Take the ferry to Amsterdam Noord
If you’re visiting Amsterdam, chances are that you’ll begin on the south side of the River IJ – for example, arriving at Amsterdam Central Station. To begin exploring the district of Amsterdam Noord ('north') simply board one of the free ferries (by public transport operator GVB) at the waterfront exit of the station (following signs to ‘Noord’). These public ferries depart every few minutes in daytime and even run (less frequently) through the night, transporting pedestrians, bicycles and mopeds.
The history of the other side
What we know today as Amsterdam Noord formerly served mainly as an area for peat extraction. Once officially becoming part of Amsterdam in 1393, it functioned as a gallows pit and tolling station for passing ships. By the late 19th century, the demand for land for the city’s heavy industry inspired development in Noord. And, because these industries’ workers had to be housed, working-class homes were built in the borough. This was followed by pre-war woonscholen (‘living schools’) to reform the city’s so-called ‘antisocial’ families and a glut of social housing.
Transformation into a creative hub
In recent years, since heavy industry largely vacated the area, Noord has become a creative hub, with artists’ cooperatives and youth brands such as MTV, IDTV and Red Bull attracted by the converted factory buildings and hangars. A smorgasbord of new restaurants, bars, hotels and shops have followed suit, many sitting pretty on the sunny side of the IJ-facing waterfront. Another of the destinations of the GVB ferries is the NDSM Wharf. Until the 1980s there was a shipyard here; nowadays its cavernous warehouses are a mix of artist studios, young creative initiatives and events and trendy offices.
Cultural, architectural & culinary achievements
Almost directly opposite Central Station stands the EYE Filmmuseum in all its futuristic glory. This cinema, museum, film archive and café/restaurant is a standout location; although it only opened in spring 2012, the building is already one of Amsterdam’s modern icons. Around the corner, find the Tolhuistuin, another cultural hotspot that boasts a live music venue, a restaurant and much more. The eye-catching A’DAM tower redevelopment next door is further upping the ante in this area, providing space for bars, restaurants, nightclubs and other music businesses when it opens in 2015.
In what seems like direct contrast to the cutting-edge vibe, this area also has loads of lovely little villages that are ideal for exploring on foot, by bicycle or by water. Historic villages such as Nieuwendam, Ransdorp and Zunderdorp have authentic stolpboerderijen (traditional Dutch farmhouses with roofs built in the shape of a cheese-cover), wooden houses, canal locks and impressive polder views.
The action isn’t all in the North itself: the IJ waterfront on the south bank is also enjoying major renewal. Key attractions include the spectacular Muziekgebouw aan ’t IJ concert hall, the jazz venue Bimhuis and numerous pakhuizen – previously ominous brick warehouses that stored imports, which have been refurbished to house a variety of offices, studios and cultural venues.