Skip the summer crowds with this guide to the spots that locals turn to when they need to experience life in Amsterdam’s slow lane. There are endless benefits of savouring your time in this vibrant city, seeking out quiet corners and enjoying a sense of calm in locations that feel a world away from Amsterdam as you may know it. There’s always something to gain from retreating to a peaceful part of the city for a few hours. Whatever that means for you – a calming nature walk, a long lunch in a secluded alfresco setting, or wine-tasting in a Dutch vineyard – Amsterdam has options aplenty, and they’re all within easy reach.
Little pockets of country life, from Italian-style vineyards to sweeping meadows, can be found within the city’s boundaries. Fruittuin van West is an orchard and farm that invites visitors to pick their own organic produce while meeting the resident chickens and farm animals. Petting zoos (known in Dutch as kinderboederijen) such as the ones in Westerpark, De Pijp and Osdorp come into their own in spring when baby lambs, goats, calves and chicks delight animal lovers of all ages. Another unlikely inner-city sanctuary is the Hollandsche Manege, which looks from the outside like a grand home on a residential street within Amsterdam’s museum district. Behind the elaborate façade, it’s a fully equipped horse-riding school and stables. Amsteltuin Vineyard is a little taste of Southern Italy just a 30-minute bike ride from the city. From Friday to Sunday, 14:00-16:00, the vineyard provides a drink basket packed to the brim with wine and snacks that you can enjoy at cottage-style tables set up between the rows of grapes. Set among the meadows of Tuinen Van West, Rijk van de Keizer is a laid-back hideaway where you can fill up on seasonal garden-to-table fare at their dreamy once-a-month restaurant or, on summer weekends, have lunch and drinks on the terrace of their quirky cantina.
Breathe in a heady dose of oxygen include wandering through the city’s botanical gardens, the Hortus Botanicus Amsterdam. Here, rare herbs were cultivated to serve medicinal purposes as far back as 1638. The equally impressive Botanic Garden Zuidas, owned by the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, sits near the edge of the city and has more than 6,000 plant varieties on display, as well as the Netherlands’ largest collection of cacti and succulents.
Amsterdam even has its own city forest, the Amsterdamse Bos. This green oasis is three times the size of New York’s central park and home to wild deer, grazing highland cows and many species of birds. There’s a goat farm, should you want to stock up on organic goat milk and cheese, or put your zen to the ultimate test during a session of goat yoga. Aside from walking and cycling through the green expanse, it provides the opportunity for kid-friendly outdoor activities: kayaking on the lakes, whizzing along zip lines in the Fun Forest climbing park or captaining an electric boat. Diemerbos, in Diemen, is part of the gorgeous lush "Gaasp en Diem" nature reserve, less than an hour bike ride southeast from Amsterdam. Spaarnwoude is a similar distance and boasts more than 3,000 hectares of forest, farmland and waterways in a serene natural setting.
Though famous for its museums and 17th-century architecture, Amsterdam’s beach abound, from little slivers of sand dotted across the city to long swathes of powdery perfection just 30 minutes from the centre. Tuck into a tasty salmon tartar or savory sea bass to the backdrop of waves lapping along the beach at Haas & Popi, a kid-friendly restaurant in IJburg. Over in hip up-and-coming Houthavens neighbourhood, Dok Amsterdam invites guests to sit with a drink in hand, toes in the sand and soak in summer vibes with a table-side BBQ. The staff sets everything up for you so all you have to do is turn the food on the grill and enjoy the waterfront view.
Looking for more under-the-radar Amsterdam experiences? Check out these 15 hidden gems.