Gezellig! Top 5 Places to Find It in Amsterdam

Eet smakelijk!

Long before I bought any furniture for my Amsterdam apartment, I painted my dining room a warm brick-red. The name of the color? Gezellig!

Having researched Dutch culture for an as-yet unpublished book, I was familiar with this guttural-sounding benchmark for all things cozy, quaint and quintessentially comfortable. In sum, defined by a cool vibe. While Dutchies love to claim the word is untranslatable, don’t believe them. If you know what you’re looking for, gezellig is easy to spot. 

Learning to say it is more difficult for Americans than actually identifying it at parties, homes and cafés. To practice, push your tongue way back in your mouth to form the first guttural g. Emphasize the first syllable and pronounce, as enthusiastically as possible, heh-SELL-ick! Tuck in a final guttural g to be really authentic. The guttural sounds may feel strange in your mouthmore like an exercise in bringing up something slimy than an attempt to pronounce a word that will flatter any person, place or occasion.

Despite its mucous-like sound, gezellig is the single ingredient that makes things inviting, friendly and sure to inspire a second round in Holland. At any gathering of Amsterdammers, you’ll hear this word uttered ad nauseum; whenever the conversation stalls, someone will recharge it with an animated gezellig he. It’s music to any eethuis or bruin café owner, where the ambiance can be more important than the food—especially if the place is patronized by the frugal Dutch, who will be more forgiving of overpriced fare if gezellig permeates the milieu.

Be cautious when you say it; if not delivered in a light, upbeat tone but with several syllables emphasized or drawn out, gezellig can denote ongezelligsomething cheerless, unpleasant, uncomfortable and possibly annoying. Some Amsterdammers who claim they’re more tolerant and open-minded than their more serious brethren in Den Hague or Rotterdam may tell you they’re gezellig while the rest of the Dutch populace are ongezellig farmers. You be the judge.

Koninginnedag is ALWAYS gezellig!

Gezellig is reflected in such typical Amsterdam scenes as canal boats filled with orange-clad revelers on Koninginnedag, tulips blooming in window boxes and locals chilling in Vondelpark on rare sunny days. Even a hooker might strive to create an intangible, come-hither gezellig vibe in her window with doilies or flowers on a bedside table.

So what’s most gezellig about A’dam? Here are my 5 top pics:

Supperclub: Tucked in an alley near Dam Square with no identifying sign, supperclub is part cabaret, part nightclub and all unexpected. Come for a sultan-like dining/music/performance art experience in La Salle Neige, imbibe in Bar Rouge and join DJ mafia in the downstairs smoking room that doubles as a toilet. Above all, open your senses for an evening that will titillate them all.

Stones Café: Around-the-clock, the time is 21:25 at Stones, one of the few bruin cafés in A’dam where you can smoke or drink anything you want. Set on lively Warmoesstraat, this British-style pub can get raucous with weekend hen + bachelor parties and whenever there’s a UK football game. On quiet nights, it’s a great place to enjoy a pint, chat up the friendly, attractive bar maids and challenge a mate in a game of pool.

Greenhouse Effect: Five minutes’ walk from Central Station, this relaxed bar and hotel is patronized by locals as well as tourists. Come for a smoke, drink or affordable themed room near A’dam’s bustling Red Light District. Sassy bartenders and an ever-changing roster of international guests add to the gezelligheid.

Abraxas Coffeeshop: Celebrating 20 years in 2012, Abraxas is legendary for high quality cannabis seeds and a gezellig vibe. Set on Jonge Roelensteeg (across from supperclub), one of A’dam’s prettiest coffeeshops provides a transcendental backdrop for a smoke washed down with mint tea or a refreshing looza. A stunning mosaic by German artist Katrin Brockmuller depicts TheTree of Life in the Abraxas card game.

