Amsterdam is a city you should experience on foot or by bike, simply because every corner holds a little surprise. Most people know Amsterdam because of its drug policy, its red light district or the Van Gogh museum, so I won’t talk about those.
Leave behind the busy streets, and walk a few hundred metres to escape the tourists. Walk. Take time to look at the narrow streets with trees and flowers, the canals lined with typical houseboats and the beautiful apartments. In Amsterdam, windows are large so when the sun shines everybody can have their share and almost nobody uses curtains. This makes it very easy to get a glimpse of the interiors. Many of the apartments in the central area are beautiful and eclectic, and some are used as studios or labs. Don’t be shy and take a peek into the rooms; you could get some inspiration to furnish your own apartment.
It’s best to take this walk very early in the morning or straight after a night of partying – before your beauty sleep – if you want to enjoy the extra experience of watching a busy city like Amsterdam go to sleep, die down and slowly wake up again. It’s really worth the effort.
For more unconventional visiting you should find yourself a local. Jeroen and Lotte, in addition to being one of the coolest and cutest couples I’ve ever met, are two very knowledgeable locals: they showed us around the northern part of the city. This area only recently began to be recognised as a valuable and authentic part of Amsterdam, up until now and to some extent still, citizens considered this area as an annex and not really as part to the city itself.
To get to northern Amsterdam you will have to take a ferry (15min ride free of charge). Arrive at the central station and exit from the back and you’ll find the ferry dock on your left. The furthest dock is the NDSM Werf and takes you a bit to the right of the ‘Eye’ the cinema museum in Amsterdam north. Once on the other side you can observe several examples of regeneration and building reuse. Almost all the industrial buildings along the river are being reused for a new purpose. One example is the red brick building to the left of the ferry landing which once hosted the naval workers during their lunch break and is now a restaurant. Apparently a lot of the ex-workers continued to come to the building even after the transformation, which didn’t make the restaurant owners very happy. The city government decided to resolve the issue by allocating a different building not far from the original one for the workers and still today, on weekdays, these old men come to enjoy their lunch together and socialise.
Other buildings have been transformed in restaurants or bars, like the former helicopter platform visible on the right during the ferry crossing, now the Rem Eiland (website) and in the 60s the headquarters of a pirate radio station. Or the smaller Noorderlicht (website) further on the right side of the area after the TT Neveritaweg, two huge factory buildings . The first hangar hosts a 700 stand big flea market once a month and its sibling is home to a skatepark and a number of organisations and cooperatives, mostly arts-related but not exclusively. Each organisation bought several square metres inside the building where they were allowed to build their own offices and labs with the material of their choice. That’s why when you enter the huge hangar, you walk around a number of small constructions, some in wood, some made of old recycled containers others an original mix of panels.
More office space can be found in the longest building in Europe used for this purpose, the Kraanspoor. It was built over the concrete craneway of the Dutch Dock and Shipbuilding Company that the architect bought from the city of Amsterdam for the symbolic sum of €1.
My personal favourite though is the idea of recycling containers and using them as student apartments. Each container is a basic but complete apartment – bathroom and kitchen – and has the advantage of being transferable pretty much everywhere, you can even pile one container over the other and have a whole ‘student house’. Renting one is €400 per month which apparently is cheap by Amsterdam standards where a room is usually between €500 and €600.
After enjoying an organic coke at the Noorderlicht you can have a quick snack on the way back to central Amsterdam and start partying all over again. A fun place for shots is Chupitos (website), a tiny crowded bar near Leidseplein with the widest and wildest choice of shots I’ve ever seen. Prices range from €2.5 to €4.5 and the percentage of alcohol rises accordingly. Some have crazy preparations or consumption processes: try the Harry Potter for some flames and the Chemistry for some complicated drinking. The Blood of Satan is a good one if you’re looking for strong and easy, the general feeling is that the shots are usually quite sweet and light, no plain alcohol. Have fun trying some funny names and jump around with the rest of the crowd.
Clubs and music bars are the next step. The idea is to be flexible and not too picky. Enjoy the company! We ended up in a karaoke place, then in a fancy club and lastly in a house-disco venue. The karaoke one was probably the coolest of the three but the point is to enjoy the energy and general positive, laid back feeling.