I originally wrote this post for people coming over for DutchPHP, but decided to keep it updated over time. The city’s traffic can be pretty overwhelming and, like everywhere, there’s a few quirks and unwritten behavioral rules you might want to know about.
I’m also keeping a curated list of all my favorite local spots. I’ve tried to keep it diverse to cater to people with varying interests. Enjoy, and feel free to leave a comment or send me a message for more! 🙂
- Venture out of the city center. The entire city is relatively safe, and the city center will be busy and full of tourist traps. Other areas have a much more authentic character (imo), typical for that specific neighborhood. You can find really great spots around Noord, Oost, Westerpark, and other areas. Contact me or leave a comment for my favorites!
- Try Dutch fastfood. Our traditional cuisine is… not much to write home about, but we’re pretty good at fried shit. Try fries with mayonnaise, kroket, frikandel speciaal, kaassoufflé. If you want to experience colonial fall-out fusion fastfood, try a bami-bal.
- Identify bike lanes. And look both ways when stepping onto them. Bike lanes are part of the road, so stepping onto them is stepping into traffic. They’re usually red, but not always. If there’s no visually separated lane, just assume the very right side of the road will be for bikes.
- Go on a canal cruise. This is one of the few popular tourist activities I recommend. It’s very pretty and it gives you a lot of historical context about the city, its canals and its buildings.
- Ride a bike if you’re inexperienced. Bike traffic in Amsterdam is actual traffic. And it’s very busy and overwhelming. If you’re not comfortable riding a bike, it can be dangerous for you and frustrating for commuters.
- Take photos of sex workers in the Red Light District. This is considered extremely disrespectful, and something they still have to berate people for daily. Please just don’t do it.
- Feel bad if a cyclist yells at you for crossing at a zebra crossing. They’re wrong. There are cyclist that will act like you’re the idiot tourist who should’ve known better. Not true. Cyclist must give way to pedestrians at zebra crossings, even in Amsterdam.
- Veer off into the road without looking. I tend to have to dodge people for wandering off the sidewalk and into the bike lane, suddenly, without looking, and with no apparent purpose. This is dangerous! When in doubt, always look over your shoulder when you change direction.
- Buy drugs from street dealers. You’re likely to either be ripped off or endanger yourself. There’s plenty of other ways to find what you’re looking for.
Also, here’s some places I’d recommend to visit. I’ve left out the obvious ones that you’ll probably have heard of for two reasons:
- Things like the Heineken Experience are not my jam, and I genuinely think these places are better.
- Whenever I go to a different city myself I like to hear about the hidden gems and not so much about the crowded places everyone’s already seen.
Tropenmuseum has some really cool exhibits. It has a focus on culture and people. I’ve recently seen the exhibits on Holland’s part in the transatlantic slave trade, Japanese pop culture through history, and one on Hajj and Umrah (Islamic pilgrimage). They’re all really interesting.
Het Stedelijk is one that I somehow haven’t even gone to myself but I’ve been meaning to go for years. Its focus is on modern and contemporary art and they always have super interesting looking exhibits on.
Eye film museum is an amazing arthouse cinema that doubles as a film museum. It’s worth a visit for the building and the view from the bar area alone. Also, the museum shop is probably my favorite ever. It’s filled with quirky pop culture items.
NEMO science museum is a big, green building in the shape of a ship that juts out of the water. You can’t miss it. Loads of interactive sciencey things. Great for kids but also super entertaining for adults.
This space used to hold Ton Ton Club West, but it’s been ousted from my list of favorites by Blast Galaxy. This arcade bar in Noord serves a really nice selection of beers and snacks (salted caramel fried chicken, 🤤), and its selection of arcade games is even cooler. You can expect a wide range of fighters, really old and cute arcade games, lots of rhythm games, and more. Very diverse selection. And the best part: you pay a base fee of 12,50 Eur. to play unlimited games all day.
Skatecafe in Noord is a bar that features a mini ramp that people actually use while the bar is operational. You can eat there too (never done it), and by night time the space is cleared for DJs and dancing. It’s often home to weird party concepts. One of my favorite places.
Cafe de Ceuvel is a temporary bar that’s built on soil that’s still unfit for construction. It’s a creative hub with lots of events and workshops. On a sunny day it’s a really good place to swim and have a few drinks in the sun.
Hidden in plain sight is a really good speakeasy style cocktail bar. It’s not a hidden one (which there are a few of as well. DM me if you want info), but it’s as the name says: hidden in plain sight. It looks like a regular traditional Amsterdam “bruin cafe”. The cocktails are pricey, but they’re culinary wonders that smell as good as they taste. You get water and popcorn to keep you sober(ish) between drinks.
Ruk & Pluk is a traditional Amsterdam cafe except for the fact that it’s covered wall to wall in weird decorations. Cheap beer, cash only. I feel like you need to feel the atmosphere here to fully appreciate Dutch culture in all its weirdness and not-giving-a-fuckness. Can’t quite explain it.
Coba is probably my favorite restaurant. A little pricey but their soft shell tacos are bomb and the drink pairings are unlike any you’ll find in the rest of the city.
Pendergast if you’re a fan of slow-cooked meat. They start cooking their brisket at 5AM and serve it over dinner, making it so soft a butter knife slides right through it.
Drover’s Dog is a great place for Aussie-style brunch (poached eggs, whoo!). I’m a real fan of this one, as I used to live in Australia and haven’t found coffee like they brew in Melbourne anywhere else but here.
La Bella Storia is a really good place for real Italian pizza with great ingredients.
Flora is a really cute little restaurant. It was formed after a group of chefs did pop-up restaurants in different places around town. They do specials like fried chicken day and kimchi kapsalon (a famous fried snack from Rotterdam, but with a kimchi twist).
Bitterzoet is a fairly small club that usually has hiphop and R&B nights on in the weekend, with the occasional live performer the rest of the week and earlier in the day. I always enjoy the atmosphere here.
If you’re into electronic music, The Shelter might be more for you. This dark club is underground, in the basement of the A’Dam Tower.
Nyx is a quirky little club that’s easy to get lost in. There’s multiple floors with different genres of music (even the toilets have their own DJ), and they often organize themed nights. I really like this place for the diversity of its audience and the free and open atmosphere.
Encore isn’t a club itself, but it’s a big weekly hiphop club night in de Melkweg. It’s pretty impressive and will give you a good taste of the local scene, as it often features live performances by talented up-and-comers as well as established local names.
De School is an old school building that holds a restaurant, a cafe, a school gym, and regular art programs, but is probably most known for its club. The kind of club that will sticker off your phone camera and features a dark room.
There’s looooads more. Feel free to ask!Tags: amsterdam, tourism Last modified: February 22, 2023
These are great tips! I love tomtom club. I’ll add my two cents:
If you’re vegan, check out: Vegan Junk Food Bar, Deer Mama, Meatless District, and the Dutch Weedburger Joint (:
Thanks Erika for adding this here 🙂