While Amsterdam may be best known for its Golden Age charms—canals, cobblestone streets, and centuries-old gabled houses—there’s an edgier side to the Dutch capital that’s worth exploring.
The River IJ, a vast body of water that divides the two halves of the city, has been transformed over the past decade, with a wealth of exciting architectural and cultural offerings springing up all along its banks. Hop one of the free ferries from the Amsterdam Central railway station to Amsterdam Noord, a former industrial district whose waterfront now teems with museums, restaurants, and hotels, or to the once-abandoned shipyard of NDSM Wharf, where warehouses have been reimagined as art spaces and flea markets. Or stroll over a pedestrian bridge to the man-made island of IJdok, with its glassy new towers and string of waterside cafes. Here are some of our favourite riverfront spots to check out on an Amsterdam city break.
Pllek pioneered Amsterdam’s urban beach bar concept, trucking in sand to form an actual beach on the banks of the River IJ—complete with sun loungers, umbrellas, and a sprawling wood terrace with picnic tables. It’s one of NDSM Wharf’s hippest hangouts in warm weather, with live concerts, open-air movies, and dance parties all summer long. Just as cool is the restaurant itself, a ramshackle assortment of old shipping containers spread over two levels, with brightly colored corrugated-metal walls and enormous windows looking out over the water. The seasonal menu is mostly plant-based, using organic veggies from its own farm, and the salads here are particularly good. There’s also a nice selection of freshly pressed juices and bio wines.
At Amsterdam Noord’s dockside eatery Café de Ceuvel, you won’t just eat well, you can also feel good about it knowing that everything here is completely vegan, organic, and sustainable. That starts with the architecture of the cafe, a funky amalgam of recycled materials that include an old lifeguarding stand and 80-year-old mooring posts rescued from the Amsterdam harbour. The Mediterranean-tinged menu is entirely plant-based, with veggies sourced from local farmers; the bar also makes its own soft drinks using organic syrups and serves CO2-free coffee and beer from small regional brewers. In winter, the wood-beamed interiors and wood-burning stove give the space a cosy feel, while in summer, the waterfront terrace is a lively gathering spot for locals.
Set among the edgy new architecture on the artificial island of IJdok, the chic, multi-story MOS Amsterdam has garnered a Michelin star for its innovative cooking. Inside, you’re cocooned in plush velvet, with huge windows overlooking the River IJ and yacht-filled marina; if the weather is fine, a table on the waterfront terrace is a must. Chef Egon van Hoof puts a creative spin on seasonal seafood, meat, and produce—think local radishes with smoked eel in a sesame/seaweed cream sauce, and poached guinea fowl with mushrooms, plums, and foie gras. Dishes are available a la carte or there are set lunch and dinner menus starting at €55 for four courses.
Ever wanted to swing out over the side of a 22-storey-high building? You can do it atop the iconic A’DAM Tower at A’DAM Lookout, featuring the appropriately named Over the Edge, a huge hydraulic swing set that lets thrill-seekers swing at a dizzying height—nearly 100 metres above Amsterdam. If that’s not your idea of fun, you can simply stroll around the observation deck for amazing 360-degree views of the city and the River IJ below, or grab a drink at the rooftop Sky Bar and soak in the vistas. Even the lift to the Lookout provides a shot of adrenaline, spiriting you 20 floors in just 20 seconds, complete with a techno soundtrack and dazzling light show.
Fans of graffiti will have a field day at STRAAT, said to be the world’s largest street art museum, with 8,000 square metres of exhibition space inside a former ship-welding warehouse on NDSM Wharf. Massive murals decorate the walls—both inside and out—including the famous 24-metre-high portrait of a smiling Anne Frank by Brazilian street art legend Eduardo Kobra. The museum rotates displays from its significant collection of local and international artists and also hosts temporary shows by graffiti masters from around the world.
Want to pick up a one-of-a-kind souvenir? IJ-Hallen bills itself as the biggest flea market in Europe, with some 500 vendors selling just about everything: second-hand clothing, vintage signs, antique furniture, retro toys, vinyl, original artwork, and more knick-knacks than you could possibly imagine. Stalls are located inside an enormous industrial building at NDSM Wharf and often spill outside to the adjacent lot. The market takes place on weekends, usually once or twice a month, with a nominal entry fee. Be sure to bargain for your wares—it’s expected!
Sir Adam Hotel
Set on the first eight floors of the A’DAM Tower, this boutique property from the hip Sir Hotels chain offers incredible views of the River IJ and the city center. A music theme runs throughout, from the lobby’s well-curated vinyl library to the rooms and suites, decorated with band posters and photos of famous musicians. Design-wise, the look is industrial-chic, with exposed concrete walls and pillar and sleek custom built-ins.
Room Mate Aitana
It’s a 10-minute walk from Amsterdam Centraal and over a pedestrian bridge to IJdok and the glassy Room Mate Aitana, with 284 rooms featuring floor-to-ceiling windows and fab river and city views. Spacious rooms are available in a variety of configurations, from twin or double rooms to sprawling suites, and are decorated in a contemporary style.