Despite grumblings of overtourism, there are still ways to find hidden corners of this popular city break destination.
They say the more the merrier, but that might not strictly be the case in Amsterdam. With more than 19 million people visiting last year alone, overtourism is a hot topic for many of the 850,000 residents of Europe’s most liberal and tolerant capital.
Local politicians are calling for a reversal of the ‘Disneyfication’ of the city, which begs the question: Should we all stay away?
“Absolutely not,” says Nick Boulos, travel writer and founder of city adventure website MakeMyDay (makemyday.travel). “We all have a duty to travel more responsibly and that means thinking more creatively and engaging with a destination in a more original way.”
With that in mind, here’s Boulos’ pick of the most original experiences that will ensure you escape the crowds and discover a secret side to Amsterdam…
ABOVE: A canal in Amsterdam | PA Photo/iStock
ABOVE: A cyclist in the countryside outside Amsterdam | PA Photo/iStock
Escape to the country
Famously as flat as a pancake, the Dutch countryside is not only a complete joy to cycle but also a revelation in its beauty and charm. The Cycle The Country (€34/£29) bike tour reveals some of the best and most picturesque countryside that awaits just beyond the city limits. The route is leisurely, covering 30km (18.5 miles) through quiet villages, fields filled with cows and windmills, and glorious coastal pathways with sea breezes that will put a real spring in your step.
Around the world
Decades of immigration from places are far flung as Indonesia and secretive Suriname in South America has changed the very fabric of Amsterdam and the Multicultural Marvel tour (€68/£58pp) celebrates its multicultural present through its cuisine.
Not only will you discover emerging neighbourhoods, including Indische Buurt, but you’ll also hear stories and sample delicious delicacies from individuals and communities that have settled here hoping for a new life, including a sit down with an Iraqi greengrocer and a portion of mango hummus that will change your life.
The canals of Amsterdam played a crucial role in the city becoming the wealthiest in the world during the fabled Golden Age. This is your chance to explore them like never before – on a stand-up paddleboard (Paddle Power tour from €50/£43). Perfect for all levels, including wobbly complete beginners, this guided tour covers around 5km of quiet waterways while taking in sights such as the only surviving windmill in the city centre, old spice warehouses, an 18th century cargo ship and even some elephants (you’ll paddle past the zoo, so keep your eyes peeled).
While the vast majority of visitors can be found blushing in the Red Light District and queuing outside Anne Frank’s house, very few have heard of the NDSM Wharf district. Even fewer visit. This former shipyard, located a 20-minute ferry ride away from the city centre, closed in 1984 and remained empty until squatters moved in during the 1990s. It’s since become a thriving cultural centre, with warehouses converted into studios covered with bold murals, trendy waterside cafes and fine examples of early 20th century Amsterdam architecture. See it on the Hidden Gems walk (€62.33/£53pp).
ABOVE: Amsterdam’s Red Light District | PA Photo/iStock
No visit to Amsterdam would be complete without at least a short stroll through the Red Light District. Formerly known as The Wallen, the historical area has a racy past and one that evokes a lot of questions and curiosity. It’s also a corner of the city heavily under threat with tour groups being banned from next year, but it’s still possible to discover the truth of Amsterdam’s most infamous enclave and the women who work there. The intimate Hidden Gems walk (€60.83/£52pp), led by a city local, is a rare opportunity to gain an in-depth understanding of this polarising industry in a way that’s both revealing and, more importantly, respectful.
How to plan your trip
These experiences and more are available from MakeMyDay (makemyday.travel). Eurostar (eurostar.com) offers direct services to Amsterdam from London St. Pancras from £35 one-way. Double rooms at the Victoria Park Plaza (parkplaza.co.uk) start from £180 with breakfast.
Words by Sarah Marshall, PA