I’ve been putting off this guide to secret Amsterdam for a while as living in Amsterdam has made me worry about sharing my secret places in Amsterdam where I go to avoid the tourists. However, it’s not nice not to share.
In this guide to Amsterdam off the beaten path, you’ll be visiting some Amsterdam secret spots as well as some really non-touristy things to do in Amsterdam. Keep reading for information on the interesting things to do in Amsterdam that you won’t read elsewhere as well as a map.
Living in Amsterdam means that the tourists take over a lot of places, so it’s important to have places that feel like homey and quiet. Some of these spots are barely hidden secrets requiring just knowing where to go while others are truly hidden.
If you’re reading this because you’re interested in discovering some secret places to visit in Amsterdam and you’re a tourist, please be considerate. I used to live in a beautiful canal house with a private garden and there’s absolutely nothing worse than drunk tourists ruining a quiet relaxing night in after sneaking into the garden and shouting/blasting music.
So, when you pass by someone, say “Goedemiddag” if it’s afternoon or “Goedemorgen” if it’s morning. Just think and please don’t ruin these secret places for me/others. I believe in sustainable tourism, which means that we’re conscious of our actions and its impact on the community that lives at the place that we’re visiting.
I’ve grouped the secret places by the part of Amsterdam with some being more further out than others. Some require a half-day trip while others might be right down the road from your hotel in Centre. Visiting some of these secret spots in Amsterdam may be harder as hours are not reliable.
Secret places in Amsterdam Centrum
In ‘t Aepjen
This hidden bar in the middle of the Red Light District has a long and colorful history yet it’s right on the main street. Despite this, most tourists walk by it, which is their loss.
In ‘t Aepjen is a saying in Dutch that indicates that you spent the night sleeping rough. Where does it come from? This bar. Back in the time of the Dutch East India Company, sailors would return from their voyages from abroad with exotic monkeys and money.
After drinking away their money at this bar (and many others), they would trade their monkeys for booze. So this bar, In ‘t Aepjen, accepted the payment although it often meant that the sailors had no more money for somewhere to sleep.
They ended up having hundreds of monkeys roaming the bar and drunk sailors too broke to afford accommodations would sleep with the monkeys. (How crazy is that?!)
The owner eventually had a flea issue and ended up creating what is now the Amsterdam Zoo in order to have a place to put all these monkeys. The bar itself is so cozy and quiet.
It’s perfect for learning about jenever and enjoying the historical atmosphere. Don’t come here if you want to have a crazy night or be loud. It’s mostly Dutch couples on dates sipping on a beer and it’s amazingly quiet. (For more secret bars in Amsterdam, you can read my beer guide to Amsterdam.)
Wynand Fockink Proeflokaal
This local jenever distillery was established in 1679 and it’s one of the best places to discover jenever and Dutch liqueurs. The interior dates back to this time and it’s just really a gem as most tourists don’t know what a proeflokaal is. Big groups are banned and you can buy a bottle of one of your favorites to bring home as well.
Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder (Our Sweet Lord in the Attic)
I absolutely LOVE this off the beaten path museum in Amsterdam and I drag everyone I know to it. Why? There’s a secret church in the attic!? You can’t even tell from the street.
I consider Our Sweet Lord in the Attic to be one of the most interesting places in Amsterdam as the museum is actually composed of three canal-houses that were connected (in secret) by a Catholic businessmen at a time when Catholics were not allowed to practice publicly.
Beyond the two story church, the furniture and decorations are in the same style as the Golden Age, so you get the benefit of learning about architecture, history, AND religion. It’s never really crowded here, so I recommend using your iAmsterdam card to visit this gem of a museum.
Museum van Loon
Another half-secret, but bear with me, locals and tourists alike flock to this local Amsterdam bakery that ONLY makes chocolate cookies to order. Every cookie will be warm from the oven and when you take a bite, it melts in your mouth.
Click for more tips on where to eat in Amsterdam only at local restaurants.
Do you go to the movies on vacation? It doesn’t matter because you’ll want to go to the movies JUST to see the gorgeous interior of this Amsterdam movie theatre The interior dates back to 1921 and it cost 4 MILLION guilders to build.
It’s just an art-deco masterpiece. For the record, English movies are shown in the Netherlands without dubbing if it’s a non-children’s movie. I so recommend the Grote Zaal (the largest theatre), which is extra beautiful.
STUYVESANT Wine Bar
Kinderboerderij ‘De Dierencapel’
The Dutch are really into having green zones within a city and having a place for children, so a lot of Dutch cities have these children’s farms in the middle of the city.
