7 Ways to Get Off the Beaten Path in Amsterdam

Even with free WiFi, spending hours waiting in line at the Anne Frank House is not fun. Avoid it by planning ahead.

Want to go where tourists don’t tread in Amsterdam? Looking for an authentic experience in the Dutch capital, rather than a visit aimed at checking sights off a bucket list? Interested in how Dutchies actually live, work and play, rather than in lining up with other foreigners at popular attractions and feeling crushed by crowds in famous museums?

Couchsurfers from La Rochelle, France, cooked Quiche Lorraine.
Couchsurfers from La Rochelle, France, cooking Quiche Lorraine in my kitchen.

Here are a few tips that will get you off-the-beaten-path and help you experience Amsterdam like a local, not a tourist:

1. Close your guidebook. While helpful for background information and planning tips, your Lonely Planet, Fodor’s and Let’s Go books are guides, not the Bible. If you only visit top attractions like the Anne Frank House and Van Gogh Museum, you’ll see how visitors, not residents, experience Amsterdam. 

FlowershowerAmphora
Floor-to-ceiling mosaic tulips surround guests at Amphora.

badge_AmsterdamInterNations2. Stay with locals. Comfort and modern amenities are nice, but stay in upscale hotels like the historic Amstel, five-star Andaz, and canal-side Dylan and you’ll be surrounded by tourists. While hostels like the Flying PigStayokay, and Meeting Point yield a more authentic experience, you’re still bunking up with folks from lands other than Holland. Instead, stay with locals through Couchsurfing, or rent a local houseboat, apartment or guesthouse through Amsterdam Airnb.

For more intimacy, opt for boutique accommodations at Bed & Breakfast Brouwersgr8 off trendy Haarlemerstraat, or Amphora, a cozy rental apartment in Amsterdam’s gentrified Jordaan, with floor-to-ceiling mosaic tulips in the bath, plus creative handiwork by owner and internationally-known Dutch artist Greet Weitenberg and her husband Niels in the well-equipped kitchen.

Pull up a boat and chill at Hanneke's Boom.
Pull up a boat and chill with locals at Hanneke’s Boom.

3. Eat and drink outside tourist areas. Dam Square, Leidseplein and Rembrandtplein may be great spaces for people-watching, but bars and cafés in these high-traffic squares tend to serve inferior, overpriced fare, as they cater to tourists, not locals, and don’t rely on repeat business. Better to chill at dives like Sound Garden in the Jordaan or Hanneke’s Boom near Central Station, where you’ll imbibe alongside locals, including regulars who’ve been drinking at these joints for decades. 

Foodism is very popular with locals.
Foodism is very popular with locals.

Tapas bars, especially those in the Jordaan like Foodism on Nassaukade and A La Plancha off Elandsgracht, are filled with Dutchies sharing meals with friends. The newest hotspot, Waterkant, has yet to be discovered by throngs of tourists. Set along Singlegracht canal behind the Q-Park on Marnixstraat, the waterfront restaurant and bar opened in August 2014 to huge success. With casual fare like burgers, spring rolls, and nachos, plus Suriname-influenced ribs, wraps, and salads, it now attracts crowds of locals to its expansive terrace and indoor dining room for lunch and dinner.

Waterkant is the newest hotspot for canal-side beer and casual fare.
Waterkant is the newest hotspot for canal-side beer and casual fare.
Amsterdam-Noord is accessible via a free ferry takes you across the Ij.
Visit Amsterdam-Noord via the free NDSM ferry.

4. Go beyond Dam Square. After a bit of exploring, get out of Centrum, where most top sights are located. Discover Amsterdam-Noord, a creative hub across the Ij River, accessible via the free NDSM ferry behind Central Station. Poke around Amsterdam’s Oost and Oud-West neighborhoods, where Turkish and Moroccan restaurants and shops offer clues about the city’s diverse demographic mix. Find an international blend of cafés and boutiques in de Pijp, where vendors at the Albert Cuypmarkt, largest of the city’s street markets, sell food, fashion and fun items to enjoy here or take home as gifts or souvenirs.

Shop like a local at the Monday morning Noordermarkt.
Shop like a local at the Monday morning Noordermarkt.

5. Shop like a local. Avoid tourist streets like Kalverstraat and Leidsestraat for retail therapy. Instead, find everything you need alongside locals at small street markets like the Ten Kate in the Oud- West and Noodermarkt, specializing in textiles and vintage fashion on Monday mornings in the Jordaan.

