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The Best Areas to Stay in Amsterdam
Amsterdam is a city of great variety and there is no single “best” neighborhood to stay in Amsterdam. Different neighborhoods manifest their own distinctive character and some are more convenient for sightseeing than others, so it depends on the experience that you’re after. Large parts of Amsterdam are wonderfully walkable. The main attractions are concentrated in the Oud-Zuid (Museum Quarter) and encompass the Medieval Centre in Amsterdam Centrum and the UNESCO-certified Canal Belt that lies between the two. Many of the best hotels are located within those neighborhoods, though it’s entirely feasible to stay in good mid-range and budget options further out of the center and take advantage of the inexpensive and excellent tram and metro network or rent a bicycle.
Amsterdam Centrum is the medieval heart of the city, located south of the River IJ and the Amsterdam Centraal train station, which is also the city’s tram and ferry hub with excellent links to the rest of the city. It comprises a maze of tiny lanes centered on the grand Dam Square which is home to the Royal Palace and the seedier Red Light District. With its many pedestrianized streets and a huge range of dining options, Amsterdam Centrum is a massive tourist magnet.
Adjacent to the Red Light District is Nieuwmarkt, one of the oldest parts of the city, with the eponymous market square at its heart. Here you’ll find Amsterdam’s compact little Chinatown, numerous bars and restaurants, and some independent stores.
Immediately east of Nieuwmarkt and linked to Amsterdam Centrum by tram and metro and to the Southern Canal Belt by bridges and trams, green and peaceful De Plantage is centered on Artis Zoo. It is home to numerous cultural venues, the Dutch branch of the Hermitage, and museums and memorials dedicated to Dutch Jews. Further out, Amsterdam-Oost is a multicultural, largely residential area.
Immediately east of Amsterdam Centraal train station are the Oosterlijke Eilanden (Eastern Docklands), one of the city’s newest, mostly residential areas built on man-made islands. There are a couple of excellent museums here, plus a yacht marina with some buzzy bars.
Directly north of Amsterdam Centraal and across the River IJ is Amsterdam Noord, a former industrial and port area. While much of this rather spread-out neighborhood is residential, it’s also home to some fantastic craft beer breweries. The NDSM Wharf, reachable from Amsterdam Centraal by ferry, is a vast art hub with Amsterdam’s most unique hotels and hip restaurants and bars.
Other neighborhoods of interest to visitors radiate outwards from Amsterdam Centrum. It’s fringed by the historic Canal Belt that most visitors associate with Amsterdam. Just to the west of the medieval center and across the Singel canal, the Western Canal Belt is among the most photogenic parts of the city. The four beautiful canals are lined with elegant gabled townhouses, some of which have been converted to boutique hotels. Here you’ll find the Anne Frank House as well as a huge concentration of independent boutiques in the micro-neighborhood of ‘Nine Streets’.
Adjoining the Western Canal Belt to the west, the formerly working-class neighborhood of Jordaan retains an edgy vibe and is home to a few niche attractions as well as some excellent bars, music venues, and a lively farmers’ market.
Amsterdam-West is a large, mostly residential part of the city further west from Jordaan. Its focal point is the vast green Westerpark featuring craft beer bars and venues that host cultural events.
South of Amsterdam Centrum, the Southern Canal Belt spans the area from the Amstel canal in the east to the Leidesgracht canal in the west. It is also wonderfully picturesque and walkable, with the streets on either side of Amsterdam’s four most photogenic canals lined with townhouses and stone mansions. There’s a good smattering of museums here and a lively buzz around the two squares – Leidseplein and Rembrandtplein – especially in the evenings.
Bridges link the Southern Canal Belt to Amsterdam Centrum in the north, De Plantage in the east, and Oud-Zuid in the south. Oud-Zuid is one of the most famous neighborhoods, renowned for its trio of heavyweight art museums as well as Amsterdam’s most popular green space, the Vondelpark. This is also one of the most sought-after residential areas, its wide streets lined with trees and mansions.
Just east of Oud-Zuid and linked to Amsterdam Centrum and the Southern Canal Belt by tram is De Pijp, a former working-class neighborhood that’s undergone considerable gentrification in recent years and boasts a young, multicultural, and arty population. Apart from Amsterdam’s largest outdoor market, highlights include numerous independent stores by up-and-coming local designers and a huge range of eateries and bars.
