Radiating from its central Canal Ring, Amsterdam's characterful neighborhoods are made up of intricate networks of streets and public squares filled with one-off shops, cozy restaurants and cafes and lively bars, along with open green spaces. Each of these interlocking districts has its own individual personality and attractions.

Wherever you choose to stay, Amsterdam's compact layout and integrated network of bike paths, trams, buses and trains makes it easy to discover the city on a single trip. From top shopping districts to the ideal places for first-time visitors to spend their time, here are the best neighborhoods of Amsterdam.

A tulip-filled open space in front of a huge palace building
The city center, home to several major sights, is the best area for a first-time visitor © Prasit Rodphan / Shutterstock

City center

Best neighborhood for first-time visitors

Amsterdam's grand Centraal Station sits on an artificial island on the broad IJ River. With trains arriving here from the airport, the country and abroad, including direct London services, this Gothic-style landmark is likely to be your introduction to the city.

Walking south from the station plunges you into the Medieval Center, with busy tourist-filled streets, shopping thoroughfares and sights such as the Amsterdam Museum, providing an insight into the city's history. Amsterdam was founded in the 13th century on what's now Dam, a vast square dominated by the Royal Palace. Damrak, the original mouth of the Amstel river, is the departure point for many canal sightseeing cruises.

On Damrak's eastern side is the seething Red Light District, locally known as De Wallen. It's infamous – at least for now – for its canal-side brothel windows (subject to their move outside the center) and concentration of "coffeeshops" (cannabis cafes, from which tourists may soon be banned), jostling alongside souvenir stores and copious bars. Incongruously at its heart is Amsterdam's oldest building, the 1306 Oude Kerk (Old Church).

East again on Nieuwmarkt (New Market), the 1488-built Waag was originally a city-wall gate that became the city's weigh house. Rembrandt lived and painted nearby; his former home and studio now house the illuminating Museum het Rembrandthuis.

Accommodation options at all price points abound in the city center, including hostels and budget hotels.

A large green copper hull-like building at the edge of the water
Plantage is home to some fantastic family-friendly museums © Anik Messier / Getty Images

Plantage and the East

Best neighborhood for families

Only a short walk from the center, the leafy Plantage is a peaceful haven. If you're traveling with children, this neighborhood has plenty to keep them entertained. Across from the 17th-century Hortus Botanicus botanical gardens, mainland Europe's oldest zoo, the Artis Royal Zoo, incorporates the world's only museum dedicated to microbes, the mind-boggling Micropia

Enquiring young minds will also like NEMO, an interactive science museum in an extraordinary boat-shaped green-copper building with panoramic views from its deck-like roof. Amsterdam's adjacent eastern docklands and islands, with repurposed shipping warehouses are inextricably tied to its seafaring history, which is covered at the kid-friendly maritime museum Het Scheepvaartmuseum.

Mid-range hotels are the mainstay of the Plantage area, with some new-generation hostels and hotels on the city's eastern edges.

People sat outside at restaurants and bars under awnings in front of traditional Dutch buildings
There are plenty of bars and restaurants around Rembrandtplein and Leidseplein © poludziber / Getty Images

Southern Canal Ring

Best neighborhood for nightlife

Immediately south of the city center, the Southern Canal Ring is one of Amsterdam's key entertainment districts. Neon-lit Leidseplein and Rembrandtplein are ringed by pulsating bars, clubs and restaurants. Utrechtsestraat has some more sophisticated hangouts, and Reguliersdwarsstraat flies the rainbow flag as Amsterdam's premier LGBT+ street.

Some of the city's most enchanting waterways are in this stretch of the Canal Ring, including the Golden Bend, flanked by splendid Golden Age mansions, and Reguliersgracht, famed for its photogenic seven bridges. Many of the neighborhood's boutique hotels occupy beautiful canal houses.

A huge atrium in the center of a museum packed with visitors
Vondelpark is home to Amsterdam's top three museums © Goncharovaia / Shutterstock

Vondelpark and the south

Best neighborhood for culture

Footsteps from frenetic Leidseplein, the Vondelpark – a glorious sprawl of English-style gardens, cafes and an open-air theater – provides a breath of fresh air. Lawns also form the grassy expanse of nearby Museumplein, which is the site of Amsterdam's top three museums: the national treasure chest of the Rijksmuseum, the flagship Van Gogh Museum, and modern and contemporary art Stedelijk Museum

Opposite Museumplein, the Concertgebouw hosts classical music concerts in 19th-century splendor. Surrounding the Vondelpark are some of Amsterdam's best value-for-money places to stay, from hostels and B&Bs to mid-range and high-end hotels, with many eco-conscious options.

