Where to stay in Amsterdam

Trying to figure out where to stay in Amsterdam? Here’s our guide to the five coolest neighbourhoods in the city.
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Anas Balushi
By Derek Robertson |
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In many ways, Amsterdam is the perfect example of a modern European city. Well connected, business-friendly and culturally rich, it combines northern European efficiency with a joie de vivre more commonly associated with the south, so it’s no surprise that the many people who come here for work end up putting down roots. That’s led to a diverse and tolerant population, a melting pot of nationalities that gives the city its cosmopolitan vibe.

 

And despite being small and compact, Amsterdam still boasts several distinct neighbourhoods, each with their own charm, personality, and quirks. There’s the traditional, Old World elegance of Jordaan and Oud-West, the youthful shabby chic of De Pijp, the somewhat seedy centre, and up and coming Oost, a now-trendy area that’s seen huge regeneration in just a few short years. Wherever you base yourself in the city, there are delights and pleasures around every corner.

Where To Stay In Amsterdam

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Jordaan

Jordaan

Originally built in the seventeenth century to house immigrants and the working class, the area has since been transformed into the most expensive and upscale neighbourhood in the city. Full of elegant townhouses and spacious apartments, Jordaan is dotted with art galleries, expensive boutiques, and classy restaurants catering to the moneyed crowd lucky enough to live here. But it’s not all extravagance and luxury; there are plenty of charming little stores and eateries here that attract younger crowds who live a little further west. If a sedate pace and upscale lifestyle is what you crave, this is the place to be.

EAT

Stamppot is the closest thing the Dutch have to a national dish, and Moeders, a quirky restaurant adorned with photos of customers’ actual mothers, is the place to try it. The combination of mashed potato, cabbage, bacon, and sausage is quite a plateful, and while there’s plenty of other hearty, traditional fare on offer here, all portions are huge, so make sure you bring an appetite.

DRINK

Underneath a multi-storey car park might not seem the best location for a bar, but Waterkant, a hidden waterfront gem, bucks the trend. Best enjoyed in warmer weather, they have a glorious, spacious terrace that’s lit up with fairy lights. By day, it’s the perfect place to watch canal traffic sail serenely by, but it gets fairly boisterous at night as a hip young crowd come to party.

DO

The Anne Frank Museum is a moving, sombre testament to both the horrors of World War Two and the indomitable human instinct for survival. The seventeenth-century canal house where her family lived and worked – and later hid – has been beautifully preserved, and alongside the ‘secret annexe’ that Anne called home for over two years there’s now an informative museum and educational centre. One of the city’s absolute must-sees, tickets can only be bought online, ahead of time.

STAY

Few hotels in Amsterdam can match the glitz and prestige of the Pulitzer. Spread over an intricate maze of 25 canal houses, the luxurious rooms and suites are the last word in modern comfort. The on-site restaurant, Jansz, is one of the city’s best, but if you want to get out and about, make use of their concierge or book a tour in the hotel’s very own classic, 1909 wooden boat.

If you do just one thing… Winkel 43, a lively café at the top of Jordaan, is famous for one thing – its divine apple pie. The chefs have perfected the contrast between the rich, crumbly crust and chunks of succulent apple, and with hefty slices served with a dollop of cream, there’s truly nowhere better to sample this decadent Dutch delight.

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Oost

Oost

The eastern side of Amsterdam has a long industrial and working-class past. The docks around Zeeburg led to a heavy concentration of warehouses, trades, and everything needed to support them, in turn attracting a large number of immigrants. Such ethnic diversity continues to this day; despite extensive regeneration over the last ten years, the area remains an intoxicating mix of the old and new, with achingly hip bars and boutiques sitting next door to Turkish greengrocers and spit ’n’ sawdust shawarma joints. Now a creative hub, new developments and business spring up almost weekly, adding a vibrancy to the new epicentre of cool.

EAT

While there are many great restaurants in Oost, no trend sums up the area like the explosion in gourmet comfort food, and Smokin’ Barrels does it better than most. Meat, ribs, and chicken are their specialities, but really, it’s all about the burgers; they do the best in the city. Go for the surf ’n’ turf, a burger that comes with half a lobster on the side, and wash it down with one of their signature G&Ts.

DRINK

Charles Bukowski loved his booze. ‘There is always a reason to drink!’ was his ethos, and Bar Bukowski, a hip corner hang out, celebrates his love for alcohol, literature, and partying. It’s not the biggest space, but at night it attracts a cool, stylish crowd intent on having a good time, with DJs most evenings to ramp up the atmosphere. Definitely, a place to be seen.