The Best Places to Stay in Amsterdam
Best Areas in Amsterdam for…
- Best Neighborhoods in Amsterdam for Sightseeing: Western Canal Belt, Southern Canal Belt, Amsterdam Centrum, Oud-Zuid
Sightseeing in Amsterdam is a matter of wandering along picturesque canals in the UNESCO-accredited Canal Belt and exploring the atmospheric cobbled lanes of the medieval center in Amsterdam Centrum. If art is your passion, then head straight for Oud-Zuid (Museum Quarter) and lose yourself in some of the world’s top art museums such as the Rijksmuseum. If you’re more interested in contemporary art, catch a ferry from Amsterdam Centraal to the NDSM Wharf in Amsterdam Noord and check out the latest exhibitions.
- Best Neighborhoods in Amsterdam for Nightlife: Amsterdam Centrum, Southern Canal Belt, Western Canal Belt, Jordaan, De Pijp, Amsterdam Noord
There isn’t a single best area in Amsterdam for nightlife. In Nieuwmarkt, the eponymous square is surrounded by (rather touristy) bars. That’s also the case in the Southern Canal Belt and around the Leidseplein and Rembrandtplein squares, and there’s a concentration of gay-friendly venues along Reguliersdwarsstraat that leads up to Rembrandtplein. In the tiny streets of the Western Canal Belt, you’ll find both swanky cocktail bars and old-school pubs frequented by beer aficionados. For a more local scene and some legendary music venues, try the bars in Jordaan and De Pijp. There are some excellent craft beer breweries worth seeking out in Amsterdam Noord and a lively night scene around Westerpark in Amsterdam West. The medieval center is great for some centuries-old watering holes, while in the Red Light District, the scene can get a little seedy.
- Best Neighborhoods in Amsterdam for Food and Restaurants: Amsterdam Centrum, Oud-Zuid, Western Canal Belt, Southern Canal Belt
As with nightlife, there isn’t a single best neighborhood in Amsterdam for eating out. Amsterdam Centrum has a bewildering array of choices for every budget, from Michelin-starred dining to hole-in-the-wall places selling Belgian fries. In Nieuwmarkt, there’s a concentration of Asian dining in tiny Chinatown. The Southern Canal Belt offers a variety of cuisines clustered around Leidseplein and Rembrandtplein in particular. In Oud-Zuid, there’s a smattering of mostly mid-range restaurants near the museums and a number of Ethiopian and other ethnic eateries just north of Vondelpark. De Pijp is full of hip, largely inexpensive eateries, while in the Western Canal Belt, there’s a mix of fine dining, great restaurants inside hotels, and casual cafes.
- Best Neighborhoods in Amsterdam for Families: Oud-Zuid, De Plantage
Both Oud-Zuid and De Plantage are good choices, the latter being a quiet and largely residential area with the added bonus of Artis Zoo. Oud-Zuid also features mostly tranquil residential streets, with the massive Vondelpark nearby, with its play areas, lakes, and walking paths. Both neighborhoods have good connections to the center, though Oud-Zuid has a better range of dining choices and it’s easy to hop on a family-friendly Blue Boat cruise near the Rijksmuseum.
- Best Neighborhoods in Amsterdam to Stay for First Timers: Amsterdam Centrum, Western Canal Belt, Southern Canal Belt, Oud-Zuid
It’s hard to go wrong by basing yourself in the medieval center or nearby. The atmosphere in Amsterdam Centrum is second to none: the Red Light District is an eye-opener and the vast majority of attractions are easily reachable on foot or by tram. Hotels in the Western Canal Belt and Southern Canal Belt make wonderful alternatives: the neighborhoods are more sedate, yet have that unmistakable Amsterdam vibe (and the beautiful canals) and are a short walk from the center. If you’re primarily in Amsterdam for the museums, then Oud-Zuid is an ideal location.
- Most Romantic Neighborhoods in Amsterdam: Western Canal Ring, Southern Canal Ring, Amsterdam Centrum
If you want to romance your significant other in Amsterdam, Western Canal Belt presents you with ample opportunities. You can opt for a private boat cruise along one of Amsterdam’s most picturesque canals, stay in one of the elegant townhouses-turned-boutique-hotels, and splurge on some of the city’s best fine dining. The Southern Canal Belt offers similar boat tour opportunities and has some wonderful luxury hotels overlooking the water. The medieval center also has its fair share of romantic boltholes and excellent restaurants, and wandering the subtly lit medieval lanes at night can make anyone swoon.
