Amsterdam feels very discovered. Of a city of 800,000 people, over 50% are non-Dutch, so it reasons that plenty of other people know about the place. But I wasn’t quite expecting the feeling of a city engulfed in a mass of tourists. We decided to spend our time looking for fun things to do in Amsterdam off the beaten path. Here’s our guide with the best places to go, eat, and shop in Amsterdam. Just make sure to save some to wander and get lost in some of Amsterdam’s charming neighborhoods.
What to do in Amsterdam
Amsterdam is a place where it pays to plan ahead if you want to visit any of the main attractions, most notably the Anne Frank House, (line below is on a “short” day), Van Gogh Museum, and the Rijksmuseum. Even once inside, you may feel a bit rushed as you make your way through the Frank house, or crowded as you try to peer over heads to view a few Vermeer’s or Rembrandt’s. Amsterdam is chock full of history, beautiful architecture and incredible museums, so we knew there had to be a few places we could enjoy without the crowds. While we made a few stops at some of the most popular places, we saved time to explore Amsterdam off the beaten path.
You don’t have to go very far to find some equally beautiful and interesting places in Amsterdam off the beaten path that you can enjoy at a far more relaxed pace.
- Museum Van Loon – The Museum Van Loon is a beautiful 17th century canal house with original furnishings, owned by the family that started the Dutch East India Company. It may not have as an extensive collection as some of the popular museums, but I loved the history and background about the rooms and pieces of art from this home. When you visit, don’t make our mistake and pronounce it “loon.” I think Aaron offended a Dutchie with that pronunciation. It sounds more like “lone.”
- Museum of Bags and Purses – Whether you’re interested in fashion or not, this is a fun way to walk through history, with bags from the 1600s to present. Also, it’s another opportunity to step into a traditional canal house. Bonus, if you bring your booklet from Museum Van Loon, you get 3 Euro off the entrance fee.
- Mezrab – If you’re in Amsterdam Thursday through Sunday, be sure to check out the Mezrab Cultural Center. This intimate venue is completely off the beaten path and is much more of a local even than a tourist one. The Mezrab puts on mostly free events in English, including storytelling, concerts, and dance. We went on a storytelling night, and it reminded me a lot of The Moth Podcast. We heard stories themed “Roots and Routes” from an Iranian, a Greek, a Brit, and a Latvian that all call Amsterdam home. It was a great insight into what makes Amsterdam what it is today. The drinks are cheap and the owner’s dad was serving up huge bowls of Iranian homemade soup, and friends brought in amazing homemade empanadas.
What to eat in Amsterdam
The Dutch are known for cheese, herring, and stroopwafels. Though I do recommend eating a warmed stroopwafel and trying out the mini pancakes, poffertjes, from a market stall, most of the places that were highly rated on Tripadvisor or recommended by others had a long queue. Again, queues seem to be a bit of a theme here. Though places that are all the rage are often worth the wait, such as The Pancake Bakery for savoury pancakes with syrup, or Winkel 42 for apple pie, here are a few noteworthy places you can grab a bite to eat sans a long wait as you discover Amsterdam off the beaten path.
- Foodhallen – Can’t decide what you want, or want a little of everything? Foodhallen has traditional Dutch bitterballen, Vietnamese banh mi, burgers, gourmet hot dogs, and even Korean donuts with fried chicken. Everything smelled delicious to my empty stomach, and the communal ambience in this former tram depot in the trendy Oud-West area makes it a fun place to grab a drink and relax.
- Van Stapele Koekmakerij – A girl in a tiny shop in a small alley is precisely weighing, hand rolling, and baking small batches of chocolate cookies with white chocolate centers. This shop makes only one thing, and it’s the best cookie we’ve ever had. And we’re pretty serious about our cookies.
- Broodje Bert — If you’ve ventured near city centre in search of the cookie above, but think you may need to pre-lunch so you don’t gorge on cookies, check out Broodje Bert. The sandwiches are fresh and filling, and served with a nice side salad, all for less than 7 euro. What this cramped shop lacks in ambience it makes up for in quality and value.
- Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam (central library) – Come here for a meal with a view. It’s cafeteria style, and I’d recommend the view more than the food, but it’s a nice place to relax and load up on veggies if you have trouble getting your daily 5 like I do on the road (or period).
- Pllek – Take a free ferry out to Noord for some locally and sustainably sourced food. Both atmosphere and menu are innovative, with the exterior of the restaurant formed of converted shipping containers. On a cold day, the indoor restaurant is warm and cozy with a fireplace and a view of Amsterdam across the river. On a warm day, this is the closest you’ll get to a beach with lots of outdoor seating, a sand area, and a river-front view.
Where to shop in Amsterdam
When I first heard of the floating flower market, I was imagining something akin to the floating market in Bangkok, with small boats piled high with produce, and vendors cooking up hot meals while drifting down the river. While there are flowers and the shops are technically on barges, there are endless options for keychains and wooden tulips. We found a bit more local products and produce at these markets:
- De Hallen Amsterdam – Located in the same building as the Foodhallen, the large central passage of this former tram depot hosts a weekly local goods market every Saturday.
- Albert Cuyp Markt– This market named for the street it’s located on touts itself as the largest daytime market in Europe. There is plenty of fresh produce, cheese, fish, and flowers. Be sure to get a warm stroopwafel or poffertjes here.
- Noordermarkt – In this historic square in the Jordaan district, you’ll find a flea market on Mondays and a farmers market on Saturdays. The food is delicious and the antiques and bric-a-brac are fun to browse.
Where to wander in Amsterdam
Here are a few more pictures from the trip, mostly wandering around the beautiful Jordaan district.