Due to its long and rich history Amsterdam is more than a city. It is a collection of very distinct Amsterdam neighborhoods, each with its own vibe, highlights and history. If you visit Amsterdam and are only staying in and around the city centre you are certain to miss out. But with the world-renowned city centre canals and Red light district shouting for attention, it might be hard for an unsuspecting tourist to really get under the skin of it all. So whether you are looking for new places to visit in Amsterdam or the best places to stay in Amsterdam, this article will help you understand the city. Its layout. And the what there is to do in all the different neighborhoods of Amsterdam.
– Amsterdam city plan –
The layout of Amsterdam is quite simple. The whole city can be divided up into the four directions North, South, East and West. The city is wrapped by the highway A10. Locals consider anything outside this highway (called de Ring) not a part of Amsterdam. Even though this is technically not true.
Each of the directions is a conglomerate of distinct little Amsterdam neighborhoods and, former villages swallowed up in the expansion of Amsterdam over the centuries. These little neighborhoods within the conglomerates also have their own identity. But because certain parts of Amsterdam have been developed at certain times in history, they share characteristics, building styles, functions and vibes.
In general you can say the following about Amsterdam. The city centre is naturally the oldest part with canals, crooked cobble stone buildings and almost all historical sights. South Amsterdam is the rich part of the city. All houses are beautifully decorated, the streets are wide and prices, real estate and sandwiches alike, are elevated.
West Amsterdam is the hipster part of town. Cool cafes, hotspots, shared working spaces all in beautiful old buildings. East Amsterdam is quickly becoming West Amsterdam of ten years ago. Hip and trendy but not as established as West. Less pretentious some might say. North Amsterdam is the part of town that the expats and young urban people have yet to discover. There are some incredibly cool spots but further dispersed. Many residents consider it one of the last parts that is still ‘the real’ Amsterdam. These people seem to ignore that the city has always been a melting pot of cultures and ideas.
– Amsterdam City Centre –
What’s it about?
The city centre of Amsterdam starts at the central station to the North and is wrapped by the Singelgracht in all other directions. The Singelgracht is the most outward canal of the collections of canals called the Grachtengordel (belt of canals) which cover the whole city centre. The city centre is where all the major tourist attractions are located. The Anne Frank House, the Red Light District, Canal Cruises and the Dam Square, they are all there.
In the East of the centre lies the Jordaan, a typical working class neighborhood with very proud residents. Because of its central location many young people and expats moved to this neighborhood as well, but the Jordaan has largely maintained its own identity and vibe. People talk with a thick Amsterdam accent and the cafés are all still exactly the way they were in the eighties. If you want to drink a Heineken in a pub where that is the only thing they serve, where red carpets cover dark brown wooden tables and with the floors covered in peanut shells, this is the place to go.
Places to eat, drink and stay in Amsterdam City Centre
Eating & Drinking
Breakfast or lunch is great at Omelegg, which serves the best eggs in town. Great pick for dinner is Pesca, which calls itself a ‘theatre of fish’. Before you sit down you pick your produce at their ‘fish market’. Prices fluctuate according to demand.
For drinks on a sunny day, pick De Waterkant, which has a big terrace along the Singelgracht. This is a place to go if you are looking to socialize with the hip young working locals in their twenty-somethings. Looking for a quieter and more sophisticated place? Proeflokaal A van Wees has a tiny terrace but an awesome interior. They distill their own gin. For local craft beers, head over to the Prael brewery. A micro-brewery which is also a social workspace where people with social or mental disabilities are helped to be a part of the society. Want to sample cocktails? Flying Dutchmen Cocktails is great. They got a beautiful bar and keep the cocktails flowing until 4 AM every day.
Sleeping: Ecomama Hotel
Amongst the best places to stay in Amsterdam city centre is Ecomama Hotel, a cool, green and social boutique hostel about 15 minutes walk from Amsterdam central station. Ecomama Hotel has both dorms and privates. They combine the social benefits of a hostel with the comfort of a hotel.
