Hack the City: the ultimate guide to fun things to do in Amsterdam – Kiwi.com

Local favorites to eat and drink, free things to do and see places off the beaten track, and how to explore Amsterdam like a local: here’s how to hack the city, with Kiwi.com

Amsterdam is known for many things: its canals, narrow townhouses, rich commercial history, but also for its red-light district, cafes, live music scene and nightlife. Whichever side of the city appeals to you, here’s our guide to getting the most out of Amsterdam on a budget.

Explore Amsterdam beyond the city center

The very center of Amsterdam, with its rings of canals, is undeniably pretty. You’ll spend at least a day or two happily lost in its maze of streets, canals and alleyways, but it’s also worth exploring a bit outside the centre.

Albert Cuyp Market is great for slightly cheaper food and drink options — Shutterstock

We will start in De Pijp, south of the centre, and traditionally the home of the working class. Built mostly in the 19th century, it’s a grid of narrow brick townhouses, and life in the area revolves around the Albert Cuyp market (more on that below). The city center is easily walkable and the area is also great for slightly cheaper food and drink options. It’s particularly good for brunches and coffee, with a huge selection of hip places to stop and relax.

To the north and across the River IJ from Central Station, you’ll find Buiksloterham, a former industrial district turned into a new cultural hub. Industrial buildings have been renovated and some stunning new ones have been built, meaning the area is at the cutting edge of design, a totally different perspective to the old town. The Film Institute is here, as well as cinemas, theaters, restaurants and a (literally) underground nightclub.

The Film Institute is here, as well as cinemas, theaters, restaurants and a (literally) underground nightclub.Stroll along the river and see the Film Institute — Shutterstock

The best plan is to pick a direction and go outward. From the green spaces of Vondelpark and Rembrandtpark in the west, industrial heritage and street art in the north, to boulevards and local bars in the south, pick a day and see what you can see. Each region has its own flavor, so find your favorite!

Cyclist in the Vondelpark, AmsterdamVondelpark is a must visit in Amsterdam — Shutterstock

You can even get out of town if you’re up for it: the city of Haarlem, for example, is only 20 minutes away by train, is almost part of Amsterdam, so close, and is a laid-back mix of museums , history, and even (and how Dutch is that?) the De Adriaan windmill, dating from 1778.

Facades of houses in the city of Harleem, AmsterdamWhat does a day trip to the city of Haarlem look like? —Shutterstock

Save on souvenirs

Amsterdam is very touristy, there’s no doubt about it, and that breeds a specific type of tourist tat. You know the kind of stuff: t-shirts that say “I drink, therefore I ‘lady'”, a penis-shaped bong, or just endless rows of little wooden clogs.

So why not buy something really special, something exclusive, something that won’t make you cringe every time you look at it? For this, visit the markets.

trinkets and souvenirs at Waterlooplein marketLose yourself in all the treasures Waterlooplein Market has to offer — Shutterstock

There’s a selection of markets throughout the city selling second-hand pieces, ranging from clothing and accessories to ornaments, records, musical instruments, glasses and plates… you name it, you’ll find it.

The daily market in Waterlooplein offers just about all of this, and all at reasonable prices. Your humble writer unearthed a second-hand wallet for €2 and, delighted with his find, went to one of the bars lining the square for a celebratory beer. I keep the beer label in my new used wallet, so every time I open it I think of that sunny day.

Woman preparing food at Albert Cuyp street market Enjoy great street food at Albert Cuyp Street Market — Shutterstock

The Rue Albert Cuyp market claims to be the largest open-air market in Europe. It’s certainly venerable, dating back to 1905 as a collection of handcarts; today it’s great for fresh food, much of which goes straight to the Surinamese, Moroccan and Turkish restaurants that line the street behind the stalls. It’s also a great place to buy a fresh Stroopwafel, the famous Dutch caramel waffle. It’s a tasty job.

Catch your breath at some of Amsterdam’s best sights

If you need to slow things down a bit (Amsterdam isn’t much of a place to go, but the number of people can get overwhelming), there are a few pockets of calm, some well known, some hidden away. .

Admission to the RijksmuseumThe Rijksmuseum is one of the main tourist attractions, but only a few visit the gardens — Shutterstock

The Rijksmuseum is one of the main tourist attractions with its wonderful collection of art and historical artifacts, but fewer people know about the gardens. Open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and completely free, they are 14,500 square meters of sculpted calm with lawns, ponds, flowers and trees, a 19th-century greenhouse and a transplanted post-war playground from the suburbs, dancing water games and a giant chessboard.

