I've been living in Amsterdam for a while now and I wanted to show others the Amsterdam that I love: neighborhoods full of regular people, great food, local haunts, and gezellig (cozy) cafes/bars. Most people miss out on these when they visit Amsterdam as they stay in the centre, but I wrote about five neighborhoods worth seeing (or staying in) as well as my favorite sights/food/drinks in each area. Keep reading below the cut for local tips!
Why not Centre (Dam Square, Centraal Station, Red Light District)
As someone who lives in Amsterdam, I don't enjoy the crowds, tourist shops, loudness, and overpriced food. Sure, the museums and a lot of sites are clustered in the Centre, but if you're interested seeing real Amsterdam, I recommend leaving Centre. Otherwise, you lose out on getting an opportunity to experience Dutch culture in local neighborhoods with far better food and cheaper drinks.
By staying in some of the areas mentioned in this post, you'll be able to save money by having access to cheaper food, more supermarkets, laundromats, and most other conveniences that you would expect in any neighborhood.
One of traveling anywhere is exploring neighborhoods that are very distinct from each other, seeing how people actually live (not how it's packaged to tourists), and scouting out the local favorites. I specially picked neighborhoods a short walking/biking distance from the major sights to make it easier to see the big attractions.
Although some areas have a higher concentration of hotels (like the Jordaan), a lot of the areas mentioned aren't as touristic, so you'll have better luck looking on Airbnb for a reasonable room. In terms of transport, it's typically fastest to bike anywhere, so I suggest renting a bike. For the record, almost everyone here in Amsterdam speaks English, so you'll have no problems.
Food: While in Amsterdam, try Indonesian AND Surinamese food. Finding both out of their respective countries is quite difficult outside of the Netherlands, but you'll find them to be incredibly delicious, different than Dutch food, and inexpensive (if you're not doing rijsttafel!). Some of the best ones focus on take-out only although some have limited seating for a quick bite. Keep reading for my favorite Surinamese food!
For the best Indonesian in the Jordaan: "Manis" or Eethuis Pondok Indah allows you to pick from what seems like a million different options to make a memorable meal that I love to bring visitors to. Winkel 43 has the best apple pie in Amsterdam.
Haarlemmerstraat (between Prinsengracht and Westergasfabriek)
If you're close to Centraal and the Jordan, Haarlemmerstraat is a great street to explore with lots of historic architecture. It's an easy 20 minute walk from Centraal Station, however you'll be surrounded by cute specialty shops and great food options. Last year, it was named Amsterdam's Best Shopping Street. If the weather is good, a picnic in Westerpark can be a great way to spend a day or night with friends. Accommodation closer to Westerpark is quite reasonable!
Shopping/Sites: For warm hats, scarves, and gloves, visit Bart's for nice souvenirs/gifts. For Art Deco lovers, The Movies is a dream dating back to the 1930s. It's Amsterdam's oldest functional movie theatre. For specialty loose-leaf tea, Tea Bar will please any tea lover. For those on a budget, Marbles Vintage is a good place to go for thrift shopping with carefully picked items curated by theme/color/etc.
Food and Drinks: For sandwiches at lunchtime to-go, you can go to Stach for inexpensive Dutch sandwiches as well as Le Sud for inexpensive, vegan-friendly Middle-Eastern sandwiches. (Try the eggplant!) For foodies, de culinaire werkplaats is worthwhile. It's a 5 course sustainable dining vegan art/dining experience with a different menu each month. You must make reservations ahead of time. Similarly, Vesper Bar has delicious, one of a kind, specialty cocktails. I have yet to repeat the same drink. For cheese lovers, Kaasland is a lot of fun, with a selection for the lactose-intolerant.
For drinks, Two for Joy is where to go for a cup of coffee. For a more wild night, visit the Soviet-inspired Checkpoint Charlie.
Amsterdam's trendy area with lots of boutique shops and the largest market in Amsterdam (Albert Cuyp market). You're still walking distance from Vondelpark and the Museumplein although the many eating options should impress the pickiest eater. For more Indonesian food, be sure to visit a small, inexpensive take-away restaurant called Sari Citra located on Ferdinand Bolstraat 52. However, more generally, come to the Albert Cuyp hungry (with cash!) to feast on food from all over the Netherlands (and world!) I'm also a fan of Bazaar for Middle-eastern food with huge portions.
Best Street: Ferdinand Bolstraat
For anyone who wants to see a more modern area, come to Noord. It's only a 5-10 minute free ferry away from Centraal and you'll quickly see the comparisons to Brooklyn. It has Amsterdam's monthly flea market, modern cafes, and outdoor bars where you can eat inside of old shipping containers.
Best Area: NDSM Werf area
Old West (north of Vondelpark/da Costabuurt)
Despite being close to the museums, you'll find a lot of great food in this area. If you''re into windmills, you can see the historic "De Otter" from the canal. Otherwise, you can wander into the many shops and restaurants rapidly opening on Bilderdijkstraat. I often come to this area to eat/drink. This area gets quite busy after 5pm on Fridays.
Best Streets: De Clerqstraat and Bilderdijkstraat
Food/Drinks: For lots of great options, the FoodHallen will allow you try Dutch food, International Food, and drinks from many stalls within one building. For Authentic Greek food, visit To Ouzeri and watch the owners cook. For tapas Slavic-style, go to Foodism for a surprising meal. For Moroccan food, Biladi is a steal with huge portions in a nice setting.
My favorite place to relax in Amsterdam is Bridge Schaakcafe "2 Klaveren" where you can play board games while drinking beer. Rotisserie is my go-to for interesting/delicious Gin & Tonics.
Although tourists rarely see Oost, it's quite close to Centre and full of great food from all over the world. You'll find the Dappermarkt for everything you never thought you needed--but need. It's worth visiting Brouwerij 'T IJ, which is a local favorite housed in a former windmill. Unlike the Heineken experience, it's free besides all the beer that you buy for yourself. Good enough for beer snobs, windmill lovers, and those on a budget. (Tours on weekends for 4.50 euros, including a free beer.) For a great selection of local beers from all over the Netherlands, visit the BierTuin.
My favorite Surinamese food to date is Lalla Rookh, with African-Surinamese food that is cash only.
Best Street: Linnaeusstraat.
Do you try to stay in residential areas when you travel and if you've visited Amsterdam, what's your favorite neighborhood?
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Karen and Jacob. American expats and cat lovers from New York City and Kentucky who lived in Amsterdam.... Now in Paris!
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