With its wealth of infamous museums, art galleries, historical monuments, winding canals and misshapen houses, Amsterdam has plenty to offer culturally-inquisitive sightseers. However, if you look really closely, you will find that there are an endless collection of secrets and hidden gems tucked down every alley and under every bridge. You just need to know where to look; that’s where this fabulous list of Amsterdam hidden gems comes in.
These lesser-known sites and attractions in Amsterdam rarely attract the footfall of more popular sites like Vondelpark and Anne Frank Huis. If you’re someone who despises crowds and likes to learn about a city in peace and quiet, these hidden gems in Amsterdam are the perfect city break options for you. So, go ahead and take a look at our list of Amsterdam’s best kept secrets and enjoy a unique trip, exploring places truly off the beaten track.
Amsterdam’s Best Hidden Gems:
The Symmetrical House of the Trip Brothers
This unique house was built during a period in Amsterdam when people were taxed on the width of their house. This meant that the wider the house, the wealthier its owner tended to be. Based at Klovenierburwall 29, the Symmetrical House of the Trip Brothers is often considered to be the widest house in the whole of the city. In fact, this house’s flawlessly symmetrical facade disguises two adjoining symmetrical houses, built in the early 1600s for the affluent Trip brothers, who had inherited their wealth from arms factories and forges.
A Secret Hiding Place During World War II
While the Anne Frank Huis is the most well-known and by far the most visited World War II attraction, the Corrie Ten Boomhuis, situated in Haarlem, is another location where Jewish stowaways were housed during this disastrous time period. The Ten Boom family, along with other members of the resistance, hid behind a false wall in the house. Unfortunately, they were eventually arrested and sent to concentration camps. Only Corrie Ten Boom survived the ordeal – her release was actually due to a supposed clerical error. Today, the house has transformed into a museum that teaches about World War II and the Jewish faith.
An 18th-Century Herbalist Shop
Take a unique step back in time when you enter this original 18th-century herbalist’s shop, situated near Nieuwmarkt. Opened in 1743 by a 21-year-old sailor’s son, named Jacob Hooy, this historic shop still retains much of its original decor, including barrels, wooden drawers and an intricate set of scales. This old little herbalist shop goes all the way back to the days when both tobacco and opium were considered remedies for a wide range of illnesses.
Cuddle a Cat Onboard de Poezenboot
Everyone needs to get their cat fix while travelling; this is the ideal hidden gem in Amsterdam to do just that. de Poezenboot is a floating cat sanctuary that has been housing stray and abandoned cats and kittens for over four decades. The shelter is moored to the northern banks of Singel canal, in central Amsterdam. The boat features a large lower deck where its feline inhabitants are given free reign to do as they please. Today, the shelter is open to visitors most days of the week and you will find all kinds of cats here – some are super friendly and love any human attention, while others aren’t that fussed and will keep to themselves. While you don’t have to pay to interact with these cute kitties, de Poezenboot always welcomes donations and they also sell some cool merchandise in their gift shop; make sure to have a browse before disembarking.
If you’re looking for something to keep you busy for hours at a time, this is the ideal Amsterdam hidden gem for you. Westergasfabriek is a ginormous cultural hub situated in the centre of Westerpark and has been built inside of the a huge gasworks facility that dates back to the late 19th century. This expansive area has a trendy industrial vibe that perfectly compliments its cultural leanings. You could easily spend entire evenings meandering between this cultural hub’s endless list of attractions, including laid-back restaurants, hip music venues, an arthouse cinema and the largest coin-op arcade in the city.
The Oldest Jewish Cemetery in the Netherlands
The Beth Haim cemetery is the oldest in the whole of the Netherlands and is filled with hauntingly ornate gravestones, featuring inscriptions in Duth, Portuguese and Hebrew, carved in marble. The graves in this cemetery belong to Spanish and Portuguese Jews who fled the Netherlands in the 17th century, along with their descendants. Just a short trip outside of the centre of Amsterdam, this hidden gem is well worth a visit.
Amsterdam Under Water
It is widely known that the city of Amsterdam lies below sea level, but it is quite hard to actually imagine what this looks like without seeing it demonstrated. Not to worry! This collection of giant water-filled tubes is the perfect hidden gem in Amsterdam to demonstrate this phenomena and let it really hit home. Located at the NAP visitor centre, visitors can see three glass tubes showing the sea level in different areas of the region.
An Ancient Prison Under a Bridge
A true Amsterdam hidden gem, the Torensluis (tower lock) is Amsterdam’s widest bridge, measuring around 40 metres in width. In fact, completed in the mid-17th century, it is also one of the oldest in the city. The size and name of this bridge reflects the tower that originally stood on the site until its demolition in the mid-19th century. The foundations of the original tower can still be seen in the paving of the bridge itself and in the dungeon below. The barred windows and arched entrance to the prison cells are nestled underneath the bridge and are now open to the public. These old prison cells now tend to be used to host events and exhibitions.