Another of Amsterdam’s famous markets, but not mentioned above, is the Bloemenmarkt, a floating flower market. What an idea! Combining two of the things the Netherlands is famous for – canals and flowers – this explosion of color in the city center (located on the Singel canal between Koningsplein and Muntplein) has been trading daily since 1862 and sells tulips (well sure), as well as flower bulbs, bouquets, individual flowers and, in December, Christmas trees. The bulbs are ready for export, so you can buy a selection to plant your own piece of the Netherlands at home.

Bloemenmarkt, the floating flower market You can’t miss the Bloemenmarkt, the floating flower market — Shutterstock

Finally, the Begijnhof is a hidden square, one of the oldest squares in the city, and pretty much the last vestige of medieval heritage. Indeed, the Wooden House (supposedly because…well) is one of only two wooden structures in the city, and the whole square was built as a Beguinage, a convent-like complex for the lay nuns who have helped the community but have not taken vows. It is now a secluded square, accessed by a gatehouse, and includes the “English Church” (with pulpit panels by Piet Mondrian), a secret Catholic church, unrecognizable as such from the outside, and a selection beautiful houses.

Explore differently

The BegijnhofThe Begijnhof is a hidden square, one of the oldest places in the city and pretty much the last remnant of medieval heritage – Shutterstock

Amsterdam is a nice city to walk around, but it can be a bit confusing. The rings and rings of canals and the cobbled streets are beautiful, no doubt about it, but it also gets a bit confusing when one street looks like another. Did you miss anything great while heading down what you thought was the right road, but looks very, very similar? However, there are ways to orient yourself and have fun at the same time.

Sandemans New Europe runs three-hour walking tours led by experienced and enthusiastic young guides who work for the fun of it (and post-tour guidance, of course!). Starting in Dam Square, they take in all the major sights and are a great way to get your bearings and make a list of things you’d like to come back to later.

woman on a bicycle in AmsterdamThe best way to explore Amsterdam is by bike or on foot — Shutterstock

Not free, but worth the price if you’re looking for something a little different, there’s a bunch of escape room style city games you and your friends can take part in. Mystery town games, for example, lets you choose from two true stories to follow (one about a 17th-century secret society, the other about the Dutch resistance during WWII), and each sends you around the city for two hours , solving puzzles and cracking clues. At €25 per person it’s not cheap, but it is something a little different.

If you don’t feel like embarking on one of the myriad canal tours, you can get in the water for free by boarding one of the public ferries used by locals to cross the IJ River. With boats every few minutes from Central Station as well as other quays and quays around the city, you won’t have to wait long: just join fellow passengers on foot (as well as locals on bikes or scooters) and go up, down, back and forth for absolutely nothing! The GVB (Amsterdam Transport Authority) has a interactive map so you can easily find out when and where to go next.

Discover unusual professions

Another way to find out what makes Amsterdam tick is to take one of the free tours of some of the industries that have sprung up in the city over the years. There’s a lot to be said for investigating things you never really thought of, and there are some great ways to do it.

The Cannabis College may seem a bit stereotypical in Amsterdam, but it’s not the lol-a-thon you might expect. Instead, it’s a non-profit organization that, since 1998, has been researching and teaching about just about every aspect of recreational and medical cannabis. Through workshops, tutorials and B2B services, the College has helped deepen people’s knowledge of the plant and its uses.

For something a little more upscale, try the Gassan Diamond Factory Tour. The diamond industry has been bringing wealth to Amsterdam for almost 450 years, and never has the glittering stuff been so interesting as on this 1-hour tour around one of the city’s most famous institutions. You’ll learn about the four Cs (carat, color, clarity, cut) and watch the skillful diamond cutters and polishers in action, before having the chance to purchase your very own jewel. Alright, it’s Hack the City: you’re probably not buying diamonds. But the visit is still worth it.

The Amsterdam Architecture Foundation (or ARCAM, to give it its Dutch acronym) is the place to see exhibitions of the most modern urban design. The staff are friendly and helpful, and there are some great resources such as city maps that highlight buildings from different eras, in selected styles, or can be seen on some tram routes. Use them to take your own self-guided tours or check out current exhibits. Much of it is free; even temporary exhibitions only cost around €4 per person.

So, as you can see, there is are ways to see the best of Amsterdam without breaking the bank when you hack the city, with Kiwi.com.

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About James K. Bonnette

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