– Amsterdam South –
What’s it about?
Amsterdam South is separated from the city centre by the Singelgracht, from Amsterdam West by the Vondelpark and from Amsterdam East by the Amstel river. Amsterdam South encompasses Oud Zuid, the Pijp, the Rivierenbuurt, de Zuidas and Buitenveldert.
Oud Zuid & the Pijp
Oud Zuid is the traditionally the part where the upper class of the society lives/ used to live. A great place to go for a stroll and see the typical Amsterdam building style called de Amsterdamse School. The museum quarter is also part of Oud Zuid, which is where the Rijksmuseum and the Van Goghmuseum are located. Oud Zuid has a wide array of top-class restaurants, and fancy bars.
The Pijp used to be a working class neighbourhood but has functioned as the best place to go pubcrawling for many years. This is also where the Heineken Experience is located. This area has the highest density of bars anywhere in the Netherlands. The residents are largely students and young working people. Why to go? Bars, hip eateries and sunny terraces.
The Rivierenbuurt and the Zuidas
The Rivierenbuurt is the area immediately South of the Pijp. Its a residential area that has recently seen a boom in eateries and shops lately. A nice mix of Oud Zuid and the Pijp but without any tourist attractions.
De Zuidas is Amsterdam CBD. The small area surrounding Amsterdam Zuid railway station. Apart from Rotterdam and the Hague the only part in the Netherlands where there are actually skyscrapers. All the big banks and law firms are vested here. If you arrive into the city on Amsterdam Zuid step outside of the station for a minute to see the business people go their way. During the weeks there are many lunchrooms catering the people working here but in the weekends the area is deserted. Buitenveldert is located immediately South of de Zuidas and outside of de Ring. As a local I am not suppose to consider this as a real part of Amsterdam so I will not discuss it here :P.
Places to eat, drink and stay in Amsterdam South
Eating & Drinking
The original Omelegg is located in the Pijp so get your daily fixed of perfectly cooked eggs here. Great trendy eateries are Volt and the Meets, both located at the Cornelis Troostplein in the Pijp. In search of something more fancy? Try Sinne. For drinks the Pijp is the best place to go. De Groene Vlinder and de Pilsvogel are always busy until the early hours. Want to find a real local place for great craft beers? Go to Tap Zuid in the Riverenbuurt.
Sleeping: College Hotel
At the cross section between Oud Zuid and de Pijp lies the College Hotel. Their interior is incredibly stylish and luxurious and their courtyard is a great place to wind down from a busy day in the city. the College Hotel employs students from the local hotel academies and also helps people with disabilities participate in the society by providing them a place to work as well as guidance. If not a cheap hotel, but for a luxury hotel great value for money.
– Amsterdam West-
What’s it about?
Of all places to visit in Amsterdam, Amsterdam West offers the easiest way to blend in with the locals. It stretches from the Vondelpark in the South to the Westerpark in the North and from the Ring in the West to the Singelgracht in the East. Amsterdam West is the conglomerate of Oud West, Westerpark, the Baarsjes and Bos en Lommer.
Oud West is by far the trendiest and most interesting place to go. Everything is hip and happening here the hotspots are countless. Cool clubs, pubs, eateries, fancy restaurants and hip boutique shops all hosted by beautifully restored 19th century buildings. the Baarsjes mixes Oud West with a residential area in a similar fashion as the Rivierenbuurt does with the Pijp in Amsterdam South. Westerpark is a repurposed industrial park and undoubtedly the best place in West to head to on a sunny hot day. Big sunny terraces line great grassy stretches filled with people barbequing and relaxing in the park. Bos en Lommer, dubbed BoLo is quickly transforming from a poverty-stricken problem-area but still has a long way to go.
