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 local’s 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.
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 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.
So, when you pass by someone, say “Goedemiddag” if it’s afternoon or “Goedemorgen” if it’s morning. (Click for Dutch language tips.) Please be considerate. People live in many of these places–and the others are frequented by locals. 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 for some of these establishments are not particularly 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.
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 mostly Dutch couples on dates sipping on a beer and it’s amazingly quiet for the center of Amsterdam.
Close to Centraal Station, you’ll find the world’s only floating catboat shelter. It was established in the ’60s for cat lovers and it’s actually free to visit (although donations are encouraged). You need to arrive when they open in order to get a slot to come back later as neighbors have complained about residents lingering outside their homes waiting to go inside. There’s nothing like playing with cats to make your day. Click for a complete guide to cat-related places in 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. Click to read about more authentic genever distilleries in Amsterdam to visit!
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. Read more about Dutch liquors that you’ll want to try while in Amsterdam.
Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder
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 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 businessman 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
This museum in Amsterdam center has a beautiful interior and one of my favorite “secret gardens” in Amsterdam. It’s technically open to any visitor, but you’ll never know when you’ll spot the giant fluffy cat that roams the grounds. The first time that I discovered the garden and the cat, I couldn’t believe that I biked by this house regularly without seeing what was behind it… (You can use your
This is kind of Amsterdam “secrets” 101, but in case you haven’t heard of the Begijnhof, it’s a hofje in the city center. However, this hofje is fairly well known although compared to the area around it, it’s quiet.
It was a group of houses where women who were religious and vowed chastity lived out their lives. Similar to nuns, these women were able to marry. It even had a secret Catholic church (during the period when they were banned). You’ll need to find the door by the American Book Center. Click for more tips for visiting the Begijnhof!
Another half-secret, but bear with me, locals and tourists alike flock to this local Amsterdam bakery that ONLY makes chocolate cookies to order. Click for more information about Van Stapele here! 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.
Have I outed myself as a crazy cat lady yet? I have no shame in recommending this off the beaten path museum in Amsterdam for cat lovers looking for some weirder things to do in Amsterdam. The Kattenkabinet is a canal house that is filled with cat art AND cats. It’s basically paradise. (More cat-related places in Amsterdam here.) The museum isn’t huge, but a nice way to spend an hour and to get some pets in.
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 as long as it’s not a children’s movie. I recommend the Grote Zaal (the largest theatre), which is beautiful.
The tiny hidden houses
Hidden within a small crack in the Jordaan, you’ll find the tiny hidden houses of Amsterdam. They were installed in a crack of a wall as a joke in reference to the closed-up courtyard, but they’re delightful and difficult to find. It’s a small delight.
It’s easy to pass by the Walloon Church along Oudezijds Achterburgwal without a second thought,
The Agnietenkapel is a stunning former church from the 1400s that is one of the original buildings from the University of Amsterdam. Although it sits close to the Red Light District, the area around this church on the beautiful street close to Voorburgwal is an oasis of quiet in the heart of center. Earlier, there had been numerous Catholic convents in this area, however the church today dates back to 1470 when it was part of a convent in honor of Saint Agnes.
Like many convents in the Netherlands, it was closed when Protestantism took over, however this church became part of the Athenaeum Illustre. Professors part of the new University of Amsterdam would give lectures here and today, this purpose is still used although it’s mostly used for ceremonial purposes (Ph.D dissertation lectures).
A few dear friends of mine have gotten their Ph.D from the University of Amsterdam, so I’ve had the pleasure of going inside to see its stunning wooden building’s interior while listening to a lecture (in English and Dutch) this time. Beyond the lecture hall, the building is fairly modern and unfortunately, you cannot ordinarily go inside. Even if you can’t go inside, you might pass this beautiful chapel in Amsterdam. Don’t be afraid to admire it!
One of the most beautiful towers in Amsterdam (in my opinion) has to be the Montelbaanstoren. I recently found some old prints of Amsterdam and within it, I was able to see how this location has barely changed since 1516 when the tower was part of the walls of Amsterdam. It was drawn by Rembrandt who most likely passed this tower as he went about his life in Amsterdam.
Later on, the decorative part of the tower was added. Fouquet’s famous publication of scenes from Amsterdam included views from this tower. It’s been recently restored and today is rented out as offices (to those willing to pay the high rent). As a result, you can’t enter, however, it’s best viewed from the other side of the canal where you can appreciate this scene straight out of the 1600s.
