With its industrial vibe and open expanses, Amsterdam-Noord is as far from the Dutch capital’s medieval center as the North Pole is from the rest of the planet. In practice, it’s a short ferry-hop across the river IJ from Amsterdam Central Station. The free ride takes you to a neighborhood often overlooked by tourists, encompassing both a hip waterfront on the IJ’s northern bank and serene villages straight out of a fairytale just beyond.
The addition of many socially conscious businesses has made Noord a lab for progressive culture. Once a dilapidated shipyard, NDSM Wharf is now home to Discovery Channel, MTV and Red Bull, as well as cutting-edge architecture and edgy festivals. Over the last decade, old warehouses have become artist studios. Used shipping containers have been transformed into waterfront cafés and student housing. At Kunststad (Art City), an old NDSM hangar is now a 200-studio creative space.
To best appreciate Noord, try to adjust your expectations. If you’re looking for an extension of the postcard-perfect vistas of Amsterdam’s UNESCO-recognized canal belt, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Rather than 17th-century canal mansions, NDSM Wharf is peppered with moored ships, angular structures, and old trams turned into hippie housing. An abandoned submarine greets you as you step off the ferry. Just inland, traditional Dutch farmhouses in pastoral villages are a throwback to the past.
In non-touristy Amsterdam-Noord, here are 7 wondrous ways to have fun:
#1: Wine, Dine, and Hang Out on NDSM Wharf
On what might seem like a desolate shipyard, you’ll find myriad options for dining or just chilling with a cocktail in hand on a waterfront strand. Just to the left as you disembark the ferry, IJ Kantine serves breakfast, lunch and dinner in a sunny brasserie that was once a cafeteria for shipbuilders.
For a more holistic experience, head for Pllek, where old shipping containers house an organic restaurant fronted by a man-made beach. A panoramic view of the IJ offsets metallic edges and concrete floors at this bohemian hangout crafted from upcycled materials and salvaged marine artifacts. Weekend DJs, live music, and Sunday yoga add to the fun. Films with a View are presented on Tuesdays, June–September, weather permitting.
Also popular for waterfront dining is Nooderlicht, a hip bistro housed in an old airplane hangar. In summer, bonfires on its man-made beach light up the night sky. Poetry readings and DJ nights take place throughout the year. The neighboring GeWoonboot is a self-sustaining houseboat with its own heating, electric and water purification systems.
You can cruise along the IJ fueled by all the Dutch pancakes you can eat on De Pannenkoekenboot. As its name suggests, Noord’s Pancake Boat offers a moving feast on a scenic tour of the harbor.
#2: Shop for Vintage Treasures
On the second weekend of most months, NDSM’s maritime history combines with the neighborhood’s creative spirit at IJ-Hallen. Europe’s largest flea market takes place in two warehouses filled with 750 stands selling second-hand clothes, shoes, antiques, books, furniture and other vintage treasures.
For more interior inspiration, check out nearby Woodies at Berlin, featuring hand-crafted wooden furniture, plus vintage and modern items. For retro fans, Neef Louis offers a broad selection of furniture, lamps and mid-century knickknacks. One warehouse down, Van Dijk & Ko is a treasure trove of vintage sideboards, dressers, tables and home accessories.
#3 Explore a Clean-Tech Playground
Noord’s progressive culture is on full display at De Ceuvel, a clean-tech playground comprised of old houseboats fitted with clean technologies. Set on a “forbidden garden” of pollutant-eating plants that keep the once-toxic soil clean, the experiment in sustainability is a role model for energy efficiency. Innovative treatment, composting and filtration systems recycle much of its own waste.
The centerpiece of the complex is Café de Ceuvel, a mellow hangout with a sustainable mission. Crafted from upcycled materials, the building incorporates 80-year-old bollards from the port of Amsterdam and an old lifeguard pavilion from Scheveningen beach. The world’s first Biogas Boat, designed to turn the cafe’s organic waste into cooking gas, is now under construction.
With dishes made from local, organic ingredients, seasoned with herbs grown in a rooftop aquaponics greenhouse, Café de Ceuvel adds new twists to Dutch favorites. Bitterballen and croquettes substitute oyster mushrooms grown on coffee grinds for beef.
The most interesting item on the menu may be The Unwanted Goose Sandwich, served with smoked wild goose from birds shot at Schiphol Airport to prevent them from winding up in a jet engine. Rather than see the carcasses tossed, Café de Ceuvel reclaims the poultry for your sandwich. “This wild goose is shot,” the menu cautions. “There could be a piece of a bullet inside the meat.” You’ve been warned.
#4: Visit an Homage to International Cinema
Although it’s only been around since 2012, the EYE Film Museum is already an icon on the Amsterdam-Noord waterfront. Perched like an ivory spaceship on the IJ Promenade, it’s now one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks.
