This article has been created in collaboration with Moco Museum. I’d like to thank them for the opportunity as I honestly believe it’s a great fit for people who want to discover an alternative side to classic Amsterdam. This post contains affiliate links that hold no extra charge to you, but allow me to create more awesome guides.
Welcome to my alternative Amsterdam guide! Today I will share my secrets on how to avoid the busiest city spots and where to go if you wish to discover the local, understated side of Amsterdam. Of course, I still had to do tons of research on the best street art in the city, the most underrated things to do and weird museums in Amsterdam.
So today I am whisking you away on an alternative Amsterdam adventure: there’s plenty to choose from, depending on your area of interests. I have narrowed down some exciting museums, best street art tours, understated neighborhoods such as Amsterdam Noord and cool spots to eat as well. Are you ready? Let’s dive in!
Here are the contents of today's post:
- 1 Unusual museums in Amsterdam you must visit
- 1.1 Explore modern contemporary art at the Moco Museum
- 1.2 Find a Hidden Chapel at ‘Our Lord in the Attic’ Museum
- 1.3 Visit the Houseboat Museum
- 1.4 Enjoy Cat-infused Art at the Cat Cabinet Museum
- 1.5 Explore a real 18th-century ship at The National Maritime Museum
- 1.6 Can’t-miss Museums: FOAM, Stedelijk, Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam Archives
- 2 Street art in Amsterdam: Exploring alternative Amsterdam
- 3 Off the beaten path in Amsterdam Noord
- 4 Modern architecture & alternative Amsterdam cultural hotspots
- 5 Alternative Amsterdam cafes worth your attention
Unusual museums in Amsterdam you must visit
Explore modern contemporary art at the Moco Museum
One of the best places to start your alternative Amsterdam adventure is in Moco Museum. Occupying a beautiful early 20th-century mansion, the museum features various modern contemporary artists, from the household names such as Banksy, Yayoi Kusama and Warhol, to such up and coming artists like Icy and Sot.
The current artist lineup includes Bansky, Yayoi Kusama and Daniel Arsham. Moco runs different exhibitions throughout the year, so there are always new things to explore. I recommend checking the length of each exhibition to plan your visit better.
The museum is perfect for those who are just getting into modern art. The pieces are very thought-provoking, each artist’s work a strong commentary on certain aspects of modern society. Many of the pieces left a lasting impression and were on my mind long after I visited the museum. It’s a great museum to explore thanks to the interactive installations, like Daniel Arsham’s beautiful Crystal Cavern.
But of course, the crowning jewel in the Moco Museum is the collection of Banksy works which are on loan from private collectors. The artist’s works focus on such topics as surveillance, consumerism, the government and the impact people have on the world around us. One of my favorites is Banksy’s ‘Barcode Leopard’.
Once you’ve delved into the basement floor down Moco’s illuminated staircase, complete your experience by heading out into the sculpture garden and enjoy the inverted sculpture of Mickey and others.
The museum is a perfect starting point of your day as you will need about an hour to explore Moco. Take a look at my detailed museum review to find out the best times to visit Moco Museum. The area around the Museum Square has many hidden gems to uncover, many of which are ignored by most tourists.
Opening hours: Sun-Thu 9 AM – 7 PM, Fri – Sat 9 AM – 8 PM | Address: Honthorststraat 20
Find a Hidden Chapel at ‘Our Lord in the Attic’ Museum
Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder museum might be one of the most unusual museums you will find in Amsterdam. This secret chapel was hidden away in the attic. This was at a time when celebrating mass was prohibited all the way back in 1663. From the outside, it is a regular canal house. As you walk through the museum, you will explore the lifestyle of the 17th-century.
From the kitchens to the reception halls, this is an excellent chance to look into the wealthy home of a Golden Age merchant. Jan Hartman who bought the property and created the Attic Church even allocated a separate room for his in-house priest.
This museum is included in the Iamsterdam City Card for free. Alternatively, you can buy tickets that include an audio tour, to learn more about the Reformation and the historical context of the building. It’s the same price as in the ticket office.
