Are you visiting Amsterdam but are tired of the tourist crowds? Do you simply want to see Amsterdam off the beaten track? You are in the right place!
I have recently been to Amsterdam with a friend and while we mostly visited mainstream attractions, we also checked out a bunch of Amsterdam hidden gems. I must admit that in some cases we simply ended up there by pure chance, but in others we actually sought them off specifically (that’s especially for anything that involved cats for me!).
From museums to streets, from gardens to passages, there are plenty of places that are still relatively unknown to tourists in Amsterdam.
If you care to see some of the most unique attractions in Amsterdam, its many quirks and hidden corners, then this Amsterdam hidden gems post is for you. I will also share plenty of tips to help you plan your visit.
If you are traveling to Amsterdam soon, you should also read my post The Best Places To Visit In Amsterdam.
The Best Amsterdam Hidden Gems
Let me start this selection of Amsterdam hidden gems with the one I enjoyed the most – being a proper cat lady and such.
This fun and quirky museum takes inspiration from the founder’s cat. Bob Meijer, a wealthy banker, set out to refurb an old building in Amsterdam and dedicated it to his cat John Pierpont Morgan. John Pierpont Morgan himself is named after the famous banker J.P Morgan, but became something of a celebrity himself.
Sadly, John Pierpont Morgan is no longer with us, but when he was alive Meijer’s friends would send him all sorts of gifts for his cat. Meijer amassed a collection of cat-themed artwork and decided to open up the KattenKabinet (or Cat Cabinet in English) as a way to display it all.
The collection now lines the walls of the building, which in itself is an interesting site. Dating back to 1667, the historic structure is one of the only houses located on the Grand Bend that are open to the public.
The collection features a wondrous array of objects, from statues to paintings. There are even pieces by famous artists such as the likes of Pablo Picasso and Rembrandt to Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. And there’s a cat on the premises too, obviously – though he is a cat proper (meaning not always available for pets!).
The KattenKabinet is never a crowded attraction, but if you want you can get tickets in advance at the official price here.
If you are a cat lover, head over to my post Where To See Cats In Amsterdam.
The cat-based attractions in Amsterdam don’t stop there. De Poezenboot is the place to go for fans of cats who want to help out those in need. Opening up in the 1960s the floating shelter, this was the work of a local lady who wanted to do something to help the city’s numerous street cats.
The shelter would do its best to take in the kitties, offer them veterinary care and try to rehome them. Over the years, things at De Poezenboot have changed a little and it has become an official charity.
The shelter now takes in around 250 cats every year and helps them by providing veterinary care, vaccinations, chips and neutering. The shelter tries to rehome most of the cats while others end up staying on the boat permanently.
Visitors are welcomed onto the boat free of charge but a donation towards the running of the shelter is always welcomed. There may actually be a line to get in as they only allow a few people inside at once, in order not to stress out the cats.
This architectural gem was at one time, the largest synagogue in the whole of Europe. Dating back to 1675, the building was the work of architect Elias Bouman, who designed numerous buildings and houses in 17th century Amsterdam.
Bouman took inspiration from the description of the Temple of Solomon in the Hebrew Bible, and used classic Dutch design which can be seen in the vaulted wooden barrel ceiling.
Still very much in use to this day, services are carried out here without the use of electric lighting. Instead, proceedings are illuminated by candlelight that emits from the huge chandeliers which hang from the ceiling. It is quite a sight indeed. Make sure to also visit the rooms that surround the synagogue as they are quite interesting to see too.
You can get combined tickets for the Synagogue and the Jewish Museum of Amsteredam in advance. They include an audioguide.
For more places to visit that are connected to the presence of Jews in the city, read my post What To See In Amsterdam Jewish Cultural Quarter.
Take a break from the busy city streets and pay a visit to Begijnhof. This peaceful portion of the city was once a convent that dates back to the 14th century. It is one of my favorite Amsterdam hidden gems.
The religious complex was home to The Beguines, a Catholic order of unmarried women. The last member of the convent passed away in 1971 and the monastic way of life in the Begijnhof died with her.
The collection of buildings hide quiet courtyards where you can spend time reflecting in serene surroundings. The 14th century complex hides a collection of courtyards, and interesting buildings such as the Houten Huis, the oldest wooden house in the country, the medieval Begijnhof Kapel, and the Engelse Kerk.
