Once overlooked by travelers, the borough of Amsterdam Noord has developed into a thriving artistic community, a spot for dance and music festivals, and an escape from Amsterdam’s chaotic and touristy center.
The borough was once the industrial site of one of Europe’s largest shipyards. From 1922 until 1984 — when the Nederlandsche Dock Company went bankrupt — supertanker, cargo, and passenger ships were meticulously built and carefully launched into the IJ Lake to sail around the world. Now visitors can explore the repurposed buildings and forests for an eclectic Amsterdam experience many tourists haven’t yet seen.
The borough is only a short free ferry away on the opposite side of the IJ Lake, directly behind Amsterdam Central Station. Five ferries, with three directly behind the station, transport commuters to different parts of the borough 24 hours a day. Trip times range from three to 15 minutes. As bikes are allowed on the ferry, rent one from one of three bike rentals near Central Station: Mac Bike, Star Bikes, and Amsterbike. Or, rent one once in Amsterdam Noord from Velox Classic Bikes, which is near the drop off port of the Buiksloterwegveer-bound ferry. By car, take the IJ tunnel to the east of the station to cross the lake.
Amsterdam Noord’s architecturally impressive Eye Film Institute, designed by the Viennese Delugan Meissl Associated Architects, is a short walk from the Buiksloterwegveer ferry stop. The Institute is a play on words, as “Eye” is also the pronunciation of the IJ Lake. The institute features an impressive archive of 37,000 films, 700,000 photographs, 60,000 posters, and 20,000 books. Part of the collection was previously housed in the now defunct Filmmuseum in Vondel Park until 2012, when the Eye opened. The Institute regularly screens Dutch and foreign films and holds exhibitions. Patrons may also enjoy a coffee or meal and the views of the IJ harbor at the institute’s restaurant. After exiting the Eye, stroll or bike through Oeverpark just outside the museum.
A half hour walk from the Buiksloterwegveer ferry stop lies Noorderpark, a beautiful combination of two older parks (Flora and Volewijks parks) that were merged in 2014. It’s nearly the same size as Vondel Park (45 hectares or 111 acres) making it a good distance to cycle, walk, and picnic. Noorderpark is split by the lovely North Holland Canal.
Want to get closer to Mother Nature? Cycle east of Noorderpark where Leeuwarderweg merges into Meeuwenlann to reach W.H. Vliegenbos, a forest named after 20th century journalist and social democrat Willem H. Vliegen. Or take the Zamenhofstraat-bound ferry from Azartplein (Azart Plaza), on the peninsula housing Java and KNSM islands in the East Borough of Amsterdam. The forest is a 15 minute walk from the ferry and features a campsite spanning 25 hectares (61 acres), and it includes space for caravans, campervans, or tents, along with a hotel and cabins for rent.
Looking for a post-industrial experience? Near the ferry resides the trendy yet laid back IJ Kantine (IJ Canteen) with reasonably priced soups and sandwiches and pristine views of the IJ Harbor. Like many of the buildings in the borough, the IJ Kantine’s building, previously called the Baanderij, has a rich shipbuilding history. It served as an office, assembly hall, and canteen when the wharf was in full swing. Now it’s a favorite for creatives to work and organize brainstorming sessions in the dining area or in one of two boardrooms available for rent. The kantine also holds exhibitions, live music and craft nights.
Just southeast lies Pllek, a self-described creative hangout, offering a multitude of activities from yoga to dancing to circus to sex classes. In Amsterdam, not many subjects are taboo. In the summer, an artificial beach provides a spot for dancing and sunbathing. The center also boasts organic and sustainable food with seasonal vegetables sourced locally whenever possible.
The DoubleTree Hilton Hotel Amsterdam is near the NDSM ferry stop, making it a convenient and luxurious stay. For a more atypical experience, stay at the Amstel Botel, a floating hotel moored near the NDSM ferry. As Amsterdam Noord is easy to get to from Central Amsterdam, staying at the NH Amsterdam Barbizon Palace allows for quick access to Amsterdam Noord as well as the rest of the city. Amsterdam is a small city with a big-city feel, so make a day trip out of Amsterdam Noord or commute to the center. Either way, make sure to rent a bike for the most convenient and efficient experience.
This article was published on Hipmunk's Tailwind blog by The Hipmunk on December 10th.
HoliDaze Guide Amsterdam's Top Offbeat Activities
Few cities are as quirky and universally known as Amsterdam. It is a wildly popular tourist destination, and for good reason. The general vibe in Amsterdam and the feeling you get walking the streets is distinctly unique and impossible to ignore. The next time you find yourself in Amsterdam and need something new to do, check out these cool offbeat activities:
Be honest, this is on your list. After all, Amsterdam's coffee shops are known around the entire world but certainly not for their coffee. Of course, with millions of eager tourists flocking to the city, there are tons of coffee shops that are nothing more than abysmal tourists traps. It is these places, these chains, which should be avoided at all cost. For a local experience, head on over to Grey Area, my personal favorite -- always a tasteful selection there.
It is possible to take a subway tunnel walking tour through Amsterdam's Noord-Zuidlijn Lign (North-South Line). Over the course of two hours we learned all about the history and development of the city's massive public transportation system. However, these tours are primarily in Dutch -- guests must book a private tour if they want it in a foreign language. (Of course that could also be a very offbeat thing to do, take a tour in a foreign language you don't know and try to see how much of it you can make sense of.)
The line is scheduled to reopen in 2018, which means this offbeat option will only be around for the next few years.
This place is so great I almost don't want to write about it, lest it become cheap and commercialized like so many other mainstream tourist "hotspots." For visitors looking for a cool place to go where the locals still outnumber the tourists, head on up across the river to Amerstdam-Noord (North Amsterdam).
A decade ago, there was nothing spectacular to the Noord, but over the last few years things have been quietly and quickly improving. New restaurants, start-ups, and other hipster-friendly joints are becoming more and more plentiful. Although the area remains overlooked by most foreign visitors, don't expect it to stay that way for long. Visit now while the area is still raw and untainted.
Although this activity has grown increasingly popular with tourists in recent years, that doesn't make it any less offbeat. Where else are you going to see millions and millions of cut flowers in one giant auction house? Nowhere. Literally nowhere. The Aalsmeer Flower Auction is the largest in the world -- so big, in fact, that nearly every cut flower in the world that is intended for public sale passes through here. The sheer logistics of it are mind-boggling, but the beauty of it all will leave a lasting impression on you.
Amsterdam is great at keeping things secret, and you never know what you will find when you just wander off into the distance without a set plan. Ask locals or just follow your gut for best results, but if you have limited time or would rather wander with a group, consider a walking tour of Amsterdam's infamous Red Light District, De Wallen, the oldest part of the city.More HoliDaze Offbeat Travel Guides
Worried all this fun will put a dent in your wallet? Find the best deals on cheap Amsterdam hotels via Hipmunk and save as much green as possible for having fun!