I was born and raised in Amsterdam. So allow me to explain just how to experience Amsterdam like a local!
Everybody knows Amsterdam. It is one of the most visited cities in Europe. But, like many things, there are 2 sides to this beautiful canal-filled city. The side tourists experience and the side that locals like myself experience. In this post, I will help you experience Amsterdam as a local.
People visit Amsterdam for many different reasons. Are you here for the amazing architecture, to try the local cuisine (most of that is not that great, don’t bother), or to party like the English on stag dos?
To each their own, and even the locals like to party. Just Google King’s Day, the National celebration of the King’s Birthday. But you can imagine that the ‘touristy’ things are generally not the things we locals like to do.
Right. Let’s get to it! Here are 20 things you can do to experience Amsterdam like a local.
20 Ways To Experience Amsterdam Like A Local
So time to share 20 different ways I, as a local from Amsterdam, recommend you spend your time in the city.
1 – Watch an Ajax match
Well-known all over the world, Ajax is the biggest football team in Amsterdam (and the Netherlands). Either watch a match in one of the local pubs or go to the stadium to see the ‘Godenzonen’. If you can get tickets, that is.
Not being able to get Ajax tickets is technically how you experience Amsterdam like a local.
2 – Go to a concert at Paradiso
My absolute favourite concert venue is located in a repurposed church. No matter which genre you prefer, Paradiso will have it. From gentle singer-songwriters to heavy metal, Hip Hop to house music, this is the place to be. It’s located close to the bars of Leidseplein and Museum Square. Ideal to start off your evening.
I can’t stress this enough. If you love live music like I do, go to Paradiso!
3 – Cycle to the Noorderpark for a picnic (or take the metro)
Located on the other side of ‘het Ij’, the Noorderpark lies in the district ‘Noord’. It’s a relatively large park not much visited by tourists. Metro 52 to Noord has a very convenient metro stop just south of the park, but if you really want to experience it like a local, take the bicycle!
4 – Visit the art scene in Noord
Also in district ‘Noord’ lies the NDSM-Werf. This old shipyard has been repurposed to host many art galleries, great bars and restaurants and pretty spots along the water. Even the occasional festival is hosted here.
5 – Speaking of festivals, attend one of the many festivals in Amsterdam
The Dutch love to party. And even though the weather is not always great, we love our festivals. Nothing beats being outside, drinking watered-down festival beer, partying and dancing with friends and strangers.
You may already know the stereotype of Dutch festivals, so I won’t mention nor recommend it here. But it’s true.
6 – Have a picnic in the Vondelpark or at Museum Square
Admittedly, both the Vondelpark and Museum Square are well known amongst tourists. But, none of them picnic and people-watch like the locals do.
7 – Bar crawl in De Pijp
My favourite district of Amsterdam is De Pijp. This district used to be the ‘poor’ part of Amsterdam. The narrow streets and little houses are a giveaway.
But, the past is not the present and De Pijp is now one of the more expensive places to live. It’s full of hip and young people, great restaurants and cute bars. A good place to bar crawl!
8 – Whilst in De Pijp, wander the narrow streets and visit the Sarphatipark
After sobering up from your bar crawl, visit De Pijp in the daylight. The streets are incredibly beautiful with great typical architecture. Sit down in the Sarphatipark with a meal from the Vegan junk food bar.
You’ll notice many people doing yoga or other sports on the fields, people picnicking and dogs playing. Well, in summer at least.
Some more touristy things are also located in De Pijp, like the Heineken Experience and the Albert Cuyp market.
9 – Visit the Albert Cuyp market
Yes, this is on the list of ‘touristy’ places to visit. But, many locals still use this market for their shopping. Just don’t go on Sundays, because there won’t be any stalls.
10 – Visit the Dappermarkt
A lesser-known market, and thus more used by locals. Open 6 days a week, excluding Sundays. This market started in 1910 and has done nothing but grow over time. Located in district East, and easily accessible by public transport.
11 – Visit the IJ-Hallen, the biggest flea market in Europe
This flea market is the biggest in Europe! It is full of quirky art, second-hand clothes and other unique items. Located in Noord, it is easy to get to and a great place to spend a couple of hours finding a bargain. Don’t forget to check the dates, as it is only open one weekend each month.
