I know from personal experience that when planning a trip to a new city, it can feel very daunting choosing where to stay, especially when you don't know much about the city's neighbourhoods in terms of atmosphere, security, public transport and what's going on there. Luckily, I can answer these questions for you with regard to Amsterdam!
I hope that the following advice and this neighbourhood guide will help you pick where to stay in Amsterdam or at least will give you some ideas about the best areas to look for accommodation in, depending on what you're hoping to do and enjoy while you're here. Before we go any further, you may also want to bookmark some other helpful Amsterdam posts like 100+ free things to do in Amsterdam, the best spots for taking photos in Amsterdam, cycling tips for riding a bike in Amsterdam, and how to get the most out of self-catering accommodation in Amsterdam.
The best places to stay in Amsterdam
Before we get into talking about the best areas to stay in Amsterdam, let's talk a bit about why you should think about where to stay in Amsterdam carefully, and about the best areas NOT to stay in.
Amsterdam is a small big city
It's really important to know that Amsterdam is a small city. In terms of size and population it falls outside of the top 20 biggest cities in Europe. But it's by no means tiny, and it's certainly not lacking in things to see, do or eat and drink. That's why I like to think of it as a small big city. This means you can easily traverse and cover much of Amsterdam within a day on foot, though, of course, cycling or using public transport speeds this up even more. While cycling is the most obvious choice of transportation (click here for my cycling tips for Amsterdam), I actually think Amsterdam is one of the most pedestrian-friendly cities in Europe because it's VERY flat, logically laid out, well sign-posted and offers pretty views of houses, canals, parks, water and more on almost every corner.
Amsterdam's public transport is very good
Others will disagree, of course, but I base my opinion on living in London for seven years, living in other European cities for many months and also other places around the world. It's not the cheapest city on the planet - a one-day travel card, valid on GVB trams, buses and the Metro is €7.50 (as of 2018) - but considering this is a 24 hour pass and an one hour card costs €2.80, in my mind this is a bargain. (Some also say it's worth using Amsterdam's public transport just to board the number 2 tram from its departure point at Centraal Station and see one of the most scenic public transport routes in the world.) There's more information about multi-day travel cards here.
My point here is that there's no need to book accommodation based on the assumption you have to be central and cannot rely on public transport in Amsterdam. You can. For the most part, it runs when it's supposed to, is clean and very efficient. All staff speak very good English and the majority are very helpful, and used to assisting tourists.
As I'll come to in my neighbourhood guide below, there's also plenty to see and do away from the centre of Amsterdam, and as it happens some may think there are more disadvantages than advantages of staying in the centre of Amsterdam.
The problem with staying in the centre of Amsterdam
I love the centre of Amsterdam. I love the cobbles of the oldest streets. I love cycling across the bridges of the three main ring canals. I love going to the book market at Spui on a Friday. I love the liveliness (and mind-boggling-ness) of the Red Light District. I love gazing up at the huge solid structures that are Nieuwe Kerk and Oude Kerk. I love spotting new boutiques and bars along the Nine Streets. I love revisiting the hidden and historic courtyard of Begijnhof and I love thinking about the people who have flocked to Nieuwmarkt to buy fresh fish in decades and centuries before me.
But I wouldn't want to live in any of these areas.
The reason I wouldn't want to live in these areas are the same reasons many people avoid living in other city centres; noise, expensive real estate and a lack of space. And for poor old central Amsterdam there is also the (big) issue of tourists. Now, I know that's what you are too, but even you will notice that Amsterdam's most central areas - which lie within the three main ring canals of Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht - are packed with tourists. And with that, there are more than a few tourist traps and a sort of strange reality that is as much about tourists as it is locals.
Staying in Central Amsterdam: Some Tips
It also follows that the most central hotels, Airbnb apartments and to a certain extent, hostels, are more expensive than those outside of the city centre. It's also my experience - and that of several friends - that most hotel rooms in central Amsterdam (and also beyond) are very small (no swinging of cats or other animals allowed) and aren't always of the standard you would expect for the price you pay. Of course, if you have the budget and a lust for luxury, there are hotels that can and will impress. We have enjoyed "staycations" at Hotel Ambassade and the Amstel Hotel and I've heard good things from friends who have stayed at The Dylan, The Toren and Hotel Pullitzer, which is where Ocean's 12 was filmed. The other good thing to remember about staying in Central Amsterdam is that you're also close to Centraal Station so can escape to explore some of the other towns worth visiting in The Netherlands.
