Best ways to experience Amsterdam like a local
You’ve been to the biggest museums, toured the canals and seen enough tulips to last a lifetime – but how can you experience the city like a real Amsterdammer? Here are a few tips for how to do as the locals do in Amsterdam along with some further insights into what makes life special in the Dutch capital.
Don’t get stuck in one neighbourhood
With all the museums, theatres, wonky pubs and staggeringly gorgeous canals, most first time visitors are so taken by the city centre that they don’t leave the canal ring - we don't blame you! But when you’ve had enough of all those incessantly ringing church bells, do as the locals do and hop around the many different neighbourhoods of Amsterdam. For hidden coffee spots, alternative gig venues and trendy boutiques head to Oud-West. Take the free ferry to NDSM for industrial-chic dining, impressive street art and vintage shopping. Or explore the bustling street markets, lively cafe terraces and hottest new restaurants in De Pijp. These neighbourhood guides are packed full of recommendations for cultural hotspots, walking tours, family-friendly things to do, hidden gems or simply where to find the best sandwich.
Amsterdammers love a good party, and you’ll find plenty of live music venues and clubs to dance your troubles away in. Some of the best underground music happens in the city’s lesser-known venues or as part of major festivals like Amsterdam Dance Event. When it comes to other cultural events, you’ll find so much to explore beyond the mainstream. The city boasts a wealth of independent boutique cinemas and unusual museums, whilst our lovingly curated Weekend Guide will keep you in the know of the best off-grid happenings.
Shop at local markets
Amsterdam's bustling street markets are a great place to get a sense of how locals shop and the diverse range of produce and cuisines available in the Netherlands. Our firm favourites are the Ten Katemarkt in Oud-West and Dappermarkt in Oost, packed with vendors selling flowers, fish, cheeses, fabric, fruit and veg. You’ll also find a range of food trucks serving up typical Dutch snacks and deep-fried delicacies. If you haven’t yet had the opportunity to sample kibbeling (battered cod bites served with herby mayo), loempia (Indonesian spring roll) or a broodje haring (a raw herring sandwich), the city's street markets are the place to start!
Only eat fried snacks for dinner
The vrijmibo (Friday afternoon drinking session) is a well-loved pastime in Amsterdam and involves heading to a bruin cafe (brown bar) with friends or colleagues to indulge in beers and snacks - the more deep-fried, the better. Delicacies like bitterballen (crispy meatballs served with mustard) or borrelnootjes (deep-fried nuts - yes, you read that correctly) are designed to hold off hunger just enough to keep the conversation going until closing time. If you’re still peckish, you can always stop by a FEBO vending machine for a nutritious frikandel (fried sausage) to eat on the walk home - lekker!
Here's a round-up of Dutch foods to try in Amsterdam for some further explanation of the fried food phenomenon.
Try not to get distracted by dogs on bicycles
If you’re feeling confident enough to brave the cycle paths, a bike rental is a superb way to get across the city. You’ll witness some exceptionally cute things: dogs feeling the wind in their fur or five toddlers piled into a bakfiets. Try not to get distracted, as these are extremely normal occurrences. Other eyebrow-raising sights include Amsterdammers peddling with no hands, singing as they cycle or balancing absurdly bulky objects - a standing lamp, a surfboard, a flatscreen TV - on their handlebars. We don’t recommend attempting any of the above (except maybe the singing thing, because the world needs more of that). Fancy venturing further afield, here's a great selection of cycle routes that head out of the city in the gorgeous wilds of the Amsterdam Area.
Give the language a go
With those tough g’s and haunting vowel sounds, Dutch has a bad rep for being one of the harder languages to get your tongue around. In reality, there are many aspects of learning Dutch that make it surprisingly easy for English-speakers. Many words are very recognisable: koffie, bier, museum, appeltaart, hotel - to name a few. Not to mention that Dutch speakers tend to use leuk (nice), lekker (tasty) and gezellig (cosy) to describe almost every situation. Honestly, if you can manage those three adjectives, combined with super (really) or niet (not), then you’re halfway fluent.
Strive to achieve gezelligheid
So there’s this word, gezellig, which is a fundamental part of Dutch national identity - perhaps even more so than stroopwafels. Loosely translated it means ‘a warm atmosphere’, ‘cosy’, ‘pleasant’ or ‘togetherness’ and can be used to describe either a setting or a person. Amsterdammers take a lot of pride in gezelligheid and to truly experience the city like a local, you’ll need to plan your activities with this concept in mind. Keep everything relaxed and sociable and surround yourself with people that make you feel good. You might while away the afternoon people watching from an authentic brown bar or take the time to catch up with an old friend over brunch. Ask yourself at all times: how can I make this situation more pleasant and comfortable? That picnic in the park can always be improved by extra cushions or additional snacks, for instance.
Take holidays seriously as the Dutch do
If you’re lucky enough to visit Amsterdam on a national holiday, getting into the festive mood will be a requirement. On April 27, every street, park, balcony and canal will be awash with orange-clad revellers for King’s Day and participation will be near impossible to avoid. On New Year’s Eve, many locals will call upon their nearest friend with a terrace to watch the fireworks whilst gorging on oliebollen and champagne. And it’s always worth remembering that Sinterklaas on December 5 is not simply ‘Dutch Christmas’. Sint’s annual arrival in the city is a hotly anticipated event with a unique set of customs surrounding it, not to mention excessive gift-giving that is taken very seriously. Read up on all these major events and celebrations before your trip and get swept up into the party spirit.
Congratulate everyone at a birthday party
Birthdays are equally important in the Netherlands. Many Dutch homes feature a calendar of upcoming birthdays in the toilet to ensure that none slide past uncelebrated (don’t even try it, you won’t get away with it). For the uninitiated, birthday parties themselves can be slightly odd affairs. Rather than saying ‘happy birthday’, the traditional greeting is gefeliciteerd (congratulations) which you must say to everybody in attendance - not just to the birthday boy or girl. The birthday cake tradition still stands, but you will have to buy your own if it’s your special day. This guide to the best cake shops in Amsterdam has got you covered.
Arrive at a bar, on a boat
You’ve probably already noticed that Amsterdam has quite a few canals. But did you know that in many places, you can rock up to a waterfront bar, on a boat. Whilst many locals have their own or share one between friends, there are plenty of locations across the city where you can rent a boat yourself. At some bars you might not even have to disembark to order your food and drinks - how convenient is that?