DO

It seems fitting that the Tropenmuseum, a huge, ethnographic museum, should be located in multicultural Oost. All about people, the Tropen – housed in one of the most beautiful and impressive buildings in the city – has eight permanent exhibitions and hosts a multitude of smaller, temporary displays of visual and contemporary art, all exploring cultural diversity and expression around the world.

STAY

Billed as an ‘unconventional hotel’, the Lloyd Hotel is certainly not normal. In the past, this historic building served as a shelter for Jewish refugees, a prison, and a juvenile detention centre – and is now a 117-room boutique hotel where no two rooms are alike. From budget twins to suites with beds that sleep seven, this is a unique place that’s the perfect base for the well-travelled and style-conscious.

If you do just one thing… have a wander along Javastraat – no street sums up the character and personality of Oost quite like it. Cocktail bars and cool boutiques jostle for space with greengrocers, Turkish bakeries, and bargain stores selling all manner of household good and bric-a-brac. It’s where modern meets traditional, and a fascinating sight to behold.

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3
De Pijp

De Pijp

Known as the Latin Quarter, this colourful area stretching south of the centre has long been home to students, creative, and bohemian spirits. ‘Beatnik flair’ comes up in many guides, and they’re not wrong; there’s an air of going against the grain here, as De Pijp likes to make its own rules. It’s trendy without being too-cool-for-school, and smart without being stuck up. Some of Amsterdam’s best eating, drinking, and shopping can be found within its sprawling streets, and a night out here is never dull. If you live for the buzz and like ‘always on’ bustle, De Pijp won’t let you down.

EAT

There’s no shortage of quality international cuisine in De Pijp, but Juuls encapsulates everything that makes Amsterdam’s food scene so great. Homely yet inventive, this rustic restaurant offers three-, four-, and five-course menus – which change monthly – of international and French-with-a-twist cuisine. It’s cosy without being cramped, and the charming, discreet service makes for a laid-back night of great food.

DRINK

It’s all about shabby chic around here, so ignore some of the flashier new bars and head instead to Kingfisher Café, a legendary drinking den on Ferdinand Bolstraat. There’s a lively atmosphere almost every night of the week, with a diverse mix of locals getting stuck into seasonal brews and surprisingly cheap – and strong – cocktails. The traditional Dutch bar snacks are great if you’re in need of fortification, and don’t leave without one of their branded t-shirts – it’s the perfect alternative souvenir.

DO

Nothing is more ‘De Pijp’ than just chilling out, and the small but perfectly formed Sarphatipark is the perfect place to do it. Grab some food and coffee to go – try Scandinavian Embassy, CT Coffee & Coconuts, or Little Collins – and grab a spot in this tranquil little oasis; on a nice day, there’s nothing finer. And while you’re here, have a wander around some of the cute little boutiques and stores on the surrounding streets.

STAY

Housed in a former diamond factory, the 90-room Sir Albert oozes understated cool. ‘Modern aristocratic’ is the vibe, with light, airy rooms filled with quirky art objects and a handy goodie box stuffed with travel essentials. Try to get Deluxe Room 19 – it has huge windows overlooking the street – and pop into the ground floor sushi restaurant Izakaya for some of the city’s best sushi.

If you do one thing…the Dutch love their markets, and Albert Cuyp is the city’s best. Running for several blocks, there’s nothing you can’t find here, but most come for the top drawer fish, meat, and fruit and veg. It’s the perfect place to soak up the atmosphere, wander amongst genuine locals, and pick up some unique souvenirs.

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Centrum

Centrum

Don’t be put off by the hordes of stag and hen dos and those seeking to lose themselves in debauchery – there’s plenty else to see and do in the heart of Amsterdam. Of course, a wander through the Red Light District may well appeal, but there’s also the historic Canal Ring, the Nine Streets, Spiegelkwartier (for art and antique lovers), and Nieuwmarkt, home to the oldest buildings in the city. Stay away from the tourist traps and tacky attractions and there’s a wealth of hidden gems and back alleys to explore, not to mention some of the most photogenic avenues and buildings – old Amsterdam is well worth discovering.

EAT

Some the city’s best and grandest eateries call the Canal Ring home, but for sheer opulence combined with cutting-edge cool, nothing beats The Duchess. Opened to much fanfare a few years ago, the sumptuous décor is more than matched by the food; gorge on the classic (Dover sole) and the innovative (foie gras doughnuts) under the huge, stained glass dome. Dinner isn’t cheap, but they also do breakfast, lunch, and bar bites, all of which are lighter on your wallet but every bit as mouth-watering.