People at a busy market stall packed with fruits and vegetables
Join locals at markets in the vibrant De Pijp district © Richard I'Anson / Getty Images

De Pijp

Best neighborhood for local life

A village-like vibe prevails in De Pijp, between Museumplein, the Southern Canal Ring and the Amstel River. It's home to the historic brewery that now houses the multisensory Heineken Experience, but the real reason to head to this vibrant neighborhood is to hop between its creative cafes and all-day brunch spots, restaurants, bars and boutiques, and to browse the city's biggest street market, the Albert Cuypmarkt. Join locals shopping for everything from bike locks to fabrics, flowers and fresh produce, and pack a picnic to take to De Pijp's serene Sarphatipark.

As a mainly residential area, accommodation choices are limited here, but there is a handful of appealing mid-range hotels and B&Bs.

A shot looking along a boat-lined canal towards a church with a tall steeple
There are many important historical sights in the Western Canal Ring and Jordaan neighborhood © Elena Eliachevitch / Getty Images

Western Canal Ring and Jordaan

Best neighborhood for shopping

Stepping from the city center to the western side of Amsterdam's Unesco-listed Canal Ring sees the tempo drop. This is one of the prettiest parts of the city, watched over by the bell tower of the ornate, 17th-century church Westerkerk. Right by the Westerkerk is one of Amsterdam's most important historical sights, the Anne Frank Huis, where the young diarist and her family hid from the Nazis during WWII.

Some of Amsterdam's most enticing shopping is concentrated in the Western Canal Ring's Negen Straatjes, a tic-tac-toe board of "nine little streets" with small, specialised boutiques. 

Crossing Prinsengracht from here leads you into the Jordaan, Amsterdam's atmospheric former workers' quarter, with tiny streets and quaint houses. The Jordaan has yet more absorbing shops (fashion, antiques and Dutch Design especially) and wonderful weekly markets like the Lindengracht market. When you need a break from shopping, stop in at one of the Jordaan's wood-panelled bruin cafés (brown cafes; traditional Dutch pubs).

Exclusive boutique hotels are the norm in the Western Canal Ring; there are some more affordable alternatives in the Jordaan.  

A large series of windows in a former industrial building with people inside sat at laptops or tables
The West is being gentrified, with industrial buildings being converted to cultural hubs © Boris-B / Shutterstock

The West

Best neighborhood for restaurants

West of the Jordaan, not far north of the Vondelpark, is the Oud West (Old West), a buzzing, gentrifying area with some of the best dining in the city today. A great taster is the Foodhallen, with adventurous Dutch and international food and drink stands set around a communal dining space, within the De Hallen cultural complex in converted tram sheds. De Clercqstraat, Bilderdijkstraat and Jan Pieter Heijestraat are also good streets for restaurants.

Further north in Amsterdam's west – linked to the city center along Haarlemmerstraat and its western extension Haarlemmerdijk, both rich with food shops and restaurants – is the verdant Westerpark. Next to the park, former gasworks now comprise the Westergasfabriek cultural complex with a range of restaurants, bars and a great craft brewery, Brouwerij Troost. Food markets and festivals often take place here.

Hip hostels and hotels are spread throughout the city's west as well as charming places such as a houseboat B&B and historic bridge-keepers' houses.

Small groups of people gathered on a sandy section on the edge of the water
Visit the cool spots at the NDSM former shipyards in Amsterdam Noord © fokke baarssen / Shutterstock

Amsterdam Noord

Best neighborhood for urban art and architecture

Across the IJ from the city center, reached directly from Centraal Station by a short, free ferry ride, Amsterdam Noord (Amsterdam North) is one of the city's most interesting neighborhoods.

At the NDSM former shipyards you'll find street art, cool cafes built from recycled materials, and the cavernous Kunststad ("Art City") studios. High-profile sights on this side of the river include the angular white EYE Film Institute, and a one-time oil company office block, A'DAM Tower, whose out-there attractions include a virtual-reality roller coaster, vertiginous giant swing over the observation deck's upper ledge, and spectacular views over Amsterdam.

The tower also contains a hotel; other unique places to stay in the neighborhood extend from a hostel in a 1920s laboratory through to luxury suites in an industrial crane.

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Article first published in January 2015, and last updated in August 2021.

This article was first published March 2018 and updated August 2021

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