With its wealth of world famous museums, galleries and historical monuments, Amsterdam is a haven for culturally minded sightseers. But look beyond the main attractions and there are secrets and stories around every corner;
The oldest remaining non-religious building in Amsterdam
Now a pleasant restaurant in the heart of a square that overlooks a particularly pretty canal, you would never have guessed that De Waag was once part of the historic city walls of Amsterdam. Dating all the way back to the 15th-century, De Waag is the oldest non-religious building in the Dutch capital and has since been used as a guildhall, museum, fire station and anatomical theatre.
Drink a beer in In ‘t Aepjen
Drink beer in a quintessentially Dutch brown bar where broke sailors once traded monkeys in exchange for drinks! In ‘t Aepjen can be found on the fringes of the Red Light District close to Amsterdam Centraal Station and is one of the oldest bars in Amsterdam.
Founded as early as 1519, the name of this historic drinking establishment refers to “In the Monkeys,” harking back to when sailors would return from abroad and pay for their drinks using monkeys. In time, the bar became so overrun, that regular customers would complain about the fleas!
The House with the Graffiti
On the fringes of the Amstel Canal, there’s one residence that’s alleged to have centuries-old graffiti that was scrawled in blood. Once the home of a certain Coenraad van Beuningen, the building itself was constructed in the 1670s and can be found at 216 Amstel. The story goes that the six-time mayor of the city etched Kabbalistic signs on the front façade of the building, rumoured to be in his own blood.
Located in the ever-so-pretty Jordaan district of the city, one of the best hofjes of Amsterdam is that of the Kartuizerhofje, one of the larger Amsterdam hofjes that’s actually open to the public. Free to visit, head here and you can expect to find a wealth of beautiful plants, a trickling fountain, and plenty of benches on which to sit and relax.
Westerstraat 54 Hidden Miniature Houses
If you’re looking for adorably cute canal houses in pint glass sizes, then you simply must head to No.54 Westerstraat. For, if you look closely enough at the gap between numbers 54 and 70 Westerstraat, you’ll soon spot seven tiny houses.
Originally installed as part of a local advertising agency promotion, the real-life full-sized numbered houses actually disappeared when a courtyard leading to the seven numbers was closed off, and the abodes were merged into the surrounding houses. Today, just be sure to look closely, the miniature canal houses are easy to miss when strolling along Westerstraat!
Shop at the Waterlooplein Flea Market
One of the larger and better flea markets in the city, that of Waterlooplein is the oldest of its kind in the Netherlands. For 6 days a week, every week, some 300 vendors tout their wares in this 19th-century marketplace. Antiques, vintage clothing, and antiquarian books are all to be found for sale here, making this a treasure trove of hidden gems and the kind of place where you’ll never know what you’ll stumble upon next!
All glazed mosaic tiles and completely sea-themed, Beurspassage can be found steps away from Damrak. The brainchild of Arno & Iris and Hans van Bentem, while the glass arched rooftop is covered in fantastical and mythical sea creatures, the floor is all about the relationship between the city of Amsterdam and the water. After all, this is the city of canals!
Secret Library in the Rijksmuseum(Cuypers Library)
You may well not know this (I certainly didn’t back when I visited the Rijksmuseum a couple of years ago!), but there’s actually a secret library in the Rijksmuseum. All wooden shelving and books stacked from floor to ceiling, wandering inside this hidden gem feels akin to stepping back in time, right into the 19th-century.
The Rijksmuseum Research Library is accessible to the public with and it’s the largest public art library of its kind in the Netherlands. For more information on how to visit the Renaissance and Gothic Cuypers library, check the library’s website. Otherwise, if you’re planning to enjoy the highlights and secrets of the Rijksmuseum, then book your skip-the-line ticket here in advance.