Stay in an Apartment (or houseboat)
Finding your own place through sites such as Airbnb is always a great option when travelling, and Amsterdam is a city where this is particularly true. Hotels in Amsterdam are often on the pricey side and don’t provide great value for money compared to renting your own apartment, especially when many people visit Amsterdam as a group.
There are plenty of apartments available around the city, including beautiful houseboats located on the canals where you can truly live like a local.
Plus, if you get your own apartment with a kitchen you can pick up plenty of Dutch treats such as these unbelievably delicious cheese wheels from Cheese & More to eat at home.
Escape the Red Light District
Sure, if you want to be surrounded by British stag groups, sex shops and strip clubs for your entire trip then this is the place to be. But if you’re looking to avoid the tourists and explore Amsterdam like a local, you’re going to want to venture out of De Wallen, the medieval city centre which is home to the more popular canals, busy bars and infamous red light district.
Head to De Pijp instead
Move south of the city centre to the lively area of De Pijp to escape the tourists and mingle with the locals. De Pijp, which was formally the city’s Latin quarter, is now home to Amsterdam’s creatives, students and bohemian community and is rammed with restaurants, cafes and bars.
Pijp is one of Amsterdam’s most culturally diverse areas, with people of all nationalities forming its colourful population. This is something that is heavily reflected in the type of restaurants and cafes you will find in the area, with a variety of cuisines including Moroccan, Turkish, Spanish and Japanese.
De Pijp is also home to the Netherland’s largest open-air market, the Albert Cuypmarkt. Here you will find fresh seafood, vegetables and cheese, as well as clothes, accessories and flowers. If you visit the area in the daytime, make sure to grab some food from the market and go for a picnic in nearby Sarphatipark.
Where to eat in De Pijp: Boca’s
A cosy restaurant on the edge of Sarphatipark serving Spanish tapas-style dishes at affordable prices. Definitely try the trio of fries!
Where to drink in De Pijp: Paardje
A restaurant in the day and bar at night, Paardje is an exciting local hotspot with a large outdoor terrace welcoming in locals of all ages until 3am at weekends. This is the perfect spot to experience Amsterdam like a local at night, far away from the strip clubs of the Red Light District.
Or try Reguliersdwarsstraat, Amsterdam’s gay street
Reguliersdwarsstraat, which is located just behind the beautiful flower market (bloemenmarkt) on the outskirts of the city centre, is Amsterdam’s famous gay street.
In the 1980’s, Reguliersdwarsstraat was the first place in Europe where gay and straight people partied together in an open environment. Now the street offers a wide range of gay and straight venues including trendy gay bars, traditional Dutch cafes and international restaurants.
There’s even an amazing Japanese-style karaoke bar called The Duke of Tokyo with private rooms that you can hire for just €6 per person per hour.
Hire a bike to explore the city
Anyone who has spent any time whatsoever in the Netherlands will know that it is the country of bikes. Altogether the Dutch own 22.5 million bicycles between their population of 17 million people. That’s the highest number of bikes per capita in the world. Therefore if you want to truly explore Amsterdam like a local, hire a bike for the day and get cycling!
You could also combine cycling with a tour of the city, such as this 3 hour guided bike tour of Amsterdam’s back streets and hidden gems. Or just go at it alone and explore some of the most Instagrammable spots in Amsterdam.
Get on the water in a private boat
Instead of jumping straight on to one of the large canal cruises, hunt down a private boat instead. You’ll be able to find companies or individuals offering private tours on smaller or even private boats if you’re with a small group, and these are not only much more fun but also better value for money.
A one hour canal cruise on one of the large boats will set you back around €15, with many having an onboard bar with drinks available for an additional fee. We found a small private boat which took our group of 5 for €20 per person, including unlimited drinks from an onboard icebox.
Our boat driver/personal tour guide was a friendly and funny local guy who showed us some more off-the-beaten-path areas (including the part of town he was from) and told us stories about real Amsterdam. Plus we had the company of his lovely dog Telmar who sat up front enjoying the gorgeous sunshine and posing for photos.
We even ended up enjoying ourselves so much that we extended our trip to a second hour for only an additional €10 per person, something which couldn’t have been done on the set tours.
Eat where the locals eat
Like with most big cities, if you eat in the main tourist areas you will probably end up spending a lot of money on fairly average food, and Amsterdam is no different.
However, venture off of the beaten path and within minutes of the main sights of the city you’ll be able to find plenty of delicious and affordable food, just follow the locals!
Van Dobben is an excellent choice for some cheap and tasty (but maybe not the healthiest) local food. On the inside, Van Dobben looks like a simple greasy spoon or British chippy, but in fact, it is home to what many locals claim are the greatest bitterballen and croquettes in town!
And if you manage all of the above and still have time left to explore, why not leave Amsterdam and explore some of the beautiful nearby towns and sights? Check out great this post for the best day trips from Amsterdam.