Here's how to get around Amsterdam's neighborhoods like a local.
Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands, attracts millions of visitors yearly with its abundance of bicycles, picturesque canals, and, for some, its Red Light District. However, beyond its famous (and, er, infamous) hotspots is a city with distinctive neighborhoods that need to be explored by tourists to understand its offerings comprehensively. From the historic allure of the Jordaan to the bohemian spirit of De Pijp, each district possesses its unique personality, woven together to create the city’s multifaceted DNA.
In this neighborhood guide, we delve into the distinctive personalities of Amsterdam’s neighborhoods, giving you compelling reasons to explore this diverse urban landscape further on your next visit. So, buckle up (and remember that bike helmet)!
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Radiating with youthful energy, Amsterdam’s De Pijp neighborhood is a haven for hipsters and creative souls. Known as Amsterdam’s “Latin Quarter,” this district is chock-full of trendy bars, cozy cafes, and an eclectic food scene that caters to every palate and budget. As you wander through the neighborhood’s side streets, you’ll uncover hidden art galleries that embody De Pijp’s artistic vibes. Visiting the vibrant Albert Cuyp Market is essential, offering local delicacies and prime people-watching opportunities. Beer connoisseurs will appreciate the Heineken Experience, where you can raise a glass of the iconic Dutch beer and learn about the brewing process. And for music enthusiasts, a visit to The Concertgebouw, renowned for its exceptional acoustics and captivating jazz performances, is a must.
Nestled between the Prinsengracht and Lijnbaansgracht canals, today, the neighborhood of Jordaan exudes a bohemian spirit. But it hasn’t always been like this; initially built in the 17th century as affordable housing for laborers and artisans, Jordaan’s narrow streets and humble dwellings reflect its historical roots. After a period of decline, Jordaan experienced a revival in the 20th century, attracting intellectuals and becoming a trendy and affordable housing option. Today, Jordaan offers a tranquil haven for tourists seeking respite from the bustling city center. Wander along the picturesque canals, discover hidden courtyards adorned with flowers, and explore the vibrant Noordermarkt, where farmers’ and flea markets offer a delightful blend of local produce and vintage clothing on Saturdays. Take advantage of the neighborhood’s thriving art scene, showcased in numerous galleries that feature a diverse range of contemporary and traditional works by local artists.
The Museumkwartier serves as the city’s cultural epicenter and is undoubtedly on the itineraries of any first-time tourists in Amsterdam. This vibrant neighborhood boasts some of the world’s most renowned museums and an abundance of cultural treasures. Museumplein, a lively square surrounded by cultural institutions, is home to the prestigious Van Gogh Museum, the Rijksmuseum, and contemporary art at the Stedelijk Museum. Stroll through the nearby Vondelpark, a picturesque green space that complements the Museumkwartier’s cultural allure. For those with an affinity for luxury and fashion, P.C. Hooftstraat beckons with its prestigious high-end boutiques, international brands, and exclusive shops.
Amsterdam Noord, located on the city’s northern shoreline, epitomizes transformation and forward-thinking initiatives. Former industrial sites have been revitalized into creative hubs and cultural spaces, creating an urban playground for locals and visitors alike. Explore the Eye Film Museum, an architectural marvel dedicated to film, and enjoy a movie with a breathtaking city view. Venture to the NDSM Wharf, a former shipyard transformed into a vibrant cultural hotspot, where captivating art installations, live performances, and bustling markets await. For a unique perspective of Amsterdam, hop on a ferry and savor panoramic views of the city skyline.
De Wallen, also known as the Historical Center, showcases the Amsterdam you’d recognize from postcards: picturesque canals, narrow streets, and a colorful, distinct spirit that defines the city. The focal point of this neighborhood is Dam Square, a bustling public square adorned with historical landmarks such as the National Monument, the Royal Palace, and the Nieuwe Kerk, a Gothic-style church dating back to the 15th century. Delve into Amsterdam’s history by visiting the centrally-located De Oude Kerk, the city’s oldest building, surrounded by lively pubs, restaurants, and, yes, even brothels. The Red Light District, a notorious part of the Old Center, may not be for all tourists, but its unique atmosphere and cultural significance make it worth exploring. However, this infamous area of Amsterdam may soon look different, as the city has proposed plans to relocate the legal prostitution work from The Red Light District to suburban “erotic centers.”
Plantage offers a verdant oasis and a serene escape from the urban clamor. As the name suggests, this neighborhood is characterized by lush greenery and a focus on botanical beauty. Majestic trees line the avenues, casting dappled shadows on peaceful sidewalks. The scent of nature fills the air, encouraging you to slow your pace and immerse yourself in tranquility. One of the crown jewels of Plantage is the century-old Artis Royal Zoo, where wildlife thrives amidst beautifully landscaped gardens. The Hortus Botanicus botanical garden invites families to explore lush greenhouses filled with exotic flora and enchanting landscapes. Beyond its natural offerings, Plantage showcases elegant townhouses with grand façades, many dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries. Culture enthusiasts will find themselves spoiled for choice, with several world-class museums in Plantage, including The Jewish Historical Museum, the Dutch Resistance Museum, and Hermitage Amsterdam, which hosts captivating exhibitions from the renowned Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Oud-West is an eclectic enclave renowned for its diverse population and artistic expression. Oud-West has long been a haven for artists, creatives, and those seeking a lively community. The neighborhood’s spirit is contagious, with bustling streets and colorful facades. The diversity is also exemplified in the neighborhood’s eclectic mix of architectural styles, with bustling streets lined with colorful facades. And from cozy cafes serving artisanal coffee and freshly baked pastries to innovative restaurants with international menus, Oud-West’s diverse culinary options cater to all tastes and budgets.
Nieuwmarkt, located in the historical center of Amsterdam, is beloved for its diversity. This multicultural neighborhood is not only eclectic in its array of residents—from longtime locals to students, to artists and business professionals—but also in its international restaurants, bars, and shops that line the streets. Nieuwmarkt’s alternative roots run deep—the neighborhood has a long history of countercultural activism, peaking with squatter movements in the 1970s. Today, this mentality persists as Nieuwmarkt continues to foster a vibrant arts and cultural community with galleries, theaters, and some of the most extensive flea markets in Europe.