Amsterdam for book lovers
For true literature lovers, nothing beats the smell of a new book and Amsterdam’s libraries, market stalls and speciality bookshops are stacked full of them. From age-old museums and quiet reading rooms to magnificent library collections, festivals and storytelling stages, the city has much to offer for those who love to lose themselves in a good story.
Bibliophiles entering the Cuypers Reading Room at the Rijksmuseum will think they’ve stepped into heaven. Sunlight streams through the glass ceiling to illuminate seemingly endless rows of historic tomes with a metal staircase spiralling up through the levels. The oldest and most extensive collection of art history texts in the Netherlands is also a research library, and visitors or students are welcome to browse the shelves and view the museum’s online collection on in-house iPads.
Multatuli Museum and Statue
Max Havelaar (1860) is one of the most famous novels in the Dutch literary canon, written by Eduard Douwes Dekker (pen name: Multatuli) to critique the colonial governance of Indonesia. In the heart of the Jordaan neighbourhood, you’ll find both a statue commemorating him and his birthplace: a 17th-century canal house now converted into a small museum with regular exhibitions, lectures, symposia and themed guided walks through Amsterdam.
Anne Frank House Museum
When Anne Frank started writing in her red-checked journal in 1942, she had no comprehension that it would become one of the most read, most important and most inspiring books worldwide. Step into the pages of Dear Kitty by exploring the house where this thoughtful teenager first put pen to paper. Throughout the reflective exhibition, diary quotes, film images and salvaged objects (including the original diary) help to illustrate actual events and the stories of those forced into hiding from Nazi persecution during WWII.
The American Book Center
This three-floor book store established over 40-years ago is an institution in Amsterdam for English-speaking book bugs. Browse through an eye-popping selection of fiction and non-fiction editions, glossy magazines and niche genres such as fashion, graphic design, music, sci-fi and business. The Center also organises numerous readings, book signings, writing workshops and other events.
Spui Book Market
Nothing beats the smell of an old book and this old-school Friday street market has heaps of them for sale. Every week, you’ll find around 25 stalls flogging collections of old, rare, second-hand and out-of-print books - perfect for anybody looking for that one particular copy - alongside old prints, pamphlets, posters and maps. While many of the publications are in Dutch, there is also a selection of English, German and French books.
The Embassy of the Free Mind
The historical library of this unique museum stores over 2,000 years of wisdom penned by ‘free thinkers’ and philosophers from around the world. Browse through a mind-blowing literature collection in the elegant surroundings of the 17th-century canal mansion. When you’ve found a book that appeals, nestle down in one of the many reading rooms or the colourful museum garden filled with wildflowers. What better way to free your mind on a sunny day than with a good read in the fresh air?
Amsterdam Public Library (OBA)
This architectural marvel houses a 1.5 million-strong book collection spread over a dazzling seven floors, including extensive English-language and Children’s book sections. A visit to the restaurant terrace on the top floor is a real highlight, whilst reading spots throughout the building present stunning south-facing panoramic views over the city.
Helmersbuurt and The Wall of the Poets
Built in the 1890s, the Helmersbuurt neighbourhood in Oud-West is known as the city’s literary corner. It was named after the Dutch poet Jan Frederik Helmers with the surrounding streets commemorating fellow writers. Take a stroll through the leafy avenues to see which names you recognise. Nearby, Muur van de Dichters (The Wall of the Poets), a public artwork by Danilo Joanovic, enables listeners to hear texts from writers who give their names to streets and squares in the vicinity. The idea is that you can enjoy poetry from a hole in the wall, similar to getting fast food from a snack bar.
Amsterdam has an ever-growing storytelling and spoken-word scene if you still prefer your bedtime stories to be read out loud. Settle into the cosy floor cushions at The Mezrab Cultural Center for a night of tall tales and real-life anecdotes told by professional storytellers, with a warming bowl of Persian soup in hand. Labyrinth is the place to go for open-mic nights and poetry events with a side of knock-out cocktails and Afro-Caribbean soul food. Or, each November, Podium Mozaïek is taken over by the Amsterdam Storytelling Festival, showcasing a wide range of international performances and emerging talent.
Books set in Amsterdam
With its fairytale architecture and atmospheric maze of canals and cobbles, Amsterdam has been inspiring writers for centuries. The Miniaturist (Picador/Ecco) is Jessie Burton’s bestseller about a young girl sent to marry a rich merchant which paints a vivid picture of 17th-century life in Amsterdam. The novel features many real-life locations which are still going strong today including De Oude Kerk, Royal Palace and the Rasphuis Gate. Alternatively, De Avonden (The Evenings, translation by Pushkin Press), first published in 1947 is Gerard Reve’s postwar masterpiece about an alienated young office worker who is cynical about his middle-class family and friends.
Also check out:
The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt, Brown & Company / Little
The Fault in Our Stars, John Green, Dutton Books
The bench from The Fault in Our Stars
The picturesque canal ring provides the backdrop for several novels set in Amsterdam, but none more heart-wrenching than the story of two terminally ill teenagers in love, The Fault in Our Stars (2012, John Green, Dutton Books). In the film adaptation, the couple professes their passion at a bench overlooking Leidsegracht 2, now an iconic location for fans of the book and the movie (2014).
Oudemanhuispoort Book Market
This atmospheric bookmarket stretches along a covered alleyway between Oudezijds Achterburgwal and Kloveniersburgwal and is something of a hidden gem in Amsterdam. Frequented by university students and literature nerds from all walks of life, you’ll find hundreds of second-hand editions ranging in price from €1 to €100 alongside English volumes, foreign-language editions, maps, prints and sheet music.