We don’t believe in best-kept secrets or hidden gems at Bakken & Bæck and we have absolutely no clue what ‘a certain je ne sais qoui’ actually is. What we do know, however, is how to make a sum-up of nice (amazing, breathtaking, mouth-watering, bustling, vibrant) places.
Here’s our Amsterdam guide:
Since 25 per cent of Amsterdam is covered with water, sleeping on a houseboat does make a lot of sense. This one at the Westerdok, for instance, gives you the perfect opportunity to get familiar with the city’s many waterways (especially those around our office!). If you prefer to keep both feet on the ground, we recommend the Hans Brinker Hostel. This “cheap, dirty, cold, poorly-lit youth hostel” is famous for its brutally honest advertisements and its surprisingly tidy rooms.
If you’re more into crooked canal house buildings and monumental ceilings, you should definitely book a room at the Hoxton Hotel. Check their agenda to see if there are any wildlife drawing workshops or air hockey competitions planned during your stay (fair chance there are). Looking for the royal treatment instead? Conservatorium Hotel will provide you with an endless amount of luxury. You might even encounter some celebs while enjoying the famous watsu pool. If mingling with the locals (while pretending to read a Dutch newspaper) is more your thing, you should check in at Volkshotel. Yes, it literally is the hotel of ‘the people’, a species that is apparently in need of an exhibition space, a basement cocktail bar and a rooftop restaurant/nightclub, complete with hot tubs and a sauna.
At Bakken & Bæck, coffee is a basic necessity of life. At the Amsterdam office, we usually start the day with a ‘bakkie teer’ provided by White Label Coffee. We prefer the Guatemala Classic, but the one from Brazil is a close runner-up. For a homey coffee ritual outside our actual homes, we go to Back to Black. If only for their delicious cakes and cafe cat. If you like to take things a bit more slowly (read: sipping tea instead of chugging coffee), go to De Drie Graefjes. Their red velvet cake is to die for. The Breakfast Club is there to serve you, well, breakfast. They do so all day every day, which makes it the perfect place to contemplate your fading Dutch courage. Speaking of hangovers: for a classic (or rather unusual) omelette, move yourself to the Pijp. There you’ll find Omelegg: expect eggs with anything. Literally, anything.
Amsterdam isn’t Tokyo, obviously, but having lunch at SORA definitely feels like it. We can imagine, however, that you’re not visiting Amsterdam to be in Tokyo. Just pull a snack out of the infamous FEBO wall for a truly Damsconian experience (it’s pretty self-explanatory, you’ll see). If you are still hungry after that, order a ‘broodje kroket’ and a glass of full-fat milk at the van Dobben Eetsalon. The people behind the counter will love you. Bored of both the Netherlands and Japan? Go full Australian at Little Collins. Even Sam-I-am would love the green eggs and ham they serve over there. In case you have a soft spot for brunch, boats and Bloody Mary’s (who hasn’t, really?), book the Brunch Boat. You’ll be tipsy once you’ve set foot on dry land again, we promise. Go to d&a Hummus Bistro for a vegetarian afternoon.
First of all, we highly recommend authentic (yes, we dare to use this word) Amsterdam hangouts like Café Lowietje in the Jordaan, Café de Sluyswacht near Waterlooplein and Café Westerdok (a.k.a. B&B’s habitual haunt) near ‘t IJ. Multiple beers are the obvious choice of beverage in these joints. Combine them with some peanuts or a ‘portie bitterballen’ and you’ll have yourself a perfect Sunday afternoon. Looking for the same atmosphere but a different assortment? Go to Vesper. Their bartenders will serve you the best-mixed drinks in town. In the Red Light District, there is another decent cocktail bar that is, indeed, Hiding in Plain Sight. In case you want to escape the chaotic urban maze, move over to Wester Wijnfabriek. Surrounded by the many trees of Westerpark, you can blend your Sauvignon Blanc with some serenity and mix your Pinot Noir with some peacefulness. For a more homey vibe, go to Hanneke’s Boom. This artsy hideaway has a fireplace, the best water view and an anchorage for little boats.
For a decent dinner, go North. On the other side of ‘t IJ, you’ll find, among other great restaurants, de Goudfazant and Café Modern. The latter notorious for its fixed menu, the former for its hidden location, both praised for their excellent food. Hungry for some ethical edibles? Try BAK. This charming restaurant — nicely located on the top-floor of a former warehouse — is well-known for serving wild game and seasonal vegetables. For all you wine connoisseurs out there, we have one word: Scheepskameel. Their wines are exclusively German, their dishes mostly European.
If you’re planning on keeping things more casual, go to Bird. Both snack bar and restaurant are usually fully packed, but it’s worth the wait. Flora is a Mexican treasure in Bilderdijkpark. Rumour has it that their kimchi fries make people cry. Koevoet serves classic Southern Italian meals in a charming Dutch cafe, Pazzi puts together the best wood-fired pizzas and Spaghetteria distributes fresh and homemade pasta all around the city. For a responsible cheat day, drop in at the Vegan Junk Food Bar. Simply looking for affordable, no-fuss food? Skek provides just that. Falafel: Bar Kauffmann will provide you with an excellent pita full of falafel.
After 0:00, it’s time to indulge yourself into Amsterdam’s notorious nightlife. If you want to compensate all the above drinking and dining with some physical exercise, De School hosts the whole routine (restaurant-bar-club-gym) under one roof. Their first-rate dancing area feels intimate but is still big enough to get lost in. Also, An Interesting Day 2018 will be held here! Other illustrious places to shake some legs are Chicago Social Club, 0T301 and The Shelter. Here, you can experience the clubbing culture Amsterdam prides itself on.
