Eat like a local – recommendations by a fellow foodie who lives in Amsterdam
Want to visit Amsterdam without smoking weed all day or visiting the red light district?
This guide will help you to experience Amsterdam like a local. It’s a guide written by a foodie for other foodies. Because you can’t eat all day every day (challenge accepted!!), there are also some tips on things to do, sightseeing, museums, and shopping included.
When Baltimore food blogger Jordan Zelesnick (JZ eats) was visiting Amsterdam, she asked me for recommendations where to eat. I thought I just might share all these local insider tips with you as well 🙂 As an expat living in Amsterdam for 7 years, I want you to enjoy the city like a local, without getting too much caught up in the tourist trap restaurants.
Especially if you ask yourself ‘what to eat in Amsterdam’ you came to the right address!
Add all food & sightseeing recommendations to your Google Maps. Click on this link and you have all of them on your phone. And share them with your travel companions:
- Initial orientation: Take a walking tour
- Cash & cards: Your credit card is not always welcome
- Experience Amsterdam from a boat or bike
- Amsterdam Central Station: Your journey probably starts here
- Get some authentic food in Amsterdam’s Chinatown
- Colonial influences: Try Surinamese and Indonesian food
- Tase the local fish dishes
- Visit the Foodhallen: Amsterdam’s original food court
- Where to find good craft beer or a good glass of wine in Amsterdam?
- ‘De Pijp’: Enjoy the famous Albert Cuyp market
- Museums: Visit the usual suspects and my 2 personal favorites
- Shopping: Explore the little boutiques in the 9 straatjes
- Take the free ferry and explore Amsterdam North
- Take a day trip to Haarlem and Zandvoort
- A quick guide to Amsterdam’s coffee shops
- A random collection of other good restaurants:
- Get all recommendations on Google Maps on your phone
- Frequently asked questions I get from visitors about Amsterdam (FAQ)
Initial orientation: Take a walking tour
Take a free walking tour to learn something about the different districts and the history of the city. There are several daily departing from Dam Square. (“Free” = you are expected to give a tip at the end). You can find several different free walking tours on Google.
A friend of mine organizes “Comedy Walks” – Amsterdam walking tours hosted by standup comedians. All the knowledge but just a lot funnier. I went one time when they just started out and really enjoyed myself. Buy tickets in advance online.
Photo by Adrien Olichon
Cash & cards: Your credit card is not always welcome
Many shops and supermarkets won’t accept your credit card. It might sound super strange to people from other parts of the World, but Dutch people don’t care for credit cards. Even though the country is going more and more cashless, credit cards never really found their way into the culture. People prefer to use their normal bank cards.
Supermarkets usually refuse credit cards, but often there is an ATM in the shop where you can get some cash. My advice for tourists that only carry a credit card: Have some cash on you just in case (€ 50 – € 60).
Many restaurants accept Visa, Mastercard and/or Amex, but you pretty much never know beforehand. If you see a sign with “Pin only” = cards only. If you see a sign with “alleen contant” = cash only.
Photo by Sabina Fratila
Experience Amsterdam from a boat or bike
Amsterdam is a city made for boats and bikes. Take a boat tour through the tiny little canals and see the city from a different perspective. For a bit more freedom, rent a bike and explore the city your way.
Biking with your phone in your hand can get you a €95 fine – even though I personally don’t know anyone that ever had to pay this.
How to get around in Amsterdam in general? Public transport is very decent. Trams and buses will take you pretty much everywhere. After 12 at night walking or a taxi are your best option.
Photo by Tim Trad
Amsterdam Central Station: Your journey probably starts here
Leave Central Station to the left and you will see a giant floating temple – the Sea Palace. It looks like a giant tourist trap but they have a really good Dim Sum lunch from 12 pm – 4 pm. A few years back you would hardly find non-Asians in the restaurant. Nowadays the crowd is more mixed.
For a free bird’s eye view of the city go to the top level of the Amsterdam public library (OBA), also located close to Central station. Their café has a terrace where you can enjoy a coffee while watching boats, people and the tiny crooked houses.
The red light district with legal prostitution and scantily dressed women in windows is just a 5-minute walk away. If you are in the area and want to grab a drink slightly away from most of the other tourists, go to Mata Hari.
Photo by Daniel
Get some authentic food in Amsterdam’s Chinatown
Next to the red light district, you will find Amsterdam’s Chinatown. Amsterdam had a lot of Chinese migrant workers back in the days. The reason the city today still has
great authentic Chinese food now. Oriental City, Nam Kee, and New King are well-known institutions for decades.
You will find street names on signs in Chinese as well as Dutch. Also, visit the He Hua Tempel while you are there. Ever wanted to visit a pharmacy/drug store from the 18th century? Jacob Hooy is around there as well.
Photo by Ronnie Overgoor
Colonial influences: Try Surinamese and Indonesian food
Let’s face it, a lot of unacceptable shit happened in the past. Colonization and slavery are prime examples… To this day you find these influences deeply interwoven into the Dutch culture. The literally only good thing out of this is the fact that you get easily get cuisines in the Netherlands that are quite hard to find anywhere else.