- Best Neighborhood in Amsterdam for a Local Vibe: De Pijp
Originally an island and connected to the rest of the city by 16 bridges, De Pijp retains an independent spirit and an arty, bohemian vibe with a multicultural population. The neighborhood is very walkable and hosts Amsterdam’s biggest street market. Its narrow streets are also the place to look for works by up-and-coming local designers and unique gifts.
- Best Neighborhoods in Amsterdam for Walking: Amsterdam Centrum, Western Canal Belt, South Canal Belt
Much of Amsterdam is a joy to walk around. Highlights include the maze of tiny, cobbled streets in the medieval center and Red Light District, many of which are pedestrianized. For that quintessential Amsterdam experience, it’s hard to beat wandering along the highly photogenic canals in the Western Canal Belt and Southern Canal belt and admiring the gabled townhouses and mansions lining the canals.
- Safest Areas of Amsterdam
Amsterdam’s safest neighborhoods tend to be the more upmarket ones, such as the Western and Southern Canal Belts, Oud-Zuid (Museum Quarter), and De Plantage, though the vast majority are safe to walk around at any time of day. In the Southern Canal Belt, things can get rather lively on weekend nights around Leidseplein and Rembrandtplein squares.
- Unsafe Areas of Amsterdam
Amsterdam is a very safe city but the largely residential neighborhood of Zuid-Oost has a higher crime rate than the rest. Parts of the Red Light District, the medieval center, and Nieuwmarkt can be a bit sketchy late at night, but mostly because there are quite a few inebriated people about. Watch out for canals during a night out; several people drown every year after falling in while inebriated. Do watch out for cyclists along the many cycle lanes; they often appear out of nowhere at high speed. And while it’s legal to smoke marijuana in designated cafes, be aware that smoking it outside designated areas incurs stiff penalties.
The 11 Best Neighborhoods in Amsterdam for Tourists
Amsterdam’s heart is its compact medieval core just south of Amsterdam Centraal train station, bordered by the Red Light District in the east and the Western Canal Belt in the west. The tiny, narrow streets are a joy to wander, with cafes, centuries-old watering holes, and hidden courtyards to explore. There are a few worthwhile attractions such as the Royal Palace by the main Dam Square and Amsterdam Museum, but the main draw is the perfectly-preserved cobbled lanes. Tourist crowds throng here day and night, and the Red Light District and its X-rated clubs and famous “windows” attract curious visitors. Amsterdam Centraal is the city’s main train hub and the Southern Canal Belt and Nieuwmarkt are an easy walk away. There is a good mix of high-end and mid-range hotels as well as budget picks, lots of bars, cafes, and restaurants for every budget, and good shopping with several ‘smart’ shops.
Just east of the Red Light District and bordered by De Plantage to the east and the Southern Canal Belt to the south, Nieuwmarkt (new market) is one of the oldest parts of Amsterdam. It’s centered on the eponymous square, featuring part of the city’s 15th-century gate and surrounded by daily farmers’ markets, with numerous bars, cafes, and restaurants to suit all budgets in its near vicinity. Branching off from the square is the compact Chinatown that takes up half of Zeedijk street, with numerous Asian eateries. Accommodations include a few good hotels.
This narrow grid of tiny streets, sandwiched between the medieval center and Jordaan, is a particularly picturesque part of the city as well as a Unesco World Heritage site. It comprises four parallel, interlocking canals – Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht, Herengracht, and Singel – lined with historic gabled townhouses and home to some of Amsterdam’s best boutique hotels. In its northern reaches, you’ll find the Anne Frank House, one of Amsterdam’s biggest attractions. The southern half comprises a photogenic ‘micro-neighborhood’ known as Nine Streets which is lined with vintage and designer boutiques, hip cafes, and all kinds of restaurants.
If you follow the canals south from the Western Canal Belt’s Nine Streets, you’ll find yourself in the Southern Canal Belt where the streets are wider and lined with grand mansions (particularly along Herengracht). There are several excellent museums and galleries here (FOAM, KattenKabinet, Museum of Bags and Purses), a couple of mansions that you can visit (Museum Von Loon and Museum Willet-Holthuysen), plus two lively squares and tram hubs (Leidseplein and Rembrandtplein), and numerous bars (many of them gay-friendly) and restaurants. Leidsestraat is the main thoroughfare connecting the neighborhood to the medieval center in the north and the Museum Quarter in the south. From Rembrandtplein, trams run east to De Plantage and south to De Pijp, along Utrechtsestraat and its designer stores. There’s a great mix of luxury and boutique hotels here.
