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HLN’s 44 reasons to visit Amsterdam

Forget everything you think you know about visiting Amsterdam – there’s so much more to this city than clogs and cannabis. Here’s our pick of where to eat, drink, stay and shop, as well as our favourite Amsterdam attractions…

Written by High Life North
Published 10.06.2022

HLN’S BEST AMSTERDAM DISTRICT TO VISIT

Jordaan

Once the poorest precinct in Amsterdam, Jordaan is now firmly front and centre in the city’s creative spotlight, with vintage shops, designer boutiques, cosy cafés and art galleries all jostling for position here. Think the Ouseburn Valley of Amsterdam, and you’ll be along the right lines…

Flanked by canals, Jordaan’s cultural clout dates back to the 1960s, when the area’s thriving live music scene attracted visitors from far and wide. But while you can still catch plenty of open mic nights, it’s the district’s burgeoning art scene that draws the biggest crowds today.

Immediately surrounding the area are the famous Nine Streets: a network of designer boutiques, vintage shops, cosy cafés and eateries that gratify the many creatives who gravitate here.

And on the outskirts of Jordaan, you’ll find history incarnate in the form of Anne Frank’s house. Take a tour of the Secret Annex where Anne wrote her famous diaries while hiding from Nazis for two years, visit the museum and discover why the 80-year-old story of this little girl remains so relevant today.

HLN Highlights:

HLN’S BEST HOTEL IN AMSTERDAM

Ok, so realistically you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to accommodation options in this city. Maybe you want to book somewhere simple, classic and with the added bonus of being just a hop, skip and a jump from Ajax’s Johan Cruijff ArenA, like the Jaz in the City Hotel. Maybe you’d prefer to go through AirBnB and find a cosy city bolthole that’ll feel like a home from home.

But in our opinion, half the fun of holidays – especially Amsterdam holidays – lies in the fact that you’re enjoying experiences that are out of your ordinary. And when it comes to extraordinary Amsterdam hotels, we think they don’t get better than Hotel Not Hotel.

Here, a hotel room isn’t just a hotel room – it’s a work of art, with its own individual creator, story and identity. Where, instead of waking up in some generic environment, you step out of bed into an exhibition-like space, bursting at the seams with secret bookcases and sprawling ‘poison ivy’, romantic woodcarvings and invisible rooms.

A largely open-plan space, where cosy seating areas tucked between the ‘cottage’ rooms make the entire hotel feel like one big living room, Hotel Not Hotel offers up boozy brunches and hangover lunches, Thai food for the foodies, cocktails for connoisseurs, concerts for music lovers and smooth beats that shake booties come nightfall.

Hotel Not Hotel is a quintessentially quirky joint that isn’t for the faint-hearted. That being said, where else could you stay in a vintage tram indoors? Or climb up a ladder into the eaves of the hotel’s roof and set sail for dreamland in the Crow’s Nest? We reckon it’s so weird, it’s wonderful.

OR SLEEP TINY HOUSE STYLE…

Don’t want to book into a hotel at all? Fancy something more private that’s still out of your ordinary? We’ve found just the ticket.

Amsterdam has a choice of cool, independent estates filled with teeny, tiny, uber sustainable, boutique holiday homes, cabins and suites. Also located on the outskirts of the city, where urban life and architecture meets the calm Dutch countryside, tiny house life provides the perfect playground to get your fix of fresh air, time to yourself and space to kick back and relax.

The Unbound is perfectly situated within the rolling Dutch countryside, with many properties boasting private decking and wood-fired hot tubs, while Basecamp Ijmuiden offer up modern, beachside vibes that’ll have you feeling like the protagonist in a romantic novel by Nicholas Sparks. You’re welcome.

HLN’S BEST PLACES TO EAT IN AMSTERDAM

Breakfast, Brunch and Lunch

Our pick of the exceedingly delicious breakfast, brunch and lunch spots that Amsterdam is blessed with has to be Pluk. The premise? To serve delicious food that keeps people happy and healthy… but that also includes a few sweet treats for good measure, (the huge slabs of banana bread here are always a treat).

Lavinia is a more hidden gem with a similar kind of vibe, acting as some kind of physical intersection between healthy hotspot and cosy living room, while BUFFET van Odette retains its longstanding reputation as one of Amsterdam’s most stylish lunch spots, with a stunning view of the Prinsengracht from its dining room.

