Updated: 02/03/20 | February 3rd, 2020
When people think of Amsterdam, they usually think of three things: coffee shops, red lights, and canals.
And for most travelers, that’s all they’ll ever see.
Young travelers tend to frequent the coffee shops or wander the Red Light District, while older travelers take bike tours, canal trips, and frequent the museums. Then, after three or four days, they move on to their next destination.
I fell in love with Amsterdam in 2006 and have been back to the city more than five times since then. Each time I get to explore more of the city and realize just how much it has to offer.
It always saddens me when I hear other travelers talk about what they did because it’s always the same, and yesterday in Berlin, a traveler said he hated the city because it was all coffee shops and red lights. I told him he hadn’t seen the city and gave him a list of things to do next time.
After visiting the city so many times, I find myself always doing something off the beaten track. I keep ticking off the list of things to do and finding ones I never knew existed.
Amsterdam has much to offer travelers. When you’ve grown sick of coffeeshops, stoned backpackers, creepy old guys in the Red Light district, and crowds at the Van Gogh museum, visit some of these quieter and more local places:
1. The Tulip Museum
Located in a room inside a tulip shop, this little place does an interesting job of telling the history of tulips in Holland and the infamous tulip craze. The story goes that tulips were brought to the Netherlands in the 17th-century from the Ottoman Empire, and they became hugely popular all around the country (but especially with the upper class).
To this day, the tulip holds a special place in Dutch culture. You can learn more about the flower’s history in this cozy museum. And best of all: you’ll never find a crowd here!
Prinsengracht 116, +31 20-421-0095, amsterdamtulipmuseum.com. Open daily from 10am-6pm. Admission is 5 EUR for adults, 3 EUR for students, and 10 EUR for families.
2. The Jordaan
I’m always amazed at how few tourists visit Jordaan since it’s right next to the city center. This former working-class district is now a maze of cafes, little shops, and restaurants. During the summertime, it’s a popular spot for people to go to eat.
I absolutely love wandering around here as the narrow streets have all sorts of neat shops and pubs. It’s a great place to window shop or pick up some souvenirs to take home.
FOAM (Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam) is a photography museum that opened in 2001. The museum houses wonderful pictures and sees very few crowds despite being in the main part of the city. It’s a must for any photography or art lover.
Not only are there exhibitions by world-famous photographers but there are also smaller, temporary exhibits for up and coming artists as well. I really enjoyed all the black-and-white photographs and the outdoor garden.
Keizersgracht 609, +31 20-551-6500, foam.org. Open daily from 10am-6pm (9pm on Thursdays and Fridays). Admission is 15 EUR for adults and 12 EUR for students.
4. The Houseboat Museum
Not much of a museum, but this decorated houseboat gives you an interesting glimpse into what living on the canals is like. Built in 1914, the boat was originally used for hauling sand, coal, and gravel. In the 1960s it was converted into a houseboat and was lived in for around 20 years.
While it was fun to get a sense of life in a houseboat, I walked away with a strong impression of life on the canals: cramped.
Prinsengracht 296K, +31 20-427-0750, houseboatmuseum.nl. Open Tuesday-Sunday from 10am-5pm. Admission is 4.50 EUR for adults and 3.50 EUR for kids 15 and under.
The area east of the city (“Oost” means east) has an amazing park, a zoo, and lots of delicious Middle Eastern eateries. Wandering around here, you’d be hard-pressed to find more than a handful of tourists, most of whom are probably lost.
Be sure to visit Dappermark, a street market that has been around for over 100 years! You can find pretty much everything here, making it a good place to browse or people watch.
6. Rembrandt Park
Not to be confused with Rembrandtplein in the city center, this park west of the city is a good place to wander. Dating back to the 1940s, the area around it is pretty working class and a bit more modern—a good contrast to the historic center.
The park is named after the famous 17th-century painter Rembrandt van Rijn. You’ll know you’re there when signs suddenly stop being printed in English!
7. KattenKabinet (The Cat Cabinet)
Located in a townhouse that was built in the 17th century, this quirky museum was the passion project of Bob Meijer, who started the museum in 1990. After losing his pet cat, he started collecting all sorts of cat art and paraphernalia, which expanded over the years to fill his entire house. Not only is there all sorts of weird and wonderful cat art, but there are actual cats that live there too.