Opening hours: Our Lord in the Attic is open Mon-Sat from 10 AM to 6 PM, Sun 1 PM – 6 PM
Address: Oudezijds Voorburgwal 38
Visit the Houseboat Museum
Many Amsterdam citizens have chosen to live on a boat, parked on the canals. If you’re eager to experience this peculiar lifestyle of living on the water, you can either book an overnight stay in one, or just pop into the Houseboat Museum. It’s quite a different experience from your typical houseboat, however. The interiors are referring back to the times when this houseboat was… well, used as a house.
The retro 80’s layout gives you a glimpse into the heart of the owners. The museum is quite small (well, duh, it’s a boat), and won’t take you more than 15 minutes to visit. This is the kind of activity that is extremely specific to Amsterdam, which is why I included it on my list of unusual things to do in Amsterdam. It only costs 4,50 EUR to visit but this fee is waived with the Iamsterdam card.
Opening hours: 10 AM – 5 PM | Address: Prinsengracht 296K
Enjoy Cat-infused Art at the Cat Cabinet Museum
A museum filled with art, all of it dedicated to cats? Yes, please! The Cat Cabinet museum was open by the owner to commemorate his beloved cat. Since then, the owner has collected works from all over the world. Here you will find works by Rembrandt, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Pablo Picasso, and many others. The entry ticket costs 7 EUR.
Opening hours: Mon – Fri 10 AM – 5 PM, Sat-Sun: 12 PM – 5 PM | Address: Herengracht 497
Explore a real 18th-century ship at The National Maritime Museum
Okay, okay, I can hear you say, “18th-century ship? That doesn’t sound very alternative!”. In a way, that’s true, of course. But the reason I am including this museum in the alternative Amsterdam guide is that in comparison to Van Gogh, Rijksmuseum and others, it can be often overlooked.
The National Maritime Museum is also situated in an area of the city that deserves your attention. This is where the Eastern Docklands area begins. The area is famous for its modern architecture, music halls, and, of course, the National Maritime and NEMO museums. This makes it a great starting point to your explorations! Most people probably come to the museum because of the ship. However, it is surprising how much great art is hidden in these walls.
Aside from the normal exhibitions, the museum also offers a unique virtual reality experience. It will whisk you away back to the Golden Age. You’ve got your work cut out for you: whether to explore the moored East Indiaman, spend your time exploring the art exhibitions or to don the 4D goggles is entirely up to you. Whatever you choose, you can get a skip-the-line ticket here.
Can’t-miss Museums: FOAM, Stedelijk, Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam Archives
I swear, I could talk about museums all day. There are so many wonderful museums to discover, but I’ll just give you the highlights so that you can make your own decision. Then we’ll move to the street art section of this guide. Just so we’re clear, entry to all of the museums below is included in the Iamsterdam City Card. This is one of the main reasons I recommend getting the card: not only do you get access to the most important Amsterdam museums, but also unlimited transport around the city which can be extremely convenient as you won’t have to worry about getting a transport card or overpaying for one-time tickets that can be purchased with card only.
Explore modern photography at FOAM
If you like photography that plays with conventional ideas and digs deep, don’t miss the FOAM – Photography Museum Amsterdam. There’s a free guided tour on Thursday night at 7.30 PM, which you can sign up for in advance on the website. A regular ticket costs 12,50 EUR and the museum is cash-free, which means you can only pay by card or preorder your ticket.
Get lost in the contemporary art collection at Stedelijk Museum
Stedelijk Museum is located on the Museum Square, next to Rijksmuseum and Moco. It’s a treasure-load of modern and contemporary art and design. If you’re seriously ready to spend hours exploring the exhibition by such artists as Jeff Koons, Marlene Dumas, and others, it’s your kind of place. Regular tickets are 18,50 EUR.
