Amsterdam for the Anti-Tourist
Maybe this isn't your first time visiting Venice of the North, or maybe you just aren't in the mood to consume so many edibles that you discover yourself wandering the streets of the Red Light District wondering where your wallet went. Either way, I find that Amsterdam's lesser-known destinations are the ones which give the city its unmistakable charm. My MA Publishing colleagues and I spent a week in Amsterdam mainly for academic purposes but managed to fit in plenty of gezellig (I'm told that's Dutch for something like relaxing/ being cozy and vaguely about good aesthetics).
1. Athenaeum Bookshop
Amsterdam is one of the best cities in the world for independent bookshops and publishers. Unbeknownst to most visitors, CB (formally Centraal Boekhuis) is one of the largest distributors of books in the entire Dutch-speaking area and essentially holds a monopoly over book distribution in Holland. That makes it all the more important to support independent book publishers and distributors while visiting.
Athenaeum Boekhandel is one of the oldest independent bookshops in Amsterdam, tucked away just outside the city center. With a fantastic Dutch/ English magazine and book collection including topics ranging from travel to fashion to architecture, the bookshop also boasts an impressive zine collection. Locals still stop in every day to pick up their magazine subscriptions and daily newspapers, the same routine they've done since 1966. Stay a while at Athenaeum to get a real slice of Dutch culture.
2. Hollandse Nieuwe
Also known as soused herring. If you're in Amsterdam between May and July, look for street vendors selling this raw herring snack– they'll be speckled throughout the canal streets. Eating the nutrient-rich fish in its raw form is a Dutch tradition dating back to the 13th century, so no need to be daunted by the raw factor. After being soaked in vinegar, the fish is chopped into small bite-size pieces, broodje haring, and served on a paper plate paired with sweet pickles and onions. It's great for lovers of all things sweet/salty. And believe me, it is salty.
I can't personally condone this, but the Dutch say Hollandse Nieuwe is a great remedy for hangovers.
3. The Stedelijk
Don't be fooled, Amsterdam has more artistic ventures to offer than just the Van Gough Museum. The Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam houses modern, postmodern, and contemporary art with an emphasis on design. With proper research you'll catch comprehensive temporary exhibitions such as Maria Lassnig's 'Ways of Seeing,' which documented her entire life's work.
The commonplace art history buff will be thrilled to see sections of the museum devoted to feminist movements, migration, and contemporary graphic design.
What's on at the Stedelijk in 2020? Hybrid Sculpture, Chagall, Picasso, Mondrian, and Japanese graphic design will be sure to draw in Amsterdam locals and international visitors alike.
On a warm day in the city, locals migrate to Vondelpark to run, bike, relax, and be stereotypical healthy/ happy Europeans. The park spans 120 acres in the borough of Amsterdam-Zuid, which means there's plenty of room to sprawl out on the grass with a blanket and lunch. Even though smoking weed in public is illegal in Amsterdam, it is quietly tolerated in Vondelpark.
In between meetings, my colleagues and I often opted for lunch in Vondelpark. We made daily trips to Albert Heijn, a large chain grocery store in Holland. The store only offered one or two different brands per item, but otherwise was similar to any UK or US grocery. I chuckled as I imagined an American conservative walking into an Albert Heijn and having a conniption at the sheer lack of brand diversity.
We opted for a tapas-style à la Albert Heijn lunch of chorizo, red pepper spread, Ciliegine mozzarella, hummus, olives, and freshly-baked sourdough. Encouraged by the warm sun, we concocted our own Aperol Spritz cocktails. And for dessert, because technically this counted as vacation where dessert is not only permitted but encouraged after lunch, we each had a slice of ontbijtkoek (Dutch version of spiced pound cake).
5. Café AMOI
Stylish and low-key at the same time, Café AMOI serves up some of the best Indonesian food in Amsterdam. With a refreshing cocktail menu and mix of traditional and lesser known mains, this is a good find for those in search of originality.
6. Vegan Junk Food Bar
Self-explanatory. This cozy restaurant is located in Marie Heinekenplein, an effortlessly cool square residing just outside the city center. Every day of the week you'll find young families and college kids hanging out at the Heinekenplein. VJFB's food is of the "I can't believe it's not real meat" variety, featuring menu items like no-tuna sashimi, sausage 3.0 bratwurst, and Shawarma-loaded fries.
7. San Serriffe
Did I mention the importance of supporting independent bookshops? This art bookshop is a true gem, and IMHO one of the most creative independent bookshops in Europe. Featuring masterfully crafted alternative and graphic design publications, have a stop in here to buy something you'll keep forever. The prices are great, too. After flipping through books for about an hour, I opted for Phaidon's Fear and Love and a Dutch zine about alien abductions, because yes.
8. Café de Wetering
Nestled away in the art and antiques district of the city, Spiegelkwartier, lies this cozy Dutch pub that epitomizes gezellig. The tiny drinks and snacks-only establishment is a brown café, a category of Amsterdam pubs known for their dark wood- paneled interiors complete with leather armchairs and a signature cigarette smoke smell. You'll probably see some old Dutch gentlemen nursing a pint by the fireplace, and have the residential friendly tabby cat rubbing up against your leg in no time.
We stopped here on our last night in Amsterdam, and found it was the perfect place to recount the little visit we were already nostalgic for.