The Best Bars in Amsterdam

Holland may be synonymous with beer, and brewpubs certainly abound along Amsterdam’s canals—but travelers shouldn’t miss a taste of the local spirit, genever, as well as the chance to sample some of the craft cocktails around town. Proost!

Dijksgracht 4, 1019 BS Amsterdam, Netherlands
Amazing brew and an even better view—what’s not to love about Hannekes Boom, a relaxing beer garden in the revitalized neighborhood surrounding Amsterdam’s Central Station? In addition to drinks and hearty nachos, sandwiches, and burgers (all made with organic ingredients), this place offers stunning vistas of the city and of Nemo (the interactive science museum that resembles a green whale). Pull up a barstool, grab a terrace bench, or plunk down on the dock to dangle your toes in the water while watching small boats bob past.
Keizersgracht 234, 1016 DZ Amsterdam, Netherlands
Unlike in many European cities, the craft-cocktail movement is just catching fire in Amsterdam. This swanky watering hole, tucked inside the historic, canal-fronted Pulitzer Amsterdam hotel, is one of the best examples. The vibe is vintage gentlemen’s club, befitting its 17th-century-canal-house setting: Comfy leather armchairs, antique furnishings, deep-green walls lined with books, oil portraits of stern Dutch ancestors, and a roaring fireplace. Its cozy, candlelit nooks are ideal for a clandestine beverage. Or grab a stool at the long wood bar and watch the suspendered, bow-tied bartenders whip up signature updates of classic cocktails, like an old-fashioned made with jenever (Dutch gin), fermented pineapple syrup, and Creole bitters.
Jacob Bontiusplaats 1, 1018 LL Amsterdam, Netherlands
This funky spot stands out among Amsterdam’s many urban “beach bars.” You can laze away a sunny afternoon at one of the picnic tables or chairs set up on a wide stretch of sand. Cocktails and beer slake your thirst, while decent pulled-pork tacos, burgers, and poke bowls keep hunger at bay. If the weather isn’t agreeable, the café—located inside a converted warehouse—strikes all the right hipster notes: Think distressed, graffitied concrete walls; leather sofas; vintage television sets; and groovy lighting. An adjacent warehouse hosts all sorts of events, from flea markets to film screenings to dance parties.
Wibautstraat 150, 1091 GR Amsterdam, Netherlands
With its relatively low skyline, Amsterdam doesn’t have many rooftop bars; this one, seven stories up on peak of the Volkshotel, offers a panoramic look at the city from both its spacious, windowed interior and its generously sized terrace. By day, it’s a quiet spot for breakfast and lunch; come early evening, it shifts into lively post-work-cocktail mode, with young Amsterdammers flocking here for the excellent sunset views and affordable drinks. On Fridays and Saturdays from 11 p.m. until the wee hours, the space transforms into a throbbing nightclub, with DJs spinning a mix of house and disco.
Pijlsteeg 31, 1012 HH Amsterdam, Netherlands
Wynand Fockink founded his namesake distillery on this narrow alleyway off Dam Square in 1724 (and the building is even older, dating to 1679); some 70 varieties of jenever (Dutch gin), fruit brandy, and liqueur are still produced here today. In the small, beautifully preserved tasting tavern you can learn about—and more importantly, sample—both oude (old) and jonge (young) jenevers, as well as classic Dutch liqueurs like Bruidstranen (bride’s tears), an orange-flavored cordial with flakes of silver and 22-karat gold. Let the bartenders guide you on the traditional method: Bend down and slurp from the tulip-shaped glass—no hands allowed! You can also sign up for a one-hour tasting session and tour of the distillery; the cost is €17.50 (about $20).
T.T. Neveritaweg 59, 1033 WB Amsterdam, Netherlands
Hop on the free ferry from the city’s Central Station for the 15-minute ride to the NDSM wharf, an old shipyard that’s transformed into a hipster haven with restaurants, bars, and artists’ studios. The waterfront “beach bar” Pllek is a popular spot here; built out of old shipping containers, the soaring, dual-level space has an industrial vibe, with corrugated-metal walls warmed by bright artwork, an indoor fireplace, and huge windows looking out over the IJ River. But it’s the man-made beach that draws crowds in warm weather, with comfy beanbags and loungers where you can while away the afternoon. There’s a nice selection of beer and wine; the food is simple but surprisingly good, and it’s crafted with fresh, organic ingredients. Pllek also hosts live-music events, DJs, dance parties, films, and morning yoga classes.