While it is a weird museum, it’s presented in a very typical, stuffy museum way — which makes it even more fun and tongue-in-cheek.
497 Herengracht, +31 020-626-9040, www.kattenkabinet.nl. Open Monday-Friday from 10am-5pm and from 12pm-5pm on the weekends. Admission is 7 EUR for adults, 4 EUR for students, and free for kids under 12.
8. Electric Ladyland
The is the world’s first (and probably only) museum dedicated to fluorescent light. There are displays that react and light up when the black light is turned on, as well as a more experiential space where you can just wander and interact with the colors and objects that you see. It’s definitely not your typical art gallery/museum!
Tweede Leliedwarsstraat 5, +31 020-420-3776, electricladyland.appointy.com. All visits must be booked in advance. Possible visiting hours are Wednesday-Saturday from 2pm-6pm. Admission is 5 EUR for adults and free for anyone under 12.
This “zoo” is home to all sorts of microbes and bacteria. You can wander the displays, look through microscopes, and learn about all the invisible microbes that we interact with day to day, and you can even scan yourself to see what bacteria and microbes are on you t that very minute!
When it comes to zoos, this is definitely one of the most unique ones you’ll ever visit!
Plantage Kerklaan 38-40, +31 20-523-3671, micropia.nl/en. Open daily from 9am-6pm (8pm on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays). Admission is 14 EUR for adults and 12 EUR for kids under 9.
10. The Torture Museum
The name says it all! This museum is dedicated to showcasing the punishments prisoners faced throughout the city’s history. There are all sorts of brutal tools as well as a hanging cage (where the guilty party would be suspended in the air for all to see, as an example) as well as an Inquisition chair victims who needed more…involved punishment. While it’s not exactly a great place to bring the kids, it’s definitely worth a visit if you’re curious how justice was meted out in the past.
449 Singel, +31 020-320-6642, torturemuseum.com. Open daily from 10am-11pm. Admission is 7.50 EUR for adults and 4 EUR for kids under 12 (though you might want to leave the kids at home for this one).
11. De Poezenboot (The Cat Boat)
The Cat Boat is actually an animal sanctuary located on a boat in the canal. It was founded in 1966, and over the years has collected — and found homes for — many of the city’s stray cats. There are up to 50 cats on the boat, 14 of which live there permanently while the rest are available for adoption.
The Cat Boat relies on donations to stay afloat, so be sure to leave a small donation when you stop by to play with some of the feline residents.
Singel 38G, +31, 020-625-8794, depoezenboot.nl/en. Open daily between 1pm-3pm. Admission is free but donations are appreciated!
12. The Hash Marihuana & Hemp Museum
Opened in 1985, this museum highlights the various uses of hemp. From rope and clothing to its more illicit uses, the museum does a great job at showing the importance of hemp, hash, and marihuana throughout history. There’s even an indoor garden with cannabis plants you can check out.
Contrary to what you might expect, this isn’t a stoner museum but rather an informative look at the past, present, and future of one of the world’s most important plants.
Oudezijdsachterburgwal 148, +31 020-624-8926, hashmuseum.com. Open daily from 10am-10pm. Admission is 9 EUR for adults if you book online and it comes with a free audio tour.
13. Museum Vrolik
This museum isn’t for everyone as it is home to one of the largest collections of human (and animal) deformities. The collection was originally privately owned by is now owned by the Univerisity of Amsterdam. It’s is home to over 150 different items, including creepy jars holding fetuses, human and animal skeletons, and even the remains of a pair of conjoined twins. It’s definitely interesting and informative, but it’s also super weird. Definitely not your standard tourist trap!
Meibergdreef 15, +31 020-566-4927, amc.nl/web/museum-vrolik.htm. Open Monday-Friday from 11am-5pm. Admission is 7.50 EUR for adults and 3 EUR for kids under 12.
Amsterdam has so much to offer that pigeonholing it as a place of hookers, marijuana, and a canal tour is a crime against humanity. There’s so much to do, it’s an architectural wonder, and the locals are super friendly. When you visit, get out of the tourist city center, see the hidden gems and local neighborhoods, and find out that Amsterdam is everything you didn’t think it would be.
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You should book your hostel with Hostelworld as they have the largest inventory. If you want to stay elsewhere, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels. Some of my favorite places to stay in Amsterdam are:
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