If you’re looking to say hi to some adorable bunnies and sheep, I definitely would add this non-touristy activity in Amsterdam to your bucket list. It’s free to enter besides a donation (it’s run by volunteers).
I love this one as it’s on the canals AND the area around it is absolutely beautiful with no tourists (besides a few who get lost). [See below for more information]
Prinseneiland & Realeneiland
The Willet-Holthuysen museum also has a beautiful garden. The museum is quite lavish and well represents what life was like back in the Golden Age. It’s included in the iAmsterdam pass, so if you’re a history geek, I think this lesser known museum is worth a visit.
Note: They are restrictive about photoshoots in the garden without permission. The photo above was taken with permission with a beautiful couple who eloped in Amsterdam
Secret places in the Jordaan
Karthuizerhof is the largest remaining hofje in the city and it’s actually a private residence. This one is much less known than the Begijnhof, so please don’t ruin this one. This is where you’ll often find me with a book or sitting petting the friendly cats that roam the place. I loved it so much that I took my wedding photos here.
NOTE: Most hofjes, including this one, are private residences that kindly allow the public inside. If you’re rude/loud/inconsiderate, you will be asked to leave and I’ve seen it happen. The hofje closes around sunset.
Van Brienenhofje / De Star Hofje
This charming hofje in the middle of the Jordaan has irregular hours, so very few people end up visiting. I have tried many times to get inside, however I finally managed on a weekday during the day. It’s not particularly large, but it’s cute. Same rules apply: BE CONSIDERATE AND QUIET.
Can you tell that I love hofjes? They’re historical, beautiful, and it’s never a guarantee that you’ll get inside. (Living on the edge!) Although this one was originally named after the seven original houses, it was expanded. It’s actually social housing as it was intended to be years ago.
Anyways, if you manage to get into this small hofje, please be considerate. Hours for this one are limited. In order to get in, I had to ask a resident to let me inside to take photos in Dutch. I didn’t say it was easy. 😉
It’s said that Cafe Chris might be one of the oldest cafes in Amsterdam (350 years old). Either way, people who love dive bars in the US will fall in love with the dark and historical interior. The bartender is delightful and the people are always fascinating. It’s cash only and also, you can’t sing in the bar. The view and the beer selection is pretty decent (although more classic). If you’re into beer, don’t miss this incredible bar in Amsterdam.
Other parts of Amsterdam
Kayak in Amsterdam!?
You’re probably used to hearing about people doing canal tours in Amsterdam. However, did you know that you could do stand-up paddling or kayaking in Amsterdam IN THE CANALS? Although I generally avoid swimming in the canals, this experience is just too unique to pass up.
I ended up doing kayaking at Camping Zeeburg, which is a bit further out of the city, however you can do both closer to the city with one of other companies. Just check the location FIRST as some are quite a bit away from the canals [including Camping Zeeburg], so you’d need to kayak half day in order to do it around the canals.
Can you visit an old Dutch village while staying in Amsterdam proper? YES. Ransdorp is a cute Dutch city surrounded by farmland with a Gothic tower. It’s perfect for a long cycle if you don’t plan on leaving Amsterdam, but you want to experience the more rural side of the Netherlands.
It’s definitely one of the non-touristy things to do in Amsterdam and a secret spot in Amsterdam that even Amsterdammers don’t know about. In order to get here, you need to bring a bike with you on the ferry to Noord Amsterdam.
NDSM / IJHallen
This converted coal factory in Amsterdam West was renovated in 2003. This sprawling (and surprisingly beautiful) complex has blossomed with small businesses, start-ups, and cafes.
I particularly love coming here for the Sunday Market where you can get artisanal goods and to stop off at Tony’s Chocolonely for …a few Amsterdam slave-free chocolates.
Amsterdam’s epic street food festival is held in Westergasfabriek in summer. Anyways, this factory is housed in one of my favorite parks in Amsterdam aka the one that all the tourists in Amsterdam skip!
I often come here to picnic in the park after getting lunch in Westergasfabriek, making it a great place to visit in Amsterdam, especially in summer, if you’re looking to do some non-touristy things.
De Otter Windmill
De Otter is a Rijksmonument windmill IN Amsterdam dating back to 1631. This windmill is the last remaining saw mill in Amsterdam and it was restored in the 1990s. It’s not possible to visit this windmill, however you can view it from the sidewalk/bike path along Buysbrug.