This tour will take you the better part of a day, past most of my personal favorite places in the amazing city of Amsterdam with some historical facts and tips on where to eat and drink on your way. Click here to download the PDF-version of the text and map so you can print it and walk this tour by yourself.
DIY walking tour
of my hometowwn: Amsterdam
Start at the beautiful Westerkerk, built in the Dutch Renaissance style and in the form of a patriarchal cross. The monument has a rectangular shape, is 48 meters long, 28 meters wide and 27.5 meters high to the wooden barrel vaulting in the nave. Eye-catching is the bright, undimmed sunlight pouring in from every angle via the 36 large windows, because the light is not obstructed by any adjacent buildings. Standing 85 meters tall, the tower is Amsterdam’s highest church tower, and mentioned in Anne Frank’s diaries, since she could see it from the window of her hiding place around the corner. The most striking element is the bright, blue-colored crown, especially in the morning light.
On one end of the Westermarkt square is the Gay Monument, commemorating all who have been subject to persecution because of their homosexuality and inspiring and supporting lesbians and gays in their struggle against denial, oppression and discrimination. It’s the first of it’s kind and these three pink granite triangles are an important way for the Dutch to promote tolerance and acceptance of queerness.Cross the busy street and follow the canal, this is the Keizersgracht or emperor’s canal, the middle of the three main canals in the center. You will walk past the Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk (Church of Our Lady), a Syriac Orthodox church used by the Syriac Orthodox community and the Roman Catholics of Opus Dei, an interesting combination.
The following 3 streets on your left and right are called de ‘9 straatjes’ (9 streets), full to bursting with basic second-hand goods, vintage designer labels, specialty stores and cozy cafés. Walk around and pick a nice place for breakfast and/or coffee.
Head East and cross three bridges to walk down the Paleisstraat onto Dam Square. On the west end of the square is the neoclassical Royal Palace, one of three palaces in the Netherlands which are at the disposal of the monarch. On its sides are the 15th-century Gothic Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) and the Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. The National Monument, a white stone pillar memorializing the victims of WWII, dominates the opposite side of the square. Also overlooking the plaza are the Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky (with the prettiest wintergarden of the city) and the upscale department store De Bijenkorf (which has great views over the city from the restaurant at the top floor).Head left (North, towards Central Station) on the Damrak (big street with the trams) and head for the red brick giant of the Beurs van Berlage. Originally built as a commodity exchange but now home to concerts, exhibitions and conferences.
Cross the square in front of this building and follow the little road behind it until the police station at the right corner. Turn into that little alley (Paternoster steeg) and let it take you to the 800-year-old Oude Kerk (old church), Amsterdam’s oldest building. The church covers an area of some 3300m2, has the largest medieval wooden ceiling in Europe and because it was built on a cemetery, the floor consists entirely of gravestones.Ignore the surrounding red-light-distractions for now, we will be back later. Cross the bridge behind the church and walk into the street (Oudekennissteeg) following it. When you get to the Zeedijk, turn left to find the Buddhist He Hua Temple. This name translates into lotus-flower and it is the largest one in Europe built in traditional Chinese palace style, sitting in the center of Chinatown. Turn around and walk back on the Zeedijk in the other direction until the square, Nieuwmarkt (new market), where you can find the most impressive of Amsterdam’s remaining city gates. It was later used as a weigh station for merchants and then as the restaurant that it still is. This square is very popular among locals, especially during the weekends. The terraces of the bars and restaurants are always filled with people. Oh and there’s a nice farmers market here on Saturdays.With a total area of about 6500 square meters and about 300 rooms with the typical red lights going as far back as 1270, the Amsterdam Red Light District is one of the most famous prostitution zones in the world, and with that a big tourist attraction. Limited by the Zeedijk/Nieuwmarkt in the East, the Sint Jansstraat in the South, the Warmoesstraat in the West and the Niezel in the North there are plenty of little streets and alleys to get lost in. There are a lot of coffee-shops, sex-cinema’s and other entertainment everywhere. Don’t forget to check out the famous Banana bar, a fun strip-club where 50EUR gets you an hour of open bar and an interesting show. Or go for the Red Light Secrets museum for a more informative spin on this neighborhood.
