The 30 best Amsterdam bars and pubs

It’s not all Heineken in the Dutch capital – discover the best places for cocktails, craft ales and wines

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© Kim van der Leden

Bars in Amsterdam come in all shapes and sizes. From grand cafés to hole-in-the-wall proeverijen (tasting houses), the café/bar is central to Dutch life. Forget the pub crawl: in Amsterdam you settle in for the night in a neighbourhood establishment that functions as home-from-home, off-site office, canteen, debating society and sometimes even nightclub all rolled into one.


With Heineken's old brewery now a theme park and Amstel having long since moved elsewhere, the two suppliers most associated with the Amsterdam pub scene aren't made here anymore. The brewers that remain, albeit small by comparison, are well worth seeking out, however. A good place to start sampling is the canalside De Bekeerde Suster, situated in a building with a long history of beer making. Amsterdam's oldest operational brewery, the windmill-side Brouwerij 't IJ, opened in 1985 is part of a new wave that has sparked a resurgence in Dutch beer production.


Throughout all of this, the traditional bruin café (brown café) has demonstrated its staying power - hurrah! - with beer being the main tipple of choice. For something stronger, try jenever: jong is like a lighter, more refreshing gin, while oud is darker and fuller flavoured. Among these no-frills, nicotine-stained boozers, you'll also find speciality wine bars where you can quaff in design-sensitive surrounds, and top-flight cocktails mixed by Holland's finest bartenders. Proost!


Barco

  • Critics choice

A repurposed canal barge moored at Oosterdok across from the public library, Barco has 360-degree city views, affordable food, live bands performing in the hold (‘a band on a ship!’) and sun-trap terrace, it’s easy to become pretty damn smug about this one.

  1. Oosterdokskade 10, Waterfront & North
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Bloemers

  • Critics choice

A justifiably popular neighbourhood bar on the eastern fringes of the Pijp, the dark wood interior is enlivened with old posters and chandeliers. A kitchen pumps out well-priced international classics and there's a charming summer terrace.

  1. Hemonystraat 70
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Bubbles & Wines

  • Critics choice

This long, low-ceilinged room has the feel of a wine cellar, albeit one with mood lighting and banquettes. There are more than 50 wines available by the glass and 180 by the bottle, and accompanying posh nosh (Asetra caviar, truffle cheese, foie gras). Wine flights are

  1. Nes 37
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Café Brandon

  • Critics choice

When the previous owners hung up their pinnies in the '80s after 40 years behind the bar, they sealed up their café, retired upstairs and eventually passed away. Twenty years later, the new owners reopened this ghost bar just as they found it; furniture, photos,

  1. Keizersgracht 157
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Café Chris

  • Critics choice

Not much has changed since 1624 at the oldest bar in town, where builders from the Westerkerk would come to receive their pay after a hard day's graft. Now local workers still come to unwind in unpretentious surroundings, adorned with darts trophies and other

  1. Bloemstraat 42
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Café de Dokter

  • Critics choice

Definitely the smallest bar in Amsterdam at just a handful of square metres, the Doctor is also one of the oldest, dishing out the cure for whatever ails you since 1798. Centuries of character and all kinds of gewgaws are packed into the highly compact space. Whisky

  1. Rozenboomsteeg 4
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Café de Pels

  • Critics choice

The Nine Streets are littered with characterful bars, and this one is a lovely, old-style, tobacco-stained example with an intellectual bent. Once a Provo hangout, now writers, journalists and political groups regularly meet to chew the fat, and it's a nice spot even

  1. Huidenstraat 25
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Café de Pijp

  • Critics choice

Popular with the neighbourhood's more affluent young people, there's a mod-retro feel here - lacquered walls, 1970s lamps, school chairs - and weekends are livened up with DJs spinning tunes to separate the party animals from the meek and mild. There's a full menu,

  1. Ferdinand Bolstraat 17-19
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Café Soundgarden

  • Critics choice

A dirty old rockers bar where musos, journos and everyone else who refuses to grow up gets smashed in one big, sloppy melée. The soundtrack is the entire back-catalogue of classic alternative pop, often from DJs and bands, and sometimes accompanied by (inexpert)

  1. Marnixstraat 164-166
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Caffe Oslo

  • Critics choice

So slick a bar comes as a surprise plonked canalside in an unremarkable residential area not far from the Vondelpark. Inside it's all blonde wood, cool, creamy colours and a beautiful crazy-paving floor. Punters are slightly older, style-hungry locals who come for

  1. Sloterkade 1A
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Hannekes Boom

  • Critics choice

With a huge terrace and its own haven with a view of the harbour, the Boom rates as one of the city’s hottest hot spots – even though it was made of scrap lumber. Not only street art friendly, it’s also a treat for kids.

