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
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.

Bazar

Restaurant, Moroccan, Halal, $$$

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.

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Café de Ceuvel

Bar, Cafe, Restaurant, Contemporary, $$$
Cafe De Ceuvel
Cafe De Ceuvel | © AdamNowek/Flickr

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.

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Café Nol

Bar, Cafe, Wine, $$$
Café Nol is a garish, luridly lit singing bar
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.

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't Smalle

Bar, Cafe, Pub, European, Pub Grub, $$$
't Smalle is one of the grooviest café-bars in the Jordaan
'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).
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Noorderlicht Café

Bar, Restaurant, Cafe, European, $$$
The big draw of the Noorderlicht Café is its summer programme of live music
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.

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These recommendations were updated on November 5, 2019 to keep your travel plans fresh.