Gravenstraat 2, 1012 NM Amsterdam, Netherlands
With just a few tables and a handful of barstools, this bar may be tiny, but it packs a lot of character into its diminutive space. Walls are decorated floor-to-ceiling with a mix of beer posters and racy street art; at the small wood bar, eight curving brass taps dispense top-notch Belgian-style draughts like La Chouffe and La Trappe. Around 50 specialty beers are also available by the bottle, many of them rare craft brews. During evenings, the bar even manages to squeeze in a DJ, who spins funky old-school jazz.
255 Herengracht
By day, the low-slung leather chairs and chesterfield sofas at this spacious bar-restaurant in the trendy Hoxton hotel on the Herengracht canal belong to the laptop-and-coffee crowd. By night, the same lofty, mod-chic space morphs into a buzzy but sophisticated spot for drinks and bites. If you’d prefer a proper table, the restaurant area at the back—with a retractable roof that opens on temperate days—serves an Italian-influenced menu; it’s especially popular for weekend brunch.
Funenkade 7, 1018 AL Amsterdam, Netherlands
Unexpected surprises abound in Amsterdam. On the city’s east side, you’ll find one denoted by a tall windmill: Brouwerij ‘t IJ (the IJ Brewery), a small brewery and pub situated in the former Funen bathhouse, next to the De Gooyer windmill. Opened in1985 by former musician Kaspar Peterson, Brouweij ‘t Ij prides itself on a large selection of unfiltered, non-pasteurized beers and seasonal offerings. All are certified organic and made on the premises. Belly up to the bar next to the big mill and order your beer from a chilled tank. Follow the scent of hops onto the large outdoor terrace, where you can enjoy your brew with an order of peanuts, boiled eggs, abbey-made cheese, salami, ossenworst from Slagerij de Wit or Skeapsrond cheese from Dikhoeve Farm. The adjacent pub serves more substantial meals, as well as drinks and snacks. In addition to beer, Brouwerij ‘t Ij’s menu includes wine and non-alcoholic beverages. Guided tours are offered on weekends.
Warmoesstraat 129, 1012 JA Amsterdam, Netherlands
Cocktail bar-restaurants typically excel at one or the other, rarely both tipple and nibble. Four month old Tales & Spirits, located in the beating heart of Amsterdam, manages to succeed on both fronts. The cocktails are both creative in name and flavor (I opted for a Fallen Lady with vodka, deep fruit flavors and a dusting of chocolate and pepper), affordable and strong for the initiated cocktail lover. Spa still water is offered on the house with each drink ordered- a nice touch when the alcohol bill starts climbing. While I enjoyed my drink, it was the food menu that caught and held onto my attention. My truffle and wild sautéed mushroom risotto was impeccable in taste and size, leaving me sufficient room to test out one of their desserts of the moment. Most of the dishes on the menu are small so prepare to order several to share. And, of course, given the spot’s short order popularity, it’s wise to book ahead.
NDSM-Plein 102, 1033 WB Amsterdam, Netherlands
On a hopping night, Noorderlicht (Northern Lights) blazes with colorful lights visible clear across the IJ River—hence its name. For those drinking and jamming to live music on a waterfront terrace warmed by a roaring bonfire, the setting is more intimate. We’ve reached Noorderlicht, a “cultural café" in Noord-Amsterdam, via free ferry from Central Station. Destination: NDSM yard, a revitalized shipyard that belies its maritime/industrial heritage with warehouses and shipping containers transformed into nightclubs, hotels and student housing. Dotted with fishing villages, condos and restaurants, the eclectic neighborhood calls itself “Art City.” With its airplane hangar shape and greenhouse-like architecture, Noorderlicht enhances the funky landscape. The popular café draws creative types who come for waterfront dining, drinking and dancing. Inside, warm-hued wall hangings, wooden flooring, tables ornamented with polished driftwood and a disco ball contribute to an inviting ambiance. Seasonal lunch and dinner menus feature organic and regional dishes, plus casual fare like frites and burgers. Noorderlicht’s grassy terrace offers a spectacular view of Amsterdam city center from the other side of the Ij River. Dine on wicker chairs, cushioned couches and picnic tables as musicians perform overlooking the waterfront. A roster of events ranges from campfires and poetry readings to DJ nights that usually inspire some pumping and grinding in a young, energetic crowd.