12 – Have boerenkool met worst, or snert
These typically Dutch winter dishes are loved by almost all locals. Boerenkool is kale with mashed potato and some spices (not many, we Dutchies don’t use many spices), and snert is a really, really thick pea soup. If your spoon doesn’t stay upright in this soup, it’s not thick enough!
Both of these require a greasy smoked sausage, the Vegetarian Butcher has a great vegan substitute.
13 – Celebrate King’s Night
The 26th of April, the evening before King’s Day is usually just as crazy as King’s Day itself. It’s a pre-party for the actual one, and since everybody will have King’s Day off, the pubs and bars are packed. Be careful not to get too hungover, because King’s Day is an even better party.
14 – Celebrate King’s Day
You’re not a local if you don’t celebrate King’s Day one way or another. The King’s birthday, the 27th of April, is definitely the greatest birthday party you’ll ever attend.
Although we Dutch people like to sit in circles in somebodies living room at birthday parties, King’s Day is different. While the youngest generation will try and sell their junk on little rugs out on the street, the slightly older ones will party like there’s no tomorrow.
Amsterdam has multiple all-day music festivals, but the best thing to do is party on the canals in De Jordaan.
It’s absolutely bonkers!
If you’re not too hungover from King’s Night, start at 10 AM with a lukewarm can of Heineken and finish anywhere after 6 PM. And even if you are too hungover, no better cure than more alcohol, am I right? You want to experience Amsterdam like a local after all.
15 – Shop at the 9 Straatjes
This picturesque area in the centre of Amsterdam has some of the greatest designer shops and photogenic streets. Bonus points to anyone who can guess how many streets this area consists of.
16 – Watch a free concert in the Royal Concert Hall
Every Wednesday, except in July and August, the Royal Concertgebouw will hold free lunchtime concerts. You DO need a ticket, but they’re free and available online. The concerts usually last 30 minutes.
17 – Go to a local pub and drink beer from a ‘vaasje’, or the even smaller ‘fluitje’
This is especially weird for our neighbours, Germany and the UK. Generally, the Dutch drink their draft pilsner in pubs from a vaasje, a 25cl glass. Some people even prefer the smaller (18-20cl) fluitjes, made of thinner glass and designed to ‘hold’ the foam for longer.
Also, the beer comes with a layer of foam, like it’s supposed to. I’m looking at you, England!
18 – Party like the Dutch in one of the ‘Dutch’ party-café’s
There’s a lot of partying in this post! Who doesn’t like going out on a Friday or Saturday night? Keep in mind that the Dutch don’t really dress up. Jeans and a nice T-shirt will do!
Go to Jantje’s Verjaardag or Het Feest van Joop. These places will be filled to the brim with locals, and a lot of the music you’ll hear will be Dutch.
19 – Grab lunch and explore the ‘hofjes’ in the Jordaan
My second-favourite area of Amsterdam is the Jordaan. This beautiful part of the city is known for its ‘hofjes’, or little courtyards in the middle between the buildings. They’re usually very pretty, and slightly hidden.
I recommend using a map like this one to get the most out of it.
20 – Grab a snack from the infamous snack wall at Febo
Febo is a fast-food chain serving typically Dutch, deep-fried snacks. Try a kroket with mustard or my favourite; a deep-fried, cheese-filled, rectangular-shaped piece of dough, called a kaassouflé. All are available from behind little doors in a wall. Kind of like a giant vending machine.
Don’t forget to order your fries/chips with mayonnaise, and not ketchup like they do in almost every other country.
Some Extra Ways To Be More Dutch
If you’ve done all these things, and want to feel even more like a local, here are some (less serious) suggestions to live life as we do:
Sit in a circle at any birthday party, and don’t forget to congratulate everybody there
Honestly, even I find this weird. At most birthdays, everybody sits in a circle and only speaks to the people next to them. Nobody knows why, nobody actually enjoys it yet everybody does it. And to make things even more awkward, you’re expected to congratulate everybody in the room on the birthday of the host. Weird. I know.
