Attracting over 12 million visitors per year, Amsterdam’s favorite playground is the green expanse of Vondelpark, with its 116 acres (47 hectares) of manicured lawns, ponds, quaint cafes, charming footbridges and winding paths.
It holds a special place in the city’s heart – a lush green egalitarian space where people from all walks of life hang out. On a sunny day, an open-air party atmosphere ensues when tourists, lovers, cyclists, in-line skaters, pram-pushing parents, cartwheeling children, football-kicking teenagers, spliff-sharing friends and champagne-swilling picnickers all come out to play.
Located southwest of the city center close to the wealthy Old South neighborhood, Vondelpark is free and open all day and night, year-round, offering plenty of activities and events from cycling to open-air theatre.
History of Vondelpark
Originally Vondelpark was a private park, only open to the rich. Its sprawling, English-style gardens were laid out on marshland by architect Jan David Zocher and opened in 1865. Between 1875 and 1877, Zocher’s son, Louis Paul, expanded the park to its current size.
It was known as Nieuw Park (New Park), but in 1867 a statue of poet and playwright Joost van den Vondel (1587–1679) was created by sculptor Louis Royer. Amsterdammers began to refer to the park as Vondelspark, which led to it being formally renamed.
During the late 1960s and early 70s, Dutch authorities turned the park into a temporary open-air dormitory for the droves of hippies who descended on Amsterdam. The sleeping bags are long gone, but remnants of the era live on in the squats that fringe the park, such as OT301 and OCCII, now both legalized into underground cultural centers.
Vondelpark was bought by the City Council in 1953 and finally opened to the public. It was listed as a national monument in the mid-1990s and underwent major renovations to incorporate an extensive drainage system and refurbished walking and cycling paths, while retaining its historic appearance.
What is there to do in the park?
Theater and events
There is a wonderful open-air theatre, Openluchttheater, in the park that hosts events from May to September, such as classical music concerts, stand-up comedy and plays.
For something a bit more alternative, check out what’s on at Vondelbunker – a hidden-away space beneath the 1e Constantjin Huygensstraat bridge. This former fallout shelter, dating from 1947, became Amsterdam's first youth center in 1968 and was a hotbed of hippie creativity and activism. Check the website for upcoming happenings, from gigs and film nights to poetry.
Artwork is dotted around the park, with 69 sculptures all up. Among them is Picasso’s huge abstract work Figure découpée l’Oiseau (The Bird; 1965), known locally as The Fish, which he donated for the park’s centenary.
Take in the heady scent in the lovely rose garden. Added to the park in 1935, there are some 70 different species here. It’s in the middle of the park; signs point the way.
Join the locals zipping around the park’s winding paths on a bike ride. For bicycle rentals, MacBike is fairly close to the park’s main entrance. They have a range of bikes for hire, including kids’ bikes and e-bikes. Prices start at around €5 per hour.
Joggers can often be seen tearing around the park, working up a sweat. A good route to follow is the paved outer path, which is 2 miles long (3.2 km).
Opening hours and other practicalities
Vondelpark is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week throughout the year. Entry is free.
Bespoke tours of the park are available for €35 (for a small group). Lasting 90 minutes, guides offer themed tours around history, nature and architecture. Book 1-3 months in advance via the website.
There is no car parking at the park and only limited (and pricey) on-street parking nearby. Try Emmalaan for on-street parking, else your best garage parking can to the northwest of the park at ParkBee Conscious Hotel Vondelpark (from €3.50 an hour).
Where to eat and drink nearby
Located in the former Vondelpark pavilion at the northeastern end of the park, Vondelpark3 is a stylish and comfortable cafe with a large terrace overlooking the pond – perfect for a morning coffee or sunset drink.
Het Groot Melkhuis is a rambling Swiss-chalet-style timber house sitting at the edge of the Vondelpark forest. It houses a cafe serving coffees, beers, wine and light snacks. With a playground and sandpits, it’s the go-to hangout for families with young kids.
No, it's not a blue and white UFO cake stand landed in the park, Proeflokaal 't Blauwe Theehuis is the Vondelpark outpost of local brewery heroes Brouwerij ’t IJ. Opened in late 2019, it is the perfect place to while away a sunny afternoon with excellent craft beer on the large circular terrace.
Practically in the Vondelpark, Stayokay is a HI-affiliated hostel that attracts a mix of international backpackers, families and groups. Renovated in 2018, this huge hostel offers private rooms and fresh mixed, female- and male-only dorms sleeping from two to nine, with lockers, private bathrooms and well-spaced bunks. Breakfast is a cut above most hostels and there's a plant-filled spacious lobby bar-cafe with workspaces and quiet nooks.
Conscious Hotel Vondelpark is a friendly place to stay, close to Overtoom restaurants and green Vondelpark. It wears its eco-heart on its sleeve, with a plant wall in the lobby, self-sustaining pot plants in the rooms, huge floral murals, and recycled materials made into artful furnishings (including pressed-cardboard bathroom benchtops).
Pillows Anna van den Vondel is a grown-up boutique hotel with exemplary service, housed in a row of three grand, red-and-white-striped 19th-century mansions. Rooms come with views over its private tranquil English garden. Beds are clothed in soft, white linen, walls are gentle dove-grey, and chairs have a mid-century look and pale-blue crushed-velvet upholstery. A bedside device makes ordering room service a breeze.