If it’s baked goods you’re after, make a beeline for artisanal French bakery Gebroeders Niemeijer. Situated in a beautifully historic building with an original art deco ceiling, all the breads and pastries are freshly made using organic ingredients and you can taste it. Their espresso is imported directly from Turin, too, their jams, chutneys and marmalades are homemade and their French cheeses and charcuterie are to die for. So, you can consider breakfast well and truly sorted.

When it comes to lunch, however, vegans – it’s your turn to rejoice. Hip eatery Vegan Junk Food Bar serves sustainable, mouth-wateringly innovative ‘junk food’ (think burgers, ‘freak fries’ and everything nice), without compromising on quality, taste or texture. Even if you eat meat on the reg, you’re genuinely not going to taste the difference here. Now with five joints across the Netherlands alone – and another four across Europe – their flagship restaurant in Amsterdam’s westside is still our favourite.

Dinner and Late-Night Dining

Jansz nabs our top spot when it comes to evening dining in Amsterdam. Housed in a former apothecary’s shop and overlooking the canal, there’s an understated elegance here that gently makes its way into their menu and onto your plate. Think classics, with a modern, sophisticated twist.

For those on a bit more of a budget, Hap-Hmm has been dishing out traditional Dutch cuisine since 1935 and has the thriving customer base (and trophy cabinet) to prove it. Their butter-soft beef steak is particularly delectable. Brace yourself for a bit of a queue to get in, though, as they don’t accept table bookings in advance.

Collins is our go-to grazing spot, with its all-day menu of small plates and an eclectic roster of natural wines to sip and savour to our heart’s content. And if you like to sample flavours from all over the world, Lion Noir is a gem of a globe-trotting gastro haunt. Located in the historic Gouden Bocht, in the famously colourful Reguliersdwarsstraat district, their constantly evolving menu consists of various eclectic takes on French classics using spices from all over the world. Enjoy a cocktail downstairs by their, erm, roaring fireplace (sorry), before enjoying your dinner upstairs or in their courtyard garden.

Special Shoutout…

…goes to bustling café/bar Winkel 43 which, despite not really being a hidden foodie hotspot anymore (it attracts visitors from far and wide these days), really does serve up the best apple pie Amsterdam has to offer. Don’t believe us? Ok. But the DFDS team’s Amsterdam office also crowned these guys winners in the Dutch apple pie stakes by unanimous vote, so…  Drop by in summer and sit on their terrace overlooking the square of the Noordermarkt – it’s people-watching paradise.

HLN’S BEST AMSTERDAM BARS

‘You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.’ American film star Mae West’s famous adage has become something of a life motto for NJOY, who encourage their patrons to do exactly what they tell them to. That is, to enjoy themselves – and the enigmatic flavour combos dancing in their creative cocktails, too. Mixology is their bread and butter here and you can tell from the quality of their serves.

If it’s a historic and quintessentially Dutch drinking experience you’re after, Brouwerij ‘t IJ is a tasting room in an old bathhouse at the base of Amsterdam’s largest windmill. Breeze past the fact it serves Belgian-inspired beers – they’ve been brewing onsite here in Amsterdam for nearly 40 years now. As well as soaking up the sun on their large terrace (with the windmill overhead), why not take a tour of the brewery, too?

Originally a gin distillery, Café ‘t Smalle is a lively bar serving fresh coffee to local connoisseurs through the day and locally-brewed beer and bitterballen (a traditional meat-based snack) come sundown. Or is a classic speakeasy more your style? You’ll find your dream drinking destination Hiding in Plain Sight. This award-winning cocktail bar richly rewards anyone who manages to discover their secret clubhouse with inventive cocktails, knowledgeable bartenders and lounge-style seating.

Distillery ‘t Nieuwe Diep in the verdant suburb of Flevopark looks like a church from a distance, but is actually a shrine to jenever distilling – and the answer to a G&T lover’s prayers. Set on a quiet lake, their terrace is arguably one of the best summertime spots in the city, while their tasting room indoors is cute and cosy for when the weather turns.