Serve a plate with blocks of cheese and sliced (vegan) sausage and call them party snacks
Sticking with the birthday subject, we are notoriously bad caterers. We’ll ask people to come at 7 PM, but won’t include dinner. The best we can do is a plate of snacks, consisting of nothing but cheese, slices of (vegan!) sausage and if the host is feeling fancy, pickles. And plain crisps/chips if any.
If I come home from a birthday party and haven’t sat in a circle or had diced cheese, I’ll consider it underwhelming. I’m joking, but this actually happens.
Hang a birthday calendar in your bathroom
What is going on with us Dutchies and strange birthday traditions, right? We love hanging a birthday calendar in the toilet. I find it convenient since you’ll see it multiple times a day and won’t forget anyone’s birthday.
Callie finds it strange. Callie might be right, but she’s not hearing it from me!
Eat nothing but deep-fried food for dinner
Chips/fries, kroketten, frikandellen, chicken nuggets, or anything else you can deep-fry is considered a full dinner. Traditionally mostly meat, but luckily there are some amazing substitutes available.
Nowadays, air fryers are replacing deep fryers. They’re healthier, which causes deep-fryers to disappear. I hate it and think air fryers should be banned. They’re ruining our amazing tradition of being incredibly unhealthy! Nothing beats a greasy deep-fried snack after a night out.
Many people disagree with me, and for good reasons, but I won’t give up my passion for deep-fried food. And neither should you, if you want to get the local experience!
Let nothing stop you from cycling, not even wind, rain or people
My parents didn’t drive me to school, they bought me a bicycle! Rain, wind, storms, snow or volcanic eruptions, I just had to cycle to school. I admit, there are no volcanoes in the Netherlands, but you get what I mean.
The people of Amsterdam are so used to cycling, it will usually be the main means of transportation in the city. Weather, red lights, pedestrians, nothing will stop them. A week’s worth of groceries for a family of four will be taken home on a bicycle. Or both their dogs and all of their kids are taken to the Vondelpark for a picnic.
So if you dare, hire a bicycle and navigate the chaos that is Amsterdam traffic. But please don’t use your phone whilst cycling!
How To Get To Amsterdam
The easiest way to get to Amsterdam is to fly. The closest airport is Schipol International Airport, around a 30-minute drive from the centre of the city. You can take a Taxi from the Airport but that will be crazy expensive so your best option is to take the train.
You can also get the train from all over Europe to Amsterdam Central Station.
How To Get Around Amsterdam Like A Local
Getting around Amsterdam is super easy. Many places are within walking distance from one another. However, I mentioned before that if you’re planning to explore like a local then time to get yourself a bike.
Amsterdam has cycle lanes all over the city and is well built for cyclists to navigate safely.
Alternatively, the city is also well connected by trams, buses and the metro.
Check out our full guide to getting around Amsterdam here.
When Is The Best Time To Visit Amsterdam
Amsterdam is a wonderful city to visit all year round. So let me tell you why each season is awesome.
Spring – March to May
This is a great time in Amsterdam because it’s TULIP SEASON! The weather is nice, the parks will be getting greener and the days getting longer. Not to mention this is when you will get to experience Kings Day.
Summer – June to August
Amsterdam experiences some fantastic sunny weather in the summer. This makes this time ideal for picnics in the parks and drinking on the terraces. This is also the main festival season.
Autumn – September to November
Autumn is beautiful in the Netherlands, the weather is starting to cool down but the colours are just spectacular as the trees start to turn orange along the canals.
Winter – December to February
Winter is an equally great time to visit Amsterdam because the city will be lit up and ready for Christmas. The canals lined with lights are beautiful to see. Experience the traditional Dutch Sinterklaas celebrations at the start of December. This is also the time of year that Amsterdam hosts its annual Festival of Lights.
Experience Amsterdam Like A Local – Final Thoughts
So there you have it 20 ways to experience Amsterdam like a local and even a few extra fun suggestions on other ways to feel a little more Dutch when you visit.
I hope you found this useful and enjoy your time in my home city!