For the last three months the Dutch capital city of Amsterdam has been my home. During this time I’ve mastered the cycling lanes, navigated my way around the canals and developed quite a taste for Bitterballen. The best part about living here has enabled me to explore and experience one of my favourite European cities like a local. I’d now like to share my top tips with you so that you too can experience Amsterdam like a local.
1. Stay in an apartment. Hotels in Amsterdam are notoriously expensive and often offer only small, pokey rooms in out of the way locations. Staying in a holiday apartment is one of the most affordable ways to see the city and experience it like a local. Recently I was recently lucky enough to take a nosey inside some of HouseTrip‘s short-term rental apartments in Amsterdam and these were my favourites.
This beautifully decorated two bedroom apartment couldn’t be in a better spot on Keizersgracht, one of the three main canals encircling Amsterdam’s Old Town. It has tall ceilings and beautiful views of the canal below.
And this stylish apartment in a striking building designed by an award winning architect is ideally located to access both central Amsterdam, Jordaan and the up and coming areas in North Amsterdam. It also delivers beautiful waterside views from the moment you wake up…
HouseTrip specialise in helping you find and securely book short term rental and holiday accommodation. Have a look at these and HouseTrip’s other apartments on their website.
2. Get on your bike.
You can’t expect to experience Amsterdam like a local without getting on two wheels. With bike hire shops scattered all over the city, I recommend hiring a bike for the duration of your stay as you’ll be surprised how much you can see once you get used to the cycling lanes and remember to stay to the right. Bikes are an incredibly important part of Amsterdam culture and the excellent cycling infrastructure is catered to give cyclists more rights and a lot of safety.
3. Eat out and eat unusually.
Amsterdam’s best kept secret is its restaurant scene. From cheap eats to fine dining you can find it all in the maze of streets in between canals. I’m starting to think the locals are the reason that it’s stayed a secret for so long, as Amsterdam’s restaurants are busy most days of the week and are just as likely to be full of locals than tourists. There’s been a recent trend in Amsterdam for more interesting and unusual restaurants like Everything On A Stick, which literally serves everything skewered and cooked on a stick, the Garlic Queen, which as you may have guessed features garlic in every dish and there’s also the very popular Proef, which literally means “experiment” in English and this restaurant does its best to live up to its name by designing meals and drinks that are as beautiful as they are unusual like glasses of champagne full of rose petals.
4. Explore the suburbs.
Though there is much to see and do in Amsterdam’s Red Light District and the surrounding parts of Amsterdam Old Town, there is equally as much to enjoy in the central suburbs of De Pijp, Amsterdam’s Old South and Amsterdam’s Old West. Furthermore this is where the tourist to local ratio starts to tip in favour of Amsterdam residents who enjoy the coffee shops (the ones that actually do sell coffee!) and restaurants that are scattered around. My top tip is to get off the beaten track to explore the residential roads where there are many good pubs and bars to be found on street corners like The Chocolate Bar in De Pijp or L’Affiche in Amsterdam’s Old West.
5. Enjoy the other parks.
Amsterdam has many lush, green parks and open spaces to enjoy. While the popular Vondelpark is worth seeing, it can often become overrun with both tourists and locals, particularly at the entrance near Leidseplein. The locals often seek a more quiet green experience in Amsterdam’s equally as pleasant parks that are all but ignored by visitors.
Beatrixpark is a pretty park full of flowers and small lakes to walk around or picnic by and Rembrandtpark is the perfect green space to race your friends on your bikes.
6. To market, to market.
In every corner of Amsterdam there is a lively daily market taking place where you can not only buy local organic foods but also a new outfit or some antiques. This is a much more interesting locals shopping experience than braving the chaos and “same old” High Street shops of Kalverstaat. My favourite markets are the Nordermarkt on a Saturday morning as it combines delicious farmers’ vegetables with a few random vintage clothes stalls.
For the ultimate rummage head to Waterlooplein where there is a huge often chaotic but always colourful flea market where you can buy anything from 1980 shell suits in any colour you desire to vintage cameras from all decades of the last century.
7. Enjoy a tourist free coffee shop.
After January 2013 it will be illegal for tourists to purchase cannabis products in Amsterdam’s famous coffee shops. While Amsterdam locals have mixed feelings about this change in the law, there’s no denying that many of the coffee shops in Amsterdams are solely there for the foreigners who want to enjoy the Dutch’s liberal approach to the drug. There are, however, a few coffee shops that remain peaceful places frequented by locals.
Tucked away down a side street in Jordaan, Paradox coffee shop looks more like an art gallery or a hippy bar that should be on a beach in Thailand. Here you will almost certainly be surrounded by locals reading books or picking up a slice of space cake, which has been described as some of the best in the city. Take some time to admire the art work on the walls as it changes regularly.
Locals love Amsterdam’s canals as much as tourists and you’ll frequently see Dutchies eating their sandwiches by the side of the canal during their lunch hour or even setting out a makeshift table and chairs for dinner. In fact grabbing a chair to sit outside your house or by a canal when the sun is shining is a very normal thing to do so feel free to pull up a pew next to them and watch the world go by.
9. Captain your own boat and the canals.
For further canal worship consider hiring a boat to tour some of Amsterdam’s 165 canals. It may seem like a touristy thing to do but it’s really the way that locals play, particularly on Queen’s Day (their national day of celebration) or simply just because the sun is shining. From party boats to a small tin motorboat for two you can find more information about hiring a boat here.
10. Learn how to do this…
P.S. It’s much harder than the Amsterdam locals make it look. I still have the bruises to show for it.
All photos by Frankie or HouseTrip except Girl on Bike and Canal Boats for Queens Day, by AmsterSam, Eating out in Amsterdam by Michiel2005, Paradox by Vera Green and Picnic on Canal by M-AL. Video by AmsterdamizeTV.
This post was written by Frankie Thompson who was a Travelette from 2012 – 2015. Originally from London, UK, Frankie was nomadic for several years before settling in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, where she lives with her Australian partner and baby boy. She spends her time buying vintage dresses, riding a rusty old bike around the canals and writing books inspired by her travels. Frankie blogs about travel, writing and motherhood at As the Bird flies blog.Tweet