Amsterdam is a lively city known throughout Europe and the world because of its rich history, bustling nightlife, striking art galleries, and varied street food. The capital of the Netherlands is also famous for the sheer number of bicycles, which seem to equal the number of citizens and tourists in town, its beautiful canals, and bridges. Contrary to what many people imagine, Amsterdam is a lot more than cafes, red lights, and canals! Add these Amsterdam hidden gems to your travel itinerary.
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Our Favorite Hidden Gems in Amsterdam
From the famous Royal Palace in Dam Square to the Rembrandt House and Van Gogh Museum, the city lives up to its reputation as a welcoming city for all ages.
Like all touristy cities, there is another side to this Dutch capital. One that is cherished by the locals and unseen by most tourists. There are many unique spots and hidden gems of Amsterdam which are worth checking out. These spots range from secret churches to ancient bars and a whole array of quirky museums.
Below is a list of hidden gems in Amsterdam you should include in your bucket list for an incredibly well-rounded itinerary of this exciting city in Europe. (And if you’re heading to Amsterdam with teens, these are some attractions that might surprise them)!
1. Museum Perron Oost
Set in the Eastern Docklands of Amsterdam, Perron Oost is the smallest museum in the world. Measuring 20 square feet, it is almost impossible to believe that exhibitions are featured here, but they are. It is so small that you can see the whole exhibition through the windows. This makes it quite a unique experience.
Artist Joep van Lieshout transformed the area, which used to be a cattle market and railway tracks, into a narrow park. He decided to leave the guardhouse standing and turned it into this tiny museum. The museum is open to visitors who are welcome to peek in and hear the tales of residents who have lived in the area.
2. Petrus en Pauluskerk (De Papegaai) Hidden Church
Whether you’re a religious person or not, Petrus en Pauluskerk is worth checking out. Especially if you’re into history. Even more so if you’re looking for unique attractions and some peace and quiet in the middle of a bustling city.
This is, literally, a hidden gem in Amsterdam. Built in the middle of the 19th century, this neoclassic church sits in the middle of a busy shopping district at a time when Catholics had to worship in secret.
The narrow front in Kalverstraat, one of the busiest streets in Amsterdam, hides a full-sized church. It is also dubbed the “Parrot Church” (De Papegaai) because it was concealed behind a bird trader’s shop, it is still easy to pass by and miss!
Surprisingly, it’s not the only secret Catholic Church in the city. Museum Ons Lieve Heer op Solder (Our Lord in the Attic Museum) is housed in a 17th century canal house that was used during that time for Catholics who had to practice their faith out of plain sight.
3. De Waag
It’s easy to admire this 15th century building that sits in the middle of Nieuwmarkt Square without knowing what you’re really looking at. This is the oldest remaining non-religious building in the city and it used to be part of the historic city walls of Amsterdam. Originally it was known as St. Anthony’s Gate, but today it is a charming restaurant that serves tasty food to locals and visitors alike.
4. Lab 111
Located in a quiet section of central Amsterdam, Lab 111 is an alternative cult cinema and bar housed in a pathological anatomy laboratory. This small cinema house features two screening rooms. Each with a selection of classics, art, and cult movies. There is also a café/bar and a restaurant.
Foreign movie fans can enjoy regular screenings with English subtitles, then relax with quality snacks and cocktails. This is a unique outing to one of the lesser-known attractions in Amsterdam. Check out their web page for special screenings, art exhibitions, and concerts.
5. The Tulip Museum
This cozy museum is a great place to learn about the history of tulips in the Netherlands.
As you probably know, tulips are iconic here, with the Netherlands producing 60% of the world’s tulips. They hold a special place in Dutch culture. Visiting the huge tulip fields is a popular activity during the Spring. However, you can learn more about them at the Tulip Museum any time of year.
Among other facts about these lovely flowers, you’ll learn that tulips were brought to the Netherlands from the Ottoman Empire in the 17th century. They became extremely popular among the upper class, which made their price skyrocket, creating the first economic bubble ever. They became so costly that at one point they were more expensive than gold!
There are also unique items for purchase in the adjoining tulip shop. These items include tulip bulbs that are made to bring back to the US as a souvenir!
6. In’t Aepjen Bar
In’t Aepjen Bar is located near the red-light district around the corner from Amsterdam Central Station. It is housed in one of the two wooden buildings that survived the fire that destroyed the city of Amsterdam back in 1452. It is officially the oldest bar in the city.
A visit to this hidden gem in Amsterdam will is like stepping back in time while enjoying ales, jenever, and delicious food. Jenever is juniper-flavored Dutch gin.
In’t Aepjen means “in the monkeys”, in reference to a time when sailors returning from the Far East would pay for beer with monkeys they had brought home with them. Nowadays, you’ll see all kinds of posters and monkey decorations everywhere you turn.
Kids are allowed in bars in Amsterdam as long as they are accompanied by an adult. That said, this might be best enjoyed by parents looking for those Amsterdam secret spots.
7. De Otter Windmill
Dating back to 1631, De Otter is one of only 5 wind-powered sawmills remaining in the Netherlands. It is also the only one located in Amsterdam.
