When you visit a city you may be blinded by the lure of the major attractions and tourist hot-spots. But with a little bit of inside knowledge, there are secrets waiting to be discovered. Whether it is a hidden eatery that only the locals are savvy to, or an overlooked beauty spot, here we unearth Amsterdam’s best kept secrets for you to discover on your mini cruise holiday.
Head to Albert Cupy in De Pijp in search of The Butcher, one of the city’s speakeasy bars. Unassuming and deceptive, you can walk into The Butcher from the street, but all isn’t as it seems.
The stylish shop is in fact one of the best places to get a burger in the area, and this is how to appear day and night. Book your reservation with them beforehand and upon arrival inform the man behind the counter, he will swiftly direct you to a silver door. Confusion may set in. At first glance it looks like nothing more than a fridge which likely stores meat. On the side there is a buzzer which will ask you for the password as well as your names, before sliding open.
Suddenly you have stepped out of an everyday burger-joint and into something not too dissimilar to Narnia. A large room offering drinks and dining is presented in front of you, furnished with Chesterfields and velvet sofas. If you are one of those fortunate enough to gain entry into this secret establishment then appreciate the spectacle of it all. The password, secret doors, secret room and exceptional service and drinks.
Explore De Pijp
Don’t head straight back to the cruise after visiting The Butcher, check out the rest of what De Pijp has to offer. Amsterdam is undoubtedly a very Bohemian city, but this neighbourhood is quite possibly the most colourful of any. De Pijp is the Latin Quarter, home to an eclectic mixture of terraces, cafés, markets and independent stores, it is a place for the curious and the open-minded.
It is an area that is very rarely visited by everyday tourists which is surprising considering the Heineken Experience and other popular attractions are just a short walk away. Aside from Heineken and The Butcher, check out the Albert Cuyp market, where more than 300 stalls sell everything from clothes to local food.
Visit the Cat Museum
If you are someone who takes regular cruise holidays then you have probably seen a number of museums is various locations dedicated to some pretty specific subjects. But have you visited a cat museum? The KattenKabinet is a collection of exhibits showcasing the role that cats have played in art and culture.
Founded in 1990 by Bob Meijer, KattenKabinet acts as a memorial for his own departed cat, John Pierpont Morgan. Every five years J.P. Morgan would receive birthday presents from the friends of Meijer including paintings and sculptures. This is certainly a must for any cat lover who is taking a mini cruise holiday.
De Hollandsche Manege
Hidden in the centre of Amsterdam is the Amsterdam Riding School, the oldest of its kind in the Netherlands and one of but a few in a European city. The building dates back to 1992 and was designed by A.L van Gendt, who was inspired by the Spanish Riding School in Vienna. Today you can book classes and courses with the instructors, or head up to the stunning foyer upstairs where you can enjoy a drink as you watch riders trot around the indoor arena.
You can find brilliant bars and cafés across the city on your mini cruise, but when it comes to Amsterdam’s best kept secrets, few can compare to Door 74. In your quest for a different place to enjoy a drink you will probably have walked past the entrance to this place. There is no sign, no indication that there is a bar, which makes this a real hidden gem in the city.
It is a very need-to-know process. Book yourself a spot on the day that you intend to visit and you will be permitted entry. Once inside however, you will have to adhere to a number of rules. Door 74 is themed around the Prohibition era of 1920 and to ensure a civilised atmosphere you cannot use your mobile, nor see this as the location to strike up a holiday romance. These rules do though make for a brilliant experience at a bar that has been featured prominently on the list of the World’s best bars.
If you are the adventurous type who is happy to just go out and explore, then perhaps you may stumble across De Cantina. Hire a bicycle and head towards the green spaces in Amsterdam West to find the café. It is hard to believe that such a quaint and tranquil place can be found in a city, but it is and it is yours to enjoy.
Perfect for a hot sunny day, lay down on the sun-deck, in a hammock or an old cars cut in-half as a seat. This is a must visit place for some peace and quiet.
Porem is another one of Amsterdam’s speak-easy bars. Relatively fresh on the scene, the name is a combination of the slang for “face” in Dutch with the verb for concocting a cocktail. This is very much a classic bar for those seeking great drinks with a great atmosphere and delicious Asian bar snacks.