If you're looking for more budget options in and around Amsterdam, I recommend checking out my good blogging friend Kash's round-up of the best budget places to stay in Amsterdam.
Best areas to stay in Amsterdam: Neighbourhood Guide
Before you read this, please know that it's a subjective guide to neighbourhoods in Amsterdam that I have varying relationships with. This is all my opinion. Some of the neighbourhoods I know very well (De Pijp, Oud Zuid) and others I'm still on more polite but distant terms with (Spaarndammerbuurt, Noord) but I have experience of all and I would hand-on-heart say that you could stay in any of these neighbourhoods and enjoy a very interesting slice of local life as well as having very easy access (15 minute bike ride, 30 minute walk max, or even a boat ride!) to the centre of Amsterdam city, Museumplein or the three ring canals.
De Pijp - Best for restaurants, bars and a lively, hipster atmosphere.
This is my buurt and I know and love it well! So well that I've put together this in-depth neighbourhood guide for De Pijp for all the things you can do and enjoy here.
When we moved here in the summer of 2013, we didn't know much about De Pijp (we lived in Oud West for three months during the summer of 2012 and hadn't ventured this "far" east, which is frankly, pathetic.) Now I feel like I know the neighbourhood like a local, or at least a foreign local. Which is ironic as the area has been (and is still) called the Latin Quarter, a nod to the immigrants who made this part of Amsterdam home in the last 100 years. There's still a good cosmopolitan mix of people - I have restaurants or delis serving Turkish, Greek, Indian, Italian, Israeli, Japanese, Brazilian, Thai, Surinam, Lebanese, Indonesian food all within a five minute walk from my apartment - and there's a very high bar/cake shop/cafe to head ratio throughout the neighbourhood which stretches from the Heineken Experience on the Stadshouderkade to Hotel Okura on the Amstelkade and the Amstel River to the east.
The main feature of De Pijp is Albert Cuypmarkt, Amsterdam's busiest and longest running daily market. While it's not as pretty or "interesting" as other markets in Amsterdam (like the flea markets at Waterlooplein or Noordermarkt), it certainly has plenty of character and this is where you can really see locals who have been working on the market for decades interact with those who have been frequenting it to buy fresh vegetables, meat, cheese, flowers and more on a near daily basis for just as long. I highly recommend getting some food from the market then making your way to the small but perfectly formed Sarphatipark for a picnic, weather permitting.
If you're staying on a main road in De Pijp you may experience noise from traffic, trams or wandering revellers on a Friday and Saturday night, and if you're staying on any of the streets near Albert Cuypstraat, you should certainly expect to hear the impressively loud noise of the market being set up and dismantled in the morning and evening, though unlike some European markets this doesn't occur to early in the morning or too late at night.
And why is it called De Pijp, meaning yes, The Pipe? Well, my limited research has led me to a few possible answers. Firstly, that "pijp" is a slang word for a narrow street, of which there are many, especially near Albert Cyupstraat. Secondly that there used to be a gas factory in the area and so yes, there were also pipes here. If any Amsterdammers have more indepth knowledge about this and would like to share, feel free to leave a comment!
Good hotels in (or close to) De Pijp that my family and friends have tried and tested include Sir Albert, College Hotel, and Notting Hill Hotel if you have a big budget. The Bicycle Hotel and EasyHotel are recommended for smaller budgets and I've heard great things about the Coco Mama hostel.
Oud Zuid - for upmarket, quiet streets and being close to museums.
Considered one of Amsterdam's more upmarket corners, Oud Zuid - or Old South - roughly covers the area between Vondelpark and De Pijp, including Museumplein. In fact, it's the streets that lead away from Museum Square that best show you what the neighbourhood of Old South is like. Long, wide, tree-lined roads of terraced mansions, most with grand windows and unnecessarily massive doors. While the density of bars and restaurants in Oud Zuid isn't as high as in De Pijp, there are certainly plenty of places to find a cosy and most likely tourist-free spot to eat or drink on an evening. Just don't expect it to be the cheapest night out of your life! Our favourite spots in Oud Zuid for dinner include Bellavista (my second favourite Italian in Amsterdam) and the Rijksmuseum restaurant.
