Secret Amsterdam: Your Guide to the City's Hidden Corners

By Jon Price

From psychedelic fluorescent art museums hidden in unassuming basements to cat cafes and restaurants in greenhouses, there’s no shortage of weird and wonderful things to do Amsterdam. Perfect for those already familiar with the Dutch capital, or those simply wanting an experience a bit different to the norm, this essential guide looks beyond the cliches to help you discover the Amsterdam that only locals know about...

Where to stay

Located in the vibrant eastern, The Lloyd is a hotel like no other. Popular with international artists and creatives, every single one of its 117 rooms has been designed and decorated by a different Dutch architect – so, you might end up with poster-plastered walls and baths that double-up as tables, or maybe you’ll find yourself sleeping in oak-panelled loft room luxury.

Alternatively why not spend the night in a free-standing tower? Hotel de Windketel in Amsterdam’s famous Waterorenplein could be a dream a come true. Forming part of the city’s municipal waterworks, this three-storey tower dates back to 1897 and is set in the centre of a private square in a car-free neighbourhood and decorated with iron spiral staircases and ultra-modern furniture.

Where to eat

Amsterdam’s must-visit Restaurant de Kas is a unique dining spot that serves up fruit and veg grown in its own back garden. The food is so fresh that the menu changes daily depending on what staff are able to pick from the flower beds that very day.  To add to the theme, the restaurant’s stylish tables and chairs are housed inside a giant greenhouse.

Unique dining experiences are not just about quirky dishes, they’re also about unique locations and few are quite so bizarre as REM Eiland – a sea rig on stilts in Amsterdam’s harbour that once housed a pirate radio station known as TV Noordzee. Since 1964, things have been a little different, and the restaurant today serves up seafood starters and French and Italian-inspired mains and desserts, like the delicious limoncello Crème Brulee. Top tip: in the summer, ask for an alfresco table on Deck 3 – which used to be a helipad.

Where to drink

As one of Europe's most forward-thinking and hedonistic cities it's unsurprisingly that Amsterdam has its fair share of offbeat bars. Avoid the busy watering spots and hustle and bustle of Leidseplein and the Red Light District and look elsewhere. Pont 13 gets our vote. This bar, aboard a steam ferry dating back to 1927, has an interior lined with original timbers complemented by handmade tables and chairs and this place is truly hard to beat if you’re looking for luscious wine lists and waterside views.

Elsewhere, enjoy a drink atop a former railway swing bridge. Café Restaurant Open serves French-inspired cocktails in a glass box with tilting windows. Sink back into the bar’s lime-green chairs, look on out over the water and feel free to order a traditional Dutch meal to compliment your Kir Royal if you’re feeling peckish.

What to do

Ever been to a cat café? These coffee-and-a-cuddle spots have been popping up in major cities all over the world in recent years, but did you know that Amsterdam has a feline-themed museum with cats roaming freely? Yes, actual cats in a museum! The wonderfully weird KattenKabinet is packed full of feline art and artefacts dedicated to founder Bob Meijer’s beloved former pet, who passed away back in the early 1990s. Expect to see anything from photorealistic paintings to lovingly-sculpted cat statues inside.

If you’ve got a strong stomach, consider stopping by the University of Amsterdam’s Academic Medical Centre for a macabre museum full of ultra-disturbing medical specimens. This once-private 18th century Tetralogy collection comprises preserved samples of diseased body parts, both animal and human, skeletons of Siamese twins and many other unique oddities that are definitely not for the faint of heart.

Don’t miss

Just around the corner from the world-famous Anne Frank House is one of the world’s only museums dedicated to “participatory” fluorescent art. Located in the basement of a private home, Electric Ladyland features one creative collector’s mountain of naturally phosphorescent rocks, which are carefully arranged in psychedelic compositions. Artist owner Nick Padalino is always keen to demonstrate to visitors how each one reacts to varying degrees of UV light.

If you’re feeling adventurous, go paddle boarding along through the city’s meandering canals, to see Amsterdam in a completely unique way. Perfect for all abilities, even complete beginners, this wonderful and unusual experience takes in the city's lesser known canals. Paddling for 5km, you'll see windmills, warehouses and even some elephants. Yes, really!

MakeMyDay offers unique and handpicked experiences and tours in exciting cities all around the globe, including Amsterdam