It’s no secret that Amsterdam is a beautiful city filled with unparalleled arts, culture, and night life. That’s why millions of tourists flock there every year, and ‘over-tourism’ is becoming a hot button issue.
However despite the recent surge in tourism, it’s still possible to experience Amsterdam without the crowds.
The trick to enjoying Amsterdam while avoiding hoards of other tourists is to learn from the locals and seek out their secret spots. So we’ve gathered a list of interesting off-the-beaten-path locations that locals love.
Hidden Secrets In and Around Amsterdam
Museums in Amsterdam
Museum Het Grachtenhuis
Located along the Herengracht canal is a museum where you can learn all about one of Amsterdam’s signature features. And the best part? No tour groups or crowds!
Museum Het Grachtenhuis (aka the Museum of Canals) offers a permanent year-round exhibition that brings Amsterdam’s history and canals to life. You can find maps and 3D models outlining the great city and its watery passages.
The museum also cycles through new exhibits every couple of months, often featuring the work of Dutch artists and architects. Stop by during the summer for a tour of their gardens.
Anyone who’s fascinated with medical oddities is sure to enjoy the Vrolik Museum. It is named after anatomy professor Gerardus Vrolik (1755-1859) and displays his and his son’s extensive collection of anatomical specimens and skeletons.
If you’re one to get queasy while watching medical shows, enter at your own risk. The specimens show all kinds of extraordinary genetic mutations and birth defects in preserved foetuses including Siamese twins and cyclopean babies.
You may even find a University of Amsterdam medical student researching among the visitors.
Museum Ons’ Lieve Heer Op Solder
Back in the 17th century when Protestant William of Orange ruled over the Dutch Republic, there was a policy that allowed the practice of any religion as long as it was behind closed doors.
As such, many churches discreetly sprung up in houses across Amsterdam.
One of the few surviving examples of a hidden church is found in three conjoined canal houses in the heart of the Red Light District. In the attic is a Catholic church restored to look just as stunning as it was in the 1600s.
It still holds Catholic masses every Sunday, and you can tour it as a museum every other day of the week.
Image credit: Gary Campbell-Hall (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr
Amsterdam’s Secret Drinking Holes
If you look under an unassuming bridge in Vondelpark, you may just find your new favorite hangout. This former Cold War bomb shelter was converted into a nightclub in the 1960s, hosting an array of musicians such as Pink Floyd.
Although the club may have closed in the late 70s, it’s still a great lesser known place to catch a concert, art exhibit, movie, or dinner. Journey a little further into the bunker and you’ll find the Bunkerbier micro beer brewery.
Xtracold Icebar Amsterdam
Another unique drinking experience is going to the Xtracold Icebar where you can sip your drinks surrounded entirely by ice.
The room is kept at a chilling -10º C (or 14º F) to preserve the massive 60-ton natural ice bar. Ice also coats the walls, floors, and columns.
Purchasing one ticket will get you three drinks, two of which are served in glasses made out of ice. They offer a variety of cocktails, hard liquors, wines, beer, and non-alcoholic drinks.
Image credit: Benjamin Horn (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr
On Amsterdam’s Singel canal floats a boat that has been saving stray and displaced cats since 1968.
Although they have fairly limited open hours for the public, you can still get on board and visit with the cats and their hard-working volunteers every day of the week.
It’s completely free to visit however, since they are a non-profit organization, donations are gratefully accepted.
This green oasis is the perfect mini escape from hectic city life. The botanical garden, established in 1638, is one of the oldest in Europe.
Originally, it grew medicinal plants in an effort to combat the plague. Today, many varieties of medical plants still grow there along with a range of tropical plants, herbs, and trees.
The gardens offer guided tours, exhibitions, and activities for both children and adults. Also be sure to check out the café which has a plethora of locally produced breakfast and lunch dishes as well as coffee, tea, and alcoholic drinks.
Image credit: Juanedc / CC BY 2.0 / via Flickr
For off the beaten path fun, Powerzone Amsterdam is your best bet. They house three exciting activities all in the same vicinity: laser tag, black light bowling, and glow in the dark miniature golf.
Order up a round of beers from the bar for friends as you knock down pins. You can also relax afterwards at the BBQ where you can grill up meat and vegetables right on your dining table.
De Otter Windmill
If you want to spot a windmill while in Amsterdam, head down the Buysbrug sidewalk. Although it isn’t open to the public, you can still get a great picture of the gorgeous historic saw mill.
If you can believe it, this is the last saw mill remaining in all of Amsterdam. It was originally built in 1631 and was restored in the 1990s.
It’s classic Dutch design will give you the perfect parting image for your trip. It’s way less crowded compared to places like the Zaanse Schans, which is not actually part of Amsterdam.
Image credit: drooderfiets (CC BY-SA 2.0) via Flickr
Nearby Cities: Weesp & Haarlem
A 15-minute train ride away from Amsterdam can give you a taste of the rural side of the Netherlands.
The small 12th century town of Weesp along the De Vecht river was once a hub of trade. It gained popularity for its breweries, porcelain, and chocolate, but is often overlooked by tourists. Be sure to try their famous Weesper Mop cookie.
Another lesser known gem is Haarlem, which is home to over 14 museums, as well as some great canal cruises. Its historic city center is lovely for shopping, biking, dining, and wandering through art galleries.