There are some real hidden gems in Amsterdam, tucked away behind the city’s famous landmarks. These quieter, lesser-known attractions rarely attract as much footfall as places like Dam Square, the Rijksmuseum or Vondelpark and are mainly frequented by locals, rather than visitors to the city. So get stuck in with our list of alternative things to do in Amsterdam which are off the beaten path.
Check out Westergasfabriek
Gashouder, a large-scale concert venue, Westergasfabriek | © Viennaslide / Alamy Stock Photo
This enormous cultural hub lies in the centre of Westerpark and was built inside of an expansive gasworks facility that dates back to the late 19th century. The whole area has a unique, industrial vibe that matches perfectly with its cultural leanings. It is easy enough to spend entire evenings wandering between Westergasfabriek’s long list of attractions, which include restaurants, music venues, an arthouse cinema and the largest coin-op arcade in the city.
Delve into Amsterdam’s past at the City Archives
De Bazel, Amsterdam | © FORGET Patrick/SAGAPHOTO.COM / Alamy Stock Photo
Unlike most other museums in Amsterdam, it is possible to enter the City Archives’ main exhibition without paying an entrance fee. Even though it is free and features some truly fascinating items, including a police report given by Anne Frank concerning her stolen bicycle and the document that banished Baruch Spinoza from Amsterdam’s Jewish community, this exhibition rarely gets busy. Other temporary exhibitions also take place in the City Archives throughout the year, which usually delve into specific episodes from Amsterdam’s past.
Dine out on REM Eiland
REM Eiland restaurant, Amsterdam | © Rafael Croonen / Shutterstock
This unusual, waterborne restaurant is housed inside a renovated offshore platform that once stood around nine kilometres off the coast of the Netherlands. In the 1960s, the platform was owned by a group of pirate radio broadcasters, who had to abandon the structure after the Dutch government raided their operation in 1964. Around four decades later, the platform was towed to Amsterdam’s Houthaven harbour and then converted into a classy restaurant. Today, it is possible to access REM Eiland from a nearby jetty and dine inside its spectacular upper decks.
Eat unlimited pancakes onboard the Pancake Boat
© StudioPortoSabbia / Shutterstock
During tours onboard the Pancake Boat, passengers are presented with an unlimited supply of Dutch-style pancakes topped with syrup, fruits and powdered sugar. This sugar-fuelled excursion starts in Amsterdam’s northern docklands then trails through the city’s famous harbour, allowing passengers to marvel at the area’s stunning architecture while they chow down on some of the world’s finest pancakes. The tour takes 75 minutes and departs from NDSM-Werf several times a day.
Chill out on Blijburg aan Zee Beach
Ice cream stall on Blijburg City Beach, Amsterdam | © frans lemmens / Alamy Stock Photo
There are a surprising number of beaches in Amsterdam that either edge onto the city’s lakes, canals or rivers. While it is worth checking out all of these sandy oases, anyone searching for a classic, beach-bum experience may want to head over to Blijburg. This artificial peninsula juts outs into IJmeer lake and has several attractions that are generally associated with seaside resorts, including golden sand, clear water and even a windsurfing school. There’s also a tiki hut-style restaurant located nearby that caters to beach-goers.
Learn about Amsterdam’s secret religious history at Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder
After the Reformation in the 16th century, the newly established Calvinist Dutch government officially outlawed Catholicism. Though they faced severe punishments, many followers of Catholicism continued to worship in secret and some even built hidden churches. For instance, the upper three storeys of a townhouse on Oudezijds Voorburgwal canal in Amsterdam were converted into a Catholic place of worship in the 1660s. Unlike most other clandestine churches from this period, this chapel has remained almost completely intact and has been preserved as an historic museum since 1888.
Catch a movie at the EYE Film Museum
EYE Film Museum, Amsterdam | © Andreas Rose / Alamy Stock Photo
Anyone that has travelled through Amsterdam’s Centraal Station may have noticed an oddly shaped building on the northern banks of the river IJ. This unusual, post-modern structure houses the EYE Film Museum – an organisation that preserves items related to Dutch and international cinematic history. There are several important facilities located inside the institute, including a gallery space that regularly hosts exhibitions related to filmmaking, four modern cinemas and a multi-tiered restaurant that looks onto the river IJ. The EYE, as it is colloquially known, also organises special events throughout the month, such as film festivals, movie screenings and concerts.
Cuddle a cat onboard de Poezenboot
© Linda Kennedy / Alamy Stock Photo
This floating cat sanctuary has cared for stray or abandoned kitties for over four decades and welcomes visitors most days of the week. The shelter is moored to the northern banks of Singel canal in central Amsterdam and features a large, lower deck where its feline shipmates are given free reign. Though some cats onboard de Poezenboot aren’t too fussed about humans, others are friendlier and will happily approach strangers. De Poezenboot always welcomes donations and sells some seriously awesome merchandise at its gift shop, including branded t-shirts, posters and tote bags that feature adorable illustrations of its furry residents.
Discover the Amsterdam School’s architecture at Het Schip
Michel de Klerk designed the Het Schip in the early 20th century | © frans lemmens / Alamy Stock Photo
While Amsterdam’s older architecture certainly deserves the acclaim it has garnered over the years, the city also boasts many important examples of innovative, modern structural design. For instance, in the early 20th century, a close-knit group of socially conscious architects, known as the Amsterdam School, designed buildings throughout the city that were united by their complex, expressive brickwork and curved, almost organic motifs. There’s an entire museum dedicated to the movement’s history, principles and legacy located near Westerpark. This fascinating museum is housed inside a stunning, residential building that was designed by an esteemed member of the Amsterdam School named Michiel de Klerk in 1919.
Take a stroll through Amsterdamse Bos
Amstelveense Poel, part of the Amsterdamse Bos, Amsterdam | © Dafinchi / Shutterstock
This massive park lies roughly 10 kilometres away from Amsterdam’s historic centre and features many diverse terrains ranging from lakeside beaches to dense, ancient forests. Amsterdamse Bos’ size means that there’s plenty of room for outdoorsy activities within its borders, including hiking, jogging and cycling. It is also possible to rent boats inside the park and sail (or peddle) through its many lakes, canals and ponds. There are several other attractions spread around the park, including an open-air theatre and a charming, organic farm where visitors can pet and feed milk-white baby goats.