The locals may claim not to believe in ghosts, but settle into a corner of one of Amsterdam’s ancient pubs on a stormy night, and you may overhear whispered tales of some of the city’s most notorious spectres. Feeling brave? Here are just a few of Amsterdam’s ghostly residents and haunted places to explore…
Tortured souls of Dam Square
Now a vibrant hub of shopping and sightseeing, the historic square in the centre of Amsterdam in fact has a gruesome past. Dam Square was formerly the site of public executions, including the burning of thousands of suspected witches and heretics during the Spanish Inquisition. Do some of these tortured souls still wander the square and streets surrounding the Royal Palace? Some people think so. The nearby Amsterdam Dungeon explores this era in gory detail, and is itself located on the site of a 16th-century cemetery.
Helena of Ghost Alley
One of Amsterdam’s most famous ghosts is that of a woman named Helena, a tanner’s daughter who lived on Spooksteeg in the 18th century with her father and sister Dina. Overcome by jealousy when a handsome sailor fell in love with her fairer sister, Helena reportedly threw Dina into the tannery cellar, killing her and making her death appear as a tragic accident. Helena went on to marry the sailor, yet on her deathbed in 1753 she confessed her crime and begged his forgiveness. Her husband refused to forgive her, instead cursing her soul to roam in misery for eternity. Exactly one hundred years after her death, Helena’s screams were heard on the site of her crime, and many visitors have reported sights of her tortured ghost, roaming the dark alley where the tannery once stood, unable to find peace.
The robber who made a pact with the devil
Believed to roam Amsterdam's streets after dark, ‘Black Matthew’ was a 13th-century bandit and magician who is said to have made a pact with the devil. This shady character is one of Amsterdam’s most notorious spirits, and definitely not someone you want to bump into on your way home from the pub…
Nieuwmarkt and Blood Street
In the heart of De Wallen (the Red Light District), the short Bloedstraat – Blood Street – which connects the ancient Nieuwmarkt to Amsterdam’s oldest canal is said to be one of Amsterdam’s most haunted spots. Some claim that its grisly name came from the blood of executed prisoners, which drained down from Nieuwmarkt to the canal, while other sources link the street to the Franciscan monastery that once stood on this site. The monastery is where the Duke of Alba’s infamous 16th-century Bloedraad (Council of Blood) would meet to discuss the grisly fate of accused heretics, and many say that their spirits still roam Blood Street.
The doomed family of the Montelbaan Tower
Looming over the water of the Oudeschans moat, the Montelbaan Tower was erected in the early 1500s as a defence tower protecting the city from attacks. It’s believed that an entire family was killed whilst fleeing to the safety of the tower, and every year on 2 June the ghosts of the doomed family are said to reappear, reliving their last tragic moments before disappearing at the top of the tower stairs.