This small group tour of Amsterdam also visits the Begijnhof.
Translating to The Weigh House in English, De Waag has been part of life in Amsterdam for centuries. It was here, between 1598 to 1884, that a whole variety of imported goods were weighed.
Almost 170 weighing houses were built in the Netherlands from the 15th century until 1618. The building would be used to weigh everything from butter and oils to herbs and spices, but the only one still remaining in Amsterdam is De Wag.
Originally the building was a gate to the city called St Anthony’s Gate and made up part of Amsterdam’s city walls. In its prime, the gate was a stronghold against any outside attackers and, along with the moats and walls, helped to control people going in and out of the city.
Restrictions on movement were strict – nobody was allowed to pass through the city gates after 9:30 pm. Later on, the storied structure also served as a guildhall, a fire station and a theater of anatomy.
The building even appeared in Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp; the 1632 painting was commissioned by the surgeon’s guild to be put on display in the Waag.
De Waag now holds the title of being the city’s oldest building that is non-religious and now plays host to an eatery simply called Waag. Dining here offers the chance to enjoy candle-lit meals in the old building or out on the terrace. We actually tried the restaurant but I must admit I was not impressed with the service or with the food – give it a try and let me know if you like it!
This hidden spot may not be up high on the list of things to do in Amsterdam but that doesn’t mean you should overlook it. Secreted among busy shopping areas, this 165-foot-long shopping arcade connects Damrak Street to Nieuwendijk Street – so it is one of those Amsterdam hidden gems that are in plain sight!
Delicately decorated with gleaming chandeliers, colorful stained glass and artistic mosaic tiles, the arcade appears like something from the city’s heyday. But things are not all as they seem here. A group of Dutch artists were tasked with bringing a splash of life back to this once tired 19th-century shopping street.
The artists attempted to make it seem as if shoppers were exploring underwater and took inspiration from Amsterdam’s famous canals and incorporated elements of life in the city into the design including the canals, clogs and iniquitous bicycles.
Take your time wandering down the walkway to notice all of the hidden gems of Amsterdam’s design that are otherwise easy to miss.
The floor is daubed with artwork entitled Oersoep, by Dutch artists Arno Coenen and Iris Roskam. The work is dedicated to the city’s waterways Amsterdam and features fun elements such as umbrellas and other items that are often dropped into the water.
Secret Library in the Rijksmuseum (Cuypers Library)
Book lovers should go to the Secret Library in the Rijksmuseum. Here, among the lines upon lines of shelves are thousands of tomes to flick through. The library is the largest art history library in the country and is absolutely beautiful.
Also known as the Cuypers Library, the library opened in 1886 as part of the country’s famous Rijksmuseum. It is the work of the Dutch architect, Pierre Cuypers, famous for his neo-Gothic style.
Cuypers set out to create a space that has a real sense of grandeur which would appear larger than it really was. It’s true to say that the architect succeeded in his mission. The space feels lofty and cathedral-like, with clever use of height and light. Despite undergoing much renovation work over its lifetime, the library remains true to its original design.
Rows of colorful books line the beautiful bookcases, illuminated by light pouring in from elegant windows. A daring spiral staircase gives access to various levels of bookshelves in the library, creating an aesthetically awe-inspiring place to spend some time.
Among the various books and manuscripts that live in the library, readers can glance over all manner of art-related pieces from books to journals and even catalogues that detail old auctions and trades.
The reading room here is not only open to historians and students, visitors to the library are also able to sit and flick through the literature houses inside the library. And, bringing things up to the modern day, there’s also free public Wi-Fi and iPads to use.
Don’t forget to get your timed tickets to Rijksmuseum well in advance, especially if there is a special exhibit you care to see.
Amsterdam Botanical Gardens
This is one of the best Amsterdam hidden gems, not only for those who want to take time out in nature: it also comes with an interesting dose of history to learn about too.
Dating back to 1639, the Amsterdam Botanical Garden was first founded as a place to plant seeds and saplings that were brought back to the Netherlands by exploration and trade voyages. The plant nursery helped to care for the new plants and played a key role in global trade and has even played a role in what you keep in your kitchen cupboard to this day!
