Lay of the Land
“Some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but in truth it is a city of freedom. And in freedom, most people find sin.”~John Green
Amsterdammers are a thoroughly laid-back bunch, and visiting there often feels as if you’re joining a cool, city-wide party. There’s a ton to see in terms of art and history, with such compelling museums as the Rembrandt House, the Anne Frank Huis and the Van Gogh Museum as well as the renowned Rijksmusem. But you’ll have the most fun blending in to the local scene, by bicycle or on foot. Here are the neighborhoods worth knowing:
The Old Center and its surrounding Canal Belt constitute the core of the city. While certain areas are commercial and charmless, there are plenty of picturesque lanes, quiet canals and breathtaking architecture to see as well. Avoid the area around Central Station, lined with souvenir shops and fast food chain restaurants. The most appealing area is the Nine Streets quarter (where the Hotel Pulitzer, Hoxton and Dylan are located), which boasts lovely boutiques and restaurants. Some of the prettiest streets to amble down are those that line the canals of Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht and Herengracht.
Centered around the chaotic Albert Cupymarkt outdoor market, Amsterdam’s Latin Quarter is lively and diverse. The area was originally built as working-class housing, but now its narrow lanes are home to young professionals as well as an endless selection of hip cafés, ethnic food restaurants and concept stores, including Hutspot, a destinations in and of itself.
One of the prettiest, most authentic neighborhoods in Amsterdam is the Jordaan, located west of the city center near the canal belt. In the ’70s and ’80s, the Jordaan, up to then primarily a district where workers and immigrants lived, began drawing a large number of artists and designers. Today it is one of the most coveted—and expensive—residential areas, although pockets have resisted gentrification. There are tons of cute boutiques, especially along Haarlemmerstraat, and restaurants like Toscanini and Winkel43 (famous for its apple pie) .
Beyond the Canal Belt is the Museum District, home to Amsterdam’s most famous temples of art and culture. Here you’ll find the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, the Stedelijk and the Concertgebouw. Traditionally, visitors preferred to stay in the canal belt, but with the opening of the hip Conservatorium Hotel, some culture hounds are choosing to sleep here. Also nearby is the leafy Vondelpark, Amsterdam’s equivalent to Central Park.
Across the IJ river from Central Station and reached by a five-minute, no-car ferry, this formerly industrial neighborhood is in the midst of gentrification, although it is still quite gritty. Attractions include the EYE Film Institute, A’DAM Toren (the rooftop swing is the highest in Europe) and some fun waterfront restaurants and beach clubs.