The EYE had its beginnings in 1946, when its predecessor, the Nederlands Historisch Filmarchief, was founded. In 1952, the national film archive became the Dutch Film Museum, which was renamed EYE (pronounced “eye,” which is also the Dutch pronunciation for “IJ,” like the river)—in 2010.
While curated with a focus on Dutch films, the EYE’s 37,000-title collection also includes Oscar winners and independent films from around the world. Along with movie screenings, the museum features interactive displays and film posters, as well as cinema-themed souvenirs in a museum shop. An eye-popping bar and restaurant serves up stunning views alongside snacks and drinks.
#5: Get High at A’DAM Toren
You need not indulge in any of Amsterdam’s legal drugs to get high at A’DAM Toren, the newest incarnation of the old Shell tower. Open since 2016, the landmark building on the IJ’s northern waterfront is now home to restaurants, clubs, offices, a luxury hotel, and A’DAM Lookout, offering the best views in town from Europe’s tallest swing.
A psychedelic light show unfolds as you zoom to the top of the 22-story tower. When the elevator doors open, step onto an observation deck with unrivaled views of Amsterdam’s historic canal belt and the polders beyond. For an extra €5 over your admission, satisfy your inner adrenaline junkie on a giant swing at Over the Edge. A digital memory of your visit runs a little more, but hey, it’s a chance to bring home a souvenir of balancing above all of Amsterdam without killing yourself.
For an upscale lunch, reserve a table at Moon on the tower’s 19th floor, dishing up seasonal menus and a revolving city view. One floor up, Madam serves Mediterranean cuisine and transforms into Skybar after dark.
On A’DAM Toren’s bottom level, you can literally dance the night away at Shelter, an underground club inspired by grunge-chic nightclubs in London, Moscow and Berlin, where DJs play electro-tunes until 8am the next morning on most nights.
Night-owls meet early birds at The Butcher Social Club, part of the Sir Adam Hotel that occupies A’DAM Toren’s first eight floors. Open 24/7 on Friday and Saturday, and from 8–1am Sunday–Thursday, this all-in-one urban lounge, burger bar and game hall serves breakfast, booze, beer, and signature classics like The Butcher’s Angus beef burger and Silence of the Lambs.
If you haven’t had your fill of fun at A’DAM Toren, neighboring Tolhuistuin presents movies, concerts and cultural programs. Small dishes from around the world are served at THT, an airy cafe that once served as a canteen for 1,200 employees of multinational Shell Oil.
#6 Visit a Storybook World
In sharp contrast to Noord’s industrial vibe, a pastoral world opens up just inland from the waterfront. Accessible via foot, bike, boat and public transport, tiny towns like Nieuwendam, Ransdorp and Zunderdorp are a blast from the past, with narrow streets and wooden homes dating back to the 16th century.
Cycling along the Ijsselmeer coast to Durgerdam, pastoral views of rural meadows, locks, dikes and polders unfold. Refuel at Café ‘t Sluisje at the end of Niewendammerdijk, serving Dutch apple pie in a 16th-century building. Along the way, watch for authentic stolpboerderijen—traditional Dutch farmhouses built in the shape of a cheese cover.
#7 Dangle From a Refurbished Crane
The same craziness that transformed an abandoned shipyard into a creative hub pushed engineering boundaries to the limit at Crane Hotel Faralda. Once a rickety crane on the northern bank of the IJ, the structure has risen from the ashes of NDSM Wharf as an industrial-chic hotel.
After a challenging interior overhaul and flashy new paint job, Crane Hotel Faralda debuted in 2014 with a Panoramic Lounge, three luxury suites, and a rooftop jacuzzi—all boasting stunning city views. Since the refurbished crane still spins to reduce wind load, guests can wake up to different views than the ones they saw at bedtime.
Even if you don’t want to splurge to sleep in a crane (suites hover around €500/night), you can still bungee jump from Crane Hotel Faralda’s newest attraction. On your 115-foot free fall, you’ll be rewarded with sweeping views of Amsterdam.
One-of-a-kind accommodations in Noord also include the Amstel Botel, a moored ocean liner-turned-hotel. For the budget-conscious, the quirky ClinkNOORD hostel opened in 2015 in Shell’s former red brick headquarters in the heart of non-touristy Amsterdam-Noord. For a more conventional stay, check out accommodations in the DoubleTree by Hilton on NDSM Wharf.
Reaching Non-Touristy Amsterdam-Noord
Several free ferries run from the IJ side of Central Station to Amsterdam-Noord. If you’re visiting Pllek, IJKantine or Noorderlicht on NDSM Wharf, board the NDSM ferry for the 15-minute crossing. For A’DAM Toren, Eye Film Institute, De Ceuval or Nieuwendammerdijk, take the Buiksloterweg ferry for the five-minute trip.
In addition to ferries, several buses travel to Noord. Check the GVB schedule or Google Maps for more information.
Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links that will earn me a tiny commission if you click on them to make a booking. All lead to accommodations selected not to add to my riches but rather to make your stay in Amsterdam-Noord truly memorable.