Learn more about different cultures at Tropenmuseum
Tropenmuseum is perfect for those interested in ethnographic museums. This is a museum about people for people. There are many cultures explored through the exhibitions: from Japan, to remote African tribes. The museum often focuses on the aftermath of colonialism… but it doesn’t have to be all too serious! Currently, the museum holds the Cool Japan exhibit, which combines the weirdest modern art with age-old techniques. I recommend checking what’s currently on display before you go. Tickets to the museum are 16 EUR.
Dig into the city’s history at Amsterdam City Archives
Amsterdam City Archives is a great museum for those willing to dig deep. The entry to the archives is free in general, but there’s a surcharge for the temporary exhibitions. The exhibits aim to show Amsterdam from different sides. From the point of view of artists, to more down-to-earth things such as infrastructure, the great biking culture of Amsterdam, and many more. Those exhibitions are included in the Iamsterdam card list as well, with a regular ticket priced at 7,50 EUR.
Street art in Amsterdam: Exploring alternative Amsterdam
Take a tour of the H-buurt to find Brazilian street art
If you are looking to discover a new side to Amsterdam, take a guided street art tour. The tour I picked took me outside of the central area, offering a fresh new perspective on the parts of the city tourists never get to see. The H-Buurt is a residential area in Amsterdam that even the locals often overlook.
That’s what makes the H-Buurt guided tour so interesting: it will not only introduce you to fantastic artwork, but will also offer social commentary on the neighborhood development. The art of R.U.A. transforms public space in a way that makes a lasting change on the people who live there.
The 2-hour tour will cover 14 artworks and really show you the heart of the place. You will get lots of stories about the process behind the way each artwork was made. There are all kinds of little details you can easily overlook, and more. The tour guide has been there at the project’s inception and can really tell a lot about how a particular piece of art was made, what the challenges were and how they were solved.
The only thing to keep in mind is that the tours need a minimum of 4 people to run. If the group is too small the tour can get postponed. You will find out whether that’s the case on the day. You will either be offered an alternative date or a reimbursement. So it’s a good idea to have a backup plan just in case this falls through, or go with a group. My tour ran for 2 hours from 11:30 to 13:00. This was more than enough and left me with the whole day to explore other corners of the city.
Take a self-guided street art tour in Amsterdam center
Most art in the city center is quite understated, hiding in the most unexpected locations. If you are eager to go off exploring the city center, I recommend this map of street art in Amsterdam made by Nicole. I think it’s incredibly detailed and offers lots of tips that you will be hard-pressed to find on your own.
Some of the art in Amsterdam has grown to be iconic, for example, the famous ‘Wake Me Up When I’m Famous’ street art mural by Jurriaan & Rinus van Hall. That’s why I included it in my list of best photo spots in Amsterdam. You can find it in De Pijp, a great neighborhood, at Frans Halsstraat 64.
Another neighborhood you can discover street art in is Nieuw West. The Nieuw West neighborhood is not visible from the typical Amsterdam center maps but is easily reachable by public transport. This will require a bit of searching as there are no street art maps of the neighborhood but you can find many murals to the right side of the Burgemeester Röellstraat. The mural on the picture above is located on the intersection of Doctor H. Colijnstraat and Burgemeester Röellstraat. I recommend using Google Maps to scout the area before going.
If you’d like somebody else to show you the overlooked sights in Amsterdam, consider getting one of the guided tours that include street art:
- Amsterdam’s Jordaan District Walking Tour
- Amsterdam Like a Local 3-Hour Private Tour
- Amsterdam Oud-West: City Discovery Game
- Street Art & Alternative Amsterdam: Guided Walking Tour
Off the beaten path in Amsterdam Noord
Amsterdam Noord is the up-and-coming hipster neighborhood everyone is talking about. Located on the other side of the IJ river, it’s easily reachable either by the free public ferries that go every ten minutes, or the new metro line which runs far into the neighborhood. You might have already heard something of this neighborhood: it is in Noord that you can go to the A’DAM Lookout and swing from the top of the tower. I cover that area lightly in my 3-day guide to Amsterdam.