Of course, this therefore means the area is a little quieter and is certainly very safe and family-friendly. In fact, if you have kids I would definitely recommend staying somewhere close to Vondelpark which has several playgrounds, trees to climb, public BBQ spots and a festival like atmosphere in the summer. Oud Zuid is also where the rich go to spend money - PC Hooftstraat is home to all the top designers and a Tesla shop (!) - but Old South's Jacob Obrechtstraat, Cornelis Schuytstraat and Beethovenstraat also offer good shopping opportunities if your wallet is burning a hole in your pocket.
For many Amsterdammers, Oud Zuid is "how the other half live", but the good news is Airbnb apartments are still very affordable in the area and you're right on top of the key museums (Rijksmuseum. Stedelijk Museum. Van Gogh Museum) and again stumbling distance from the centre of town and neighbouring De Pijp and Oud West.
Oud West - to experience life with locals, family-friendly places and cool new hangouts.
If Oud Zuid and De Pijp had a baby, it would probably look a bit like Oud West. It has the same family-friendly vibe of Oud Zuid but in recent years has seen pockets become a bit livelier and more urban, and as a result a younger, more dynamic crowd are moving in. While in actual fact Oud West covers a number of different neighbourhoods (De Baarsjes, Kinkerbuurt, Da Costabuurt) it's easiest (at least for me) to see the area as beginning at Overtoom (or the northwest side of Vondelpark) and ending at Rozengracht with the Kostverlorenvaart canal roughly defining where it ends to the south. You'd certainly want to stay somewhere in this area if you want to still be within easy walking distance of the centre of Amsterdam. Among those new(ish) developments in Oud West is De Foodhallen, an old converted tram depot that houses a collection stalls selling of ready-to-eat food. There's also a gin bar and a handful of restaurants. Think Borough Market but on an indoor, smaller, more gezellig scale. (I highly recommend the Vietnamese Banh-mi and the Moa Pies which serves up Aussie-Kiwi inspired mini pies).
Other places we like in Oud West include the market on Kinkerstraat (you'll see hardly any other tourists), Forno Communale for pizza and the concept store Friday Next on Overtoom.
Staying in Oud West is particularly good if you're keen to explore Jordaan and the Nine Streets (9 Straatjes). It's also close to Westerkerk, Anne Frank House Museum and Noordermarkt's flea market, which is also where you can find the best apple pie in the city. Also don't overlook Rembrandtpark which is a much quieter alternative to Vondelpark.
I'd recommend staying in Oud West if you still want to keep your options open between relaxing in your Airbnb apartment or going out every single hour of every day (and night) you're in Amsterdam.
Spaarndammerbuurt - to keep out of other tourists' way and be close to the action
For our purposes, Spaarndammerbuurt is going to include Westerpark, which is a definite plus point as Westerpark is home to Westergasfabriek, an old gas factory which now houses a handful of restaurants and bars and is the feature point of the park that has a petting zoo and a long paddling pool popular with kids (and adults) in the summer. It's one of my favourite parks to run or cycle around as it gets quite wild, quite quickly and you can feel like you're away from it all easily. Surrounding Westerpark is a decent array of restaurants, bars, cafes and shops and you're in striking distance of Harlemmerstraat which takes you straight up to Centraal Station. Spaarndammerbuurt is also home to the famous Het Schip building and the accompanying museum all about Amsterdam School architecture (though you can see some fine examples of this in other parts of Amsterdam, including near me in the Diamantbuurt area of De Pijp.)
Because it borders the River IJ, you'll find a number of houseboat restaurants and hotels in the Houthavens area of Spaarndammerbuurt and I highly recommend you check out Amsterdam Foodie's map of restaurants. She's a local to Spaarndammerbuurt and so there's a good number of recommendations.
I sadly don't (yet) know Spaarndammerbuurt well enough to comment on what kind of people live there, but it has been described to me on more than one occasion as up-and-coming so depending on who you are (or what age you are, perhaps) this will mean young and trendy.... or maybe already a bit dated for you.
Oud Oost - for multi-cultural atmosphere and up-and-coming hotspots.