The English Bookshop: As much a literary gathering spot as a place to buy books and DVDs made from them, this small independent bookshop in A’dam’s lively Jordaan is run by charming, South African-born Leisl Oliver. Beyond her warm service and hand-picked selection of quality English literature, she offers an eclectic roster of events including writers groups, author talks, book clubs, playgroups and ALL NEW Literary and Cultural Walking Tours offered on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

living in Amsterdam

19 comments

  1. Gezellig photo with the colour and theme, and of course the food. Out of the 5 top pics, I am guessing, the book shop might be my favourite, but who knows? I will just have to come and find out myself. I don’t know if I have really understand the real meaning of “Gezellig”, I guess I will have to take some photos of scenes and places which I think is “Gezellig” and show you to examine.

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  2. hmmm, maybe I read these posts in the wrong order – My repeated attempts to pronounce ‘Gezellig’ are made somewhat less attractive (or ‘Ongezellig’ I guess) by the fact that my mouth is watering from reading about the dining hotspots!
    I look forward to rediscovering Amsterdam armed with this new insight and appreciation for gezellig vibe.

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  3. Since gezellig is both a color and a mood, am I incorrect in saying it’s use seems a bit like “blue” except that it’s a positive mood as opposed to blue’s more negative connotation?

    I quite enjoy this post, because you seamlessly combine a cultural lesson with a recommendation list. This makes your suggestions even more of a to-do because now I want to know what a gezellig vibe is like and if I’m imagining it correctly!

    Also, it’s nice that you’ve included a place that isn’t primarily food or drinks.

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  4. hi Melissa! thank you for teaching us the word Gezellig!
    i’m so glad that the first Dutch word I learn is not the ordinary tourist expressions like, “Hi” or “Where is …?” but Gezellig which is commonly used by the locals
    I always think language is a great indicator of the local culture
    Even I haven’t been to Amesterdam yet, the popular usage of Gezellig gives me the impression that the Amesterdammers are fun-loving and friendly
    With your detailed instruction, I am still not sure if I prounouce Gezellig correctly 😛
    Hopefully I can have you to correct me when I am in Amesterdam 🙂
    I am so thrilled about your recommendations
    They all sound excellent places to go in Amesterdam
    I am particularly interested in the Abraxas Coffeeshop and the English bookshop
    I enjoy chilling in cozy, intimate cafes and the Abraxas Coffeeshop seems to be exactly what I am looking for
    As an art and literature lover, I am excited to visit the English bookshop and have a chat with Leisl

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  5. I am so glad there exists a word for what I want my life to be – Gezellig! A word to evoke the idea of warmth, coziness, and the general likability of life itself. Your gezellig recommendations sound amazing, and I can’t wait to experience them myself :3

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  6. Gezellic! That’s it! now I kwon what the girls have been yelling at me walking by the street! ^^ Gezellic list of recomendations!,As to the word, I’ll need windshield wipers for the screen if I want to keep practicing..

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  7. I like you helping foreigners to get used pronouncing words in Dutch. 3 out of 5 suggestions are about smoking, but that’s what many want of this city at first.

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  8. hi Melissa,
    your blog is a really cool thing! Especially the words: mooist, lekker and gezellig combined with the recommandation.
    In my city, Karlsruhe, the word “ordentlich” has the place of gezellig. That means: clean, new, unpersonal, everything is parallel or rectangular, not painted, as it is planned or supposed to be… – which is a little sad and makes the people a little agressive, because in the concept of “ordentlich” the people don’t have a place for them selves (i’ve never seen a rectangular person).
    So, Amsterdam seems to be a really friendly, peaceful and human city, not a machine.
    Now, after theory of gezellig, i’m looking forward to experience “gezellig” and more words and stuff i don’t know yet.
    viele Grüße
    Naomi

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  9. Hi Melissa, like Grace Cheng above, I’m also glad that the first Dutch word I’m going to learn how to say properly is gezellig!

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  10. Just like everyone else, I now a word! Yay! The best thing is that “gezellig” will probably always be my first introduction to the culture of Amsterdam. My new goal is to have someone will describe me as “gezellig,” a very specific red instead of a taupe or gray.

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