Eye Film Museum
As long as you are in Noord, don’t forget to check out the Eye Film Museum. It can be combined with the A’DAM Lookout visit, if you want to enjoy some nice views, since those two are right next to each other. To get there, take the ferry from Central Station that goes into Noord. The museum’s permanent collection focuses on the evolution of film and technology, while the seasonal exhibitions bring works of artists of such caliber as Andrei Tarkovski, Francis Alÿs, and others.
Current exhibition tickets are 14 EUR, or 3 EUR for users of the Iamsterdam card. There are always multiple film screenings that you have to purchase a separate ticket for. On a more down to earth note, if you get hungry, check out the Eye Film Museum restaurant which has great panoramic views and great outdoor seating.
NDSM-Werf has become a creative cluster, filled with cozy outdoor cafes which are absolutely lovely in good weather. There are creative coworking spaces, new companies, and, of course, one of the biggest attractions: the monthly flea market Ijhallen. To get there, you have to take the 906 ferry to NDSM that leaves from the IJ-side of Amsterdam Central Station.
Visit the biggest flea market IJ-Hallen
IJ-Hallen holds the title of the biggest flea market in Europe. It’s held only once per month, so don’t forget to check the upcoming dates here. There are two sections: a giant outdoor market and a huge industrial indoor space which had been used as a shipyard, if I’m not mistaken.
The ticket costs 5 EUR and parking is 1,30 EUR per hour. If you don’t have cash, you can pay through a machine which is pretty easy to use. You can truly find anything here: clothes, furniture, home goods, old toys. There are a couple of cafes on the premises, as well as a poffertjes stand (that’s tiny pancakes with butter, if you’re not yet familiar). You can easily spend a couple of hours just leisurely walking about, digging into piles of cutlery, sort through adorable candles, and so much more. I came in really bad weather and would love to visit again when the sun is shining bright – that’s the best time to come to Noord.
If there is, in fact, actual sunlight about, head out to Pllek. Pllek is a cozy cafe with an artificial beach, offering a relaxed vacation vibe hardly 20 minutes from the hustle and bustle of the city center. Pllek is well-known for a variety of vegetarian options and organic food. You can come for a quick drink or stay for dinner and enjoy fantastic sunset views over the river. There are often all sorts of events, from music to yoga, and even movie screenings. The interior is fun too, with the restaurant re-imagining old shipping containers to create a cozy and hipster vibe.
Opening hours: | Mon-Thu 9:30 AM – 1 AM, Fri – Sat 09:30 AM – 3:00 AM, Sun 09:30 AM – 1:00 AM
Address: TT Neveritaweg 59
Modern architecture & alternative Amsterdam cultural hotspots
If you have more time on your hands and get a kick out of modern architecture, these hotspots are going to offer a new perspective on the city.
Walk around the Westerdok
If you go through the Amsterdam Central Station and exit on the river side, then head left, you will quickly hit the new build neighborhood which is part of the Westelijke Eilanden. This part of the city is both residential and professional, both very modern. You might enjoy the area’s modern feel and architecture. With many bridges, you can enjoy great views on the opposite side of the city. It’s the perfect place to spend some time enjoying the sunshine as you watch boats float by. The old parts of town are easily reachable from here, for example, the Jordaan area and the Haarlemmerbuurt which is filled with classic Dutch houses.
From the Westerdok it’s quite easy to go to the Westerpark area, since there are good public transport connections. Westergasfabriek, an old gasworks in Amsterdam has been transformed into a creative hipster space. It is now filled to the brim with cafes, cultural venues, and new flourishing businesses. It’s situated on the side of the giant Westergasfabriek which is absolutely glorious in the cherry blossom season. This park is the setting for many summer festivals. For the upcoming events, check out their calendar (Dutch only).
