, and designer clothing stores. A lot of the clothing stores are expensive, but the streets are beautiful to wander along. My favourite store is The Darling on Runstraat. They sell cute, vintage clothes, and cupcakes!
4) Head to the Cheese Museum!
This is a museum/cheese shop, on Prinsengracht near the Anne Frank museum. It is free to get in, but really touristy. It’s a bit crowded, there are people wearing fanny packs all over the place, and it’s a bit chaotic, BUT, they have all of their cheese out for samples. I have been there many many times and have filled myself up for free with delicious Dutch cheese. They do have some cheese paraphernalia downstairs too, so you can actually learn something while you’re there! (Or just eat cheese).
5) Have brunch at Staring at Jacob
Open Thursday to Monday, Staring at Jacob is a super hip, restaurant east and a bit outside of the city centre. To get there is a delightful bicycle ride that takes you along canals and more classic Amsterdam canal houses. My favourite menu item is their chicken and waffles — real maple syrup (which is important to a Canadian), home made hot sauce, and flaky fried chicken. OH my damn, it’s good. They also have a hefty list of alcoholic brunch beverages, so take your pick and enjoy your ‘hair of the dog’ in the sun!
5) Have a beer at Hannekes Boom
Located just near Amsterdam Centraal, close to Nemo (the huge science centre), is Hannekes Boom. This bar has a backyard that overlooks the canals, with about 100 picnic tables each painted by a local artist, and a killer tree swing over the water. If in Amsterdam on a Sunday, try to go and snag a table! They have different bands play every Sunday around 4pm and you won’t disappointed. Live music, cheap beer, bearded men, and the feeling of a music festival. It’s the perfect Sunday afternoon!
6) Watch the sunset from a canal bench
Albert Heijn, the main grocery store in Amsterdam, sells pretty cheap wine. I’m talking €3 a bottle. Buy a bottle of wine, some plastic cups, and hang out somewhere! You can drink anywhere on the streets, unless it’s marked otherwise. One of my favourite places was sitting on the bench where Prinsengracht and Brouwersgracht meet. It’s a lovely place to watch the sunset over the canal, and watch boats go by.
7) Indulge in a slice of pie from Winkel 43
In Jordaan, across the street from the big, old church, Noorderkerk, is Winkel 43. Here, you will be able to order the best and biggest slice of homemade apple pie in the city. If you go in the afternoon for a coffee and a slice, prepare yourself for a long wait for a table. If you’re like me and don’t like waiting, go to Winkel 43 in the evening, after 7pm. You will be able to find a table, and they will happily still serve apple pie. The crust alone is worth the wait for a table at this cafe.
8) Rent a paddle boat and cruise the canals!
Paddle boats (or bicycle boats) are really cheap to rent and SO funny. Cruising the canals of Amsterdam in any watercraft is a must, and a paddle boat is a cheap and funny way to check it off your bucket list. Just beware of the huge canal tour boats, they don’t like when you get in their way, and will honk their horn to tell you! If a pedal boat isn’t your style, you can rent a motor boat from boats4rent (their website here). It is a cheap option as well!
9) Have a slice of cake at Zoet en Hartig
Directly translated from Sweet and Savoury, Zoet en Hartig is the place to go for any kind of food craving. They have a delicious spicy chicken wrap for lunch, and totally beautiful desserts. My favourite treat were the hot chocolate spoons, you melt it into hot water and it becomes delicious hot chocolate. You can also try their alcoholic spoons with whatever your favourite liquor that releases into the milk as your chocolate melts!
10) Try a classic snack at Cafe Thijssen
You can’t go to the Netherlands without trying some of their classic snacks. Cafe Thijssen serves the most delicious bitterballen — a ball of doughy deep fried perfection served hot with grainy mustard. You can also try their modern twists of the classic favourite! Two glasses of Amstel and a plate of bitterballen to share will set you back about €6, what’s not to like!
Read about more of my Dutch adventures here!