Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Amsterdam….In my opinion the most beautiful place to be. My love for this amazing city has outgrown to some kind of manic obsession and I’m literally searching for the cheapest flights every single day of my life. But why?
First things first.
There’s a Dam Square with the Koninklijk Paleis and Madame Tussauds, the Damrak street, the Red Light District, the Anne Frank Huis, the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, Stedelijk Museum and primarily the canals, so-called “grachten” and the well-known “rondvaart” water tours. Maybe you’ve also visited the A’dam Lookout and the Heineken Experience; and during your Dutch trip also went to Zaanse Schans, Kinderdijk, Rotterdam, Keukenhof (in spring), Marken, Efteling, Madurodam, Den Haag, Valkenburg, Edam and Volendam. You’ve seen some beautiful things and you do not reluctant to call it beautiful, but that’s where it ends. It’s just another mark on your travel list and you don’t plan to come back because the country just haven’t engaged your attention enough.
But that’s a mistake, because you didn’t even give the Netherlands a chance to present itself properly! Of course, all the previously stated things are definitely worth a visit, I’m not impeaching anyone, but that’s far from what Amsterdam really has to offer! One day dedicated to this amazing city is definitely not enough!
And because more and more people head there and leave with disgust rising from the density of tourists you’ll definitely meet when visiting such tourist-attractive locations, I decided to create a list of relatively tranquil places all around the town. Each of them has two big pros: wayyy less crowded, and equally interesting and iconique!
- Enjoy the “lekkere zonentje” in a medieval garden
Hofje is a Dutch word for a courtyard with almshouses around it. They’ve been present since the Middle Ages and at first provided housing for Roman Catholic women – béguines, members of a lay sisterhood who are not bound by vows. Later on, after the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, not only that the majority of these hofjes have become protestant, but their nature has also changed. Rich local philanthropists began to fund the buildings and maintenance of the backyards, considering it both a religious and a charitable deed.
Nowadays they’re inhabited generally by elderly people and serve as a form of social security. You’ll find many of them in A’dam, and basically around entire country. Most of the “Amsterdamse” ones are located in the relatively tranquil Jordaan quarter.
In A’dam, you can access a number of amazing hidden gardens just by pushing a single door. Behind the brown wooden one, detaching off the busy Spui Square in De Wallen quarter is lying completely another world – a tranquil garden courtyard, surrounded by gaudy gabled buildings. The Begijnhof, one of the largest hofjes, dates back to the early 15th century, when it was built for béguines, members of a lay sisterhood who are not bound by vows. In 1607, the church situated in the middle of the courtyard was offered to Protestant dissenters running away from England. The last beguine died in 1971, but the houses are still inhabited, mostly by women. At number 34 you’ll find something really special: one of only two remaining medieval timber facades in town!
The charming Van Brienenhofje situated in the middle of Jordaan has really irregular opening hours, so very few people end up visiting. And that’s great, because it’s even more quiet than the other regular hofjes! It’s not particularly large, but it’s very nice and “gezellig” (cosy). Just remember to be respectful to the inhabitants and silent!
The Claes Claesz Hofje is an interesting one to visit as it differs a bit from all other hofjes that can be found in A’dam. It’s got three entrances and a couple of diverse small courtyards instead of just one central courtyard embosomed by the houses. It’s located in a Westindische Buurt right behind the Vondepark (or right by its Western entrance).
Zon’s Hofje, which takes its name from the hidden Mennonite church built here in 1650, is also a tiny bit special. Not only that it’s situated on one of the most beautiful canals, the Prinsengracht, but also above the entrance, right under the clock, is namely embedded a beautiful gable stone with a little rhyme: “Love built us this lodging, hope remains our permanent impulse to see the sun on our souls.” This quiet and charming place has been used by students since 60s as a perfect study spot.
There are many more hofjes around the city, but these four are my absolute favourites that I just needed to share with you!
- Bike around and look for the tiny cute parks
The leafy Frankendael Park located near by the University of Amsterdam has a gorgeous mansion right in the middle. In my opinion is this one of the biggest “Amsterdamse” secrets, I know even some locals who have no clue about it. But you know, the less people, the better! At least it does not lose any of its charm! It’s perfect for walks and very accessible for everyone, very great for bikers, so if you’re passing by the Oost quarter and you want to settle down for a bit and take som rest from the chaos of the hectic city around, this one is for you.
Another park located in Oost, in the Indische Buurt (Indian Quarter) to be more exact, is the Flevopark. It’s a really nice place where you can take a rest between the beautiful trees and calming surroundings, as well as have a picnic or play some sports. Also the Nieuwe Diep, the lake attached to the park, is definitely one of the best places to swim in A’dam.
- Go for some fair trade products
Would you believe me if I told you that right in the middle of another park, the Amsterdamse Bos situated in the Zuid quarter, is established a biodynamic goat farm?
I’m sure you wouldn’t.
But apparently, it is true! Right there you can interact with animals and buy farm fresh products including milk, cheese, meat, honey and eggs. Geitenboerderij Riddammerhoeve is a great place for everyone to run away from everyday life and buy some fair trade products. While being there, make sure to try the goat milk ice cream or some milkshakes!
The Buurtboerderij Ons Genoegen saved some of the fields from 19th century that were nearly annihilated due to the construction of the new railways and have transformed them into sheep pastures, chicken coops, and restaurants with fresh food. This peaceful space hosts many different types of events, from record-spinning sessions and live music to food festivals. Maybe you’ve heard of it, maybe not, but there’s a “weggeefwinkel” (giveaway store), where you can appropriate other people’s stuff for a very low price or nothing and vice versa. Nice, innit?