The main tourist attraction in West is the Vondelpark but also visit de Hallen on a rainy day. This repurposed industrial building hosts a big indoor food court with food trucks and stalls offering cuisines from all over the world. It also has a cinema which shows both popular movies and art house films. Oh, and all movies in the Netherlands are in English so you don’t have to worry about language difficulties. Dutchies prefer subbed over dubbed.
Places to eat, drink and stay in Amsterdam West
Eating & Drinking
De FoodHallen (part of de Hallen) are a great spot to go on a little food tour. De Culinaire Werkplaats is a fancy restaurant where they try out daring food combinations. They present their food according to a theme and use strange ingredients. We were served pickled tulip-bulbs when we ate there.. A hip eatery and also one of the best bars to for drinks and a bit of dancing as the night continues, is Café Ebeling. If you a looking for clubbing, the Westergasfabriek is one of the best places to go for a wild techno night out.
Conscious Hotel has a few establishments around town, one of them perfectly located at the edge of the Vondelpark. If you are looking for mid-range, Conscious Hotel is a great pick. It was the first green hotel in Amsterdam and is both hip and comfortable. From the hotel, you literally step right into the Vondelpark. What better way to start your day exploring the city?
– Amsterdam North –
What’s it about?
This Amsterdam neighborhood has been largely unaffected by the boom the city has seen over the recent years but this is rapidly changing. The newly opened Noord-Zuid metroline that runs through the whole city made Amsterdam North way more accessible than it used to be so I have no doubt that within ten years Amsterdam North is the place to be. Some claim this is already one of the hippest areas of Amsterdam but that is only true for certain hotspots. The area itself is still largely residential and can use a little touch up.
From Amsterdam Central Station you can take a free ferry to the NDSM Werf a former wharf that how hosts some cool waterside bars, clubs, art-galleries and also a big festival terrain where a wide range of music festivals are hosted.
Places to eat, drink and stay in Amsterdam North
Noorderlicht is a hipster hangout to go for just drinks or a full-course meal. They have a great outdoor area where you can spend any sunny day and there are always some cool artsy things going on. Located close by is Pllek, a more polished version of Noorderlicht. Both are located in the NDSM werf. If you are looking for a fancier spot to eat, go to Moon, in the ADA’M Tower. The restaurant slowly rotates 360 degrees giving you spectacular views of the city over the course of a 5-course menu. Atop of the restaurant is also a club so going here means your set for the night.
– Amsterdam East –
What’s it about?
Amsterdam East borders the Singelgracht in the North, the Amstel in the West and the Ring at its other sides. Amsterdam East consists of the Oud Oost, the Eastern Islands and Watergraafsmeer of which only the first is interesting for tourists. Oud Oost is a former working class neighborhood and had the highest density of Jewish people up until the second world war. The area has seen a massive boom coming out of the global financial crisis.
The two major places to visit in Amsterdam East are Artis, the Amsterdam Zoo, and the Tropenmuseum. On top of that it is a great part of Amsterdam to blend in with the locals. The heart of this Amsterdam neighborhood is undoubtedly the Oosterpark where locals flock to barbeque when the sun comes out. This is also where a lot of hip eateries and bars can be found. The Dappermarkt has repeatedly been awarded as the ‘best market in the Netherlands’ and is certainly worth a visit. The market perfectly portrays the melting pot Amsterdam has always been with products and stalls from all over the world.
Places to eat, drink and stay in Amsterdam East
A great bar for beers, good food and socializing is Bar Bukowski located at the edge of the Oosterpark. After midnight they clear out a part of the tables to make room for dancing, and the place is always bustling until late. Try Poesiat & Kater, an Amsterdam micro-brewery for some awesome craft beers on a big sunny terrace.
Sleeping: Generator Hostel
The Generator Hostel is a boutique hostel which offers luxurious doubles and comfy yet affordable dorms in a well designed old Amsterdam building. Its located at the edge of the Oosterpark. This social spot is a great place to meet locals but their private rooms will also make you feel you’re staying in a luxury hotel.