Home City Guide: Amsterdam Amsterdam Basics Insider’s Guide to Amsterdam
Last update on November 18, 2019
Written by Karin Engelbrecht

Looking to avoid the tourist traps in Amsterdam and experience the city like an insider? Find the roads less travelled with our local’s guide to Amsterdam.

Whether you’re still staying in a hotel or you’ve settled into a short-stay apartment, you’ve been in Amsterdam long enough to have checked-off all the mainstream must-sees, like wandering around the Big Three art museums, roaming the Red Light District and stuffing your face with stroopwafels. Perhaps you’ve treated yourself to a meal at one of Amsterdam’s better-known restaurants? You’ve certainly ventured into a bruin café or two. Yet, somehow, you’re not mixing with the locals, and it’s time to change that.

Element Amsterdam Hotel, which offers studio and one bedroom furnished suites in south of the city, shares their insider tips for getting out of your expat comfort zone and tracking down the real Amsterdam.

Element Amsterdam Hotel

The Element Amsterdam Hotel, with 160 studio and one-bedroom suites, is located in the south of Amsterdam. Close to both the RAI Convention Center and the Zuidas business district, they offer a cosy yet upscale stay in Amsterdam, while also offering great access to all the best restaurants, bars and shopping centers. Get a special 15% discount on stays longer than a week or a 30% discount on stays longer than a month by using the code S9299.

Grab a beer with the natives in Amsterdam

Break the ice with Amsterdammers by getting your “Dutch courage” on at one of the city’s many cafés and bars. One of the trendiest places to try the traditional local liquor combination known as the kopstootje (a shot glass of genever with a beer chaser) is the aptly-named Kopstootbar but if you prefer a more time-honoured setting, try tiny 18th-century tasting house Proeflokaal De Ooievaar.

While the tourists zig to the famous windmill-based Brouwerij ‘t IJ, zag like a local by visiting the tasting house of one of Amsterdam’s quirkiest beer brands, Oedipus Brewery, where you’ll find 12 rotating draft beers in a creative, industrial space with live music. Try pink-labelled Mannenliefde (“male love”), which placed second in the World Beer Cup’s Specialty Saison category in 2018. To complete your education on Dutch brews, head to cosy Proeflokaal ‘t Arendsnest where you’ll find over 100 Dutch beers on offer.

Dine like a local in Amsterdam

Think of Dutch food and what springs to mind? If you haven’t been here very long, probably herring, pancakes, stamppot and stroopwafels. But, have you discovered popular street foods like frikandellen (sausage-shaped meatballs), kaassoufflés (battered and deep-fried cheese) and croquettes with draadjesvlees (beef stew) yet? You’ll find very good versions at Par Hasard.

Surprisingly, there are still only a few restaurants worth recommending that serve Dutch cuisine, including stylish veg-led Michelin-starred Bolenius where the show-stopper is clay-baked beetroot; photogenic Lt. Cornelis with its convivial shared-dining concept; and homely canal-side Restaurant Greetje, where the grilled sandwich with Frisian sugared bread, duck terrine and homemade apple syrup is a must-order.

Recently-opened Restaurant Floreyn where typical Dutch flavours are “restyled for today’s gourmet” in dishes like red gurnard with crab poffertjes (small yeasted buckwheat flour pancakes), sea lavender and antiboise, is a fabulous addition to this tried-and-tested list.

Some of the most exciting foods can be found in the Netherlands’ post-colonial imports. For authentic rijsttafel (a feast of small dishes from across the Indonesian archipelago) visit Tempo Doeloe and for real-deal broodje pom (a Surinamese sandwich made with baked arrowleaf elephant ear root, which tastes so much better than it sounds) head to Tjijn’s Exotische Broodjes.

For an up to date overview of what’s happening on the restaurant and bar scene in Amsterdam, check out Mokumista, a new podcast that covers food trends, restaurant reviews, bar recommendations, chef interviews and more.

Find the real Amsterdam at local markets

For food shopping, the most famous street market in town is the Albert Cuyp Market, but in recent years this century-old market has become clogged-up with cheap clothing stalls –  though the flower, fish and chicken stalls are still worth a visit.

You’ll find better value and a superior selection of stalls at the Dappermarkt in Oost and the Ten Kate Market in West. If, however, you’re looking for the best artisan products and organic produce Amsterdam has to offer, head instead to the Noordermarkt Farmer’s Market or the lesser-known ZuiderMRKT, both on Saturdays.

Shop like an Amsterdammer

If you’re hunting for new clothing instead, there’s no better way to go native than by wearing the latest Dutch fashion brands.

You’ll notice a local leaning towards denim and cool-casual streetwear – this isn’t a city of suits – and you’ll find a great selection in the 9 Streets shopping area, where Amsterdam-based brands like Scotch & Soda (M/F/K), Denham the Jean Maker (M/F), Kings of Indigo (M/F), Pure Brands multi-brand store (F), Fabienne Chapot (F, K), and Rain Couture (M/F) are certainly worth checking out.

If you are in the market for a good suit, however, head Zuid for shops like Oger, Suitsupply and Salle Privée.

Get out of the Centre of Amsterdam

It’s all too easy to be seduced by Amsterdam’s picturesque 17th-century canal ring and the quirky jumbled old Jordaan streets or to stubbornly stick to the well-worn neon-lit paths of the Rokin, Dam Square and the Red Light District, with a side-step south to visit the museums, perhaps. But in such a compact city, you needn’t venture too far to discover the “real Amsterdam”. In fact, set out in any direction and you’ll find plenty to explore.

Take a ferry north to visit the edgy artistic former docklands known as the NDSM Wharf, now home to a host of festivals, dance parties, markets, and a plethora of urban beach cafés with an industrial flair.

Or cross the Singel westwards, and you’re in trendy Oud-West, where De Hallen is a must-visit for lovers of food, film, indie fashion, crafts and architecture – and do grab a coffee at nearby Lot 61 Coffee Roasters!  Meanwhile, Westerpark, a short walk from Jordaan, is perhaps Amsterdam’s most happening park with its green grasslands (perfect for a picnic!) and cultural playground Westergasfabriek, where there’s always something going on, from big international events such as Amsterdam Fashion Week or Unseen Photo Festival, to regular local food and artisan markets.

Or, take any bridge east across the Amstel river to discover pretty Plantage with its popular Artis Royal Zoo and fast-gentrifying Oost with its interesting Ethnographic Museum of the Tropics, recently renovated Oosterpark and hip restaurants, cafes and (coffee) bars, many of which are situated around the Beukenplein.

Enjoy Amsterdam’s classical and alternative culture

Pop and rock lovers shouldn’t miss milk factory-turned-pop podium Melkweg, which attracts 447,000 visitors a year with club nights, concerts, exhibitions, film and theatre, or iconic former church Paradiso, where artists as varied as Coldplay, Miriam Makeba and Arctic Monkeys have performed.

Jazz lovers must make a beeline for the acoustically-blessed Bimhuis, while classical music aficionados will want to experience the world-famous acoustics of the Royal Concertgebouw first-hand.

If you’re a film buff, you’ll certainly get your kicks at the EYE Filmmuseum, but if you simply want to catch a rom-com, you can do so in the gorgeous Art Deco Pathé Tuschinski theatre. Or go all-out with the latest superhero movie at the IMAX at the Pathé Arena, next to the Johan Cruijff Arena – the largest football stadium in the Netherlands and home to Amsterdam’s AFC Ajax football team.