If you want to see an iconic Netherlands windmill like the ones pictured in storybooks, souvenirs, and postcards, head to Amsterdam-West. You’ll find the sawmill one block from the Ledenberchstraat Metro station.
De Otter Windmill is closed to the public. However, if you cross the canal, you can get some amazing pictures from a great angle. Considering it’s the oldest windmill of its kind in the world, it is worth taking some time to check it out.
Jordaan is a former working-class neighborhood next to the city center that is now an artsy, bohemian area. This part of Amsterdam is filled with art galleries, cool shops, restaurants, bars, and cafes. Surprisingly, not many tourists make it here. This is why it’s a great spot to shop and eat with the locals and escape the crowds.
TIP: If you want to try a slice of authentic Dutch apple pie, be sure to duck into The Papeneiland Café. This is a popular place for enjoying the delicious dessert with a heavy dollop of cream.
Yet another unusual museum in Amsterdam, Micropia features different microbe and bacteria “exhibits”.
Founded with the intention of bringing people closer to the scientific community, Microbia is an interactive museum about the often neglected invisible micro-world. You’re welcome to look through microscopes and get up close to the displays as you learn about microbes.
As you wander through the museum, you can scan yourself to see what microbes and bacteria you are carrying! You can also collect microbes along the way, then release them onto the Microbe Wall before you leave.
10. See KattenKabinet (The Cat Cabinet)
Founded by Bob Meijer in 1990 after his cat died, the kitty museum exhibits all sorts of marvelous cat art as well as real live cats that live in his 17th-century townhouse. Aside from simply marveling at all the gorgeous cat memorabilia, you can also learn about these furry friends and their role in history.
Originally, Bob started collecting cat paraphernalia as a personal collection. The collection grew so much that it filled his whole house, so it only made sense to create a museum!
*Note: Cat lovers should also check out De Poezenboot (The Cat boat). This is a floating houseboat that serves as an animal sanctuary. There’s free admission, and if you’re local, you have the option to adopt one of their felines.
Traveling with family? Don’t miss our favorite things to do in Amsterdam with kids!
11. Rembrandt Park
If you feel ready for a breather from the hustle and bustle of Amsterdam, head to Rembrandt Park, named after the famous painter. Located on the city’s west side, it’s the second-largest park in Amsterdam and one that tourist rarely visit.
Opened in the 1940s, the park has many walking and cycling paths in case you’re in the mood to do some exercise. You’ll also find lots of benches and sculptures if you’re aiming to simply wander around for a while.
Rembrandt receives way fewer visitors than Rembrandtplein (a square in the city’s historic center), making it a nice spot to get a nature and relaxation fix without the crowds.
12. Hortus Botanicus
If you love finding off the beaten path places the locals enjoy, be sure to head to Hortus Botanicus Amsterdam. It is one of the oldest botanical gardens in Europe. Located outside the city in the Plantage district, the garden showcases thousands of exotic plants, a greenhouse, and even a 2000 year old agave cactus!
There’s a cafe on-site, and it’s close to the Rembrandt Museum or Amsterdam Zoo if you’re heading in that direction.
13. Oost (East)
The east side of Amsterdam is a diverse neighborhood mostly unexplored by tourists. Oosterpark, a zoo, and many eateries make it a fantastic spot for spending a few hours relaxing, exercising, and eating. If the weather is nice, you can also have a picnic here just like locals do!
Additionally, you’ll find Dappermark, a street market that’s over 100 years old and still going strong. You’ll find all kinds of goods, including unique souvenirs and original gifts to bring home.
TIP: If you happen to be in Amsterdam on a Saturday, you’ll have the opportunity to explore two traditional markets, both of which are considered hidden gems.
Historic Lindengracht Market is a foodie heaven, with more than 200 vendors setting up shop to sell cheese, flowers, fish, Dutch stroopwafels, and other goodies. Noordermarkt, on the other hand, is the place to find antiques, vintage clothing, and other unique items. Waterlooplein Market is one of the better flea markets known for its secondhand goods and bargains.
14. The Houseboat Museum
Have you ever wondered what living in a houseboat would be like? The Houseboat Museum gives you an opportunity to find out!
Amsterdam is home to more than 2,500 floating homes that were converted from seafaring vessels into houseboats. During the 1960s and 1970s, higher housing demand resulted in people heading for the canals and building modern, electrified houseboats to fit their housing needs.
The Houseboat Museum lets you get a glimpse of what life on the canal is about, in a houseboat that was lived in for over 20 years.
15. Museum Van Loon
Most visitors to Amsterdam know about the Rijksmuseum, but the Museum Van Loon offers an inside look at the life of a wealthy Dutch family. The Van Loons made their money as one of the founders of the Dutch East India Company. This canal house is still owned by the family! It showcases artwork, furniture, and portraits that were collected through the years. Behind the house is a garden and coach house.
During the summer months, be sure to make time to enjoy coffee or tea with a slice of pie in the museum café. This is one of our favorite hidden gems in the city.
Most first-time visitors will stick to the main tourist attractions, but we highly recommend seeking out off-the-beaten-path Amsterdam hidden gems.