Amsterdam’s secret sights

Here’s our selection of 15 lesser-known attractions in the Amsterdam Area well worth seeking out on your next visit to the region.

An original Picasso in the Vondelpark

Amsterdam Vondelpark Picasso sculpture CC BY-SA 2.0 Olivier Bruchez via Flickr

Picasso donated the sculpture to the city in honour of his friendship with former Stedelijk Museum director Willem Sandberg

It’s easy to walk right past this concrete sculpture at the southern end of the Vondelpark without realising that it is, in fact, by Picasso himself. Created in 1965 as part of an outdoor sculpture exhibition to mark the park’s 100th anniversary, the ‘Figure découpée l’Oiseau’ (‘The Bird’) was donated to Amsterdam by Picasso after the exhibition and has remained in the same spot ever since.

Vondelpark | Amsterdam Zuid

The symmetrical house of the Trip Brothers (and the little Trip house)  

Look out for the stone carvings depicting weaponry and olive branches – a reference to the Trip brothers’ work in the arms trade

Built at a time when people were taxed on the width of their house, meaning that the wider the house, the wealthier its owner, this grand house at Kloveniersburwal 29 is often referred to as the widest house in Amsterdam. In fact, the perfectly symmetrical façade conceals not one but two adjoining, symmetrical houses, built in the early 1600s for the wealthy Trip brothers, who had inherited their fortune from arms factories and forges. The famous story goes that when the Trip house was finished, the brothers’ coachman sighed and commented that he would be the happiest of men if he had a house even just as wide as their front door. The Trip brothers complied and had a little Trip house built for him across the canal. It can still be seen today.

Trippenhuis | Amsterdam Centrum

A secret hiding place during World War II

You might have visited the Anne Frank House, but another location that housed Jewish stowaways is the Corrie Ten Boomhuis in Haarlem – just 20 minutes by train from Amsterdam. The Ten Boom family hid behind a false wall in the house along with other members of the resistance. They were eventually arrested and sent to concentration camps, and only Corrie Ten Boom survived. Her release was the result of a supposed clerical error. The house is now a museum that teaches about the Second World War and the Jewish faith. 

Corrie Ten Boomhuis | Haarlem

An original 18th-century herbalists’ shop

Jacob Hooy herbalist shop Amsterdam

The small barrels were made to measure for the shop in the 1700s and display the Latin names of the herbs and plants they contained

Step back in time in this 18th-century herbalists’ shop near Nieuwmarkt, opened in 1743 by a 21-year-old sailor’s son named Jacob Hooy. Harking back to the days when both tobacco and opium were considered remedies for illness, the shop still retains much of its original décor, including barrels, wooden drawers and a magnificent set of scales embellished with two entwined serpents.

Jacob Hooy & co | Kloveniersburgwal 12 | Amsterdam Centrum

Amsterdam under water

You’ll often hear that the city of Amsterdam lies below sea level, but it’s not until you see it demonstrated by giant water-filled tubes that the reality really hits home. At the NAP visitor centre (NAP stands for Normaal Amsterdams Peil – literally ‘normal Amsterdam water level’), you can see three glass tubes showing the sea level in different parts of the region – one of them reaching nearly five metres above ground.

NAP Visitor Centre | Amsterdam Centrum

The Netherlands’ oldest Jewish cemetery

Beth Haim cemetery Ouderkerk aan de Amstel

The Beth Haim cemetery at Ouderkerk aan de Amstel is filled with hauntingly ornate gravestones carved in marble and featuring beautiful symbolism and inscriptions in Dutch, Portuguese and Hebrew. The graves belong to Spanish and Portuguese Jews who fled to the Netherlands in the 17th century, along with their descendants. Among other public figures buried here, Rabbi Menasseh Ben Israel was a colleague and collaborator of Rembrandt. 

Beth Haim cemetery | Ouderkerk aan de Amstel

The symbolic triangles of the Homomonument

Amsterdam homomonument, Henri Blommers

The lower triangle features part of a poem by Jacob Israel de Haan, the first openly gay Dutch writer

Unveiled in 1987 to commemorate and support LGBT people oppressed by government regimes around the world, this vast, symbolic monument is so well integrated into its surroundings that it’s possible to walk straight through it without even realising it’s there. Laid out on the cobbles of Westermarkt is a 36-metre equilateral triangle, with three smaller pink granite triangles in its corners. One of the triangles spills out onto the canal and points towards the Anne Frank House. Another of the pink triangles (in front of the church) points towards the war memorial at Dam Square, in remembrance of the persecution of homosexuals in WWII. The final triangle points towards the ‘Centre of Culture and Leisure Activities’ (COC Amsterdam), which was the cover name for the Dutch gay and lesbian society founded in 1946.

