The Quieter Side of Amsterdam – Exploring the Jordaan

December 14, 2012 by

Europe, Things to Do, Travel Advice & Inspiration

Jordaan

Houses in Jordaan. Photo credit: Steve Cadman via Flickr.

When you think of Amsterdam, images come to mind of colorful coffee shops, the Red Light District with its neon-lit canals and red windows, and tourist shops selling clogs and windmills. But Amsterdam is a big place, and the Old Centre, as wonderful as it is, is really just a small area of what this city of canals has to offer.

Taking a tour of Amsterdam’s Jordaan district to the west of the city center and the western canal belt lets you experience a quieter side of Amsterdam and to escape the tourist crowds. This former working class district, a slum in the 18th century, is now one of the most beautiful areas of the city and is worth dedicating some time to in order to explore its narrow canals and admire the handsome 17th century houses. This residential area, bordered roughly by Prinsengracht, Brouwersgracht, Lijnbaansgracht and Leidsegracht, is now home to some of the most desirable properties in the city, as well as interesting museums, historic cafes, independent boutiques, quirky restaurants, and art galleries, with surprises tucked around every corner.

Get those walking shoes on

Jordaan

In Jordaan. Photo credit: Graeme Maclean via Flickr.

The Jordaan can be reached in a 10-minute stroll from Dam Square – you will experience the change in atmosphere when you enter the calm, peaceful streets of this arc-shaped district. Walking is something you’ll do a lot of in the Jordaan as there is no public transport in the area, with the exception of busy Rozengracht, the main road that cuts through the district. This is one of the reasons why the Jordaan is one of the quieter areas of the city with almost a village-like feel.

A walk along Prinsengracht, the Jordaan’s easternmost canal, will take you into the heart of the neighborhood. This stately canal, lined with gabled merchants’ houses, was dug in the 17thcentury, along with the other main waterways of the canal belt, Herengracht and Keizersgracht, constructed to increase the boundaries of an increasingly overcrowded city. Take a stroll along some of the narrow cross streets and small canals such as Egelantiersgracht and Bloemgracht (flower canal) radiating off Prinsengracht to the west – these are some of the prettiest in the city, lined with flower boxes, benches outside narrow brick houses, and quirky, independent shops. Walk along Brouwersgracht, a wide canal at the north of the Jordaan and one of the most beautiful in Amsterdam. The ‘brewers’ canal’, with its many moored houseboats, was once lined with breweries and warehouses due to its proximity to Amsterdam’s main harbour and linked to the open sea – the ships would unload their silks and spices and store them here. The merchants’ houses and large warehouses, with their brightly painted shutters, are now exclusive apartments.

Go to market

Noordermarkt

Noordermarkt. Photo credit: Alkan de Beaumont Chaglar via Flickr.

The Noordermarkt, a large open space next to the large Noordekerk (north church) is the Jordaan’s main square, and this usually peaceful square, with its cute cafes and bars, really comes to life on market days; some of the best open air markets in the city take place here. On Saturdays it hosts a bustling organic farmers market selling bread, cheese, meat and fresh juices and other seasonal organic produce. And on Mondays there is a flea market here which sells general household goods, books, paintings, antiques, lots of buttons, and bric-a-brac. Musicians playing around the market entertain shoppers, and cafes are packed – get there early if you want to sit down with a drink.

Another Saturday market takes place on Lindengracht – this is a general market selling fruit, veg, clothes, shoes and even bicycles. It stretches the length of the street, previously a canal, and is popular with locals and therefore always busy.

On Monday mornings a bustling market takes place on Westerstraat which sells clothes, fabrics, and bits and bobs – combine this with a trip to the Monday flea market on Noordemarkt, just around the corner.

One of the only indoor markets in Amsterdam takes place in the Jordaan: the De Looier Antiques Market on Elandsgracht. This market, open every day except Fridays, is a labyrinth of stalls selling collectibles and curios, from antique dolls and toys to clocks and silverware.

Check out a museum

Tulip Museum

This way to the Tulip Museum. Photo credit: Kathryn Greenhill via Flickr.

On Prinsengracht, close to the Westerkirk (west church) on the city center side of the canal, you can take a tour of Anne Frank’s House, one of the most popular sights of the city. This house, now a museum, is where the diarist and her family hid away from the Germans during World War II, and if you only visit one museum this one has to be it. When you see the bookcase that concealed the entrance to their hiding place you cannot help but feel emotional. The staircases in the house are very steep and narrow, in true Amsterdam style. There is always a long queue outside the house, but if you book tickets online in advance you can skip the queue – highly recommended!