Speaking of distilleries, if you fancy taking a tour of one of Amsterdam’s famous drink producers, there are certainly plenty of options. But if the world’s most famous beer isn’t quite your tipple of choice, House of Bols offers a cocktail and jenever experience that lovers of a good G&T need in their lives. After your tour, enjoy a world-beating cocktail in their revolutionary Mirror Bar or, even better, create your own serve in their Do It Yourself Bar.

Amsterdam has a proud history of supporting its LGBTQ+ communities, with the Netherlands remaining in the top 15 safest destinations for queer travellers in 2022. And the city’s rainbow scene might just have a little something to do with its popularity… While Montmartre is one of the most famous gay bars in Amsterdam (having been a household name for a good 40 years now), we’ve got a soft spot for Saarein – one of the last remaining ‘brown bars’ of the city, which was brought to life after a group of 10 women took over in 1978. Located on the picturesque Elandsstraat, these days Saarein is a hotspot for enjoying some tunes and shooting some pool in a queer-friendly setting. And if it’s clubbing you’re after, Club NYX is open to anyone who just wants to have fun, is spread over three floors and hosts special club nights which cater to all musical tastes.

HLN’S BEST THINGS TO DO IN AMSTERDAM

If there are two things the ‘Venice of the North’ is known the world over for, (two things that aren’t clogs or the Red Light District), it’s tulips and bicycles. Super wholesome.  And you really can’t visit Amsterdam without indulging at least a little in both. There are few better ways to see this city than by renting a bike and embarking on a cycling adventure – and if you really want to kill two birds with one stone, cycle from Amsterdam’s Flower Market to Aalsmeer, near the biggest flower auction in the world. Or simply take your time soaking up the city’s architecture, urban forests, beaches, industrial heritage, laidback riverside vibes, castles, murals and gardens, (free route planner app Komoot is a godsend for route inspo).  Speaking of flowers, if gardening’s your game than a visit to Amsterdam’s horticultural heaven, Hortus Botanicus, should be top of your list. Or, if a little retail therapy is more your vibe, IJ-hallen needs to be on your radar. This cavernous industrial building at NDSM Wharf hosts one the biggest (and best) flea markets in Europe once a month and is a must-visit for anyone who loves their vintage shopping.

Speaking of shopping, you’re really spoilt for choice in this market-mad city. Foodies should head to Noordermarkt every Saturday for the freshest product from local greengrocers, cheesemongers and butchers, while on Mondays the site is taken over by antique vendors. And there’s no place quite like Albert Cuypmarkt for proper Amsterdam sightseeing. The city’s largest and most famous street market has around 260 stands operating six days a week and sells everything from art and fashion to freshly made stroopwafels.

Another thing Amsterdam is famed for is its network of gorgeously picturesque canals and waterways. See the city from a fresh vantage point by exploring by boat: soak up Amsterdam’s inimitable architecture and sail by top tourist sights while beating the hustle and bustle; our best advice would be to go for a canal cruise that doubles up as an (unlimited) wine and cheese tasting tour, (psst – don’t forget to kiss your someone special underneath Skinny Bridge!).

When it comes to places to visit in Amsterdam, the city’s wealth of culture should certainly be explored. Amsterdam has the largest collection of Van Gogh’s paintings and drawings in the world, all housed in the Van Gogh Museum’s permanent collection. Explore the world-renowned Dutch artist’s masterpieces up close, read his letters and discover the man behind the magic of his Sunflowers, Irises and Starry Night. Not that he’s the only world-renowned artist whose work makes Amsterdam its home; you can stop by Rembrandt’s House in Jodenbreestraat, where he lived and worked for 20 years at the height of his fame, or visit the Rijksmuseum – home of the Dutch masters – and discover 800 years of Dutch history.

Fancy spending your time doing something a little less prescriptive? Head to Vondelpark with a good book or some music at hand, lay yourself down on the grass, soak up the sunshine and feel any stress simply slip away…

CAN I VISIT AMSTERDAM NOW?

Have we inspired you to visit yet? Thought we might have. Head to DFDS’ website to book your ferry to Amsterdam from Newcastle.

DFDS is kindly offering our HLN readers 2-for-1 discount for passengers on their Newcastle-Amsterdam mini cruise. Valid on travel throughout 2022 if booked before 17 July. The code (M2HLN) will be automatically applied at checkout. 

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