6. Interact with locals. You’ll find them at Amsterdam’s gorgeous public library near Central Station, a seven-story multimedia temple, complete with a lobby piano and rooftop café. Many Dutchies and internationals also attend concerts and festivals, held year-round in Amsterdam. Take a virtual trip to the Amsterdam Bollywood Nights festival in Oosterpark, starring four Dutch girls devouring curry wraps, Indian dance lessons, and an outdoor screening of a Bollywood movie with a flash mob ending.

Amsterdam's Openbare Bibliotheek is a multimedia temple, open to the public
Amsterdam’s Openbare Bibliotheek is a multimedia temple, open to the public
Check out Dutch magazines at a cozy library in De Hallen.
Check out Dutch magazines at a cozy library in De Hallen.

At entertainment complexes like Westergasfabriek on Amsterdam’s western edge and the new, industrial-style De Hallen in the Oud-West, you’ll rub elbows with locals at markets, festivals, auctions and other events. Opened in fall 2014, De Hallen debuted with restaurants, a cozy library, art gallery, movie hall, Hotel Les Halles, Kinki Academy hairdressing school and photo lab, plus other specialty shops. Food halls and a childcare center are slated to open soon. 

7. Visit in low season. Save for holiday dates in December, air fares and tourist numbers are at their lowest in winter. The Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, Ann Frank House and other popular attractions are open, but with smaller crowds and shorter lines, making for a more intimate experience. Shoppers will find considerably emptier stores than in the U.S. during the year-end holidays, as well as specialty markets with holiday gifts.

ICE Amsterdam remains open through early January.
Winter is a prime season for visiting Amsterdam if you’re looking for minimal crowds.

17 comments

  1. Love it Melissa! Great article, and I have to agree that these more authentic, intimate visits leave a more memorable experience and impression.

    I’m back in California! Hope all is well with you and Lief!

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  2. It’s like an year that I’m waiting for coming back to Albert Cuyp Market, also in Nieuwmarkt where you can find so many foods. I mean markets in Amsterdam are so different from Italy, they’re amazing. In Dutchland you have the most delicious food ever!
    I’ve never been in Hanneke’s Boom it seems an interesting place, unlike I stayed and I’m going to stay in Amsterdam few days, so I have to taste amsterdam life style in pills!

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  3. Wow i soo recognise the idea’s behind this article. I’ve been in Amsterdam a few times but i’ll definitely try out these tips when im’ there next time!!

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  4. These are great tips for travelers! I definitely agree with point 2. I have had some of my best travel experiences when using couchsurfing or airbnb. It’s a great way to learn about local places worth visiting and avoid tons of tourists.

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  5. Loved reading this post! Always looking for insider info on new cities so we can stray from the beaten path, especially shopping as the locals do – high-end busy tourist streets can get so repetitive and expensive. Even if you aren’t able to host us in Amsterdam, your blog will be a huge asset to our visit!

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  6. Wow, Melissa! Am I ever so thankful for coming across your blog. The insight you have on Amsterdam and all you tips on seeing the way locals live are amazing! My friend and I will be exploring Amsterdam in February 2015. I can’t wait to see what this beautiful city has in store!

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    • Hey, thanks for the kudos. Get in touch with me when you visit in February (a very cold, rainy month, typically) and I’d be happy to meet up and show you around if time permits.

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  7. Very useful article and so true. You always feel when you visit a city that you HAVE TO do the touristic attractions everybody does in a city and it’s always the first questions people ask you when you come back (have you seen this, have you done that…).
    But there are other and more “efficient” way to visit a city by trying to act a bit like a local unfortunately it’s quite hard if you don’t know people living there.
    Thanks to this article I’ve got some tips about it and wanna use them as soon as this weekend.

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  8. Great list! Especially the bit about the public library. I like to visit libraries wherever I go. I had no idea Amsterdam’s library was so massive. I’ll definitely be stopping there on my next visit.

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  9. Wow! That’s a great article. I think it will be very helpful when it comes to experiencing Amsterdam. We will definitely be using some of your hints. Seems like you have a lot of knowledge and insider tips to share about this beautiful city. We would definitely love to get to know you! Plus: Some great pictures! They actually get me really excited for our trip. 🙂

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  10. Hey Melissa,
    Those are some awesome tips. Number 1 and 2 are a must do no matter where you go. There is no better way to explore a new city than – “Close your guide book” and “Stay with locals”.
    Every time I tried this particular approach I have had a blast. If you stick to any guide book there is no possible way for you to know how many wonderful things you might be missing out on 🙂

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  11. This is an excellent, succinct list that answered some questions I hadn’t even thought to ask yet. Thank you, Melissa!

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  12. Wow thank you melissa for all these great, informative and useful posts! This is really good insight on amsterdam 🙂 Everyone should read this blog before going to Amsterdam, or during!
    – gonna follow these tips! 🙂

    Like

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