7 Countries in 7 Houses
A truly unique attraction and by far one of Amsterdam’s best kept secrets, this row of seven houses reflects the growing fascination with travel during the 19th-century. The collection of houses was commissioned in the 1890s by a prosperous banker and politician called Samuel van Eeghen. Drawing inspiration from the range of architectural styles across Europe, van Eeghen had architect Tjeerd Cuipers design him a row of houses that represented seven different countries. The final result was a magnificent, eclectic mix of 19th-century European architectural designs on one compact stretch of Amsterdam street. Take a tour of these unique houses and see touches of Moorish influence from Spain, England’s cottage charm and the French Loire Valley romanticism, among more recognisable styles from Russia, Germany and the Netherlands.
A Buddhist Temple in the Heart of the Old Town
This Amsterdam hidden gem is made even more fascinating by its contrasting surroundings. Located in the historical heart of the city, this incredible Buddhist temple is tucked away amongst a selection of traditionally Dutch buildings. Placed slightly back off the road, behind an arched gateway, this golden-tiled Buddhist temple is a delicious slice of Shanghai in the middle of the very European feeling Amsterdam. While the exterior will likely cause your jaw to drop, the interior is just as impressive and, thankfully, is open to the public on Saturdays, along with guided tours and even some meditation session you can take part in.
De Ysbreker, located on the Weespersijde (quay), has forever been utilised by the hospitality industry in some form. The building was first referenced to as an inn, called Icebreaker, in 1717. The inn’s name reflects the icebreaker that was operated by the beer breweries of Amsterdam that kept the Amstel river open in the cold weather. This was important because the river was required for the transport of pure drinking water from the River Vecht.
While the purpose of the building has changed many times throughout its lifetime, the exterior facade has largely remained unchanged since it was built in 1885. However, in 2010, the interior underwent a drastic renovation. Today, the building is home to a cafe which consists of one large open space, with three contemporary lead glass windows that depict an icebreaker to honour its long history.
Amsterdam has been famous for its diamonds since the 16th century and is still seen as the trading centre of the diamond industry worldwide. Established by Samuel Gassan in 1945, just after WWII, GASSAN has played a pivotal role in Amsterdam’s diamond history. Set up as a business specialising in the import and export of raw and cut diamonds, the diamond cutters at GASSAN Diamonds have been working to perfect the brilliant ‘Amsterdam-cut’ for generations.
Today, GASSAN Diamonds is housed in a stunningly restored diamond factory built in 1879. Open to visitors, you can watch the diamond polishers still work at their craft and listen to multilingual guides explain the process of turning rough diamonds into dazzling brilliants.
Ij-hallen is an expansive industrial-style building that hosts one of the largest and greatest flea markets in Europe. Unfortunately, the market is only held once a month, so you will need to time your visit just right. However, this is one of Amsterdam’s best kept secrets for anyone who loves a bargain. The cavernous building is located at NDSM-yard; just take the ferry service 906 and a 5 minute walk from the stop at the other end. You have to pay a small entrance fee to get in but you’re sure to bag yourself an absolute bargain from its vast collection of vintage gems and antiques to make up for it.
Dine at this Amsterdam hidden gem for an exclusive and unique gastronomic experience. REM Eiland is an unusual, waterborne restaurant, housed in a renovated offshore platform that once stood 9 kilometres off the coast of the Netherlands. In the 1960s, the platform was originally owned by a group of pirate radio broadcasters. This group were forced to abandon the platform when the Dutch government raided their operation in 1964. Today, around 4 decades later, the structure was towed further inland to Amsterdam’s Houthaven harbour and transformed into a classy restaurant unlike any other. You can access REM Eiland from a nearby jetty and dine inside its impressive upper decks.
Another fascinating secret site in Amsterdam is Het Spinhuis. Founded in 1597, the Spinhuis is the old spinning house and was used as a penitentiary for women. Women who has been convicted of crimes such as fornication in brothels and inns, drunkenness or adultery were put here and forced to sew garments day in and day out. Women who were convicted of theft or crimes that were considered more serious were kept separate from other inmates and were required to read the Bible over and over again. Above the entrance to the Spinhuis reads “to shun paltry girls, maggots and women, beggars, this spider house was founded here”.
Today, Spinhuis is a squatted social space located underneath the Multatuli Bridge, right along the stunning Amsterdam Canal Belt. The non-profit collective hosts a variety of activities, including lectures, debate and discussion events, workshops, theatre, music and arts exhibitions. They even hold weekly film screenings, dining experiences and yoga sessions among many more exciting activities.
TOBACCO Theater is a cultural jewel located right in the middle of a vibrant neighbourhood of Amsterdam. This Amsterdam best kept secret is an incredibly remarkable venue that hosts a whole range of exclusive and extraordinarily beautiful events, including theatre dinners, international productions and other colourful events. All this takes place in super unique surroundings; a former tobacco auction, this building has been converted into a modern, industrial theatre. The event location features a sturdy theatre hall and eight remarkable rooms that differ from each other completely. This is the must-visit Amsterdam hidden gem for lovers of creative passion and grand gourmets.