VOC / Dutch East India Company Headquarters
Although my photo isn’t the best, I stumbled upon the building that is the historic headquarters of the Dutch East India Company (VOC). This building, once used as an armory, was completed in the 1600s.
It’s easy to miss the small doorway that leads you into the small courtyard that allows you to admire the building built specifically for the V.O.C. in Amsterdam Renaissance style from the street. If you’ve read about the Dutch Golden Age, this was the place where many of the key decisions about trade, diplomacy, and governance were made.
The current owners, the University of Amsterdam, made the building otherwise closed to the public, but visitors are asked to be silent as this is a workplace most likely with single-paned windows.
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
Despite being part of Centrum, Prinseneiland and Realeneiland are some of the least visited parts of Amsterdam, mostly due to the big ugly tunnel that you need to pass through to get to the pretty parts. (It terrifies my friends too.) These artificial islands is
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. The same rules apply: Be considerate, quiet, and polite.
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 the Raepenhofje is one of the oldest hofjes in Amsterdam dating back to 1648. It was used for widows and orphans. There’s not much to mark it besides a circle above the entrance, but this small hofje is just cool to walk into if you’re already in the Jordaan that is still owned by the descendants of the original creator. The door is sometimes open; sometimes shut. It’s very small, so be quiet and considerate.
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. Click for more tips on Dutch liquor you’ll want to try and the best beer in Amsterdam.
Other parts of Amsterdam
This leafy park close to the University of Amsterdam has a gorgeous mansion and the first time that I first passed it, I did a double-take. I consider this one of the bigger secret places in Amsterdam that most people don’t know about it although it’s perfect for a nice walk, especially in summer. If you’re staying out in Amsterdam Oost, definitely stop by if you’re biking by.
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, but you can do both closer to the city with one of the 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. Click for my guide to Ransdorp!
This squat turned artist space and restaurant is definitely a secret spot in Amsterdam. You enter through a nondescript door on a major street. Suddenly, there’s tons of street art and inside, there’s a no-waste restaurant run by volunteers (reserve ahead).
I love the atmosphere as it’s really what is fading from Amsterdam nowadays as overtourism means that more of the city becomes one for visitors rather than residents. The food at De Peper is really good.
The Hortus Botanicus is one of the oldest greenhouses in the world. Established in 1638, this Amsterdam greenhouse was used for growing medical plants for doctors and pharmacists.
The intended use was to find medicines to fight the plague. With the growth of the VOC (Dutch East India Company), many exotic plants were brought back to Amsterdam. Many credit the Hortus Botanicus for producing the coffee strain that is used all over the world now.
Nieuwendam was an independent village separate from Amsterdam. This village on the other side of the IJ has long been a hub for trade due to its strategic location along the river. During the Thirty Year War, it was destroyed by the Spanish around the same period that a deadly flood that changed the landscape of the Netherlands occurred. It was rebuilt in the 1500s although it was rebuilt in the 1600s after it was decided that thatched roofs were banned (due to fire hazard).
Although you have a less clear of the IJ today, Nieuwendam became a popular place for retired ship captains to live as it provided a view of the ships sailing on the IJ. Within the village, which is now part of the city of Amsterdam, you can admire its beautiful green wooden houses with bell gables. It’s a picturesque place that feels so far from the rest of Amsterdam despite only being a twenty-minute bike ride from Amsterdam Centraal.
Distillery ‘t Nieuwe Diep
If you’re a sucker for hidden parks, you need to find Distillery ‘t Nieuwe Diep. This off the beaten path Amsterdam cafe is hidden within an old pumphouse from 1880 close to the University of Amsterdam’s new campus, but if you make your way out here, you’ll be rewarded with beautiful greenery, picturesque fruit trees, and more than 100 kinds of liquors and genevers. It’s best coming here by bike (if you dare) to enjoy the park’s quiet beauty or by bus if you intend to drink.
NDSM / IJHallen
Noord Amsterdam, specifically NDSM, feels very divorced from the historical city of Amsterdam. Full of modern buildings, old warehouses (more recent), and graffiti, NDSM feels younger, more vibrant, and (don’t judge me) like the cousin of Williamsburg before.
This area is rapidly changing from hipster to yuppie, but it’s still a great area to visit. Be sure to head to the IJhallen if you can be here! Click for my guide to NDSM/Amsterdam Noord.
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. During December, there’s a great Christmas market held here!
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 sawmill 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.