Exploring Amsterdam’s Undiscovered North

Once overlooked by travelers, the borough of Amsterdam Noord has developed into a thriving artistic community, a spot for dance and music festivals, and an escape from Amsterdam’s chaotic and touristy center.

The borough was once the industrial site of one of Europe’s largest shipyards. From 1922 until 1984 — when the Nederlandsche Dock Company went bankrupt — supertanker, cargo, and passenger ships were meticulously built and carefully launched into the IJ Lake to sail around the world. Now visitors can explore the repurposed buildings and forests for an eclectic Amsterdam experience many tourists haven’t yet seen.

Getting There

The borough is only a short free ferry away on the opposite side of the IJ Lake, directly behind Amsterdam Central Station. Five ferries, with three directly behind the station, transport commuters to different parts of the borough 24 hours a day. Trip times range from three to 15 minutes. As bikes are allowed on the ferry, rent one from one of three bike rentals near Central Station: Mac Bike, Star Bikes, and Amsterbike. Or, rent one once in Amsterdam Noord from Velox Classic Bikes, which is near the drop off port of the Buiksloterwegveer-bound ferry. By car, take the IJ tunnel to the east of the station to cross the lake.

Eye Film Institute

Amsterdam Noord’s architecturally impressive Eye Film Institute, designed by the Viennese Delugan Meissl Associated Architects, is a short walk from the Buiksloterwegveer ferry stop. The Institute is a play on words, as “Eye” is also the pronunciation of the IJ Lake. The institute features an impressive archive of 37,000, 700,000 photographs, 60,000 posters, and 20,000 books. Part of the collection was previously housed in the now defunct Filmmuseum in Vondel Park until 2012, when the Eye opened. The Institute regularly screens Dutch and foreign films and holds exhibitions. Patrons may also enjoy a coffee or meal and the views of the IJ harbor at the institute’s restaurant. After exiting the Eye, stroll or bike through Oeverpark just outside the museum.

Noorderpark

A half hour walk from the Buiksloterwegveer ferry stop lies Noorderpark, a beautiful combination of two older parks (Flora and Volewijks parks) that were merged in 2014. It’s nearly the same size as Vondel Park (45 hectares or 111 acres) making it a good distance to cycle, walk, and picnic. Noorderpark is split by the lovely North Holland Canal.

Vliegen Forrest

Want to get closer to Mother Nature? Cycle east of Noorderpark where Leeuwarderweg merges into Meeuwenlann to reach W.H. Vliegenbos, a forest named after 20th century journalist and social democrat Willem H. Vliegen. Or take the Zamenhofstraat-bound ferry from Azartplein (Azart Plaza), on the peninsula housing Java and KNSM islands in the East Borough of Amsterdam. The forest is a 15 minute walk from the ferry and features a campsite spanning 25 hectares (61 acres), and it includes space for caravans, campervans, or tents, along with a hotel and cabins for rent.

Cultural Hubs

Looking for a post-industrial experience? Near the ferry resides the trendy yet laid back IJ Kantine (IJ Canteen) with reasonably priced soups and sandwiches and pristine views of the IJ Harbor. Like many of the buildings in the borough, the IJ Kantine’s building, previously called the Baanderij, has a rich shipbuilding history. It served as an office, assembly hall, and canteen when the wharf was in full swing. Now it’s a favorite for creatives to work and organize brainstorming sessions in the dining area or in one of two boardrooms available for rent. The kantine also holds exhibitions, live music and craft nights.

Just southeast lies Pllek, a self-described creative hangout, offering a multitude of activities from yoga to dancing to circus to sex classes. In Amsterdam, not many subjects are taboo. In the summer, an artificial beach provides a spot for dancing and sunbathing. The center also boasts organic and sustainable food with seasonal vegetables sourced locally whenever possible.

Where to Stay

The DoubleTree Hilton Hotel Amsterdam is near the NDSM ferry stop, making it a convenient and luxurious stay. For a more atypical experience, stay at the Amstel Botel, a floating hotel moored near the NDSM ferry. As Amsterdam Noord is easy to get to from Central Amsterdam, staying at the NH Amsterdam Barbizon Palaceallows for quick access to Amsterdam Noord as well as the rest of the city. Amsterdam is a small city with a big-city feel, so make a day trip out of Amsterdam Noord or commute to the center. Either way, make sure to rent a bike for the most convenient and efficient experience.

 

This post was posted by The Hipmunk on Hipmunk’s Tailwind Blog on December 10, 2015.

Advertisements

The Amsterdam Series (Part 4) – The Canals

Amsterdam is sometimes referred to as the “Venice of the North”. The canals of Amsterdam date back to the 17th century and the “Golden Age” of the Netherlands. Canals were dug and built for defense and water management and actually fill a full quarter of Amsterdam’s surface area. Just imagine walking through the constant mud streets back in the 1600s prior to the canals! With more than 100 kilometres of canals, 1,500 bridges and 90 islands, there is a lot more to the canal system than meets the eye. The original and main canals, the Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht, Herengracht and Jordaan, were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2010.

Some not so good Amsterdam canal facts. Early in 2012, Radio Netherlands reported that 51 people had died in the canals over the last 3 years. One had died as the result of crime. The other 50 deaths were believed to be the result of carelessness. The victims apparently fell into the water and were unable to get out. Exit stairs and flotation aids are few and far between. It is widely believed that the vast majority of those 50 were actually urinating into the canal; fell in and were just to drunk to swim to safety and climb out (as evidenced by their open zippers). The canals are constantly dredged by city crews who find every form of garbage possible (and the occasional corpse).

A good canal fact. This was the first time in 15 years that the canals actually froze in winter. The Dutch invented the modern ice skate in the 13th century and have loved ice skating ever since. The almost mythical Efenstedentocht “11 Cities Tour” 200 km. ice skating marathon last ran in 1997 with thousands of participants. (It did not run in 2012 but there was a national ice skating event that drew 70,000 skaters). Winter spirits were lifted and Amsterdam was a buzz in February when it was time for a skate.

You can feel and see the Dutch enthusiasm and spirit on this great You Tube video:

To truly appreciate the canals, you really need to take a cruise. It’s big business here. Over 3 million people take a cruise every year on a variety of different boats. Locals naturally cruise too- they are the ones eating, drinking and having a great time. Like a picnic on the water. The locals could cruise all day in their own boat; for the rest of us, it’s normally a 60 – 90 minute trip. Unlike a canal cruise in Venice, this is not a slow moving boat with a gondolier. The boat moves quickly- there is a lot of Amsterdam canal to see. Our boat captain tells us his boat is the oldest in operation- about 200 years old with a large rudder for steering. He knows every turn, every canal and water levels. The route for today’s cruise is totally dependent on the water level. Most canals are narrow and bridges are low. As I’m speaking with the Captain on the aft deck, I duck several times as we pass under low bridges. There is so much to see along the way- the canals themselves, bridges, house boats, historic buildings, people. Life in Amsterdam.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As a first time cruiser, and return visitor to Amsterdam, I have to say that an Amsterdam canal cruise is a must. Until now, I feel that I missed half of the city. A cruise gives you a unique and complete view of Amsterdam life. It’s a masterful blend of history and modern day life here in this vibrant city.