Amsterdam has a lot more to offer than its X-rated windows and various coffee shops. See a different side the city by visiting its many neighbourhoods.
Amsterdam has long been known for its bicycles, Anne Frank’s house, the annual tulip blooms and for being the European stag weekend capital. But in recent years, the city has become the European base for a slew of global companies, from Netflix and Tommy Hilfiger to Nike and adidas, thanks to its tax breaks for skilled migrants and its dedication to creating work–life balance for its residents. It has also gained a reputation as the continent’s answer to Silicon Valley. And so, naturally, Amsterdam has seen an influx of incredibly talented, creative types and, over time, the city has evolved.
From the unexpectedly excellent food scene (Dutch cuisine doesn’t have the best reputation) to its raft of museums, smart boutiques and bustling outdoor markets, Amsterdam is a cosmopolitan city with a village feel, thanks to its 17th-century UNESCO-protected waterways and striking canal houses. But to truly get to know Amsterdam, you should take the time to explore some of the different neighbourhoods, each with its own unique charm, that piece together to create this characterful city. From bustling De Wallen to uber-cool De Pijp, these are the neighbourhoods to visit in Amsterdam.
As with most of Central Amsterdam’s outlying neighbourhoods, for a long time De Pijp housed the city’s working class, and was mainly constructed in the 19th century to fulfil increased demand for housing. Vestiges of this fascinating urban history are still visible throughout De Pijp and the neighbourhood is known for its typical, narrow townhouses, which were originally built to accommodate low-income families.
The whole neighbourhood revolves around Amsterdam’s most famous market, Albert Cuyp Markt, which attracts hundreds of visitors every day. Besides these stalls and trestles, De Pijp is also home to many excellent cafés and restaurants, and is well known by locals for its amazing brunch restaurants such as Little Collins, Bakers & Roasters and the Scandinavian Embassy.
With its cool boutiques and brunch spots, this area is where trendy twentysomethings like to reside. It’s a little out of town and is the perfect neighbourhood if you want to live like a true Amsterdammer.
Although De Wallen often gets a bad rep because of its connection with prostitution and drug tourism, it is actually the oldest neighbourhood in Amsterdam, and has acted as an important cultural centre for over 600 years. Several buildings inside De Wallen attest to this long history, such as De Oude Kerk, recognised as the oldest building in Amsterdam, and a perfectly preserved clandestine Catholic church, called Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder, located inside the attic of a 16th-century townhouse.
In recent years, many cultural organisations have moved into De Wallen, partly due to the government’s ongoing efforts to redevelop the area. Red Light Radio, for example, broadcasts shows from inside a set of former prostitution windows, while elsewhere in De Wallen, visitors can sample delicious beers at a socially conscious brewery called Brouwerij de Prael or enjoy vintage coin-op arcade games at TonTon Club Centrum.
Head to De Wallen if you want explore Amsterdam’s history and you enjoy the hustle and bustle. It’s ideal for groups of friends, as it has something for everyone, be it different activities or varied cuisine types.
Nieuwmarkt en Lastage trails southwards from Centraal Station towards the River Amstel and contains several diverse areas. For instance, the northern side of the neighbourhood revolves around a large, formerly industrial harbour called Oosterdok, that has developed into one of the most architecturally innovative parts of the city over the past few decades. This area’s skyline features many impressive, modern buildings, such as the NEMO Science Museum and Amsterdam’s towering central library. Many other cultural hotspots reside beneath these structures, including Mediamatic, an eco-conscious creative initiative that organises events and exhibitions related to sustainability.
Then there’s the southern inland section of Nieuwmarkt en Lastage, which houses an impressive number of historical sites, such as the Rembrandt House Museum; the first Protestant church in Amsterdam, Zuiderkerk; and several sites associated with the city’s Jewish Quarter. Two regular markets also take place here, namely Waterloopleinmarkt, which mainly centres on second-hand goods, and Nieuwmarkt, which features a wide selection of food stalls.
If culture and learning are what feeds your soul on a getaway, then make Nieuwmarkt en Lastage the base for your trip.
Amsterdam’s northern shoreline has undergone rapid urban development over the last few decades, turning the former industrial district into a new cultural centre. At the core of these changes are two architecturally stunning buildings located in the Buiksloterham neighbourhood: the EYE Film Insititute and A’DAM Toren. These together contain a wide range of cultural buildings, including cinemas, a film museum, several restaurants and a subterranean nightclub.
Heading west, visitors can explore Northern Amsterdam’s rustic industrial landscape at NDSM Wharf, an area renowned for its excellent nightlife, street art and impressive cultural calendar. Although Buiksloterham may appear further afield than other neighbourhoods, a ferry service from Centraal station regularly travels to two ports along its coastline.
For anyone who has visited Amsterdam before and ticked off all the tourist hotspots, this neighbourhood will give you a totally different outlook on what the city has to offer.
Named after the largest park in the neighbourhood, Westerpark is among the greenest parts of Amsterdam. Besides its wonderful recreation grounds, Westerpark also has an impressive concentration of Amsterdamse School architecture – a style of early-20th-century urban design characterised by red-brick facades and graceful, flowing arches.
Elsewhere in Westerpark, visitors can roam through a former gas plant, called Westergasfabriek, that has been converted into an enormous, multifunctional cultural centre, or experience Amsterdam’s booming club scene at De Marktkantine.
With its green spaces and iconic architecture, Westerpark is a wonderful area for families.
Vondelpark runs down the eastern limits of Oud-West and the neighbourhood is only a short distance away from Amsterdam’s city centre. Despite its centrality, Oud-West is relatively laid-back and features several exceptionally wide streets lined with dozens of trendy bars, restaurants and concert venues. Most of these establishments are spread over Oud-West’s main thoroughfares, namely Overtoom, Kinkerstraat and De Clercqstraat.
Each of these roads has its own distinct vibe and its fair share of excellent watering holes. Foodies and cinephiles should definitely stop by De Hallen on Kinkerstraat, which contains a massive indoor food hall where local culinary experts sell their wares, as well as an independent cinema decked out in Art Deco panelling.
For foodie couples, Oud-West is the ideal base from which to explore the city.
A trip to Amsterdam isn’t complete without a jaunt into Oud-Zuid and its museum quarter. The neighbourhood boasts the Rijksmuseum with Dutch and European art and artefacts from the Middle Ages to the present day. A short walk away is the Van Gogh Museum, sandwiched between two contemporary museums: the Moco Museum, home to works by Dalí and Banksy, and the Stedelijk, with its large collection of international modern art and design.
On Saturday mornings there is a small outdoor food market called zuiderMRKT on the square by Johannes Verhulststraat and Jacob Obrechtstraat, bursting with selections of cheese, made-to-order crêpes and fresh fruit and vegetables. At night, head to traditional Italian restaurant Le 4 Stagioni for its glorious pasta and pizza selection and then saunter along to the corner of Cornelis Schuytstraat and Willemsparkweg to grab a drink at one of its brasseries.
On the outskirts of Oud-Zuid, heading towards Centrum, is Pieter Cornelisz Hooftstraat, which is lined with designer boutiques such as Chanel, Christian Louboutin and Dior.
If you want to take in the cultural highlights and perhaps you have a penchant for shopping, then Oud-Zuid is worth a stay. It’s the perfect area for a retail-centred weekend or a romantic getaway.
Amy Lawrenson contributed additional reporting to this article.