I strongly urge you to try Surinamese and Indonesian food while you are in Amsterdam.
Surinamese food is a spicy combination of Indian, African, and South American flavors. This cuisine has a bit of everything. Try the casserole pom and order roti with chicken. Roti is a thin lentil filled flatbread that you tear into pieces and use to scoop up all kinds of delicious goodies. Here’s a list of some good Surinamese restaurants in Amsterdam.
Indonesian food has Chinese, Indian and, and Arabic influences. Treat yourself to a whole table full of small delicious dishes accompanied by steamed rice. One of the best Indonesian meals you will get in Amsterdam is at Tempo Doeloe (Michelin Bib Gourmand awarded; reservations required). Cheaper alternative: Kantjil & De Tijger.
One of my favorite Indonesian dishes is definitely kipsaté (chicken satay) – roasted chicken pieces on a skewer with a thick peanut sauce.
Photo by Anastasia Dulgier
Tase the local fish dishes
Treat yourself to some local fish delicacies. Of course, the Dutch people love fish. The whole country is surrounded by water and Amsterdam is even built on it (yes, the whole city is standing on wet pillars).
Walk by a random fish shop or market stand and get yourself some kibbeling with ravigotte– deep-fried cod with a thin layer of batter, served with a creamy remoulade-like sauce. For the more daring, buy some haring – raw, slightly pickled herring, eaten as a snack. Order it with pickles and onions.
For a full-blown fish extravaganza, head over to John Dory. They call themselves the fishtronomy and serve a tasting menu of 4, 6, 8, or 10 courses. Courses vary each day by what has been freshly caught in the North Sea. 6 courses with wine pairing set you back about €110 pp. Pesca – Theater of Fish is also a fun experience.
Treat yourself to some bitterballen! Photo by Foodhallen on Instagram.
Visit the Foodhallen: Amsterdam’s original food court
Amsterdam’s main food court is called Foodhallen, located near a popular shopping street called Kinkerstraat. The food court is home to a total of 21 food stalls. You can find everything from ribs and tacos, over sushi and Vietnamese, to deli meats and falafel. No mayor chains here – all stands are all either pop-up restaurants or small scale versions of regional favorites.
These are Amsterdam’s other food courts: The Food Department (shopping mall Magna Plaza), Market 33 (Zuid business district), and World of Food (Amsterdam South East).
Photo by Adam Wilson
Where to find good craft beer or a good glass of wine in Amsterdam?
For many people, The Netherlands is almost synonymous with Heineken. Skip the flavorless Heineken and try some smaller scale beers.
Local favorite Brouwerij ‘t IJ is located in the East of Amsterdam in an old windmill. Brouwerij Troost is also definitely recommended. Try their beer tastings with some snacks. Want a wider selection of craft beer choices? Craft & Draft has 40 different craft beers from all kinds of breweries on tap.
Are you more of a wine person? Rayleigh & Ramsay is a wine café that offers more than 100 wines by the glass. You get a wine pass and can keep tapping from the different wine dispensers. A taste, a half glass or a full one? You choose!
Another good place for a glass of red or white is the wine bar Glou Glou.
Can you drink alcohol in public in Amsterdam?
Nope, you shouldn’t. This is where the hypocrisy comes in: One of the most liberal cities in the world won’t let you drink in public spaces. You can drink on the terrace of a bar, but you can’t have a drink with you in the streets.
Drinking in public can end you up with a €95 fine, though I only know 1 single person who ever got fined for this. Most probably you will get a slap on the wrist and be asked to dump your drink in a trash can.
Photo by P. Bc
‘De Pijp’: Enjoy the famous Albert Cuyp market
The Albert Cuyp market is one of the busiest and largest daytime markets in Europe. Get yourself some poffertjes (miniature pancakes) and a fresh stroopwafel.
For nice drinks, bars and cafes, stroll through the borough “De Pijp” afterward. There are lots of cozy places to discover.
You can also find the internet phenomenon The Avocado Show here. Even before opening, their avocado-only restaurant went ‘viral like a celebrity sex tape’. Probably one of the most instagrammable places in town.
Photo by Antonio Molinari
Museums: Visit the usual suspects and my 2 personal favorites
The Anne Frank House, the Rijksmuseum, and the Van Gogh museum are obviously the usual suspects if you think of indulging in some Amsterdam culture. Get your tickets online in advance to save yourself some queuing time.
The photography museum Foam impresses me every single time I go there. From old to new, from traditional to quirky, this museum hits all taste buds of hobby photographers. Collections and exhibitions change very regularly and the place feels new every time you go.
As I love botanical gardens, I also have to throw De Hortus Botanicus into the mix here. It’s one of the oldest botanical gardens in Europe and home to around 6,000 plants. Open daily.
(For some free contemporary art visit W139. Things can be random. You have been warned. The street art Moco Museum has a permanent exhibition on Banksy.)
