Like Paris, Amsterdam can be a tricky city to navigate especially when you’re trying to find the perfect neighbourhood to stay in.
Between the Red Light District, its romantic canals, and historic sights, it’s not easy to narrow down. Amsterdam is broken up into seven city districts or stadsdelen and each have their own character. Here I break down four of the best neighbourhoods and squares to stay in while in Amsterdam. Best part of all, they each have their own residential area so you don’t have to get caught in a touristy corner.
The main part of town groups together more than half of the hotels and hostels in Amsterdam. A short 10-minute walk east from the Centraal train station is the wildest part of the city, the Red Light District. Hostels here are surprisingly cheaper but take note, the Red Light District is the only part of the city that doesn’t sleep (so you might not either). Chinatown is around Nieuwmarkt while Waterlooplein’s flea market for vintage clothes and antiques is slightly south. To the right, Kalverstraat is the stylish pedestrian-only street. The west end is generally quiet at night but it’s a hop, skip, and a jump to Amsterdam’s nightlife in the RLD. If you’re passing through the city for only a night, this is a good central spot but sometimes travellers forget to steer away from here (it can be a bit touristy) and explore the rest of Amsterdam (yes, there is more to Amsterdam than girls window-dancing and green leafy stuff!)
Just west of Centraal Station, Jordaan is a hidden gem of quiet winding streets. It’s actually one of my favourite neighbourhoods because it feels so local and yet still close to the main areas. If you want a taste of the local life, cycling in Jordaan is the thing to do! There are 700,000+ people living in Amsterdam and exactly as many bikes. Here you can cycle past traditional Dutch houses, scenic gardens, and pedestrian markets before stopping at the Anne Frank house!
“Plein” means square in Dutch and Rembrandtplein is one of the nicest ones. In the summer months the square fills with wicker patios and Europeans sipping their café that seems a world away from the Red Light District just a few minutes North. Best part of all, the Rembrandtplein area is still really central to everything. Most of the popular sights are spread out from the train station but they are either walkable or a quick tram ride away. If you book a hostel here, you’ll get fancier discos, sports bars, a ton Amsterdam’s famous “coffee shops”, and quintessential European living. Hostels might not be as cheap here but you can find inexpensive places to eat which might help offset the cost.
I like this area because it’s the best of both worlds, especially if you plan to stay in Amsterdam for more than 2 nights. If you’re travelling as a family, Leidseplein is a much quieter, kid-friendly neighbourhood.
Beds can be pricey right on the square with better deals further from the square. Go a little south, cross the canal and in the streets immediately behind there are smaller family-run hotels much more affordable (and quaint!). The streets in the east will lead you away from the square to the eclectic De Pijp neighbourhood with hundreds of crammed eateries with international cuisines from around the world. It’s a foodie’s dream with endless eating! Okay, if you’re not obsessed with food as much as I am, you might like the museum district here including Van Gogh, Rijksmuseum (with the famous iAMsterdam sign), the Heineken Brewery, and the very green Vondelpark where locals picnic, ride their bike, and watch movies en plein air. Leidseplein is about a 10-minute tram ride from the more central part of the city.
Now that you know the best areas to stay in Amsterdam, you’ll have a much easier time choosing the right hotel, hostel, or B&B. I’ve always found good rates on HostelWorld (the no-booking fees is a sweet advantage).