Warmoesstraat, 1012 Amsterdam, Netherlands
Ah, Warmoesstraat, Amsterdam‘s heart of darkness, the street that never sleeps. Well, maybe...between 5:00–8:00am, after the junkies leave and before tourists arrive. Set adjacent to de Wallen, the city’s most famous Red Light District, this lively straat is home to the gay leather/fetish scene at shops like Warehouse, The Eagle, Argos, Dirty Dicks, RoB and MrB. Have dinner at Getto, an informal bistro with a less in-your-face gay vibe than other establishments on the street, offering drag queen-inspired burgers and international specialties at reasonable prices. Other dining options include Meatballs, Paella, Wok to Wok, Burger Bar and numerous holes-in-the-wall for pizza, shoarma or frites. For a nightcap hit Stone’s, a dive bar with attitude where the time is always 9:25.
Marnixstraat 164-166, 1016 TG Amsterdam, Netherlands
Don’t dress up to visit this grunge bar tucked on Marnixgracht in Amsterdam‘s Oude West. Don’t be put off by the abundant graffiti covering its gritty exterior, either. Inside, Café Soundgarden is a welcoming, unpretentious pub with a spectacular canal-side terrace and an alternative vibe. The laid-back joint boasts a pool table, pinball machines and table soccer, in addition to a full bar. Belly up for some of the cheapest beer in town, including a wide selection of domestic and imported brands. Beyond inexpensive drinks, the real attraction of the place is an expansive rear deck overlooking Singlegracht canal. Come as you are to share a beer and a joint with locals, expats and possibly a few tattooed tourists who’ve stumbled upon the gezellig terrace, offering a view of passing boats and the Nassaukade street scene. Stay for live music and party like a rock star while DJs spin techno-tunes late into the night.
39-A Oudezijds Achterburgwal
In a city that prides itself on its reputation as Europe’s Sodom and Gomorrah, Koningsdag (King’s Day) is the one day of the year when everyone gets f*cked-up. It’s when Dutchies honor their monarch by parading down canals in festooned boats, dancing in streets and getting smashed to techno-tunes blasting from disco stages. With King Willem’s 2013 coronation, Koningsdag will be celebrated on April 26, 2014—a day earlier than future years because the new king’s birthday falls on a Sunday. Koningsnacht (King’s Night) will be celebrated on April 25, 2014. Join party-goers on Warmoesstraat, gyrating to pulsating street bands. Belly up to the bar at Stones and admire the barristers over pints of Heineken. Don’t get too f*cked up if you want to get a jump start at the next morning’s Vrijmarkt (free market), when all of Amsterdam turns into a giant garage sale. Would you part with €1 to guess a fat lady’s weight? Or let a child serenade you in Vondelpark? Or throw an egg in a stranger’s face? Have a go on Koningsdag, when entrepreneurs of all ages trade old treasures and new talents for cash. Jostle for a spot on Prinsengracht to watch buff gays in skimpy attire and beer-swilling locals on decorated boats. On Rokin, breathe in the aroma of grilled kebobs and marijuana smoke. Hold on to your hat as you spin on an aerial swing at the Dam Square carnival. However you spend Koningsdag, it’s easy to friends wandering the streets, and poking into bars and coffeeshops until dawn.
160II Overtoom
We had been to Gollem for a drink and a snack (note: the meat platter is hearty) the evening before, but when we found ourselves on Overtoom after visiting Vondelpark, with Gollem just opening for lunch, we went for it again. After all, it was our last day in Amsterdam and there was beer to be drunk. The servers are very knowledgeable and helpful, and will guide you to specific styles or rhapsodize over undiscovered breweries. Fries, fried in beef tallow, were wonderful. Sweetbread croquettes tasted mostly like any other croquette, with perhaps a whiff of sweetbreadiness. The ham and Chimay cheese sandwich was good. It was all fresh, and all went very well with the wide selection of Belgian beers they offer. And for dessert? Gueuze.
15-1 Zeedijk
Founded in 1519, In’t Aepjen is one of the city’s oldest brown bars (the Dutch version of an English pub), and the cozy room regularly draws a large crowd given its proximity to the main train station. It’s also curiously decorated with monkeys—monkey statues, stuffed monkeys, monkey posters—a nod to its name, which translates to “In the Monkeys.” The legend goes that sailors returning from the Dutch colonies were cash-poor, so they settled their bill with exotic pets (namely monkeys) acquired on their journeys. You’ll have to pay with euro, but the beer selection is decent and you can also try the local spirit, jenever.
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