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You’ve probably never heard of the Westelijke Eilanden, known as the Western Islands, in Amsterdam. These man-made islands just outside of the centre hold a gorgeous off the beaten path
Why visit the Western Islands
I’ve held off on writing about the Western islands in Amsterdam for a while as the area is dear to me as I lived in the
Full of quiet streets filled with cobblestones, you’ll be instantly transported to the Amsterdam that is too quickly fading from memory: one where you know your
Full of gorgeous old warehouses with colorful shutters and gorgeous houses that belonged to the captains who lived on what was the edge of Amsterdam at the time, the Western Islands hold a quiet charm and an interesting history. This history (discussed below) also the reason why the Western Islands are home to numerous artists and their studios (f you look hard enough).
A little tip: You don’t need a tour to come here and please avoid taking a segway tour through here. I’ll be noting some public spots, but many canalside spots are private property. Some kindly allow others to enjoy their time, but don’t leave your waste and be considerate of the people living here. Note: if you’re staying here, pick up
A little history of the Western Islands
The Western Islands are artificial islands constructed during the Dutch Golden Age to enable Amsterdam to handle more ships coming in and out of its harbour. This area was known for its many shipbuilding yards, warehouses, and illicit activity that buzzed around the sailors. Although historically, this area was mostly for commercial activity, shipbuilders often lived in this area.
There are still many traces from this period although some of the houses on the islands have been lost to time after shipbuilding was shifted elsewhere. This area went from a prosperous one to one full of abandoned warehouses. In the post-war period, the Western Islands became a hub for artists and their studios due to the cheap rents and available space. This legacy still lives on today as there are numerous ateliers that are open to the public on certain days.
The best spots to see on the Western Islands
Prinseneiland is the smallest of the Western Islands. It was once where people would see criminals hanged (Gallows Street is an unfortunate relic of the past). Today, it’s full of beautiful warehouses. Be sure to do a full loop of the island in order to enjoy the views from both sides. Don’t be alarmed by the dark tunnel that leads to you to the beautiful white wooden bridge (behind the HEMA) that brings you onto Prinseneiland.
Drieharingenbrug was built in 1676. It was named for a brandy distillery that was torn down in the 1700s. This beautiful white wooden bridge leads you to what was a country house for some years prior to abruptly changing into a modern landscape of houses. Once you cross over, make a right in order to find the captain’s houses along Realeneiland.
Bickerseiland is the largest of the Western Islands and not surprisingly, it has the most things to do in this lovely
I love strolling down Bickersgracht on a nice prior to finding a nice place to sit out along the water. You’ll find a small playground along the water near the bridge to Realeneiland and dock that residents allow people to enjoy as long as they’re quiet and clean. Along this street, you’ll find a ton of beautiful friendly-ish cats who belong to the residents here.
Stichting De Dierencapel
This small children’s green space along the canal is one of my
‘t Blaauwhooft is my old watering hole. This charming brown bar puts on no airs. It’s down-to-earth, cosy, and welcoming to all. They have a good beer selection although a fresh mint tea is always welcome on a cold day. Be sure to say hello to the friendly black cat who lives here although don’t go for the pet as he’s inclined to bite. Bring cash if you don’t have a Dutch debit card.
Galerie Moon is a charming boutique located on Bickerseiland that stocks art produced by some of the local artists. They also provide information about ateliers as well as historical tours of the
Ateliers of the Western Islands
Once a year, there’s a huge art fair across the Westelijke Eilanden when more than sixty artists open up their studios to the public. There’s usually wine and it’s a great time to chat with artists about their art. It’s just a fun time to discover these nooks (that often have amazing views) that you might not otherwise notice. The Open Ateliers Westelijke Eilanden event took place over the White Sunday weekend, so check the dates once it’s closer!
Realeneiland is where the captains built their houses along the water. This row of beautiful adorned canal houses are straight out of your dreams of Amsterdam although they’re privately owned. Don’t be creepy.
Just around the corner, you’ll find the headquarters of Canal Motorboats. This boat rental company rents electric motorboats out by the hour for a reasonable rate. One of my favorite things to do with friends is to rent a boat, bring a bottle of wine/some snacks, and watch the sunset along the water. It’s magical and worth every penny.
De Gouden Reael
This intimate restaurant serves tapas style meals along a cozy nook along the water. On a nice day, I like to get a wine here and just sit out enjoying the view. Make reservations in advance if you intend to have dinner here as it’s a popular spot!