An area I never expected to like as much as I do, Amsterdam's Oud Oost has won me over by reminding me of the neighbourhood I lived in in London: Shepherd's Bush. For some of you, this will mean nothing. For some it will turn you right off, but for others it will give you a good point of reference and maybe interest you. It should. What I mean by this comparison is that East Amsterdam has a lot going for it but still holds onto the working class, melting-pot character that makes it a bit different to the other parts of the city.
Again, I'm being a bit liberal with my use of "Oud Oost" to refer to pretty much all of Amsterdam to the east of De Pijp, when in reality that's a large area that is broken down into lots of different neighbourhoods. If I tell you a few of my favourite spots you can sort of work out where on a map is a good place to stay. We loved our meal at the cosy Marits Huiskamerrestaurant, we're regulars for brunch at Drover's Dog (they also have one in Oud West) and I have enjoyed a lovely tea in the beautiful gardens and interior of the restaurant at Huize Frankendael. There's also the lively Dappermarkt which is surrounded by places to buy international foods either to go or to cook yourself.
I also highly recommend the Tropenmuseum, which translates as the "Tropics Museum" and is all about the former Dutch colonies, their history, and changing exhibitions are always about minorities and other cultures (and are always BRILLIANT) and certainly the streets around Oosterpark are also worth considering and then if you head further east to Brouwerij 't IJ for a few beers, you're actually quite close to Centraal Station again.
In my opinion, Oost Amsterdam is one of the best places you can stay if you want to experience the city like a local and not a tourist.
Jordaan - for a cosy village feel while being close to everything!
Jordaan is possibly one of the few areas that NewMan and I disagree on. He always tells visitors "If we could afford it, we'd live in Jordaan", while I shake my head and say "No, but if we didn't live in Amsterdam and we were visiting, I'd definitely consider staying in Jordaan." I think the trick is knowing where to stay as the closer to Prinsengracht you are, the more chance of noise and traffic etc. and you fall into the same trap of central Amsterdam.
I got to know Jordaan much better on my Eating Amsterdam tour and it has definitely retained something of a village feel thanks to the collection of long-running independent, family businesses that still operate along the narrow criss-crossing streets. You're also in one of Amsterdam's most historic boroughs, an area that was once reserved only for poorest of working class and immigrants. Nowadays it is home to some of the most sought after postcodes in Amsterdam. You're also a ten minute walk from the beating heart of Amsterdam. While some streets are more shops and restaurants than homes and houses, and there is a steady flow of tourists walking around the streets, there are still some good reasons to stay in Jordaan, namely Noordermarkt and the mile-long Saturday market on Lindengracht. This street is also home to Toscanini, our favourite Italian restaurant in Amsterdam (booking in advance is very necessary!).
Amsterdam Noord - to be ahead of the curve and experience Amsterdam differently
Arguably Amsterdam's most unexplored neighbourhood, even by locals - I've only crossed the water myself three or four times since moving here 18 months ago - Amsterdam Noord is where you should stay if you want to tick the "Be Different" box.
Not only are you a free (YES FREE!!) boat ride away from Centraal Station (and many of these ferries run as late as 1am - there's more information about the free ferries at the bottom of this post) but you're also surrounded by plenty to see and do on your own side of the River IJ. There's the EYE film museum and the A'Dam Toren, and the monthly flea market at IJ Hallen, Europe's largest. There's also the NDSM Werf area, which is home to Pllek, the pancake boat (yes, really!) and even a hotel in a crane. And if you're feeling adventurous you can cycle fifteen kilometres north and find yourself in the scenic Zaanse Schans. There is A LOT to be said for staying in Noord if you want to avoid all the tourist traps, and/or fancy doing Amsterdam a bit differently.
As for the locals, well, I don't know them so well unfortunately, but I believe there's a relaxed mix of corporate workers, creative hipsters, young families and older residents who knew that Noord was cool long before everyone else did.
I don't have any personal recommendations for hotels in Noord, but I am so curious about the Sir Adam Hotel and Crane Faralda Hotel, where you basically stay in an old shipping crane with a great view over the IJ and Amsterdam.
So that's my guide to Amsterdam's neighbourhoods. If you have any questions about where to stay in Amsterdam, feel free to leave a comment and I'll do my best to help you out. Also you can find more Amsterdam inspiration and information in posts like the best spots for taking photos in Amsterdam and how to get the most out of self-catering accommodation in Amsterdam, or just check out all of my Amsterdam posts for food, sights and other recommendations
Frances M. Thompson
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