How To Experience Amsterdam like a Local

There’s no denying that Amsterdam is home to world-class museums, beautiful architecture, and a magical network of canals. Founded in 1275, the city played an important role in the Dutch Golden Age and now attracts around 5 million tourists every year. While most focus on ticking off the major tourist sites in the Canal Ring, this only offers one perspective of the city. If you really want to experience the Dutch capital like a local, you have to get off the beaten path and think like the Amsterdammers do. 

This article offers a few tips for experiencing Amsterdam outside of the tourist lens, helping you gain a better insight into life for the Dutch. It touches on everything from shopping like a local to embracing gezelligheid and renting a place to stay in an authentic neighborhood. 

three bicycle upright parked on bridge
Photo by Liam Gant on

Stay in a local neighborhood

While most visitors opt to stay in Oud-Zuid when visiting Amsterdam, there are plenty of surrounding neighborhoods that offer more of a local atmosphere while still being incredibly safe to stay. Families should consider renting a place in Oost, de Baarsjes, or Plantage where you’ll find plenty of playgrounds and kid-friendly attractions for creating family memories. De Pijp is garnering attention for its eclectic cafes, globally inspired eateries, and artsy streets while Oud-West is known for its expansive park and foodie scene that draws couples looking for a unique escape. 

The most extensive choice of apartments to rent in Amsterdam is at Rentola. This mobile-friendly platform boasts more than 2,000 listings in the Dutch capital, including modern apartments, spacious family homes, and trendy townhouses. Registered users can search based on price, number of bedrooms, and property type, as well as their preferred location. A one-bedroom apartment will set you back around 450 euros a week while a two-bedroom property is roughly 550 euros. Houses in Amsterdam are slightly more expensive, averaging around 650 euros a week. With such a diversity of options, Rentola is a great resource for those who want to live like a local in Amsterdam. 

Explore beyond the Canal Ring

With so many museums and theaters located within Amsterdam’s city center, it’s easy to spend your entire time here. But those who venture beyond the Canal Ring will be rewarded with the opportunity to discover the city’s diverse neighborhoods.

In Oud-West, you’ll find hip music venues and coffee shops frequented by dedicated locals, as well as trend-setting boutiques showcasing Dutch-made goods. De Pijp entices with bustling markets and some of the city’s hottest new restaurants while the former shipyard of the NDSM Wharf has been transformed with industrial-chic eateries and impressive street art. Even if you decide to rent a place within the Canal Ring, don’t forget to go off the beaten path to experience Amsterdam’s local character. 

Rent a bicycle to get around

Renting a bicycle is a “must” for fully experiencing Amsterdam, a city that is famed for being cycling-centric. With bikes outnumbering people in the Netherlands, getting around on two wheels is simply a way of life. It’s also extremely affordable, with bike rental costs around 6.50 euros per hour or 13.50 euros per day. 

So rather than jumping on a bus or the metro, join the locals in this eco-friendly mode of transport, which allows you to soak up the sights along the way. If you’re worried about the crowds on the bike trails, there’s no need. Simply stick to the right and obey all traffic signals, and the locals will navigate around you. Some holiday rentals provide bicycles for guests to use, meaning you have no excuse not to!

Shop at local markets

Amsterdam’s lively street markets offer a unique taste of local life, as well as a bounty of fresh and gourmet produce. Stroll through the colorful Ten Katemarkt in Oud-West to admire the vegetables piled high and the huge wheels of Gouda cheese, which can be purchased from around 10 euros per kilogram. As you wander between the stalls of Dappermarkt in Oost, you can chat with the vendors and soak up the heady scents of ready-to-eat snacks. Don’t leave without sampling a raw herring sandwich, or broodje haring, a quintessential Dutch treat that costs as little as 3 euros. 

Bar hop by boat

While you won’t find many locals on Amsterdam’s touristy canal tours, you will see them turning up at waterfront bars by boat. At many spots, you don’t even have to get off your boat to grab a drink or a bite to eat – the bartenders will come to you! 

By renting a boat to bar-hop around the city, you’ll experience Amsterdam’s world-renowned party scene from a different perspective. Cruise along the picturesque canals while soaking up the lively atmosphere and meeting like-minded locals along the way. Prices start from around 100 euros for a three-hour rental, although this will differ depending on the chosen route and the number of people. Some boats provide onboard catering while others offer themed decorations for those celebrating special events. 

Embrace gezelligheid

A strong part of the Dutch national identity is the concept of gezelligheid, which is all about pursuing a warm, cozy atmosphere and a pleasant feeling of “togetherness” with those around you. While exploring the city, seek out relaxed, sociable moments, rather than rushing around trying to tick every major sight off your bucket list. Spend an afternoon people-watching in a park, enjoy a long, leisurely brunch with your travel companion, and take the time to connect with locals at the bar.

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