- Pet some cuties
Right by the A’dam Centraal Station you’ll find the world’s only floating cat boat shelter, De Poezenboot. It was established in the ’60s for cat lovers and it’s actually free to visit (although some subtle sums are warm welcome). But check the opening hours carefully as they’re usually open in the afternoons. There’s nothing like playing with cats to make your day.
Another great spot for all the cat lovers (would you believe I couldn’t find anything for dog lovers except some dog-friendly hotels? Unbelievable!) is the Kattenkabinet. This cat museum in Amsterdam is unique as it holds only cat-related artwork. The entrance fee is kinda costly but the experience of walking around this historic canal house situated on Herengracht (one of the most famous canals in A’dam, just a few steps off the Bloemenmarkt) is definitely worth it. You’ll meet some very friendly, well-socialized cat. What’s the most interesting about this is, that they sleep basically wherever they want, even on top of the historic furniture. That said, keep an eye out for the Picasso’s drawings of cats. But watch out for the opening hours, too, as it’s open only in the afternoons and it may differ between the particular days.
- Relive the past
What’s more palpitating and interesting than visiting an actual bunker? The Vondelbunker is hidden under a bridge in Vondelpark (there’s only one bridge, you’ll definitely find it). It hosts many diverse counterculture events including concerts, cinema nights, art exhibits and dinners. There’s even a tiny beer brewery located there, named Bunkerbier. And yes, it’s an actual bomb shelter from the Cold War! There are many more sparse around Amsterdam, also from WWII. In the IJmuiden village located nearby is even an open-air Bunker Museum!
- The symbolic triangles of the Homomonument
Exposed already in 1987, when other countries were far more conservative and senescent, to remind the importance of equality and support homosexual people oppressed by governments and basically ordinary citizens all around the world, this symbolic monument is so well incorporated into its surroundings that when you’re not exactly looking for it, you’ll most likely just pass around without even noticing anything. What to look for and where, actually? This 36m broad equilateral triangle with three small pink granite triangles in its corners is displayed on the cobblestone of Westermarkt in the Jordaan quarter. One of the three lateral triangles spills out onto the canal and points towards Anne Frank Huis situated right abreast. Another of the pink triangles points towards the war memorial that’s located at the Dam Square nearby, in remembrance of the persecution and harassment of homosexuals during the WWII. The third triangle points towards the Centre of Culture and Leisure Activities (COC A’dam), which is basically a cover name for the Dutch gay and lesbian society that’s been founded already in 1946. That’s what I call tolerance and open-mindedness!
copyright for the previous pic goes to its owners.
- Become acquainted with the diversity…..of condoms
Labeled as the world’s first shop specialized in condoms, the Condomerie is most likely to be one of the most unique shops you’ll ever visit. The entire shop is fully stocked with condoms of every flavour, color and style; filling every single empty space o every single wall with them. They even have fair trade condoms, if you’re into…well…let’s call it trying new things. Aside from the surplus of condom choices, Condomerie offers several novelty items and condom art. It’s located right in the Red Light District and, well, I guess it won’t be that hard for you to find it, it’s got pretty interesting showcase decor. Definitely one of the most quaint things to do in A’dam!
- Take a look into whole different world
Right on the narrow Raamsteeg street, across from the original Café Gollem is a pastry bakery called Traiterie Chef. And above this bakery is a weird little room that you won’t find yourself, you need to ask for it: a teapot museum. Naturally they serve high tea here. But what’s so special about it, is that you can play dress up here, with magnifique scenery and even the costumes. And after you’re done here, you can just go for a Belgian beer across the street to any of the pubs or to the well-known Gollem, and pretend that nothing have ever happened.
I haven’t visited this one although I’d like to, I’ve just heard of it!
- Enough waffles and poffertjes? Try pannenkoeken!
How can you travel to the Netherlands, try all those everywhere recommended national specialties but forget about the box cakes and pancakes? Pancakes! is one of the most recent establishments in the city, and has quickly built a name for itself. In the menu you’ll find miscellaneous sorts of pancakes and everything related to them. From a pancake pie to their American version of the food, there is nothing you wouldn’t want to try immediately! What distinguishes them from other restaurants around A’dam is that their pancakes are a little bit thinner and they definitely do not skimp on the toppings and basically overall portions! It’s a a perfect spot for basically anything: whether you’re going on a date, organise a celebration or just want to have a fancy breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
- Try exotic specialties
Coffee & Coconuts is definitely one of Amsterdam’s must-visit cafés. The building used to be a headquarters of the former Ceintuur Theater and later has been renovated and transformed into a cosy café offering great coffee, tea and homemade food produced out of the fair trade products, all wrapped out in a funky environment. It’s a perfect place for meeting friends or even studying, because many Dutch public spaces (restaurants, cafés, trains) have a separate room or two for those, who prefer silence. Many of the offered drinks and meals contain coconut in one of its many forms, a few of my favourite beverages are CT’s Coconut Dream and Gorilla Choco and I also totally love Coconut pancakes. Coffee & Coconuts is located in Ceintuurbaan and is easily accessible for anyone who wants to enjoy a delicious cup of coffee, a nice lunch. or a drink, but be ready for a little fancy price. Original ideas are always more pricey.
There’s NEVER sufficient number of time you can spend in Amsterdam. There’s always something new to see, do and try and this list is far from being completely satisfying for me as its author, but I would have to spend years writing this article to be totally contented with it, and yet there still wouldn’t be mentioned everything. That’s the magic of Amsterdam, you can always find something new. However the most interesting art you can find right on the street. Any street. Just look around you at all those people who are not afraid to dress just how they like; and all those various styles!