It was from here that a number of now staple plants were spread around to other European nations and the rest of the world. Ingredients such as coffee, palm oil and cinnamon all passed through Amsterdam Botanical Gardens.
Take a breath of fresh air here and stroll among perfectly manicured gardens that are home to over 4,000 species of plants. There’s also a collection of colonial-era buildings including the seed, glass house and butterfly house.
De Otter Windmill
Holland is well known for its windmills but you might be surprised to see one in the middle of Amsterdam. Located between the Kostverlorenvaart Canal and the Singelgracht, the Otter Windmill is the only one of several sawmills constructed in the area around 1631.
The mill, along with a number of other sawmills in this part of the town, was purchased in 1817 by a company called Van der Beyl.
As the city went through modernization and expansion, the urban sprawl threatened the existence of the old mills and so by the end of the 19th century most of the mills had been taken down.
De Otter is believed to have still been in use as a sawmill until the start of the 20th century, but in 1925 its sails were dismantled. The only other operational sawmill, De Eenhoorn (The Unicorn), ceased operation in 1929 and was completely dismantled by the early ‘30s.
De Otter now stands as the only remaining mill, a single relic of the industry which powered the economy in the local area. The importance of the mill was realized in the 1970s when it was placed on a list of historical monuments, and later in the ‘90s De Otter was completely restored to working order again.
The old mill has become a fun attraction for visitors to the area and can be visited on for a taste of what life used to be like in this corner of the city.
Albert Cuyp Market
Amsterdam’s big and colorful Albert Cuyp Market is a must-visit for those who want to shop for local wares and soak up city life, and definitely one of the best places to visit in Amsterdam off the beaten track.
The busy marketplace is a collection of over 250 stalls which sell everything from vegetables and fresh flowers to street food and fashion.
Located in the De Pijp area of Oud-Zuid, the market takes its name from the name of the street, which in turn is named after a local painter who lived here in the 17th century.
Originating as a collection of street sellers and travelling traders, the market was officially established in 1905 when the city added order to the chaotic market. To start with, the market only took place on Saturday evenings but by 1912 demand for the market had grown and it began to take place in the daytime, six days a week.
Now, on market days, the street is closed to traffic and the market welcomes crowds of shoppers to make it one of Europe’s largest daytime markets. A favorite shopping spot for locals and visitors alike, the huge collection of products on offer often represent the various communities that call Amsterdam home including items from Suriname, Turkey, and Morocco.
Overall, this probably is the best place in Amsterdam to try local specialties such as Dutch waffles and Dutch baby pancakes.
This street food market tour also goes to the Albert Cuyp Market.
Amsterdam Museum of Prostitution
Amsterdam has a whole lot of fascinating history and local culture, and one part of that story is prostitution. The city’s red-light district draws in crowds of visitors who come to see what this sex-focused area of Amsterdam is all about.
One of the best places to get a better understanding of just why Amsterdam is so well-known for its sex industry, and the history of the industry itself, is at the Amsterdam Museum of Prostitution, called Red Light Secrets.
Located inside what was once a brothel, the museum sets out to tell the story of Amsterdam’s sex work industry through historical facts and tales of sex workers.
The building itself offers visitors something of interest, kept much as it would have been when it was a brothel, the various rooms showcase sex work and includes an informative audio guide from a woman who spent 15 years working in Amsterdam’s sex industry.
The Red Light District, known locally as De Wallen, is actually the oldest area of Amsterdam and dates back to 1385. The district’s notoriety has been part of the tale of trading and travelers, with women holding a red light to make themselves look more attractive as they walked to meet boats arriving at the docks.
There are some controversial issues surrounding the numerous brothels and sex shops in Amsterdam with a crackdown on working regulations and legalization of sex work in the Netherlands in 2000.
The purpose of the museum is to help enlighten people about sex work, bringing to light a subject that is often seen as taboo to educate and help to rid the industry of numerous problems including human trafficking. Visitors must be aged 16 or over to enter the museum, which is open daily.
You can get Amsterdam Museum of Prostitution tickets in advance before your visit.
You could also consider this excellent guided tour of the Red Light District of Amsterdam. It’s the one we did and and felt like we learned a lot!
If you are planning a trip to Amsterdam, these other posts will be useful: