An Alternative Nightlife Guide to Amsterdam

Amsterdam is one of the most exciting cities in Europe
Amsterdam is one of the most exciting cities in Europe | © George Oze / Alamy Stock Photo
Phil Lee

Amsterdam is one of the most exciting cities in Europe, its rare combination of historic charm and vibrant youth culture setting it apart from its rivals. At night, the city hums and heaves – and there’s so much choice, from relaxing, neighbourhood bars through to pulsating clubs and everything in between.

After dark, Amsterdam’s boisterous tourist scene zeroes in on the notorious and undeniably seedy Red Light District with its dubious ‘window brothels’, but it’s easy to dodge the crowds and venture into less familiar parts of the city – subtler districts with a more authentically local feel.

The pick of this alternative crop is the Jordaan, a former working-class district of canal-side terraced houses just to the west of the city centre that now holds some of the city’s best bars and café-bars. To the south of the city centre is De Pijp, a gritty, cosmopolitan area with its own way of doing things; or you can pop over to Amsterdam Noord, across the River IJ by ferry from the main train station, a strange and unusual area where the giant shipyards of yesteryear are slowly being turned into an upbeat hipster enclave.

1. Bar Oldenhof

Bar, Cocktail Bar, European

Bar Oldenhof is an exquisite and atmospheric Jordaan haunt kitted out with velvet, leather armchairs and deer antlers strategically placed on the walls. They do a great line in cocktails, as well as single-malt whiskeys and choice wines.

2. Bazar

Restaurant, Moroccan, Halal

Bazar is a cavernous sort of place
© frans lemmens / Alamy Stock Photo

In the heart of De Pijp and something of a local institution, Bazar is a cavernous sort of place that occupies a converted church. It hums with activity long after the adjacent, open-air market has closed down and is a great spot to share a bottle of inexpensive wine over a platter of meze.

3. Café de Ceuvel

Bar, Cafe, Restaurant, Contemporary

One of the highlights of Amsterdam Noord, this enterprising, vegetarian café-bar is a real treat and an environmental statement – it’s made from recycled materials and is the effective hub of a sustainable mini-park where there was once an oil-encrusted shipyard. The food is good, with herbs grown in their converted houseboat garden, and the clientele is intriguingly alternative.

4. Café Nol

Bar, Cafe, Wine

Café Nol is a garish, luridly lit singing bar
© Daryl Mulvihill / Alamy Stock Photo

Not for the faint-hearted, this garish, luridly lit singing bar is a celebration of the Jordaan’s working-class life and culture. Boisterous but always jolly, expect some full-throated singalongs and general backslapping antics and frolics. The bar opens daily at 9pm, but is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.

5. 't Smalle

Bar, Cafe, Pub, European, Pub Grub

t Smalle is one of the grooviest café-bars in the Jordaan
© Dutch Cities / Alamy Stock Photo
One of the coolest café-bars in the Jordaan, with a welcoming, candlelit interior and a delightful pontoon terrace on the canal out front for relaxed summer afternoons; in winter, they serve up a particularly zippy glühwein (mulled wine).

6. Café Wildschut

Cafe, Coffee, Dutch

This congenial and spacious bar has a delightful Art Deco interior, including a long and gently curving wooden bar. They offer a good range of beers and ales and, if the sun is out, you can head for the pavement terrace out front.

7. Festina Lente

Bar, Wine, Beer

Easygoing and informal, this neighbourhood café-bar occupies a prime spot in the Jordaan, its boho vibe and pretty setting making it an amiable place to while away the hours. In the summer, locals gather at the outside tables in a suntrap area overlooking the canal.

8. Noorderlicht Café

Bar, Restaurant, Cafe, European

The big draw of the Noorderlicht Café is its summer programme of live music
© Peter Horree / Alamy Stock Photo

Once a mainstay of the Amsterdam economy, the NDSM shipyards on the north side of the River IJ closed in the early 1980s – and this café-bar appeared in the early stages of the area’s regeneration, a process that has begun to transform the old shipyards into one of the city’s hippest spots. The restaurant here serves good, locally sourced food, but the big deal is the summer programme of live music and DJ gigs.

9. Pacific

Music Venue

On the peripheries of the Jordaan, this popular bar-restaurant is a key part of the creative redevelopment of a former gas factory, the Westergasfabriek. The bar’s expansive, canal-side terrace pulls in the punters when the sun comes out, as do the regular live music and DJ slots.

10. Pilsvogel

Bar, Beer, Wine, Snacks

In the depths of De Pijp, this lively, bustling bar has a good-looking, Mediterranean interior, which is entirely appropriate given that they serve a good line in tapas and Spanish wines. Most of the action, however, takes place on the pavement terrace at the front and the patio at the back.

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