In case you prefer bands over DJs, go to Paradiso. This former church was turned into a music venue after it was squatted by hippies in the 60s. It quickly became (and still remains) the most magical place in the Netherlands to attend live gigs. FYI: they also host shows at Tolhuistuin, a smaller and slightly edgier venue up North. Take another ferry to cross ‘t IJ in order to become part of Sociëteit SEXYLAND. Its founder Aukje Dekker described this obscure place as “a crack whore from the outside, a Swiss tube for the inside”. We agree. This self-proclaimed clubhouse is owned by 365 different owners, which leads to 365 different club nights: expect the unexpected.
If you are — like us — easily bored by homogeneous high streets, avoid the Kalverstraat. A nice area to stroll and shop at is De Negen Straatjes. Made up of three parallel streets, it features the best boutiques. Hop in at Samsøe & Samsøe for nice, affordable Scandinavian clothing or visit We Are Labels for brands like Cheap Monday, Ontour, New Balance or Wemoto. Make sure to check Marbles, Laura Dols and Jutka & Riska for vintage wearables. Tenue de Nîmes, on Elandsgracht and Haarlemmerstraat, offers high-quality clothing. Try on a pair of Acne, Levi’s or A.P.C. jeans; chances are you’ll have a nice conversation and a beer or coffee while you’re at it!
For our bespectacled friends: check in at Ace & Tate, famous for its elegant eyewear and transparent pricing policy (€98 all-inclusive!). On the Berenstraat you’ll find Mendo, the self-proclaimed ‘candy store for book aficionados’ that sells beautiful coffee table books. If Mendo doesn’t satisfy your literary cravings, visit Athenaeum and ABC — two bookstores you’ll find on ’t Spui — or swing by San Seriffe in the city centre. Explore the second-hand markets at Noordermarkt, Waterlooplein and the IJ-Hallen for some serious treasure hunting. If you’re a crate digger looking for vinyl, Concerto and Record Friend have a great offering (new and second-hand).
Eye Film Museum, perched on the Northern side of ‘t IJ, will satisfy your inner cinephile. If sitting in a dark room doesn’t float your boat, you should still visit the iconic white building for its modern architecture and panoramic water view. Explore the NDSM-Werf if the idea of a post-apocalyptic shipyard turned avant-gardist district delights you. Looking for a more romantic sight? There are many melancholic sing-a-longs written about de Jordaan (YouTube: Johnny Jordaan), Amsterdam’s most famous neighbourhood. While roaming the streets of this former slum, try to discover the hidden ‘Hofjes’. These tiny courtyards were originally constructed by wealthy benefactors in order to provide housing for poor spinsters.
Another nice neighbourhood to get lost in is De Pijp. Famous Dutch author F. Bordewijk once described this area as ‘a ramshackle bordello, a klog made of rock’. (If that phrase doesn’t arouse you, you might reconsider your visit to Amsterdam in the first place.) Take a walk in Vondelpark if you want to spot an original Picasso in the wild or visit petting zoo De Uylenburg in Rembrandtpark for a taste of the countryside. If little lambs are not exotic enough for your taste, surround yourself with tropical butterflies and more than four thousand different plant species in the beautiful Hortus Botanicus.
Despite its tininess, Amsterdam is home to more than four hundred museums. Apart from the big three — het Rijksmuseum, van Gogh museum and het Stedelijk Museum — the city boasts some peculiar museums that are worth a trip, ranging from an anatomical and embryological museum to the First Museum of Fluorescent Art. Photography museums FOAM and Huis Marseille are both located in monumental canal houses. Exhibitions at these elegant places have included works by all-time favourites like Larry Clark, André Kertés, Wim Wenders and Sophie Calle. Micropia shows you the invisible world of microbes and bacteria, NEMO will take you on a voyage of discovery through the world of science. While Amsterdam is infamous for its boat and bike tours, we prefer the ones that involve booze. Try some beers at the Brouwerij ‘t IJ or do the interactive cocktail and jenever tour at Bols. Looking for a place where you can just sit and be quiet after all this activity? Go to Kriterion, Filmhallen or the Movies for a good old art house film.
Things to do outside of Amsterdam
While the Netherlands is teeny, there is life outside of Amsterdam. First of all, there’s 523 km of coastline to discover. Zandvoort aan Zee, for instance, is only a twenty-minute train ride away. To see other insta-worthy landscapes, rent a “whisper-boat” at Holysloot — a small village north of Amsterdam. From here, you can explore many shipping lanes through the peat meadow area Waterland. In case you want to spot red deers or Konik horses, move over to the Oostvaardersplassen. If you’re more intrigued by artistic colonies, full moon parties and mind-altering substances, take a bus to Ruigoord.
For a cultural adventure in the countryside: Museum Voorlinden is a private contemporary art museum in Wassenaar that has a great collection and a beautiful garden. While it might sound a bit lame, the former transmitter station Radio Kootwijk is quite an intriguing place to visit. It was on this isolated enclave of the Veluwe that Queen Emma brought about the first overseas telephone connection with the Dutch East Indies by saying the legendary words: “Hello Bandoeng Hello Bandoeng! Can you hear me?”. Today, the mysterious art-deco building is mainly used for artistic practices and cultural events. Fun fact: half of the people working at the Amsterdam office actually live in Rotterdam, Utrecht or Nijmegen, cities that are certainly worth a day-trip.