Exploring Amsterdam one photo at a time

Koen Smilde started dabbling in photography as a child, taking pictures with an old analogue camera given to him by his father. His hobby turned into a calling as the years went by and he began seeking out the things that stirred his creativity: colours, patterns and stunning views. He regularly explores Amsterdam in search of great shots, providing him with a chance to discover hidden gems throughout the city. 

Koen Smilde

What’s Amsterdam’s best-kept secret?

Koen Smilde Amstel cyclist

In my opinion, you don’t need to look very far for it – Amsterdam can be quite magical in the early hours just before sunrise and a little after. You get to see the canals, streets and parks when they are as good as empty. Explore alongside the Amstel near the Amstelpark during a misty morning when it’s oh so silent and you’ll only hear the ducks quacking. This experience is even stronger during the corona pandemic when more people are working from home and there’s less traffic.

Where do you go to clear your head?

Koen Smilde Amsterdamse Bos

I pack my camera bag and tripod, hop on my scooter and ride to streets and neighbourhoods I haven’t been to before. Sometimes, I leave home with a certain area in mind, like alongside the Amstel in Noord or NDSM, for example, but I often get stuck photographing other streets on my way there! Sometimes, I head back to places in Amsterdam that I’ve visited when I didn’t have my camera with me and ‘saw' a possible photo. But when I need quiet surroundings, I prefer the Amsterdamse Bos.

Do you have a favourite street, corner or building?

Koen Smilde Singel Corsgenburg

It’s hard to point out one specific place as my favourite because I can easily shortlist over a dozen. If I had to pick one street, it would be the Singel, especially a little north of the Corsgenbrug. The canal, houses and boats there offer a typical Amsterdam scene, and catching it during the blue hour (a period when the sky turns vibrant blue) makes it even more beautiful.

What is your favourite bar in Amsterdam?

Koen Smilde_Cafe t Sluisje

I think that would be Lokaal van de Stad at the Heemstedestraat. It has a wide variety of beers and tasty snacks and offers decent full meals, too. It also has a cosy atmosphere and outside seating in the sun during the warmer months for people watching.

Other places I like to go are Café ’t Sluisje on the Nieuwendammerdijk in Noord; the trip there really makes you feel like you’re far outside of the city. It is one of those traditional cafés still untouched by modernization. On your way there, along the Nieuwendammerdijk, you get a beautiful, village-like neighbourhood feeling. And once you're there, it seems like Amsterdam is so far away.

I also like De Ceuvel in Noord as well. It's literally a hidden gem, because if you don’t know that you’re going in the right direction, you could think that you’re going to an industrial site. And that's the ambiance it breathes – industry. In the warmer months, you can dive off the quay into the water and bathe in the sun.

What’s your favourite thing to do in Amsterdam during autumn?

Koen Smilde Beatrixpark

Taking cool autumn photos. For this, I go to any of the parks, Beatrixpark being one of them, or I capture the fallen leaves as a sea of colour against the always beautiful backdrop of downtown architecture.

Do you have a favourite place for takeaway food that you can still enjoy during the pandemic?

I love Indonesian food, and my go-to takeaway is Warung Tegal at the Stadionweg. But because of the pandemic, my girlfriend and I have had more free time, which we often spend cooking at home.

What’s your favourite day trip outside of Amsterdam?

Koen Smilde Muiden

That would be visiting one of the old and authentic towns such as Muiden, Edam, Marken or Weesp. On any given day, but especially on weekdays, there’s such a quiet and relaxing vibe. The architecture is amazing, too. I see similarities to Amsterdam, especially in Edam with its canal running through the old town. There are also nice museums to visit, like the Marker Museum, which takes you back to traditional working life on this former island in the Zuiderzee, which nowadays is called IJsselmeer. On top of that, there’s always good food to eat, like herring and kibbeling (crispy fried fish) or the famous Edam cheese.

Check out more of Koen's work on Instagram.