As fall descends on us and we wave forlornly at the departing summer sun, one way to keep spirits up is to plan a few city breaks in our favourite European cities. Jet off to Amsterdam for a plethora of fun at your fingertips! The city of canals and bicycles will capture your heart and have you yearning to pack your bags for a permanent Dutch adventure – it’s easy to understand why Amsterdam has such a thriving expat community. Everyone wants a slice of this sweet city life.
Weave through the buzzing hustle of the Centrum (city centre), sit for a moment in calm leafy parks, meander along canals, duck into pop-up shops of immaculate style, have your fill at top-notch cafes – it’s easy to live like a local here! We have a huge amount of tips to help you check out the city on your first visit – tick off those ace museums! – but now explore the top alternative things to do in Amsterdam. Do Amsterdam how the locals do it and feel the urge to move your life over there…
1. Stay in a Dutch home
On the few times I have visited Amsterdam, I have veered away from pricey hotels in the Centrum and opted for classic Airbnb accommodation. A huge amount are available of varying prices per night and while it may be a dream come true to stay in a traditional canal house, those prices will easily blow your budget.
The Dutch on Airbnb tend to rent out their actual apartment and hightail it to a friends house while you nest over your trip. They’re always stocked full of local knowledge of Amsterdam and extraordinarily happy to share tips!
Venture out of the Centrum to suburbs for better pricers and great atmosphere. I stayed on the border of trendy Oud-West, besides the magnificent Vondelpark, and there was no shortage of great bars and cafes. Never fear that you’re too far away from Centrum action as quick and convenient trams will quickly zip you straight into the city.
Tip: Always check out what’s going on in Amsterdam during your visit – there maybe a huge festival or celebration falling over your trip (I happened to be heading there over EuroPride 2016) so it would be smart to book well in advance to get the best place in town for your needs.
2. Commandeer your own boat
For those savvy sailors out there, this will be a dream come true! Hire a boat and leisurely follow the canals around the city to get a new perspective of Amsterdam and see sights that would easily be missed if on foot. You don’t need a license as long as the boat is under 15 metres and isn’t crazy fast, just be wary of the tourist boats – they take no prisoners and will barrage you out the way if they can.
Follow the water along the streets, duck under the picture-perfect bridges and wave to those peering from pavements and balconies. Pass by ARTIS-Amsterdam Royal Zoo and spot giraffes and goats from the comfort of your boat. As with cars, you may need to time your return right so you can grab a convenient
parking docking spot – as typically, everyone seems to dock at the same time.
Top Tip: Bring a few bottles of bubbles and some apple pie from a local bakery for the journey. Nibbling, chatting and taking in the sights by boat makes for a brilliant day-trip.
3. Swim in a rooftop pool
While there are many parks in Amsterdam that have outdoor swimming available, add a bit of style and luxury to your visit by visiting W Amsterdam. The W Hotels are beautiful design hotels scattered from London to Miami, each with unique design and top service. Even if you wish to stay in a local Dutch home, you can still pop into the hotel for a cocktail up on the sixth floor’s W Lounge where panoramic views will wow you.
The hotel is just off Dam Square so slip in a visit as you’re doing sightseeing, especially as you can sit overlooking the rooftop of the Royal Palace. And what better way to gaze upon this sight than in an infinity pool? Available to swim all year round – don’t worry, it’s heated – it’s free for guests to use, but anyone can come in for a fee (varies depending on time of the week). Dip in the beautiful rooftop pool of the WET Deck and float blissfully on an inflatable beside expansive views of Amsterdam for an alternative experience.
Top Tip: Keep a hold of those inflatables if there is a breeze – losing a doughnut over the side into the streets below would be pretty mortifying!
4. Eat at Foodhallen Amsterdam
Venture into the depths of the Oud-West neighbourhood down quiet residential roads lined with hundreds of bicycles. Invest a smidge of trust in your sat nav and keep going until you reach the Foodhallen. A newly rejuvenated depot that used to house Amsterdam’s electric trams, this giant warehouse space now contains a large and exciting indoor food market. Inspired by such markets in Copenhagen and London, Foodhallen opened in April 2015 and has been a buzzing foodie hub with the locals ever since.
With around 20 street food vendors serving up top-notch nosh and delicious beverages, you will be spoilt for choice and brilliantly catered for – even the fussiest of travellers will find something that tickles their fancy. From Angus beef burgers to Thai fish, and from traditional Dutch Bitterballen to frozen yoghurt – you’ll find it hard to settle on a vendor. And to get a refreshing drink, grab a lemongrass and black pepper infused gin and tonic, or pull up a seat at the more affordable island bar in the centre.
