There’s a reason why you’re bumping shoulder to shoulder with tourists and barely seeing any Dutch people around. Mostly, it comes down to travellers sticking within the canal rings of Amsterdam. From Amsterdam Centraal Station, the city is built outwards in multiple rings separated by water. Given, most of the attractions of the city are in this historical area or near it.
Now I fully agree - it’s definitely a must-see area to explore in its own right. The wobbly-tilted houses are gorgeous and the many bridges are simply romantic. But if you just wander only a stone's throw away from the central ring… You’ll see an Amsterdam that’s buzzing with locals, the same beautiful UNESCO canals extended beyond the crowds, yet filled with things to do that tourists don’t even know about. Luckily for you, I’m here to share these Amsterdam secret spots!
1. Artis - a royal zoo, planetarium, aquarium, and botanical garden... All in one!
A royal zoo isn’t the first thing people think of when they picture Amsterdam. But the thing is, this isn’t just any ordinary zoo… it’s one of the oldest zoos in all of continental Europe, as well as being a botanical garden, aquarium and having a planetarium. Yep, all of these fantastical places in one! During the summer months, Artis also becomes a cultural centre, hosting events where Dutch talents perform live on stage within the blossoming gardens. For kids, there are puppet show performances and even kids' yoga sessions! It’s truly a fantastic place for all ages and for any occasion, whether you’re going on a date, or just curious about seeing some of the 750 species of animals at the zoo. The planetarium is free admission with the zoo ticket, and where you can go on a trip through outer space. You can book your tickets here.
2. Brouwerij ’t IJ Brewery
If you’re a fan of craft beer brewed, this Dutch brand is beloved by Amsterdammers as it’s also brewed right here in the city. No, it isn’t Heiniken - but it is a great alternative to the more crowded Heineken Experience. Brouwerij ’t IJ is an Amsterdam craft beer, with a microbrewery and a tasting room in one spot. From your standard selection of Blond to IPA, there are also seasonal beers and special flavours. You can also do a beer tasting with five different samples! During the summer months, there’s a lofty terrace right by the canals to enjoy your cold drinks, while in the winter - nothing gets cosier than sitting inside the taproom.
3. De Gooyer Windmill
Toppling right over the Brouwerij ’t IJ brewery is a Dutch iconic: a traditional windmill! Many travellers often have to head out of Amsterdam to see a windmill, but what they don’t know is that there’s one right in the city here. It’s a landmark for a reason - majestic and tall, De Gooyer Windmill hugs a corner of the island where people on boats cruise Amsterdam. It’s also the biggest windmill in Amsterdam! Come for a stroll along the canals, or as you’re cruising Amsterdam in a boat, you may even spot this octagonal structure from the water!
Amsterdam East neighbourhood is a treasure trove that’s overlooked by tourists and if I’m honest - even some Amsterdammers of other neighbourhoods barely venture to this side of town. That’s no fault to the bustling neighbourhood. Dappermarkt is one such impeccable spot that makes up Amsterdam East. From Monday to Saturday throughout the year, is filled with character. A friend of mine who’s a local Dutch farmer sells his fresh organic produce here every morning! You can also find colourful flowers and bouquets and stalls of fresh Dutch snacks like kibbling (fried cod) and poofertjes (mini Dutch pancakes with powdered sugar).
5. Strand Blijburg
Further East from Amsterdam East is an Amsterdam beach that is filled with locals on sunny warm days. Whether you want to escape from the city for a few hours or a day - Strand Blijburg makes for the best beach getaway. There’s soft sand and a stretch of open water for swimming. While there’s no lifeguard on duty here, there’s still a yellow buoy that tapers off the deep area. Stand Blijburg is a favourite spot amongst families, groups of friends, and great for any type of traveller who just wants to feel like they’re somewhere beachy. There’s also a small snack bar at the beach where you can get Dutch bites to make a whole picnic!
Secluded private gardens are all over Amsterdam. They’re known as hofjes, and they’re usually lush courtyards where people can sit, read, and enjoy the peace that comes with being sheltered from the chaos of the outside walls. The thing is though tourists without a doubt won’t know where to find these true hidden gems. Most hofjes allow non-residence to enjoy the spaces if they’re quiet and respectful. Karthuizerhof is one of these historical courtyards, and it feels like a haven. Going all the way back to 1650, this used to be a medieval monastery for widows and single mothers. Now, it’s a place where you can go to catch your breath while being surrounded by beauty.
