While Amsterdam first-timers would rightly cut off their left ear to whirl around the Van Gogh Museum or clatter across 1,500 bridges to cycle the Canal Ring, what happens when you’ve been there, done that and bought the proverbial clogs? From hard-to-find beaches to long, indulgent brunches, the Dutch capital brims with surprises. Here are the 10 most underrated things to do in Amsterdam.
Explore the Western Islands
The Jordaan may be the prize-winner for the most picturesque neighbourhood in Amsterdam, but the artistic and the creative soul of the city is concealed in the charming Western Islands. This small archipelago bathes in amazing quietness, only nudged from its slumber by bobbing houseboats and bikes rattling across the wooden bridges. Among the former grain, herring and tobacco warehouses, intrepid travellers will now find artists’ studios creating everything from film and music to painting and designer furniture.
Brunch on Kadijksplein
Forget the neon glare and scramble for seats on Leidseplein, and swerve the statues and sunbathers of Rembrandtplein; tiptoe instead to Kadijksplein, a delightfully quiet square that is also home to one of Amsterdam’s best brunches at Bakers & Roasters. This New Zealand-style cafe serves mouth-watering Navajo eggs, healthy salad bowls and decent coffee. Try a brekkie (a decadent mix of eggs, crispy bacon, fat sausages and creamy mushrooms) and wash it all down with a Bloody Mary. Waddle off your waist-expanding brunch at Entrepotdok, a dockside line of former Dutch East India Company warehouses, just around the corner.
Go for drinks at the hip bars on Javastraat
Forget struggling to get served in the city centre, informed barflies are buzzing along Javastraat. The heart of up-and-coming Indische Buurt neighbourhood, Javastraat chimes with the clink of glasses at trendy bars. With low-hanging lights, overgrown ferns and bamboo birdcages (but no actual birds, thankfully), those in search of a soothing G&T should try the Javanese colonial ambiance at the Walter Woodbury Bar (walterwoodburybar.nl). Bar James (Javastraat 49) meanwhile, pairs vegetarian dishes with whiskies, cocktails, wines, and local beers.
Relax on the beach at Amsterdam Roest
Forget heading to the coast, Amsterdam Roest in the Eastern Islands offers the complete weekend package without the need of a train ticket. Part urban beach, part art space and a whole lot of laid-back bar action, this urban escape revels in its graffiti-strewn industrial heritage as live bands and DJs head up an on-going roster of creative excellence, which swings joyfully between film, theatre and get-me-on-the-guest-list festivals. Take it all in with a glass of punch.
Hang out with the locals at Weesperzijde
With unrivalled views over the Amstel, Weesperzijde is where the locals come to picnic right by the water’s edge. Join them for a beer at De Ysbreeker, a historic café-restaurant from 1702, or take in the scene at Girassol (girassol.nl), where you could almost be in Lisbon: the cooling blue-and-white Azulejo tiles, the cosy cotton-covered tables, the soft Fado music drifting from the speakers. The food is authentic Portuguese too: fresh octopus carpaccio and thick-filled cod croquettes, all seasoned with a Dutch sunset on a waterside terrace.
Go shopping on Czaar Peterstraat
Framing the fringe of the city centre, Czaar Peterstraat is peppered with independent boutiques, innovative brand outlets and rails and rails of vintage clothes. Trendsetters should browse the racks at the CP113 concept store (cp113.com), where stylish retro wear and good coffee are on the menu. Peanut nuts, meanwhile, should make a trail for De Pindakaaswinkel (depindakaaswinkel.nl), the first (and possibly only) peanut butter shop in the Netherlands. Its flavours spread from honey and walnut to sea salt caramel. Souvenir shopping? NJAG (njag.nl), which stands for Not Just a Gift, has more necklaces, soaps, ceramics and toys than you could ever fit in a suitcase.
Explore De Baarsjes neighbourhood
Although most travellers only make it as far west as Oud-West, keep heading away from the city centre and you’ll hit upon the vibrant and contemporary neighbourhood of De Baarsjes. Brimming with the licks of the Amsterdam School’s architectural style (think: brick façades, wavy lines and expressionist details), this former working class area teaches the intrepid about the good things in life. Caffeine aficionados should stop for a home-roasted brew at White Label Coffee (whitelabelcoffee.nl), where light pours through the windows; else T’s (tsteas.com) huge selection of loose leaf teas will merrily convert any coffee fiend.
Take a walk on the Wibautstraat
If you think Amsterdam is all about narrow streets, romantic canals and arching bridges, chances are you haven’t yet set foot on Wibautstraat. With its edgy, high-rise concrete buildings, plus wide roads and pavements, it could easily be mistaken for East Berlin. Step inside the unconventional Volkshotel, opened on the former premises of a newspaper HQ, and head up to its Canvas restaurant for a captivating view of the city. Then indulge in some Mediterranean-inspired tapas at The Pool (thepoolrestaurant.com) where the cocktails are as glam as the décor.
Relax by the water at Muziek Gebouw
Feeling overwhelmed by the crowds in Dam Square? Clear your head along the banks of the IJ river next to the state-of-the-art concert hall Muziek Gebouw aan ‘t IJ. On the terrace at Zouthaven, with a glass of prosecco in your hand, watch the boats pass by as the sun sets over Centraal Station. If you’re staying for the seafood dishes, try the Zeeland oysters. Desserts are delectable, especially the lime-honey mousse and pineapple tarte tatin.
Taste delicious street food at De Pure Markt
The street food scene is still emerging in Amsterdam, with food festivals and Sunday markets inviting locals to sample cuisines from around the world. Although stately Westerpark is a popular destination for food fairs, a hip alternative is De Pure Markt at the lesser known Frankendael Park. From Dutch Gouda cheese and Surinamese roti, to Indian curries and Spanish paellas, you’re spoiled for choice for affordable artisan food and alongside local arts and crafts stalls.