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. After a quick flight, visitors can explore the repurposed buildings and forests for an eclectic Amsterdam experience many tourists haven’t yet seen.
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.
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.
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.
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 Palace allows 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.