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?
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.
2. 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 Pig, Stayokay, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.