Go beyond Amsterdam’s traditional tourist sights to try these completely different and extremely memorable experiences.
While Amsterdam is best known for its canals and 17th-century houses (and also for its coffee shops and Red Light District), it also offers a wide choice of interesting things to explore that you can’t find anywhere else. Fun places to eat, admire the scenery, and even to spend the night can be found within the most unlikely of structures, like a former squat, a TV tower, a building made of shipping containers, and a construction crane. Amsterdam museums outside the norm let you explore the worlds of bags, fluorescent art, and microbes. And foodies have it made, too: They can sail to an island for a gourmet meal, sip tea in the world’s smallest teahouse, or create a chocolate bar from scratch. With these 12 unusual things to do in Amsterdam, boredom is certainly not an option.
Tony Chocolonely Super Store
Have you ever dreamed of designing your own chocolate bar? At Tony Chocolonely Super Store, in the Beurs van Berlage (an apt location, since it’s where cocoa trading took place in the early 1900s), you can use the Unlimiteds machine to choose the type of chocolate (dark, milk, or white), the ingredients (from caramel to pretzels), and the colors of the packaging, and then personalize your bar with whatever name you choose. Your very own bespoke chocolate bar is ready to pick up about an hour later (they’ll text you to come back and get it). Best of all, Tony’s prides itself on being “slave-free,” working against child labor and modern slavery in West Africa’s cocoa industry—so you can feel good while you’re indulging.
A’DAM LOOKOUT/Over the Edge
If you’re not afraid of heights, head across the IJ River to Amsterdam Noord to try out the highest swing in Europe, appropriately called Over the Edge, at a dizzying height of 100 meters (328 feet). Take the free ferry over from behind Central Station, and then ascend 22 floors up A’DAM Toren, a building formerly belonging to Shell Oil that’s been regenerated into a creative hub of offices; the trendy Sir Adam Hotel; two restaurants, including one that revolves; and a rooftop bar. But you’re here for the 360-degree look-out over the city, where for an extra 5 euros you can swing out over the water for five minutes—enough time to gawk at the lovely Amsterdam skyline.
INSIDER TIPBook a timed ticket for the swing online in advance so you can arrive just before sunset to catch even more stunning vistas (and hope that the sun is out that day).
One of the most interesting spots to eat in Amsterdam, REM Eiland is a restaurant within a former oil platform turned pirate TV station, moored high up on the IJ River. You can see out to the river and harbor while dining on modern and eclectic Dutch cuisine, and there’s a rooftop bar that’s open when the weather allows. Take the steep outside stairs up to the restaurant if you dare, though the elevator makes things a little easier.
OT301 Cultural Center
This former squat on the Overtoom in the Oud West is now a thriving non-profit cultural center with artist residencies, a cinema showing underground and alternative films, a gallery, and a club featuring music, dance, and theater performances. The door to OT301 is open all the time, and there’s always something going on, whether an event, workshop, or show; check the agenda on their website for the latest happenings. There’s also a pay-what-you-can vegan restaurant, De Peper, open for dinner on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday.
Tassen Museum of Bags and Purses Amsterdam
Not only fashion aficionados will appreciate this ode to bags: you’ll find more than 5,000 of them in the Tassen Museum of Bags and Purses Amsterdam, all displayed within a beautiful 17th-century canal house in the Grachtengordel (Canal Ring). The bags here date from the 16th century to the present day and include items owned by Hillary Clinton, Margaret Thatcher, and Elizabeth Taylor, among other well-known personalities. The museum also hosts special exhibitions dedicated to topics such as sculpture and jewelry and suitcases.
INSIDER TIPBook in advance for the High Tea, where a tempting selection of sweet and savory treats are served in a charming setting.
Het Kleinste Huis
The “smallest house in Amsterdam,” Het Kleinste Huis, located near the Red Light District, was built in 1738 and measures only 2 meters (6 feet 7 inches) wide and 5 meters (16 feet 4 inches) deep. It also includes what’s purportedly the smallest teahouse in the world—and it is indeed tiny, with one table on the first floor and one on the second. Book online in advance to enjoy a full breakfast, lunch, or high tea here, though you can also sometimes swing by for a spot of tea and apple pie. The tiny shop on the first floor also sells a wide selection of teas to take home.
Tucked into the charming Jordaan neighborhood, the compact Electric Ladyland – the First Museum of Fluorescent Art is a passion project of owner Nick Paladino. As you learn about the history of fluorescent art, you’ll see an interactive installation created by Nick himself, as well as a collection of natural fluorescent rocks that Nick and his partner have collected from around the world and other unique fluorescent items. It’s a trippy and one-of-a-kind experience.
INSIDER TIPVisits are by appointment only from Wednesday to Saturday, so be sure to book online in advance.
Crane Hotel Faralda
For one of the most unique hotel experiences anywhere, check out the Crane Hotel Faralda—three suites built inside a 50-meter (164-foot) crane—in NDSM, just across the IJ River from Central Station. Rooms are designer chic, and as to be expected, the views are spectacular. There’s also a hot tub on the top of the crane that you can use for an extra fee.
INSIDER TIPBe aware that while a stay here will give you bragging rights, the crane does rotate in the wind, so it may move overnight, and the city lights penetrate through the curtains—so those with vertigo and light sleepers take heed.
Hang with the Amsterdam hipsters at this quirky restaurant made from shipping containers alongside the IJ River in industrial NDSM. Pllek offers plenty of couches to chill before or after enjoying the mostly organic and vegetarian food on offer. Outside you’ll find a large terrace and sandy beach, all that’s needed to turn Pllek into an urban hotspot during the warm summer months.
The first international bar from famed mixologist Mr. Lyan, formerly of London’s much-awarded (though now defunct) Dandelyan, under-the-radar Super Lyan is set in a 17th-century house not far from Central Station. Besides superlative cocktails, Super Lyan serves up tasty vegan donuts and small bites and, happily, is open all day long and late into the evening—perfect whether you want breakfast or a post-dinner tipple.
The five-hour dinner experience on Vuurtoreneiland, or lighthouse island, starts with an hour-long boat ride. Departing from just outside the Lloyd Hotel, you’ll sail along the IJ River all the way to this island in the Markermeer, about 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) from Amsterdam. Once there, settle into the glass greenhouse in the warmer months and former barracks in the colder months to enjoy a five-course menu, made with local products and cooked completely on an open fire.
INSIDER TIPMake your reservation two months in advance online.
The only museum in the world to focus on microbes—microorganisms too small to be seen by the naked eye that live all around us—Micropia uses interactive exhibits to teach about their benefits and pitfalls. Highlights include plenty of microscopes through which you can view living organisms, a live ant colony, and a kiss-o-meter where you’ll see how much bacteria is exchanged during a kiss. Micropia is best appreciated by kids over 8 as well as curious adults. Buy a combination ticket with the next door Artis Amsterdam Royal Zoo for a full day of fun.