Top Tip: Try the fragrant Vietnamese Summer Spring Rolls at the Viet View vendor. Exercise patience with the queue (or get there before the 7pm dinner rush) and be rewarded with fresh and healthy rolls.
5. Explore the Hortus Botanicus
Find this giant oasis tucked behind the Rembrandt House Museum in the eastern section of the Centrum and put aside a few peaceful hours to explore the oldest botanical garden in the world: Hortus Botanicus Amsterdam.
Shielded from the buzzing crowds, giant greenhouses are filled with leafy delights of various species. Wander the multiple levels in each house, walking high above the foliage on suspended platforms catching glimpses of canal houses through the steamy windows. Cool off from the heat with a wander of the pretty grounds or among butterflies in the small Butterfly Greenhouse. Most of the outdoor plants are moved into the Palm Greenhouse during winter, including a 350-year-old Eastern Cape giant cycad.
Top Tip: Don’t miss the cacti warehouse if you’re a big fan of cacti and succulents – it feels like you’re in a micro Arizona desert that’s just exploded with all of the spiky greenery!
6. The Hoxton Hotel
If you have to check up on emails while in Amsterdam or you need to undergo a quick blogging blast, head to The Hoxton Hotel for a perfect place to reap free WiFi and enjoy a perfect glass of wine. The interior decor of this place totally sold me to a digital nomad life – the thought of sitting in such a stylish place and treating it like my office was pretty tempting.
Set in the home of a previous Mayor of Amsterdam, this hotel lies beside the famous Herengracht canal spanning over five canal houses. The ground floor restaurant, Lotti’s, is run in partnership with Soho House & Co – they know how to make spaces for creative folk. Join other locals tapping away on their laptops and nestle down in a velvet sofa with a rich glass of red – who cares if you actually get any work done when surroundings are as perfect as this?
7. Party at De School
Now I’m not as much of a party party person as I was a few years ago – just lifting a glass of wine to my lips can exhaust me – but sometimes a delve into the nightlife of a new place can be an eye-opener. An afterparty of the legendary Dekmantel Festival was in full swing at De School, so I popped in to see what it was all about. Brilliant house music, amazing sound systems, overkill of dry ice and multiple DJ’s may have you thinking it’s just a great club… until you stumble upon the random rooms displaying glowing exhibitions by local artists. This is clubbing with a twist – come for the music, stay for the art.
See what’s on at De School and see if you can snag a ticket to the next gig.
Top Tip: It’s sometimes impossible to find your way out as multiple rooms and doors can get you pretty confused. Not much of a ‘top tip’, just common sense, but follow the emergency exit signs and you’ll soon stumble out into the fresh air.
8. Brunch at Dignita
Amsterdam does brunch and it does brunch good. With a huge amount to choose from, the cafes will convince you to move here as you simply just don’t have time to explore all the best places to eat. If I could brunch five times a day, then maybe I could give you the lowdown on the top Amsterdam cafes to eat at, but since I only have one stomach I’ll let you know my favourite….
Set off the southern fringe of Vondelpark, this delicious little cafe will fill you with goodness as well as giving good back to communities. Dignita Cafe serves brunch all day – something they know is very important to life – and they are dedicated to producing fresh dishes from scratch using locally and ethically-sourced ingredients. Dignita is part of the Not For Sale social enterprise model – 100% of their profits go into provide certified training programs and support to a vulnerable individuals – a brilliant cause you can support by just having coffee and eggs.
Their variety of home-baked sweet goodies and appropriate brunch cocktails will have you whiling hours away here. Start with a spicy Bloody Mary as you debate between the hot smoked salmon on potato hash or a vegan salad bowl of avocado, sprouts and grains with a fragrant dressing. Finish with a face-plant into one/all of their cakes.
Top Tip: After brunch, take a long walk through the epic greenery of Vondelpark, Amsterdam’s largest city park, to digest or have a little nap under the weeping willows if your breakfast Bellini hit the spot a little too hard…. ah Amsterdam life.
Amsterdam presents the best mix of nature and city life and after relaying my alternative things to do in Amsterdam, I can feel the pull of the Dutch city again as the urge to discover more plagues me.
What are your favourite things to do in Amsterdam? Let us know below!
All photographs by Sophie Saint