If this sounds like your thing then look out for the Gheisa restaurant, one of the best places for sushi and Asian fusion in the city. Keep an eye out for the right door and the right doorbell and you’ll find one of the best drinking spots in the city.
With views that stretch out across the entire city to the horizon, Blue Amsterdam is a café and restaurant that serves up everything from cakes and snacks to dinner, with a side order of a 360-degree panorama.
Housed in a futuristic glass tower, designed by Pi de Bruijn, take the glass elevator all the way to the third floor where you can see the city in all its beauty. The stylish interior makes this a very clean cut dining experience, but it is somewhat dwarfed by the floor-to-ceiling windows and views. Head to Blue around sunset for a romantic dining setting, or just go for some cocktails and local beer.
If you need somewhere to wash down your stroopwafel, then head to Wynand Fockink. Dutch for ‘tasting tavern’ Wynand Fockink is also a liquor store located in an unassuming alley behind the National Monument.
Its history dates back to 1679, when it started life as a liquor distillery and the practise has been continued to this day. You can sample and buy more than 70 Dutch liquors in an 17th Century environment.
There are so many brilliant markets to enjoy on your mini cruise to Amsterdam and the Neighbourfood Market is certainly up amongst the best. The monthly gathering in the Westergasfabriek at Westerpark is the place to go for locally sourced and produced food and drink, as well as some great souvenir options. Open between 11:00 and 18:00, the halls of Westergasfabriek are filled with stalls on the third or fourth weekend of every month.
Don’t expect to pay any entrance fee, however you can donate some food to the food bank that the market supports.
The Western Islands
Nestled away in the city are the Western Islands, a small archipelago made up of the Bickerseiland, Prinseneiland and Realeneiland. It is a secret that Tanja from What’s up with Amsterdam picked out: “It’s just off the Haarlemmerstraat, and are so very centrally located. But for some reason, there are hardly any tourists here. It is an area dating back to the 17th century consisting of 3 islands, connected by charming old Dutch drawbridges. A sea of tranquillity, classic canal houses, old warehouses with red shutters. Really beautiful. You feel like you are in the Dutch countryside instead of the centre of Amsterdam!”
Hidden behind houses and streets of Amsterdam’s canal belt are 30 concealed courtyards free for you to discover on your mini cruise, but only if you are able to find them. Some of these hofjes date back to the 12th century, when these peaceful inner-city oases were built for the elderly to enjoy. You may need to have lady luck on your side, as well as your eyes peeled to find one of the beautiful gardens, as they blend into any ordinary street.
Het Nationaal Brilmuseum
Amsterdam is a popular destination for those seeking a cultural experience. Head to a great collection of galleries and museums with vast collections worth hundreds of millions of pounds. But that is where all the tourists are. Among the best kept secrets is one of the most individual museums you’re likely to visit; The National Museum of Spectacles.
This small museum is the brainchild of the Theunissen family, whose collection has been passed down four generations. Set in an old opticians, the two floors house more than 700 years of spectacles and fashion.
A’DAM Lookout and Swing
For some of the best views of Amsterdam, you’re going to have to be willing to try something a little different. Despite the tower being a prominent feature of the city’s skyline since 1971, the A’DAM Tower received a multi-million euro refit and was reopened in 2016. It has quickly become one of the go-to places for an exciting night out and the first public observation deck in Amsterdam.
The A’DAM LOOKOUT is the place to go to see the historic canals, museums, parks and everything else for miles around from above. But first, you must brave Europe’s highest swing – Over the Edge. Swinging 100 metres above the ground, this is a totally unique and exhilarating experience.
The Red Light District’s Attics
You could be forgiven for jumping to conclusions here, as Dan from the brilliant Dan Flying Solo admits, the red light district is known for one thing, and not what he recommends seeing: “While the red light district of Amsterdam is famous for one thing, it’s got a hidden secret in its attics. Ons' Lieve Heer op Solder (Museum of Our Lord in the Attic) is hidden in the upper level of the houses. A catholic church which was built in 1663 to be hidden when the right to worship was taken away. The museum holds a fascinating insight into another side of this city’s history."
Attractions like the van Gough Museum are popular for a reason, and while you can spend your mini cruise holiday to Amsterdam going around the typical hot spots, why not try something a little different? Discover your new favourite part of a beautiful city and dig a little deeper than the tourist trail to find its best kept secrets.