Save money. Do more. Dutch author Anja de Jager reveals how to avoid the tourists and experience her home city, Amsterdam, like a local
Eye Film Museum (eyefilm.nl)
Amsterdam is all about the water and some of the best views can be had from the canals. That’s why the roundtrips on the canal boats are so popular with tourists.
But why not join the locals on one of the small ferries that leave from the back of Amsterdam Centraal Station? The short hop rides (3-5 minutes) take you to the north side of the city and are free of charge for pedestrians and cyclists.
On the north side, visit the wonderful new Eye Film museum. Apart from great documentaries and interesting movies, the museum features a restaurant with stunning views over the IJ river. I can spend hours there, just watching the ships go by.
Also worth a visit is the Tolhuistuin, or just wander down the backstreets and admire the converted house boats. For a nice little walk, take the 901 or 907 ferry from Centraal to Buiksloterweg. Then stroll to the IJplein and take the 902 ferry to return to Centraal. Make sure you do it this way round for the great views of the St Nicolaas Basiliek on the way back.
Inside the old gas works at Westergasfabrie (westergasfabriek.nl)
The vast majority of tourists always end up at the Vondelpark at some point. It is close to the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum, and a good place to have a 5-minute break between museum visits. But if you like parks, you should take the line 10 tram to the Westerpark instead, or the ‘Park at the Westergasfabriek’ to give it it’s full name. This lovely green space is well worth a visit.
The central focus of the park is a redeveloped old gas factory and is now seen around the world as a showcase for how a brownfield site can be made into a vibrant new area. To me, this place feels very Dutch, even if it was designed by an American landscape architect.
The 35-acre site has free WiFi in large parts, as a fibre optic network has been laid underneath the park. It is part of what’s called De Brettenzone, which is a large ecological area that starts at the Westerpark and runs to Spaarnwoude, and provides continuous space for amphibians and birds, but also has plenty of room for humans with a 15-km long path for cyclists and pedestrians.
Flea market in Amsterdam (Dreamstime)
You could go to the Bijenkorf, the huge department store by Dam Square. But if you want to get a real taste of how local people shop, you should visit one of Amsterdam’s many street markets. These neighbourhood markets are great for food, especially fruit and vegetables.
The most famous one, and the busiest one, is the Albert Cuyp market. But I prefer the one at the Ten Katestraat. It is a little smaller but, with over 100 stalls, there is still plenty of shopping to be done. That it’s less hectic than the Albert Cuyp is a bonus in my view.
It is easy to reach on the tram 17. Even if you don’t buy anything, it’s a lot of fun to look around this market which is open every day.
Dutch beach at sunset (Dreamstime)
If you’re in Amsterdam for more than a couple of days, I strongly recommend you go to the coast. A wide strip of sand runs along almost the entire west coast of the country and the beaches are wonderful. I love going at any time of year but especially on a windy day, to get the cobwebs blown out of my head. Luckily, we have plenty of windy days.
The train to Zandvoort aan Zee leaves from Amsterdam Centraal Station and goes twice an hour. This is normally a double-decker train that takes thirty-minutes to carry you to the coast. On the outward journey, sit on the left-hand side for great views of Haarlem, a beautiful town that is well worth a visit if you have spare time.
When you step off the train at Zandvoort, you’ll know you’ve arrived because you can smell the sea. The main attraction here isn’t the village of Zandvoort but the beach itself, only a five-minute walk away from the platform. Have a leisurely stroll along the shoreline and stop off at one of the many beach pavilions that are open 365 days a year.
The train ticket is quite affordable and a trip to the beach is a wonderful way to spend a day.
Indonesian food (Dreamstime)
Nobody should leave the Netherlands without having eaten Indonesian food. It is to Dutch people what Indian food is to the British. I’m not going to recommend a particular restaurant because there are so many decent ones. Even the Tokos (takeaway restaurants) serve great food.
It’s often difficult to know what to order when you try a new cuisine, so I would recommend starting with a Bami Rammes or Nasi Rammes (Bami is fried noodles, Nasi is fried rice), which will give you a bit of everything. Unless, of course, you’re ready for a gut-busting meal and then a rijsttafel (rice table) is perfect. If you like spicy food, you'll love Indonesian food.
Anja de Jager is a Dutch author, based in London, who writes in English. She draws inspiration from cases that her father, a retired police detective, worked on in the Netherlands. Her novels A Cold Death in Amsterdam and A Cold Case in Amsterdam Central can be ordered on Amazon now.
Main image: Amsterdam canal at night (Dreamstime)