Amsterdam is one of the world’s great walkable cities. And when it comes to casually moseying about on foot, there are plenty of details to discover as you admire the city’s incomparable beauty. From the tops of doorways above to cobblestoned corners below, if you don't know where to look, you might miss out on all the fun.
Street Art Frankey
Amsterdam’s @streetartfrankey has been installing small humourous artworks around the city for a good few years now. Sometimes absurd, always playful, these works always light up your face with a beaming smile. As you wander about be sure to keep your eyes open as you never know where you’ll find your next chuckle. Be on the lookout for miniature painters on the Reguliersgracht, a sleeping Smurf near Willemsbrug and a host of other characters from Dutch ducks to weightlifters spread across the city.
Look up for gorgeous gables
The facades of Amsterdam’s canal houses are beautiful in their own right, but be sure to cast your gaze up high where ornate gables often feature intriguing details. For example, on the Lauriergracht, you’ll find a whale ready to spout, and on Ceintuurbaan in De Pijp you’ll find gnomes on Huis met de Kabouters (House with the Gnomes). What will you see?
Look down for historical perspectives
Across the city on cobblestone streets you’ll find stolpersteine (stumbling stones) commemorating those people who lost their lives through persecution, think of Jewish people at the hands of the Nazis. These little brass plaques are the work of German artist Gunter Demnig, who began installing them in Berlin in 1992. The project has extended to Amsterdam, where a good number of plaques have been installed.
Around Oude Kerk — Amsterdam’s oldest building located smack-bang in the heart of De Wallen, aka the Red Light District — you’ll find sculptures honouring sex workers. There is a statue of a nude woman titled “Belle” and, hidden among the cobblestones, you’ll see a bronze relief of a hand feeling up a woman.
Behind closed doors
Hofjes are small shared courtyards around almshouses. You’ll find them scattered across the city, many with beautiful gardens that come alive with colour as spring begins to blossom. Away from bustling streets, these serene spaces offer the perfect place to chill while taking in a little bit of history, but do keep in mind that these are residential spaces so be respectful of the people living there. Amsterdam’s Begijnhofje is the most famous but Karthuizerhofje, Rozenhofje and Suykerhofje are lesser-known gems that are also worth a visit. If you’re up for a little intercity day-trip adventure, Haarlem has some lovely hidden hofjes as well.
Up above the doors
Back in the day, business owners such as ironmongers, bakers and tailors, had quite specific reliefs made, which they positioned above their doors. As you wander by canal houses, be sure to look up and see if you can spot some. Also look for other reliefs, as many were included as decorative features in classic Dutch architecture, and you are sure to see a few lions (the city’s mascot) and the famous three X’s adorning doorways.
Steegjes are very narrow laneways linking major streets. They’re often so narrow that you’ll miss them, especially walking along Amsterdam’s usually busy Kalverstraat, the city’s main shopping strip. While not always incredibly attractive, they do provide shortcuts and a bit of relief from the teeming streets. And walking down them makes you feel as if you’ve stepped back in time. Keep your eyes trained up above for unique perspectives and to see a sliver of sky.
A jenever bar
Hidden in full sight, Wynand Fockink Proeflokaal is a small hole-in-the-wall just off Dam Square. Established in 1679, this gin bar has been serving up the best Dutch jenevers and liqueurs for hundreds of years. What’s more, you can taste one of the jenevers or take the advice of the knowledgeable bartenders.
Canal house gardens
There’s no doubting the magnificence of Amsterdam’s canal houses, but did you know that many of them feature stunning gardens behind those imposing facades? A great way to see them is to visit one of the museums that are located in canal houses, for example Museum van Loon, Museum Willet-Holthuysen or Huis Marseille — where you can also see top-notch photography exhibitions.
Noordermarkt spills onto Westerstraat in the Jordaan district, and it’s on this street that eagle-eyed shoppers will spy seven miniature houses – a series of missing house numbers will put you on the scent. But don’t worry, the original houses are not actually missing, they are where they always were only the entrance to them has been closed off. Rumour has it that the seven miniature houses were part of a marketing campaign.
Old Man’s House Passage
While we’re on the subject of books, this book market in Oudemanhuispoort on the University of Amsterdam’s city campus is a delight. It’s a paradise for second-hand book-lovers and a joy to browse in search of your next read.
To get the most out of your walks in the city, be sure to keep your eyes open and your mind curious. You’ll find the rewards in abundance in Amsterdam. Want to unearth more of Amsterdam's secret treasures? Check out the city's top hidden gems.