In June 2022 I headed back to the incredible city of Amsterdam after a 16-year gap since my first visit! As ever, avoiding the maddening crowds of a big city is high on my agenda, especially in Amsterdam with its raucous party scene and marauding drunks! Step away from the red-light district and Dam Square though and a vibrant, eclectic weekend awaits.
I stayed in the Museum Quarter, a refined residential area south of the centre next to the Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum. The wide, tree-lined streets and large mansions were perfect for a morning stroll before getting on with the serious business of sightseeing.
#1 Do this: Antiekcentrum Amsterdam
It was while on a tram that I spotted a long, red-fronted building along a stretch of the canal on Elandsgracht. The windows were full of antiques and curios and, my interest piqued, I stepped inside to find a sprawling indoor antique and bric-a-brac market.
Antiekcentrum is the largest antique market in the Netherlands and boasts over 10,000 objects across 1750 square meters. Inside, it’s a warren of corridors with display cabinets and stalls snaking through the space groaning with vintage prints and maps, silver curios, jewellery and accessories from many eras as well as bric-a-brac and clothing.
My favourite stalls were the vintage and antique dealers selling pristine condition furniture and accessories for the home. Sofas, armchairs and lamps lined their stalls, most from the 1950s onwards. Unsurprisingly, these dealers are the most expensive end of the market but are perfect for window shopping and a glimpse back in time.
#2 Eat here: BrasserieBlazer
After a long browse around the market, I desperately needed a sit-down and some lunch. From inside the market, I noticed an entrance to a cosy-looking cafe, decorated with mismatched prints and a wooden floor.
I headed through and, while looking for a free seat, noticed a line of wooden tables outside in the sun and realised there was a terrace along the canalside. Settling into the last available table, I looked over the houseboat tied up next to the terrace. I’ve always wanted to see inside a houseboat but this was of the less glamorous variety and so I concentrated on the menu instead.
The menu is short but has all you’d need for a good lunch and the food was very reasonably priced by Amsterdam standards. There was of course the obligatory chips and mayonnaise as well as burgers, toasted sandwiches, croquettes and steak. I chose a tuna toasted sandwich which came with a side salad and a side order of chips. The portions were generous and the service great.
I settled back after devouring my lunch and watched the canal to my right. This stretch of the canal is quite dingy with a main road on the other side. There won’t be many holiday snaps taken of this view but the food alone is definitely worth the visit.
#3 Drink here: Jordaan
To the West of the city centre, Jordaan is one of my favourite neighbourhoods in Amsterdam. This is where the locals live in iconic mansion houses lining the flower and shrub-lined canals and in the backstreets in well-kept and tidy avenues.
Many small bruin cafes are dotted along the canal’s edge and attract a local and tourist crowd. Make sure to go behind the canal paths though as the area has a plethora of small boutiques and cool restaurants and bars. Make sure you look up to notice all the detail of the buildings, but please don’t fall into the canal when doing so!
The first bar I visited, Spanjer en van Twist, I chose for the outdoor seating on the water’s edge. From here, you can watch the numerous boats plying the canal, everything from large tourist boats to locals with small outboard motor boats. There seems to be a haphazard traffic system on the water which leads to a free for all and a lot of manoeuvring - fun to watch, stressful to actually pilot in!
The table service here was brisk and therefore very Dutch. The bar does serve food but I had beer only here. I’d read about cafe 't smalle, another bruin cafe just a few minutes walk away and headed there next, ambling across two bridges, and finding this small local bar nestled on the corner of Egelantiersgracht and Prinsengracht.
There are tables outside, again lining the canal edge, but make sure to visit the interior of the bar. It’s wood-panelled and cosy with an intricate Heineken beer tap and tiled floor. The drinks here were half the price of those at Spanjer which was a little on the expensive side. The view from the outdoor terrace is beautiful, particularly in the evening when the mansions houses nearby are lit from within, suffusing the street with a warm orange glow.
#4 Do This: Visit De Pijp
To the East of the city, De Pjip is easily reached by tram and is mainly known as being the site of the former Heineken brewery which dominates the skyline of the canal running alongside the neighbourhood.
In the 19th Century, the area was known for its slum housing which surprised me given how leafy and well-tended the neighbourhood is. This is a real hipster, multicultural area with lots of trendy bars and cafes. As I wandered up from the tram stop along Frans Halsstraat, I marvelled at the housing blocks, five and six storeys high, all still in wonderful condition The residents clearly care about their neighbourhood and it shows in the communal garden spots, green and verdant, dotted along the pavements outside.
I visited in the evening so missed the 650m market that stretches by day along the main road in the area, the Albert Cuypstraat. Instead, I headed to Cafe Binnen Buiten on the canal for a drink and then walked along Ruysdaelkade finding another buzzy restaurant and bar called Cannibale Royale. Here I sat up at the bar and tried some cocktails. As I looked around both these bars, I noticed few tourists with mainly locals out enjoying a Saturday evening away from the city centre.
As I walked back to pick up the tram, I stumbled upon a block of red light windows. I only discovered later that this is the only area outside of the City Centre in which they are allowed to operate. I hurried on, hearing the tinny tapping at the windows as the women try to attract the attention of passing men.
#5 Eat here: Tram Halle
In the South West corner of the city, just outside the canal rings, a large cultural complex has been developed from disused tram sheds first built in 1902. Within the complex you find a cinema, small boutiques and, the reason I was here, a large covered food hall.
The food stalls line the walls with lots of communal tables and perches throughout the middle of the space. There are at least 20 vendors with all kinds of options on offer including spaghetti and meatballs, juicy burgers and steaks, wood-fired pizzas, Thai bowls, fish and chips, tacos and burritos. It honestly took me an age to decide before I had a huge burger with hand-cut chips on the side. There are bars and desert places too if you really want to make a night of it and, as it’s open until 1am, easily could!
The tram network in Amsterdam is excellent and is the fastest way to traverse the city if you’re in one of the outer neighbourhoods.
I read that credit cards weren’t widely accepted in a lot of places however didn’t find that was the case for me. There were perhaps two places that didn’t accept my card and were cash only but the vast majority did.