Try to end up on the Oudezijdse Achterburgwal somehow when you’re done roaming around, follow it South until the end and turn right into the Grimburgwal. Where you meet the big street with all the trams (Rokin), take a quick look at my favorite equestrian statue on the corner, of Wilhelmina, the Dutch queen from 1890 to 1948. Cross the street and walk into the Spui, follow it onto a little square which has a great book-market on Fridays. On the right-hand-side is the entrance to the Begijnhof, one of the oldest inner courts in the city. As the name suggests, it was originally a Béguinage, or place for religious women to live in community without taking vows or retiring from the world. A group of historic buildings, mostly private dwellings, center on it, and it is also the site of the English Reformed Church. One of the prettiest places of the city if you ask me and a lovely moment of silence. There’s not really much to see beyond a few signs giving you the background of the women and their history, but the noise of the city fades away giving you a feeling of serenity.Exit via the Amsterdam Museum, a former orphanage with lots of information about Amsterdam through the ages, and walk right onto the Kalverstraat, named after the calves market that was held here until the 17th century. This shopping area could be anywhere in the world as there are so many of the big chains here, but it’s the most expensive one in the Netherlands in terms of rent, with insane prices of up to 3000 euros per square meter per month.
Turn right onto the Heiligeweg, take a quick de-tour into the famous Dampkring coffee-shop as seen in the Oceans 12 movie if you’re interested or walk straight onto Koningsplein, from where you can enter the world’s only floating flower market. Turn left at the end, where you will immediately see the Munt, a tower that was one of the main gates in the medieval city wall. The square is actually a bridge, the widest in the city.Cross the bridge towards Hotel L’Europe and walk into the Nieuwe Doelenstraat, cross the steel bridge onto the Staalstraat on the right, where you can have great uitsmijters at cafe de Gaeper on number 4. This typically Dutch egg-sandwich with any combination of toppings (ham, cheese, mushrooms, …) will take away all your hunger for sure! Say hello to Dennis from me 😉After lunch, follow this street until the Staalmeestersbrug, a cute little drawbridge from which you have the best views of the Zuiderkerk (Southern Church). Keep going towards the Stopera and follow the bike-path that goes around it on the right. This building is home to the Dutch National Opera & Ballet. walk halfway onto the bridge on your right, inspired by the architecture of several of the bridges over the Seine in Paris and named Blauwbrug (blue bridge) after the wooden one that was there from around 1600 and which was painted the characteristic blue of the Dutch flag. Look South down the river to see my favorite bridge: the Magere (skinny) bridge connects the banks of the Kerkstraat between Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht and is famous for it’s lights.Turn around and walk back to the front side of the Stopera towards Waterlooplein, named after the Battle of Waterloo and created here when two canals were filled in. This daily market started in 1893 when the city government decided that the Jewish merchants from nearby streets should move here. During WWII the Jewish quarter was emptied of its residents so the market totally disappeared by 1941. After the war it became a flea market, currently home to about 300 stalls and open every day except Sunday. The Moses and Aaron Church stands on the corner, officially the Roman Catholic Church of St. Anthony of Padua. The statue at the top of the entrance shows the blessing of the Christ.
From the corner of the church, cross to the opposite corner of the square (Mr Visserplein) towards The Portuguese Synagogue. This large 17th-century Sephardic synagogue reflects the rich Jewish community here during the Dutch Golden Age. The interior of the synagogue is a single, very high rectangular space with the original wooden benches and candles everywhere. The floor is covered with fine sand, an old Dutch tradition to absorb dust, moisture and dirt from shoes and to muffle the noise. If you’re interested in more info or a tour, ask for Jeanette Loeb.
Stay in the street North of the synagogue (Muiderstraat) and cross the bridge into Plantage, a neighborhood that used to house pleasure gardens and orchards for city citizens to relax in green surroundings. The Hortus Botanicus is one of the oldest botanical gardens in the world. Turn left on Plantage Kerklaan and pass the entrance to Artis Zoo (fully called Natura Artis Magistra), one of the oldest zoos of mainland Europe and also containing an aquarium and a planetarium. Pass the Nijlpaardenbrug (hippopotamusbridge) and turn right onto the Entrepotdok. This canal with old warehouses-turned-homes built in 1708 used to house a public park created by Napoleon. The warehouses were built for the intermediate storage of goods not destined for the city but in transit to other destinations.
Turn left onto Geschutswerf and right immediately onto the Hoogte Kadijk, passing one of the first power stations of the city. The left half was built in 1903, firing coal, but already 5 years later there was such a rapid increase in the demand for electricity, that so identical second half was added. There used to be an interesting little museum about energy technology but it had to close it’s doors in 2007 due to a lack of funding.Sarphatistraat. The giant classicist building that stretches out right into this street is the Oranje-Nassau Kazerne, the former-barracks-turned-appartments are almost 300m long and the largest of a series of military buildings part of a defensive line around Amsterdam to protect the city from foreign invaders in 1813.
Walk until the corner and turn right, where you will immediately see your final destination for today: Brouwerij ‘t IJ. This small brewery is located in a former bath house next to the De Gooyer windmill. It brews eight standard and three seasonal beers plus limited editions. They do good tours and tastings and have a pub with an outdoor terrace. Great beers and amazing location! Tram 10 stops just around the corner to take you back into the center if you need to.