Homomonument | Amsterdam Centrum

An ancient prison under a bridge

The location of the tower that stood on the bridge is marked in the cobbles on the ground. It had to be demolished in 1829 due to excessive leaning

Completed in the mid-17th century and measuring around 40 metres in width, the Torensluis (tower lock) is the city’s widest bridge – and one of its oldest. Its size and name are down to the tower that originally stood on the site until its demolition in the mid-19th century, the foundations of which are still visible both in the paving of the bridge itself and in the dungeon below. Look out for the barred windows and arched entrance to the prison cells nestled under the bridge, now open to the public and used to host events and exhibitions.

Torensluis | Amsterdam Centrum

A horse-shaped lighthouse

This lighthouse perched on a former island in the Markermeer has been guiding ships into the peninsula since the early 17th century. It was named Het Paard van Marken (the horse of Marken) because of its unusual shape. A national monument since 1970, it’s a popular photo spot during a day trip to Amsterdam’s historic harbour villages. 

Het Paard van Marken | Marken

Seven countries in seven houses

Amsterdam South seven countries houses architecture

If you can’t work out which house is which, look above the doors – the country names are displayed there

Reflective of the 19th-century fascination with travelling and discovering other countries, this row of seven houses was commissioned in the 1890s by wealthy banker and politician Samuel van Eeghen. Inspired by the various building styles of European countries, he had architect Tjeerd Cuipers design him a row of houses representative of seven different countries. The result was a fascinating and eclectic architectural tour of 19th-century Europe on one short stretch of Amsterdam street – from the Moorish influences of the Spanish house to England’s cottage charm and the Loire Valley romanticism of the French house. Russia, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands are also included in the tour.

Zevenlandenhuizen | Amsterdam Zuid

Little houses set in to the Park Plaza Victoria hotel

Houses in the Park Plaza Victoria Hotel Neil Rickards

When the owners of the Park Plaza Victoria wanted to build their hotel opposite Central Station in the late 19th century, the elderly owner of two tiny 17th-century houses dug her clogs in and refused to sell up to make way for the developers. So they simply built the hotel around her. You can still see the little houses, which date from 1602, dwarfed by the grand four-star hotel that envelops them. 

Park Plaza Victoria Amsterdam | Amsterdam Centrum

A house of 11 million cigar bands

Volendams Museum

In the charming seaport town of Volendam, a retired monk filled his home with handmade mosaics made entirely of cigar bands (the decorative loop of paper around a cigar). The art project began in 1947 and features over 11 million bands. The house is now part of the adjacent Volendams Museum, which gives a fascinating look into the region’s seafaring history.

Volendams Museum | Volendam

An ornate horse-riding arena

Hollandse Manege Amsterdam Marie Charlotte Peze

Head to the Overtoom side of the building to see around 50 horses and ponies waiting in their stables 

About halfway along the busy Overtoom (near the Vondelpark), you might notice a strange whiff of horses, more to be expected in the countryside than in such a built-up residential area. But follow your nose in the direction of the pastoral smell and you’ll be rewarded by one of the city’s most beautiful and special spaces: an ornate arena dedicated to all things equestrian. Hidden behind a rather standard-looking façade on Vondelstraat (the Overtoom entrance is actually the back of the building), the interior of this 18th-century riding school abounds with decorative Baroque features. There’s even a beautiful café with a balcony overlooking the arena, where visitors can sip tea or coffee while watching the finest horses trot around with their trainers. The entrance is at Vondelstraat 140.

Hollandsche Manege | Amsterdam Oud-Zuid

A Buddhist temple in the heart of the old town

Amsterdam Buddhist Temple CC BY 2.0 Manuel Martn via Flickr

The roof tiles and ornamentation that adorns the building’s exterior were flown in especially from China

Flanked by traditional Dutch buildings in the historical heart of the city, this magnificent Buddhist temple appears even more magical due to its incongruous surroundings. Tucked back slightly from the road behind a grand arched gateway, the golden-tiled temple is like a slice of Shanghai in the heart of Amsterdam. The interior is just as impressive and is open to the public on Saturdays when guided tours are available, some including a meditation session.

Buddhist temple Fo Guang Shan | Amsterdam Centrum

Character-filled houses in Amsterdam Noord

This photogenic street in Amsterdam Noord is rich with Dutch history. Nieuwendam (new dam) was built on the relatively unused north bank of the IJ River. Fishermen, ship builders and traders built their homes here as the area became more populated, with one of earliest of the iconic wooden houses built in 1565. Designed in the same style as the gabled facades of traditional canal houses, these were built from wood to make them lighter on the newly drained land.  

Nieuwendammerdijk | Amsterdam Noord

Discover even more lesser-known Amsterdam attractions.