This is a unique cultural hub that brings a community of musicians, comedians, storytellers all together. Each Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening, Mezrab host a different event. One night could be for European folk dancing, another an open mic night to showcase up and coming artists. There’s also storytelling evenings where mythical, funny, and true stories are shared. This wonderful venue for all events are donation based - so the entry is free and you just pay what you can! Everyone who works here are volunteer because they’re passionate about the creative community here, so the money goes towards the rental of the building. Mezrab also always encourages newcomers and people who want to do stand-up comedy, tell a story, or perform themselves! So it’s easy to sign up to be on stage or just to enjoy the city’s talents.
8. Thrift shopping at a flea-market Waterlooplein
6 days a week from Monday to Friday, in the square of Waterlooplein right outside the metro station is a huge sprawl of a market. Here you’ll see vendors selling antiques, second-hand clothing, used goods, and collectables under different awnings. These types of markets in the Netherlands are called Rommelmarkt in Dutch and right in the city you can shop at this flea market. It also happens to be the oldest flea market in the whole country, dating back to over 130 years ago. In need for a vintage camera? A rare collectable? You’ll never know what you can find amongst the 300 vendors spread out in the square. If you’re hungry after thrift shopping, there are tons of food trucks around for a bite! My favourite are the Vietnamese lumpia (Vietnamese fried egg rolls) which are a favourite street food snack with the Dutchies.
9. Gin tasting at Wynand Fockink Proeflokaal and Spirits
The Netherlands is known for jenever, a type of malt-grain spirit that’s essential the Dutch version of gin. Jenever is actually the OG gin, as it was later introduced to England which in turn made the gin we now popularly know of. So taking it back to before gin ruled and it was only jenever is Wynand Fockink Proeflokaal and Spirits. The distillery is Amsterdam’s oldest tasting room, still operating in a historic 17th century liquor store. They use the same traditional crafting methods for their liqueur since 1679, and the best thing is - you can come here for a tasting. From the different assortment of jenevers to the Old Dutch liqueurs - it’s a great way to learn about the history of Amsterdam and of the country through different sips. If you’re a fan of cocktails, definitely check out a tasting session as you’ll dabble two different types of jenevers, one brandy, one bitter as well as two liqueurs.
10. Canalside bar at the Waterkant
From the outside, it’s two modern circular tube that acts as a multi-car park. But upon closer inspection, during sunny summer days, the Waterkant becomes one of the hottest bar amongst Amsterdammers. The vibes are immaculate with a live DJ, lips-smacking Surinamese food, and fun drinks. You’ll see plenty of locals sitting on the edge of the terrace, legs swimming over the canals with a beer in hand. Trust me, this spot is a whole entire island vibe right underneath the concrete dystopian parking tubes. Best people watching spot too, as tons of boats pass by the canals that you’ll be sitting in front of. If you do plan to go for a terrace drink, make sure you come early enough since by mid-day most of it are full of Dutchies.
11. Cruising Amsterdam on a boat
Most tourists are on the shepherd boat tours - you’ll see them around, the giant, generically long boats that whizzes through the waterways. They’re mindless fun for a guide that explains you about the historical buildings around but they follow a set path and you’re squeezed in between all of these other packs of travellers. To free yourself from this, do what Amsterdammers do - get your own boat. You most definitely don’t have to buy one, there’s tons of companies around (like Mokum boats and Boaty) that lets you rent last minute private boats. They often go for 2 hours (which is perfect for cruising Amsterdam) and you don’t even need a boat license! Yep, that means you can be your own captain, go wherever you want to go, and cruise Amsterdam at whichever speed you want! You can look into renting a cruise here.
