Amsterdam’s best hidden gems
Amsterdam’s wealth of world-famous museums and historical monuments will keep culturally-minded sightseers occupied for weeks. But look beyond the best-known attractions and you’ll get a fascinating new perspective on the city. From secret garden cafes and obscure music venues to rooftop bars and a museum in an underground bank vault, here’s our round-up of the city’s best-hidden gems.
Museum Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder
Positioned on a side street in the middle of De Wallen, this remarkably well-preserved canal house museum built during the 1660s is too often overlooked by visitors. Visitors can explore a warren of historic living areas before following the narrow staircases up to the attic where a complete Roman Catholic church is concealed in the rafters.
Whilst NEMO Science Museum is one of the city’s most popular family attractions, not many people know that the rooftop boasts some of the most spectacular views of downtown Amsterdam. Architect Renzo Piano envisioned this outdoor space as a sky-high public square, complete with kinetic water sculptures that kids can play in and a cafe.
OCCII is a not-for-profit music venue that credits its development to the squatting movement of the late ‘80s and ‘90s. The colourful folk designs on the front doors hint at the building’s former purpose as a stable and tram depot. The agenda has everything from queer punk nights and experimental hip-hop to obscure jazz and children’s theatre.
Distilleerderij 't Nieuwe Diep
Located in a former pumping station in Flevopark, the tranquil terrace of this jenever distillery is almost completely surrounded by water. Soak up the beautiful views over the lake as you sip on the best jenevers and liqueurs from the tasting room. It is perhaps the most secluded spot in the city to while away a few hours on a sunny afternoon.
Settle into Mezrab’s cosy floor cushions for a night of tall tales and real-life stories told by professional storytellers. This unique cultural centre in the Oostelijke Eilanden (Eastern Docklands) area has grown into one of the best stages for spoken-word, improv and comedy in the city.
Museum Perron Oost
With a surface area of just 6 m2, Museum Perron Oost is so small that you can see the whole exhibition through the windows. In 1993, artist Joep van Lieshout transformed the former cattle market area and railway tracks into a miniature park. Since 2013, this tiny art museum in the former supervisor's house has told the stories of local residents.
At this towering sea rig in the harbour of Amsterdam, you can dine 22 metres above the water in a former pirate radio station. Cosy in the winter and glorious in the summer when guests can dine on the roof terrace, the restaurant bar at REM Eiland is open for cocktails and lavish multi-course evening meals.
Nieuwendammerdijk and Cafe ‘t Sluisje
This photogenic street in Noord is rich with Dutch history. Fishermen, shipbuilders and traders built their homes here, designed in the same style as the gabled facades of traditional canal houses. At one end, Cafe ‘t Sluisje is an old brown café overlooking the harbour that dates back more than 100 years.
Housed in one of the city’s most unusual converted spaces: a former pathological anatomy lab, LAB111 is a cinema and cultural space that is about as quirky as it gets. On the agenda, you’ll see a range of special screenings as well as art exhibitions, lectures and concerts. There’s also a great café and restaurant!
Amsterdam City Archives
All stored within the monumental De Bazel building - an Art Deco gem that is well worth a visit in itself - the Amsterdam City Archives is the largest treasure trove of municipal history in the world. Take a guided tour of the period rooms or visit the fascinating (and free) exhibitions downstairs in the underground vault of a former bank.
The Houseboat (Woonboot) Museum
This miniature floating museum gives guests the unique opportunity to experience what life was like onboard a traditional Dutch houseboat. Located on the Hendrika Maria, a former cargo ship from 1914, the boat has now been transformed into a cosy living space that visitors can poke around before enjoying tea and cake in the retro armchairs.
Bold, groundbreaking, and always intriguing, this art centre has been creating installations that celebrate biotechnology, media and organic cuisine since 1983. The atmospheric waterfront restaurant breathes new life into plant-based dining with inventive dishes that showcase locally sourced ingredients, largely grown in the kitchen’s very own greenhouse.
Dousing this slightly grey corner of Sloterdijk with a much-needed splash of colour and fun, BRET is a beer bar, restaurant and music venue with a spectacular garden rooftop surrounded by its own urban vineyard. From the hops grown on-site to the structure made from shipping containers, everything about the venue promotes sustainability and innovation.
Located in the former Pniël Church in Bos en Lommer, Podium Mozaïek provides a stage and meeting place for a range of cultural initiatives. The programme offers music, theatre, dance, exhibitions and spoken word whilst the spectacular sun-soaked terrace is the perfect spot to indulge in Mediterranean-inspired food and craft beers.
Housed in the heritage-listed Parkkerk close to Vondelpark, Orgelpark is an international concert hall that gives the church organ a new face in contemporary music culture. In addition to the varied programme, there's a wonderful Art Deco ambience, an intimate concert hall featuring impressive organs, beautiful and clear acoustics, and a cosy foyer.
TapasTheater is a unique ‘pick ‘n mix’ theatre concept that puts on a range of short 20-minute performances. Visitors can watch two or three performances of their choice which might encompass everything from cabaret and musical theatre to spoken word or drama. There’s also a lively food bar where you can grab a bite to eat and drinks between shows.
Only a few steps from the Rijksmuseum, this art-deco building houses a delightful swimming pool. Built in 1912, Zuiderbad was one of the first pools to have central heating and electric lighting and was considered far ahead of its time. Now, it's a nostalgic place to take a dip as you soak up the impressive decor and architectural details.
From delicate little cacti to towering palms, those with even a mild interest in botany will be truly taken by one of the oldest botanical gardens in the world, housing over 4000 different plant varieties. Hortus is also home to various indoor spaces, including the grand Palm Greenhouse (an official monument) and the dazzling butterfly house.
Museum Van Loon
Have a nose around Museum Van Loon - the former home of a wealthy co-founder of the Dutch East India Company. Once you’ve got some lavish interior design inspo exploring the period rooms, head into the hidden courtyard garden. It's an idyllic spot to grab a slice of apple pie and a coffee fantasising about the life of the upper classes in the 17th century.
About halfway along the busy Overtoom, you might notice a strange whiff of horses. Follow your nose and you’ll be rewarded by one of the city’s most beautiful and special spaces: an ornate 18th-century riding school with decorative Baroque features. Head up to the café balcony overlooking the arena to watch the finest horses trot around with their trainers.
Brouwerij de 7 Deugden
Entering the ancient village of Sloten feels a bit like stepping back in time. Here you’ll find the Sloten Windmill Museum – one of the few remaining fully functioning polder mills and Brouwerij de 7 Deugden, one of the city’s best microbreweries. On request, you can have a guided tour and explore the flavours during a tasting in the garden, weather permitting.
Café de Ceuvel
Excellent coffee and a crash course in sustainability? Café de Ceuvel is an innovative community project built over a once polluted harbour. Besides the excellent vegan food and cocktails, you’ll find showcases of cleantech used by the cafe itself including an aquaponics greenhouse, heat exchangers and composters for kitchen and toilet waste.
House of Bird
Try a speciality beer in House of Bird Brewery’s own tasting room surrounded by the spectacular nature of the Diemerbos. The owners take pride in their sustainable, seasonal menu made of locally sourced products and the nearby forest is perfect for a decompressing walk.