Let’s not get defensive here: the touristy Amsterdam is quite gorgeous itself. Hence, no need to be too pretentious if your friend puts on a straw hat and begs you to queue up for good ol’ Van Gogh. However, Amsterdam has so much to offer even outside of the tourist track, so rest assured, you and your alternative soul will find fun activities right up your alley. If you run up of ideas after pacing back and forth through the Red Light district, here’s what you can do to escape the swarm of sweaty tourists.
1. Rush to a spontaneous (free!) concert around the city
I’ll tell you a little secret, but beware of spreading the word around – you might lose your own priority. Every week, you can magically stumble upon a delightful concert around the city. The Royal Concertgebouw and the Dutch National Opera & Ballet organize free Lunchtime Concert respectively on Wednesday and Tuesday. Tourists might be in the dark about this, but locals will rush to get their sweet seats, so make sure to go early. You’ll be able to enjoy such concerts throughout the entire year, except during summer and Christmas break.
2. Cheer up at comedy clubs and storytelling events
Amsterdam can turn into a spectacular stage for anyone brave enough. Forget Los Angeles: the true stars are here. Boom Chicago is a phenomenal place if you’re looking for an easy laugh over a drink: improv, stand-up comedy and even quiz nights, and – drum rolls please – all in English! Mezrab is another fascinating place, a hidden gem distant from the chaos of the city center. Here, a storytelling night can be a truly cleansing experience. This homey place will provide you with homemade soup and a few hours of emotional rollercoasters. With no shame and no fear of judgment, anyone who wants to participate – yes, even you! – can share a story, a song, a dance move, in a moment of total vulnerability.
3. Catch a movie in the coolest way possible
As strange as it sounds, even when I’m on a brief holiday, I still fancy a night out at the cinema. I might be a simple child of the Netflix generation caving into my habits; but sure enough, I’m not the only cinephile here. So this one goes out to you, movie lover. Amsterdam has a variety of breathtaking cinemas you do not want to miss. The art déco interior of The Movies is pretty enough to keep you distracted until the lights go out. You’ll feel as if you mistakenly took a time machine back to the early 20th century, but with a stash of fresh popcorn. The Eye Filmmuseum is only a ferry ride away from the central station. With a stunning view on the river, this building will definitely catch your eye from the outside. But don’t be disappointed if you can’t find any alien inside this spaceship-looking facility: there’s always some amazing exhibitions, as well as the permanent film museum. Their selection of both independent and trendy movies is top-notch.
4. Throw your own picnic at the chillest parks
Dutchies love spending their time outdoor as soon as the rain allows it. And what they lack in beaches and mountains, they compensate in parks and woods. Vondelpark is quite known among tourists and locals, yet it‘s always surprisingly quiet. The best way to enjoy its greenery is to sit back and relax, preferably with a tasty prep meal and a friend or two. Throw a great picnic with a hint of (non-creepy) people watching next to a cute pond, and you’ll spend an unforgettable afternoon. If the season is right, you might catch the sight of those beautiful tulips! Wertheimpark and Westerpark are equally good alternatives to Vondelpark, and way less touristy than it!
5. Live a day like a true captain
Canals and boats are the bread and butter of Amsterdam. Many tourists long for that tour of the canals, thinking of it as a magical, romantic experience – but ending up with a far-fetched merry-go-round. What they don’t know is that you could be your own captain for a day! There’s no need for any specific license: even a dog could sail a boat, if he had opposable thumbs. You’ll find several rental companies around the city, which will ask for your ID and a deposit fee. Seal the deal, and with a map in your hands start exploring the watery paths on your own terms! But don’t get too lost in your pirate impersonation.
6. Shower cute cats with cuddles on a houseboat
It’s 2020, so I won’t expect you to drop your jaw while I mention cats cafés. However, experiencing the whole thing on a houseboat in Amsterdam adds a totally different flavor to it. De Poezenboot is a great mix between a tourist attraction and a local activity. This historical houseboat hosts a dozen of friendly cats, ready to be pet and called all the cute names they deserve. It’s not only a unique experience but also a great way to support a non-profit organization that helps tons of stray cats every year. If you’re an animal lover, I recommend summoning your inner crazy cat lady and drop by de Poezenboot. Beware, it’s only open for a couple of hours a day!
7. Get a drink at Hannekes Boom
Are you looking for a place to escape from the buzzing tourists? Maybe somewhere quiet yet vibrant, with good food, green spots, excellent music, a show perhaps, or a workshop, a crafted beer, topped with some fairy lights? Hopefully, I gave away a good enough picture. Hannekes Boom is a mesmerizing location, with a patio facing the river and the perfect vibe for a chill late afternoon. With its colorful fences and enticing events, this place gets a 10/10 on my hipster radar. You’ll love it.
8. Roam around Albert Cuyp and Sunday markets
Instead of heading to the-top rated locations, you can fill your eyes with colors at one of the many city markets. The Albert Cuyp market is held every day (except on Sundays) in the amazing district of Pijp. Obviously, this is not the place to find some peace of mind: it’s a lively and chaotic event, but that’s what makes it interesting! Veggies, clothes, street food, flowers: you name, they got it! Another less known gem that locals love is the Sunday market. As the name gives away, it’s only held on Sundays, rotating between 3 different locations. If you’re a sucker for art and design, this event will open the gates to your personal heaven. Not to mention the delicious multicultural stalls selling yummy treats – which, yes, I actually just mentioned.
9. Visit the city archives
Any history junkie will feel like winning the lottery at the Stadsarchief. Located inside the huge De Bazel, the city archives wraps you up into a dazzling sensation. The basement hosts a beautiful collection of pictures and books recounting the history of Amsterdam. Everything in here is absolutely stunning and free. Most of the tourists don’t know about this beauty and many that do simply shrug their shoulders, expecting an afternoon of boredom. Yet, even though the collection is mainly in Dutch, it’s totally worth your time.
10. Take a stroll through the Western Islands
Heading west from the central station, you’ll end up in these man-made islands. This is definitely a location that departs from the beaten path. The Westelijke Eilanden are definitely a mystery to tourists; hence, you won’t find any touristy activity or attraction here. Strolling through these islands, you’ll be welcomed by a variety of art studios, colorful warehouses, and charming restaurants. This is actually the perfect spot to cruise canals with your own boat, maybe with some wine and cheese on board.