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By The Way
Detours with locals. Travel tips you can trust.
A biker in the Old West neighborhood. (FTWP)

A local’s guide to Amsterdam

A biker in the Old West neighborhood. (FTWP)
  • By Tim Igor Snijders
  • Photos by Rene Koster

Could it be that Amsterdam is at its zenith? Our cultural treasures stand proud in fully renovated museums, there’s good food and better coffee in every borough, and even veteran clubgoers have a hard time getting bored with the nightlife. As the city expands, Amsterdammers are proving to be quiet masters of reinvention. Give them a concrete void anywhere, and they’ll make flowers bloom.

Sure, there’s a fiery debate about increasing gentrification, and there’s a nostalgia among some for the city’s edgier days. But recent developments have hardly crushed the spirit of the residents. And there seem to be more people than ever excited to join our little town, from just about every place in the world.

Meet Tim Igor Snijders

Tim is from Leiden, Netherlands, but moved to Amsterdam to study history in 2012 and never looked back. He’s quietly wondering how many years you have to live here to call yourself an Amsterdammer. Either way, it’s home.

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Read more about Tim


There is a place to stay for every type of visitor in the area around Oosterpark, in the city’s east. It includes hotels, hostels and the quirky but cool Volkshotel, housed in the former headquarters of a newspaper. Aside from the bars and restaurants around Oosterpark, this area is close to the Dappermarkt, one of the city’s busiest markets. Find this neighborhood.
Oud West
Check for Airbnbs in the Old West (Oud West). In the Helmersbuurt, for instance: a gorgeous 19th-century brick neighborhood. It’s close to city life, but its residential area is relatively quiet. On the other side of the spectrum is the Kinkerbuurt, historically home to blue-collar workers but increasingly gentrified these days. The jury’s still out on whether that’s a good thing, but the Kinkerbuurt certainly hasn’t lost its distinct, folksy character. Find this neighborhood.

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Coffee Bru
There are some “squares” that make you wonder why they are labeled that way. And Beukenplein (‘Beech square’) is one of them, not in the least because there’s a road running right through it. But look past that, and you’ll find a bunch of coffee shops, bars and restaurants. Among them is Coffee Bru, a cozy and colorful spot that doesn’t just serve excellent specialty coffee, but also has sandwiches and various fruity cereal bowls to get your day started.
BTW: If you’re coming from the other side of town, Trams 1 and 3 will take you right to Bru’s front door, so you can save your energy for a stroll in the nearby Oosterpark.
Coffee Bru, Beukenplein 14, 1092 KG Amsterdam
Bar Spek
Modern without being pretentious, accessible without being plain, Bar Spek has become a popular spot for residents of neighborhood de Baarsjes, in the West. Breakfast, from yogurt to pancakes, is served until 4 p.m. This is a great place if you want to fuel up with coffee and a big, fat first meal of the day before heading into town. But Spek also has plenty to offer if you’re here for drinks or dinner. Its dishes include burgers and fish, but unlike its name implies (spek is Dutch for bacon), there are plenty of meatless options on the menu here.
BTW: From Spek, you’ll walk right into the lively de Clercqstraat. End your walk in Bilderdijkpark with a drink at cheerful cafe and restaurant Flora.
Bar Spek, Admiraal de Ruijterweg 1, 1057 JT Amsterdam
Little Collins
Dare we say the Netherlands is not a brunch country? Leave it to Little Collins to prove us wrong. This place on the West’s Bilderdijkstraat is guaranteed to draw a (local) crowd on any given Sunday. It likes its dishes full, hearty and rich in herbs, its Turkish cilbir (poached eggs in labneh yogurt with dill and flatbread) being a prime example. It all comes with a side of booze, if you’re into that. Little Collins, its name a reference to the abundant eating culture of a street in Melbourne, Australia, serves its brunch late, past 3 p.m.
BTW: It can never hurt to make a reservation, especially on those aforementioned Sundays.
Little Collins, Bilderdijkstraat 140, 1053 LA Amsterdam
Cafe de Walvis
This cafe on the Spaarndammerbuurt neighborhood’s main street is where you can walk in for lunch or dinner after roaming the block. Look for the fish-stick sandwich as you take a seat in one of the vintage classroom chairs, a staple of Amsterdam restaurant culture.
BTW: Cafe de Walvis has a fair amount of vegan options, like a vegan burger and vegan bahn mi.
address: Cafe de Walvis, Spaarndammerstraat 516, 1013 SZ Amsterdam
phone: 011-31-20-773-9374
instagram: cafedewalvis
Bar Botanique
Botanique is on hallowed ground. The famed Ponteneur restaurant was located on this spot in the city’s eastern borough for some 25 years. Over the past few years, Botanique has proved a worthy successor, becoming a local favorite in the East’s Javastraat. Botanique serves pizza, burgers and fish in a tropical, oasis-like interior. But it’s also a great hangout to enjoy your morning coffee or late-night cocktails at the bar.
BTW: If you don’t eat meat or other animal products, there are plenty of vegan options here.
Bar Botanique, Eerste van Swindenstraat 581, 1093 LC Amsterdam
De School
De School was once Amsterdam’s hottest club. It has since closed, but an industrial-chic restaurant in this former technical school remains. You’ll have the choice of a three-, five- or seven-course meal, with a different menu to choose from every month. The restaurant, a spacious and bright former workroom for auto mechanics in training, has within just a few years become known for great, affordable food and good service.
BTW: If you don’t have time for an extensive dinner, try the low-key Café DS next door, where they serve simple meals in a cozy atmosphere.
De School, Dr. Jan van Breemenstraat 1, 1056 AB Amsterdam
Located between Westerpark and the historic Spaarndammerbuurt neighborhood, this small and unremarkable place is easy to bypass, if only because it’s beside a busy intersection. But the food at Dumplings is not something you want to miss. The Chinese chef serves tasty dumplings, crepes, bao bao buns and spring rolls, but even if you have a bigger appetite, this is the right place. Dumplings also has noodle and rice dishes on the menu.
BTW: Don’t wait too late; the shop closes at 8:30 p.m.
Dumplings, Nassauplein 60, 1052 AH Amsterdam
A little slice of Berlin in Amsterdam, but not the cool kind. And that’s just the point. Named for German playwright Bertolt Brecht, this bar looks like your great-grandmother’s living room, complete with vintage fabric lampshades and armchairs. Consider it a subtle rebuke of strained efforts elsewhere in the city to be hip. At Brecht, you can enjoy a variety of German beers (naturally) and snacks like pretzels. But there’s room for other influences: The cheeses are local, and the coffee’s from Italy. Important soccer matches are shown on the big screen — and no, not just when Die Mannschaft (the German men’s national team) is playing.
BTW: Get there early if you want to sit outside; there are just a few seats available.
Brecht, Weteringschans 157, 1017 SE Amsterdam
(Amsterdam illustrator Daniel Maarlveld for The Washington Post)
  1. You can never count on any one type of weather in Amsterdam, so be prepared. Sure, the summers are hot, but the Netherlands is like Europe’s Seattle. It’s gonna rain at some point.
  2. It is not necessary to tip in restaurants and cafes, let alone a set percentage. Waiters in the Netherlands do not rely on tipping for their wages. It is however appreciated when you tip for exceptional service.
  3. Don’t rent a bike. Seriously.
(Amsterdam illustrator Daniel Maarlveld for The Washington Post)


Old in years, but young in spirit, Kriterion is one of the most notable cinemas in town. Its operators have everything to do with that: Kriterion is a student-run cooperative. It’s part of a range of businesses that includes another cinema and club, a restaurant and a gas station (really). They were founded in 1945 to help students pay their way through college. You can catch new releases and classic films here, but Kriterion is also just a great local hangout to have a coffee or craft beer. You’ll be joining students of the nearby University of Amsterdam and senior cinefiles alike.
BTW: Kriterion’s cafe does Taco Tuesdays.
Kriterion, Roetersstraat 170, 1018 WE Amsterdam
De Trut
De Trut is a small gay bar in the West without the see-and-be-seen vibe of the main LGBTQ street, Reguliersdwarsstraat, in the city center. A staple of gay nightlife since 1985, De Trut is not a commercial enterprise, but a foundation. Bartenders are volunteers, beer is cheap, and the entrance fee is 2.5 euros. Donations are welcome, and any profits go to fund small-scale LGBTQ initiatives around the world. Oh, and about the name: It translates as “the Bitch.”
BTW: You’ll be off the radar once inside: No phones allowed here.
De Trut, Bilderdijkstraat 165 E, 1053 KP Amsterdam
Huis Marseille
This photography museum is smaller and more offbeat in its choice of exhibitions than its big sister, Foam. Huis Marseille is housed in a 17th-century canal house and was the first photography museum in the city, distinguishing itself to this day by showing photography primarily as an art form. The museum is a lot quieter than its bigger counterpart, perhaps because it is less well known, offering loads of calm space to take in the works. You’re sure to leave inspired and enlightened.
BTW: Exhibitions usually extend into the little house in the garden, so don’t forget to walk in.
Huis Marseille, Keizersgracht 401, 1016 EK Amsterdam
De Nieuwe Anita
“This must be the place,” you’ll hear yourself say as you reach the entrance. You have to look twice to spot it between apartment buildings in the West’s Frederik Hendrikstraat. The unpretentious Nieuwe Anita offers live concerts, comedy improv nights and other performances. But “Anita” — think Grandma’s lampshades, old train seats and local craft beers — is equally enjoyable without a show, when it serves as a neighborhood hangout. Tickets are never expensive; in fact, on many nights, you can get in free or make a donation.
BTW: On Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, a chef cooks up a nice meal. But Hugo de Grootplein, a roundabout full of restaurants, is just next door.
De Nieuwe Anita, Frederik Hendrikstraat 111, 1052 HN Amsterdam
Amsterdamse Bos
Amsterdam doesn’t just have a dizzying number of parks — it’s also home to an actual forest. The entirely man-made Amsterdamse Bos, which stretches into the municipality of Amstelveen, is three times the size of New York’s Central Park and home to tons of activities, from kayaking to greeting goats at the petting zoo. Get around the greens by renting a bike — something that isn’t a hazard here like it is in the city. Or just find a spot on the lawn, lie down and recharge.
BTW: There’s a vintage tram that leaves from Haarlemmermeerstation and takes you directly to the forest from the city’s South.
Amsterdamse Bos, Nieuwe Meerlaan 3, 1182 DA Amstelveen
De Ceuvel
A former wharf up north was transformed into a social and creative hub, made up of old houseboats moved to dry land. Around the boats, plants proliferate to clean up the soil. De Ceuvel is the first workplace in the city where all material is either reused or recycled. But the name is also on everybody’s lips as soon as the sun is out: It’s one of Amsterdam’s best watersides. Tour the project and have a drink or bite at Cafe de Ceuvel, where you’ll do your part for sustainability. The cafe collects urine from the bathroom and turns it into phosphate, a fertilizer for local food production.
BTW: Take the ferry from Pontsteiger in the West to Distelweg, and it’s a short walk to De Ceuvel.
De Ceuvel, Korte Papaverweg 4, 1032 KB Amsterdam
Tim Igor Snijders
Tim is from Leiden, Netherlands, but moved to Amsterdam to study history in 2012 and never looked back. He’s quietly wondering how many years you have to live here to call yourself an Amsterdammer. Either way, it’s home.
Rene Koster
Rene Koster is a contributing photographer to The Washington Post based in Amsterdam.