Guide: Experience Alternative Amsterdam

In recent years, mass tourism in Europe has become a hot topic.

From spring to fall, the region’s bucket list cities attract millions of tourists from all over the world.  Dutch Amsterdam reported that 2014 brought 5.7 million foreign visitors to the city. When day trippers are included in that number, it rises to 17.3 million. My Dutch heritage has brought me to Amsterdam many times over the years, and even I have noticed this surge.

In 2016, as my cousin and I traversed the city on crowded Kings Day – a holiday which celebrates the Dutch King’s birthday – she explained to me that she felt something happening to Amsterdam. Disneyfication. As tourism explodes, the “Dutchness” of Amsterdam been overrun by the kitschy tourist shops, sex shops, weed shops, cheese shops, sex museums, and bicycle beer tours. Local Dutch have been driven out of the city center by rising real estate prices, and most of them don’t want to return. The center of Amsterdam has become a sort of theme park.

But don’t let me discourage you. Amsterdam draws in so much mass tourism for a reason: it is a stunningly beautiful city filled with incredible museums, delicious food, and gorgeous architecture. Despite the crowds I continue to love the city, and you can too. After you have made your obligatory visits to Dam Square, the Rijksmuseum, and the Heineken Experience, devote a day to the alternative Amsterdam experience.

CRAFT BEER

  • Most Dutch people will agree that Heineken is gross, and Grolsch is not much better. For a taste of local beer, head to Brouwerij’t IJ. This brewery is located right next to an old windmill, so you can pair your beer tasting with a trip up the into the mill. From the center of the city, the brewery is a 30 minute walk.

  • For a selection of bottled craft beers, pop into “Dis Dinnershop” (Haarlemmerplein 37). This shop specializes in selling take-away hot meals, and their fridges are filled with a selection of local craft beers at moderate prices. Grab a beer for the road!

PARKS AND FOOD

  • Vondelpark is a gorgeous park, and always bustling on the weekends. It’s a bit of a trek from the city center, which means there aren’t usually too many tourists hanging around. The park is huge, so take a leisurely stroll along its paths. Watch out for bikes!

  • After you’ve spent all afternoon sunbathing in the park, walk 15 minutes to the Foodhallen. Located in a newly renovated tram depot, the concept was inspired by indoor food markets which are popular in Copenhagen. With over 20 different food stalls, cocktails and beer, this place is paradise for any tourist, local, or self-proclaimed foodie. On weekends it is filled with Dutch hipsters, and open late with a live DJ. I love the bitterballen you will find there. Don’t know what that is? Go to the Foodhallen to find out.

ENTERTAINMENT

  • “The Movies” is one of the oldest movie theatres in Amsterdam. Located on Haarlemerstraat, this theatre is fun to visit for its history AND it usually shows English-language films.

  • De Begijnhof is one of the oldest inner courts of the city. The houses within the court are some of Amsterdam’s oldest. There are even some traditional wooden houses that still stand in this courtyard. The homes are rented solely to single adult women, so that they may live communally. The courtyard is always serenely quiet, and a nice place to go to have a relaxing sit.

  • The KattenKabinet is a strange little museum started by a Dutch man who was inspired by the death of his own dear cat. Founded in 1990, it pays homage to his departed feline. Exploring this museum gives you a glimpse of a beautiful canal home …and of the depth of one man’s love for cats.

NEIGHBOURHOODS AND DAYTRIPS

  • Amsterdam-Noord (Amsterdam North) is an up and coming haven for hipsters. Once an industrial area, this part of the city is home to restaurants, a skate park, a concert hall, a jazz venue, the EYE Film Institute and an artist’s market. Take a free ferry from Amsterdam Central to reach this neighbourhood.

  • Amsterdam-Oost (Amsterdam East) is a fabulously multi-cultural neighborhood. Unlike the center of Amsterdam, you don’t need to be wealthy to live there, and as a result it draws many young people. Go have a coffee at Coffee Bru, dinner at Walter’s, and local beers at Bar Joost. This neighborhood is easily accessible by tram and train.

  • The Netherlands is a very small country. So if you’ve got the time, get yourself outside of Amsterdam. The Dutch have a fantastic train network which enables you to reach most other cities in less than an hour. The cities of Leiden and Utrecht are my personal favourites. With far less tourists, these historical cities give you a perfect glimpse of an arguably more authentic Dutch city. Both cities are small, and so don’t be afraid to wander them by foot!