The Eastern Docklands is another neighborhood that offers a great opportunity to explore modern architecture. The more explored part of this neighborhood is the part closer to the Central station. If you have the time, there are two concert venues here: the Bimhuis which is specifically a jazz concert venue, and the Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ which is the contemporary classic music hall.
This is a neighborhood I didn’t have enough time to explore yet. That’s why I will make sure to add new information as I go about discovering it. In the meantime, here are a couple of architecture tours that I would recommend if you feel like a local guide would help:
Architecture tours and off-the-beaten-path neighborhoods:
- 8 centuries of History & Architecture in Amsterdam Tour
- Amsterdam: New Ijburg District Private Bike Tour
- Amsterdam, Eastern Docklands Architecture: Private Tour
Alternative Amsterdam cafes worth your attention
If you’re looking for places locals go to, I’ve got you covered. Each place on this list has something to offer.
Exploring the eastern side of the Eastern Docklands neighborhood closer to the water? Take the ferry across the IJ to the right side of the Noord neighborhood. There’s a very nice cafe called Hangar which has an artificial beach, hammocks, and quirky interiors. It’s a great hangout spot in good weather. To get there, take the ferry from Azartplein. It goes every 20 minutes. You can also walk 10 minutes from the Noorderpark station.
Hanneke’s Boom is a very hippie-feeling hangout by the water. It’s a cafe and sometimes a party, and there’s always something tasty you can grab. This spot is great in good weather, as it’s intended for the summertime. From here you can enjoy views on the NEMO museum, and generally, just chill after a busy day.
Floor 17 is a rooftop bar located in Ramada Apollo outside of the city center. I discovered it while looking for the best views in Amsterdam, and, honestly, that’s already reason enough to visit. The rooftop lounge is 85 meters high and has amazing cocktails and food. There are also special events, such as movie screenings, parties, and more. The best part is that if you’re going to party late into the early morning, you might as well stay the night in the Ramada Apollo.
Foodhallen food court is located in an old tram depot in the Oud-West neighborhood – yet another spot you’re unlikely to hit on your typical itinerary. That’s why I included it on my3 days in Amsterdam guide for first-time visitors. Foodhallen is fantastic and you can find plenty of food to fit your mood. From fantastic dim sum to burgers, fish and Mediterranean food. The ones to watch out for are Bulls & Dogs, Dim Sum Thing, and The Butcher. And don’t forget the Gin & Tonic bar that has a wide variety of drinks for gin lovers.
Coffee & Coconuts
Coffee & Coconuts is a very popular lunch spot in De Pijp. It’s one of the best brunches in Amsterdam that I’ve had, with a well-varied menu that will really make you indecisive. The cafe occupies a three-floor space which used to be an old cinema. These proportions are quite rare in Amsterdam where every house is small and cozy. But this place is truly wide and roomy, giving you plenty of space to relax. You can take your time here without feeling rushed.
Restaurant de Kas
I haven’t been to de Kas yet but I just can’t stop hearing about it! Restaurant De Kas is an organic restaurant, with the ingredients sourced directly from their own garden. The supply changes all the time, meaning the menu is highly seasonal and changes daily. The best way to experience this spot is by making a dinner or lunch reservation. You can get a 3 dish lunch menu for 35,50 EUR. Dinner arrangements start at 5 dishes for 57 EUR per person. De Kas also has an extensive wine list. It’s the perfect way to experience the culinary Amsterdam scene.
This one is for people who can appreciate a good view. The REM Eiland Restaurant is set in a former broadcast platform. Nowadays it’s been reimagined into a high-class restaurant. You can get here by public transport and walk from the bus stop. In this case, though, I would not recommend relying on it. It’s a bit of a walk through residential areas. This is the kind of place where you come and leave by taxi. There is an open terrace on the top floor and a lovely dining space. I walked around to get an idea of what kind of place it is. I can say that it’s definitely worth the journey for dinner. The prices for a main are in the 20-30 euro range and are comparable with other restaurants. Meanwhile, the views offer an unusual perspective on the city, earning its label of an alternative dining experience in Amsterdam.