Photo by Jelle van Leest
Shopping: Explore the little boutiques in the 9 straatjes
Inbetween the canals you find a lot of cozy little shops and boutiques for cloth and souvenir shopping. Do you want to avoid the big chains and shopping streets and visit something smaller and slightly more local? 4 canals and their 3 cross streets make up the 9 little streets which are locally known as De 9 straatjes.
Stroll around and explore the shops and neighborhood!
Photo by Sabrina Nedjah
Take the free ferry and explore Amsterdam North
Are the ferries in Amsterdam free? Yes, they are!
Free ferries take you from Amsterdam Central station across the river to Amsterdam North. A very hip, urban and artsy part of town. Grab a drink at Pllek or Noorderlicht. Or find your way to Het Mandela huisje. It’s a hidden small cozy bed and breakfast that also serves drinks. Sit outside on the terrace and watch the boats float by.
Take a day trip to Haarlem and Zandvoort
Haarlem is a city just outside of Amsterdam (15 min by train). A lot of young parents go there when they outgrow the hustling bustling city life of Amsterdam. You’ll find the vibe a bit more relaxed there than in Amsterdam.
For a day at the sea take the train to Zandvoort (30 min by train). Stroll through the Dutch dunes and let the wind free your head. Both are easily reachable by train from Amsterdam Central station. Haarlem is halfway towards Zandvoort.
Photo by Café Hill Street Blues – a very 420 friendly cafe
A quick guide to Amsterdam’s coffee shops
Last but not least, Amsterdam and the Netherlands in general, are definitely known for its lenient drug policy. Smoking weed is tolerated, though not fully legal. If you want to buy and smoke some weed in Amsterdam, visit a coffee shop. Coffee shops do not just sell coffee but are mostly known for offering a wide variety of weed, hash, pre-rolled joints, and space cake.
Tourist favorites include The Bulldog, Barney’s, Dampkring, Boerejongens. More local favorites: 1e Hulp, LoFT, Coffeeshop Johnny 😉
Beware, the weed you buy in a coffee shop might be stronger than what you are used to. Ask the coffee shop staff for advice and don’t buy anything from street dealers.
Burgers accompanied by their own micro-brewed Asperius beer at Zest.
Photo by Restaurant Zest
A random collection of other good restaurants:
- Great falafel and beers: Bar Kauffmann
- Disturbingly good vegan burger: Meatless District.
- Authentic Bulgarian food and craft beer: Restaurant Zest
- Good Japanse ramen: Umaimon or SORA Sapporo
- Proper Italian pizza: Renato’s Pizzeria
Get all recommendations on Google Maps on your phone
Add all food & sightseeing recommendations to your Google Maps. Just click on this link and you have all of them on your phone. Explore Amsterdam like a local foodie:
Need even more inspiration? I often use Your Little Black Book to find events and nice places to eat in Amsterdam.
Photo by Laura Thonne
Frequently asked questions I get from visitors about Amsterdam (FAQ)
- What should I wear in Amsterdam / the Netherlands? Layers! The weather in Amsterdam can switch quite quickly. Your best approach is to wear a lot of layers you can get rid of or put on. Rain showers often only last a few minutes. Bring a small umbrella to be on the safe side.
- Are ferries in Amsterdam free? Yes, they are completely free. You don’t need any tickets whatsoever. Just hop on and off. Beware, all other forms of public transport like trams, buses, and metro are not free.
- What is it like to live in Amsterdam? Pretty damn good. I have traveled a lot but haven’t found a nicer place to live yet. If you live here, you try to avoid the crowded touristy areas. Off those beaten tracks, the city has a lot of charm, is rather quiet and a lot of areas (especially the Jordaan) have a rather warm and family-like feeling to them.
- Can you drink tap water in Amsterdam? Yes, you can. It’s perfectly clean and fine to drink. Actually, there is hardly any chlorine in it, which makes it taste nicer than tap water in a lot of other countries.
- Can you drink alcohol in public? (offiicially) No, if you drink in an open space you might get fined €95. Drinking on the premises (read terrace) of bars, restaurants, etc. is no problem. I know only 1 person that ever got fined for it though.
- Can you smoke weed in public? No, smoking weed in public spaces is illegal. Weed is officially still illegal in the Netherlands, but it is tolerated. You can buy it in coffee shops and you can smoke it either there or at home. Some bars and clubs tolerate smoking weed – most do not.
- Are all (party) drugs like XTC, MDMA, cocaine, amphetamines legal in Amsterdam? No, these are considered hard drugs and are just as illegal as in pretty much every other country. Again, legislation is somewhat lenient and you might not be persecuted for having small amounts. Door policies of clubs and festivals vary greatly. Either security personal will throw your drugs away and kick you out, or you will be reported to the police.
- Is prostitution really legal in Amsterdam? Yes, prostitution is legal and regulated in the Netherlands. The red light district called “de wallen” is famous for its sex workers.
*Small disclaimer: I do not condone nor encourage prostitution, or any use of legal or illegal drugs. Just because something is tolerated or not fined, does not mean you should do it. You are accountable for your own actions. Stay safe.
Amsterdam is a wonderful city, please treat it with the respect it deserves 🙂
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