The capital city of the Netherlands is breathtakingly beautiful, and full of hidden gems and serene hideaways – and it’s well worth a visit; you just need enough time!
Where to go
Amsterdam has outdoor markets scattered all over the city – just make sure you check when they open. Some open for a weekend every month, others are open every Sunday.
To visit the biggest flea market in Europe, head to IJ-Hallen – a short (and free!) ferry ride from Amsterdam Central Station – which opens for one weekend every month. The two industrial warehouses by the NDSM Wharf are packed with vendors selling everything from home accessories to 70s era Chanel clutches. It’s a half-day trip (at least) because there are also great outdoor cafes where you can relax, and amazing live music to chill out to.
For something a little cosier, head to the square outside Noorderkerk, a Protestant church nestled between Noordermarkt and Prinsengracht streets. There, an outdoor market springs up every Saturday to sell fresh produce, vintage fashion, handicrafts, and pretty keepsakes. It’s a great place to hang with the locals, and grab a few souvenirs for yourself or your friends back home; they’re nothing like the ones people sell elsewhere to rip off tourists. You won’t find a “I<3 Amsterdam” T-shirt here, but you might find an enviro-bag made of recycled materials, like bicycle tyres. Pretty apt for a city where cycling is one of the most popular ways of getting around.
What to eat
While you’re at Noodermarkt, stop by Winkel 43, an institution in Amsterdam best known for its delicious apple pie. Grab a table by the window, or sit outside if the weather permits, and while away an hour or three people-watching as you nibble on apple pie, and sip a fragrant cup of mint tea.
What’s that, you say? We have mint tea in Hong Kong! Yes, we do – but in a tea bag. In Amsterdam, mint tea is literally hot water poured over a handful of mint leaves. Utterly refreshing.
Feeling a little adventurous? Head down Westerstraat (“straat” means “street”) from Winkel 43 and have a seat at Cafe De Blaffende Vis, and order an ossenworst sandwich, whose star ingredient is a raw beef sausage that originated in Amsterdam. It’s sweet, slightly tangy, and delicious with the pickled onions and gherkins it’s served with.
If you do find yourself exploring the tourist traps – and it’s not a terrible idea because that’s where all the gorgeous canals are – make sure you stop at De Laatste Kruimel (“The Last Crumb”) and treat yourself to a coffee and a slice of pie, cake, or pastry. This place is always packed, and for good reason.
What to seek out
Culture vultures or history nuts, head to Begijnhof, a hofje (courtyard surrounded by houses) hidden away in the heart of the city. Begijnhof dates back to the 14th century, and was built as a sanctuary for the Begijntjes, a group of unmarried Catholic women who lived quietly without monastic vows. The houses in this hidden nook are still homes for single women, and is still a pocket of serenity in an otherwise bustling city. The entrance is easy to miss, even though it’s in the middle of Spui. Look for The American Book Centre (also worth a visit) and, keeping it to your left, walk a few steps away, and the doorway to Begijnhof is in a red-brick building two houses away from the bookstore.
For a quiet hour-long getaway, stop by the Kattenkabinet (The Cat Cabinet). It’s a small museum featuring all things cats, not far from Spui, full of artwork featuring or dedicated to felines. If you’re into refined museum experiences, you won’t like this. It’s more of a place of tribute to cats than a sophisticated gallery. But if you’re a cat person, like me, it’s a sweet little museum to visit.
Edited by Ginny Wong