On the Jordaan side of Prinsengracht you will find two museums that are typically Amsterdam–the Tulip Museum and the Cheese Museum. The Tulip Museum’s shop sells all things tulip – bulbs, books, ceramics, and glassware – and at the back you will find the entrance to the newly reopened small museum where for €6 you can learn about the history of the tulip through a series of displays and videos.  The Cheese Museum, next door, is hard to miss due to its landmark of a cow with a huge pile of cheeses outside. The shop has a display of over 100 varieties of lovely big Dutch cheeses from young to mature, and there is a tasty selection that you can try. There is a small exhibition downstairs dedicated to – you guessed it – cheese.

Another museum worth seeking out is the Pianola Museum on Westerstraat where you can see these historic automatic pianos in all their glory. The 100-year old keyboards play music using perforated music rolls, and the museum holds over 25000 of these rolls. Concerts are also held here.

Hit some hip shops and galleries

Jordaan gallery

Art gallery in Jordaan. Photo credit: Jo Guldi via Flickr.

The Jordaan is home to many art galleries and independent boutiques. For contemporary art visit the Torch Gallery on Laureiergracht, or Galerie Buuf on Eerste Anjeliersdwarsstraat, one of the newest galleries in the Jordaan featuring work by the famous painter and art forger Geert Jan Jansen.

Independent stores worth a visit include Jouffrouw Splinter on Prinsengracht, a cute antiques and collectibles shop that sells curiosities, home accessories, vintage furniture and unique gifts. If you are a fan of vinyl, head to Distortion Records, an independent record store on Westerstraat – it also sells CDs, and stocks both new and second hand items. Tenue de Nimes on Elandsgracht is a cool boutique that sells denim brands from around the world, and claims it has a pair of jeans for everyone.

Drink in a brown café or dine in an excellent eatery

Jordaan cafe

Cafe in Jordaan. Photo credit: Andrew Nash via Flickr.

You can’t go to Amsterdam without having a coffee (or something stronger) in a historic brown café, so named due to the dark wood and nicotine-stained walls. All brown cafés serve alcohol, and usually have several beers on draft such as La Chouffe, Amstel, Heineken or local microbrews. One of the loveliest cafes is Papeneiland in a wonderful location on the corner of Brouwersgracht and Prinsengracht, just steps from the Noordemarkt. This brick building dating from 1642 is on two levels, and its large windows fill the café with light. There is a cast-iron stove downstairs and blue Vermeer tiles on the walls. The freshly squeezed orange juice and apple pie with a large dollop of cream is particularly good; Bill Clinton has even visited to enjoy the apple pie.

Café Hegeraad is a pub/café located on Noordemarkt, a historic building full of atmosphere with its wood panelled walls, carpets on tables (said to soak up spilt beer), leaded windows, and locals browsing their papers. Well worth a visit for its unique feel.

Another café that cannot go unmentioned when talking about the Jordaan is t’Smalle, a pretty brown café facing the picturesque Egelantiersgracht – it even has a patio right on the canal and is the perfect spot to sit on a sunny day sipping one of the 6 beers on draft or snacking on some food. The Hoppe distillery once occupied this building in the 18thcentury, and its historic atmosphere remains intact with its dark wood and brass fixtures.

To finish off your visit to the Jordaan enjoy a meal in one of the many excellent restaurants in the area. There are café-style eateries, trendy restaurants serving international cuisine, or hip joints serving veggie food in colorful surroundings. For organic vegetarian food try the funky Vliegende Schotel on Nieuwe Leliestraat, which serves homely, warming daily specials for €10 such as pumpkin and sweet potato curry with five different salads. If you are looking for something cozy and romantic, dine in Proeverij 274 on Prinsengracht, a small restaurant which offers a fine dining experience using organic and regional ingredients – expect to pay around €25 for a main, such as butter roasted cod.

A visit to the Jordaan will allow you to experience a quieter, calmer side to Amsterdam – but be warned: when you’ve visited once, you’ll just want to return again and again.

- Louise Hanzlik

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One Response to “The Quieter Side of Amsterdam – Exploring the Jordaan”

  1. Danielly Marques Says:

    place beautiful!!! Want go still…

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