Sandwiched between the Western Canal Belt and Amsterdam-West, the Jordaan has long been famous as a hard-drinking, working class neighborhood renowned for its radical politics. Over the past couple of decades, gentrification has lined its narrow streets and canal sides with more art galleries, niche museums (such as the Houseboat Museum and Cheese Museum), and plenty of restaurants and specialty shops, but there’s still a gritty vibe to it with several surviving legendary music venues as well as bars. Noordermarkt, a farmer’s market, is held on the square by the Noorderkerk. Accommodations fall largely into the mid-range and budget categories.
6. Oud-Zuid (Museum Quarter) & Vondelpark
Encompassing three of the world’s best art museums (Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, Stedelijk Museum) arranged around the Museumplein, as well as a handful of lesser-known museums and attractions, Oud-Zuid is one of Amsterdam’s grandest neighborhoods. Picture wide boulevards lined with grand mansions and several designer boutiques. Flanking Oud-Zuid on the north is the vast Vondelpark with a great range of dining options, from upscale Dutch, Indonesian, and Japanese near the museums to a high concentration of Ethiopian restaurants along the park’s northern edge. There’s also a good mix of high-end hotels and wallet-friendly mid-range digs here.
7. De Pijp
Flanked by the Amstel canal in the east, the Museum Quarter in the west, and the southern Canal Belt in the north, this is one of Amsterdam’s buzziest, most authentic neighborhoods. Multicultural and formerly working class, it’s home to the Albert Cuypmarkt, Amsterdam’s biggest street market. This compact and walkable grid of streets has been attracting bohemian types, students, and creatives for decades, and this is where you’ll find the largest concentration of boutiques by up-and-coming designers and quirky gift stores, along with antique shops, traditional brown cafes, and a bewildering array of ethnic eateries and specialty coffee shops. Here you’ll also find the Heineken Experience (and learn how the famous lager is brewed), as well as several superb 5-star hotels and a few mid-range options.
East of Amsterdam-Centrum, this is a green and peaceful part of town with 19th-century botanical gardens, Artis Zoo, leafy boulevards, elegant squares, and one of Amsterdam’s largest parks. It’s a culture hub, too, with the Hermitage Amsterdam, Rembrandt House, Dutch National Opera & Ballet, and the Museum of WWII Dutch Resistance, all within a short walk of one another. The Jewish Historical Museum, Portuguese Synagogue, and the Auschwitz Monument provide a sobering introduction to the history of Dutch Jews. There are a few good restaurants, cafes, and bars here. Further east, Amsterdam-Oost is centered on the beautiful Oosterpark, its wide streets lined with stately 19th-century buildings. It’s a cultural melting pot, too, with Surinamese supermarkets, Turkish kebab joints, and a diverse range of eateries.
The former industrial district across the River IJ from Amsterdam Centrum is now one of Amsterdam’s hippest, most arty areas. It’s a vast, rather spread-out neighborhood best explored on two wheels, and with interesting restaurants and craft beer breweries scattered about. The biggest highlight here is the NDSM Wharf, accessible by direct ferry from behind Amsterdam Centraal. A former shipyard, its huge warehouses have been transformed into a massive cultural hotspot with art galleries, exhibitions, performances, Amsterdam’s largest flea market, urban beach, unique hotel, and some excellent bars and restaurants.
10. Amsterdam-West & Westerpark
Adjacent to Jordaan is Amsterdam-West with large (mostly) residential areas, the Western Islands with their smattering of cafes and restaurants, and the lively Westerpark neighborhood. The eponymous park – one of the city’s largest green spaces – combines expansive greenery with cultural events at Westergasfabriek, and the adjacent streets are home to a good variety of traditional brown cafes, one-of-a-kind shops, street markets, and hip new restaurants.
11. Oostelijke Eilanden (Eastern Docklands)
East of Amsterdam Centraal train station and comprising gleaming modern architecture, one of Amsterdam’s youngest neighborhoods consists of several man-made islands, with more being developed. Highlights here include the Maritime Museum inside repurposed historic warehouses, NEMO Science Museum, and the Muziekgebouw concert hall that overlooks the water. While the area is largely residential with few hotels, there’s a lively cluster of bars by the yacht marina off IJburg West as well as a man-made beach. The islands are an easy tram ride from Amsterdam Centraal along the main IJburglaan artery, and are connected to each other, Amsterdam-Centrum, de Plantage, and Amsterdam-Oost by bridges.