12. Street food at Ten Katemarkt
If you’re looking for yummy street food in Amsterdam, Ten Katemarkt located on Kinerstraat in the Amsterdam West neighbourhood is your jam. It’s a lively market where the locals go for a smaller, yet close-knit atmosphere. You’ll find the freshest produce from the best Dutch cheeses to any type of fish. But if you don’t want to do any grocery shopping, there are tons of food stalls. That’s my favourite thing about Ten Katemarkt, the diversity in the food offerings here - from juicy falafels, delectable tapas, the most authentic Vietnamese bites, to the best Turkish flatbreads stuffed with aubergine and feta.
13. Theatre Tuschinski
This is a true gem smack right in the centre of Amsterdam. It’s a grand movie theatre that was built to create the feeling of sitting in an opulent opera theatre while watching the silver screen. The facade is in an art deco and art nouveau style. While inside Tuschinski’s main auditorium, the seats are plush red built on multiple floor levels looking out onto a regal stage with an organ. Even Time Magazine has donned Tuschinki the most beautiful cinema in the world - so you know I’m not exaggerating when I’m saying you’ll be in for a treat! The movie theatre has such a prominent history with the Netherlands that even King William-Alexander, the current king of the country, granted Tuschinski a royal predicate. If you go to watch a flick here, definitely make sure you watch it in the main auditorium.
A lush sprawl of greenery in the trendy De Pijp neighbourhood (seriously, this is Amsterdam’s best-dressed, young, and bohemian area), Sarphatipark embodies the same characteristics of De Pijp. It’s where you can take your yummy snacks from nearby Albert Cuyp market to have a picnic in the sun. Or, walk around the bridges and ponds. My favourite thing to do while hanging out here is people-watching. Seriously, all walks of life come through Sarphatipark - from the fashionistas and trendsetters of Amsterdam to the alternative and underground crowd. That’s what makes this park so special - while a lot of the tourists go to Vondelpark (I mean, I love that space too but so does everyone else), Sarphatipark is where the local set of Amsterdammers can go to avoid the tourists.
15. Go for a swim at Bogortuin on Java Eiland
People sometimes forget that Amsterdam is in an urban archipelago made up of many little islands. Java Eiland is one of these just nearby Amsterdam East neighbourhood. It’s filled with inland cycle and walking paths, long bridges, and panoramic views of the central station. Up and down the docks, people jump in the shimmering blue waters to swim in Amsterdam. Out here, the water just feels fresher and more clean, especially since the canals are often packed with boats. On the large lawn by the docks, a lot of locals throw down their towels here and sunbathe, barbecue and generally just enjoy the long summer days in-between refreshing swims.
16. Take the free ferry to Amsterdam Noord
From Amsterdam Centraal Station, just behind the train platforms you can take the free city ferries for a quick glide on the water and cruise Amsterdam. These ferry goes to several different points in Amsterdam Noord, an artistic and industrial neighbourhood that has the same vibes of Berlin. Once you’re across the IJ River, there’s tons of creative spots to check out, from the trippy club-like museum of NXT, to the beachside bar of Pllek, to the street-art and graffiti wharf of NDSM. Most travellers who come to Amsterdam completely miss out on this neighbourhood, along with exploring its indefatigable gritty art scene. Heck, even most Amsterdammers I know barely venture up to Amsterdam Noord (citing “it’s too far” as an excuse… even though it’s a 5 minute ferry ride and there’s also several metro stations). So definitely just let yourself wander and get lost amongst the converted shipping containers here and see what Amsterdam Noord’s reinvention is all about.
17. Westerpark, the one park that has it all
Us Amsterdammers, we love to be in nature just as much as we love how cosmopolitan our city is. Now Westerpark, this green urban green wing of the city truly has it all.You’ll see solo sunbathers, group of friends having picnics, people sporting boomboxes blasting a throwback track and everyone in the nearby vicinity just jiving along to it. There are little kids and families by the splash zone, a series of fountains where children run around to cool off in the summer. And one of my favourite spots within the park is the Westergasfabriek - a cultural art centre that is now home to Fabrique des Lumières. At the Westergas, a historical former gasworks factory turned creative complex - you can get yummy ice cream, craft your own unique Tony’s Chocoloney bar, and peruse the Sunday market for cute knick-knacks. Throughout the year, many concerts and underground DJ shows are also thrown at the Westergas. Part cultural village, part urban park - what’s not to love about Westerpark? You can get tickets for Fabrique des Lumières here.