DRINK

Step back in time at De Engelse Reet, a bar that’s been run by the same family – and all first-born sons with the same name – for four generations. A traditional voorkamer, or parlour, drinks are dispensed in a small back room and served in a comfy, old school, wood-panelled room (the only bar like this remaining Amsterdam). And in keeping with tradition, it’s all about the jenever (Dutch gin) here – try the tipple from local brewery De Ooievaar, which has been cranking out the spirit since 1782.

DO

Ignore the glitz of the trashy attractions around Dam Square and head instead to Oude Kerk, not just Amsterdam’s oldest church, but oldest building to boot. Founded around 1213, it stands in De Wallen, in the heart of the Red Light District. Marvel at the wooden roof (largest in Europe), the beautiful stained glass windows, and the stark, austere, Calvinist air to it all.  

STAY

It might be part of a global chain, but the W Hotel – the newest kid on the block when it comes to luxury accommodation in the centre – is well worth checking out. The rooms are as you’d expect – spacious, muted tones, an easy, comfortable type of chic – but the real treat is six floors up, on the roof. Their cocktail bar, lounge, and restaurant offer stunning views across the city, but best of all is the outdoor heated pool that runs the length of the building. It’s guests only too, meaning it’s never overrun by the selfie-stick-wielding hoi polloi.

If you do one thing…visit the A’dam Toren. OK, technically it’s not in the centre, but it’s close. Head to the back of Centraal, take the free ferry across the River IJ and head to the observation deck of the big tower that dominates the skyline for the best views in the entire city. And, if you’re brave enough, have a go on Over the Edge, Europe’s highest swing, that’ll have your feet dangling 100 metres up.

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5

Oud-West

Some would argue that out here, in the leafy, lush Oud-West, is where you’ll find the best mix between the genteel sophistication and urban chaos that Amsterdam is famous for. And with the vast green expanse of Vondelpark, hip bars and boutiques, and first-rate restaurants, it’s hard to argue. There’s much to explore around Overtoom and the bustling De Clercqstraat, now home to a vibrant community of professionals, creative, and entrepreneurs; as a location, it’s second only to Oost for those looking to add to city’s food and drink scene. So take a day or two, hire a bike, and drink in all this wonderful neighbourhood has to offer.

EAT

There are many new and wonderful restaurants in Oud-West serving all types of food, but Café Panache is one of the best. This cavernous space in an old warehouse now serves up charcoal grilled seafood and meat alongside classics such as jerk chicken, the dark wood and leather banquets the very definition of modern industrial chic. Killer cocktails and a young, stylish crowd make this a great place to spend a few hours watching modern Amsterdam wine and dine.

DRINK

Craft beer and classy cocktails are not hard to find around here, but the cosy vibe and easy style of The Golden Brown Bar, a popular hangout for locals and expats alike that’s named after a Stranglers’ song, sets it apart. Ignore the Thai food (though it’s decent), and instead work your way through their impressive range of beers, wines, and innovative mixed drinks. For the best people watching, head upstairs to the small balcony and a grab a pew against the wall.

DO

Culturally, Oud-West is a rich as any other neighbourhood, and not simply in terms of staid art galleries or classic museums. Some of the city’s coolest institutions can be found here: there’s LAB111, a cinema and exhibition space that houses various collectives and showcases quirky independent films and documentaries; OT301, a legal squat that’s now a live music venue, cultural centre, and pay-what-you-can vegan restaurant (staffed by volunteers); and De Nieuwe Anita, a retro living-room-cum-bar-cum-basement-venue that houses everything from live music to taco tasting

STAY

Many places in Amsterdam claim to be big on sustainability but The Tire Station, a 112-room eco-designer hotel, really does practice what it preaches. Energy from renewable sources (they even have their own aquifer), an eco-garden on the roof with beehives, tables made from recycled yoghurt pots – their credentials are impeccable. And none of this impinges on style – rooms are hip and funky – or comfort, making this a great base to explore West and beyond.

If you do one thing…Vondelpark is almost as synonymous with Amsterdam as tulips and weed. This vast, green expanse serves as a giant, city centre destresser, with Amsterdammers heading here to run, cycle, rollerblade, barbecue, picnic, or just sit and chill. Kids can explore numerous play parks, and there’s even an open-air theatre if you want to indulge in a little culture. Put simply, a few hours here is an unmissable treat.

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