  1. Dijksgracht 4, Waterfront & North
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Hiding in Plain Sight

  • Rated as: 4/5
  • Critics choice

On a corner in the north-eastern outskirts of the Jodenbuurt, cocktail gem HPS lives up to its name. Upon entry, the small ground-level bar and cramped seating area don’t seem to offer much more than the staff’s smiles. Up a flight of steps, however, a luxuriantly

  1. Rapenburg 18
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Lellebel

  • Critics choice

Lellebel is a tiny drag bar where the cross-dressing clientele provide all the entertainment themselves . Though most people will be found in drag, admirers and friends are welcome and the atmosphere is friendly. Entertainment runs all week: Tuesday is karaoke night,

  1. Utrechtsestraat 4
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Lion Noir

  • Critics choice

Inside, the velvet and artfully weather-beaten leather furnishings, stuffed birds and (yes) ornamental dog skeletons, combined with the genetically perfect staff, give the impression of an Abercrombie & Fitch shoot curated by Tim Burton. Outside, the terrace here is

  1. Reguliersdwarsstraat 28, Canals
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Mata Hari

  • Critics choice

Named after the exotic but tricksy Dutch courtesan, it’s appropriate that this new bar, restaurant and lounge has brought a touch of comfort and class to the Red Light District. Sympathetic lighting, retro furniture and an open kitchen serving dishes such as

  1. Oudezijds Achterburgwal 22, Old Centre
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Papeneiland

  • Critics choice

A wonderful spot for a drink and a chinwag in a beautiful Delft-tiled bar. A definite talking-point is the café's fascinating history: apparently, there's a tunnel that runs under the canal that, when Catholicism was outlawed in the 17th century, secretly delivered

  1. Prinsengracht 2
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Prik

  • Critics choice

Queer or not - Prik is hot. Indeed, true to the bar's slogan this venue attracts a diverse crowd who enjoy its delicious snacks, groovy sounds and special events such as the After Shopping Cocktail Sale and Speeddate evenings.

  1. Spuistraat 109
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Proust

  • Critics choice

Still trendy after all these years, and great for a market pit-stop or bar crawl kick-start. Inside is sleek and pared down in style - like the punters. If full, try Finch next door; on warm days, both bars' terraces merge into one convivial whole to lend an atmosphere

  1. Noordermarkt 4
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Roest

  • Critics choice

Named ‘rust’ as a nod to its industrial setting, Roest has plenty of ‘middle-of-nowhere graffiti-covered’ credentials, and its line-up of ever-changing theme parties – not to mention the expansive terrace and beach – keep even the most fickle trendsters entertained.

  1. Jacob Bontiusplaats, entry via Czar Peterstraat 213, Oost
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Soho

  • Critics choice

Looking like a cross between a British boozer and an English country house - complete with leather chesterfields and roaring fires - Soho attracts a young, fashionable and good-looking bunch of men who fill every nook and cranny of this sprawling bar. There's a nightly

  1. Reguliersdwarsstraat 36
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't Arendsnest

  • Critics choice

A temple to the humble hop, the 'Eagle's Nest', in a lovely canal house, sells only Dutch beer. Many of the customers are real-ale types, but even amateurs will enjoy the 350 standard brews and 250 seasonal, from cheeky house ale Herengracht 90 to Texelse Skuumkoppe.

  1. Herengracht 90
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't Blauwe Theehuis

  • Critics choice

One of the few landmarks which you can nestle down inside with a beer, HJAB Baanders' extraordinary 1930s teahouse - a sort of UFO-hat hybrid that manages to confuse as many people as it charms - is the choice spot for fair-weather drinking. In summer there are DJs and

  1. Vondelpark 5
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't Smalle

  • Critics choice

One of the most scenic terraces on one of the prettiest canals, it's no surprise that waterside seats are snared early in the day, so patience - or an alarm clock in good working order - are essential. Inside it's extremely cute, too, with gleaming brass fixtures

  1. Egelantiersgracht 12
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Tara

  • Critics choice

Never overdoing the Irish theme, this multi-roomed bar has many faces: the Nes side is loungey; the Rokin side is full of rowdy, football-watching Brits; and the middle is a snug conversation pit with sofas, an open fire and even a pulpit. There's the black stuff,

  1. Rokin 85-89
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Twee Zwaantjes

  • Critics choice

Oom-pah-pah, oom-pah-pah: that's how it goes at this salt-of-the-earth bar. It's relatively quiet during the week, but weekends are real swinging singalong affairs, with revellers booming out tear-jerkers about love, sweat and the Westerkerk. All together now: 'Op de

  1. Prinsengracht 114
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Twenty Third Bar

  • Critics choice

On the 23rd floor of Hotel Okura, this cocktail bar offers fantastic views of the Pijp and the compact Amsterdam School architecture of the Rivierenbuurt. Be prepared to pay for the view - and the 17 different varieties of champagne on offer.

  1. Ferdinand Bolstraat 333
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Vive la Vie

  • Critics choice

The walls of this small and basic bar just off Rembrandtplein are lined with pictures of female Hollywood icons. Under the watchful gaze of Elizabeth Taylor, a varied bunch of lesbians (and their friends) drink and dance to mainstream and Dutch hits. It gets packed

  1. Amstelstraat 7
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Vyne

  • Critics choice

A tasteful - in every sense of the word - addition to the city's drinking scene. The gorgeous, slimline interior is dominated by an amazing wall of wine, and emphasis is put on pairing drink with nibbles; for example, Weissburgunder with fine sausage, or smoked eel and

  1. Prinsengracht 411
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Wildschut

  • Critics choice

A stunning example of Amsterdam School architecture, this elegant semi-circular place puts the 'grand' into grand café and drips with nouveau detail. Drink and food choices mirror the upmarket surroundings, as does the clientele, which include flush locals, loud

  1. Roelof Hartplein 1-3
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Wynand Fockink

  • Critics choice

It's standing room only at this historic tasting-house. Hidden behind the Krasnapolsky, unchanged since 1679, this has been a meeting place for Freemasons since the beginning; past visitors include Churchill and Chagall. The menu of liqueurs and jenevers (many

  1. Pijlsteeg 31
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