From the exotic to the charming: Amsterdam’s Best Bars and Pubs

Amsterdam has never really been off the radar for tourists. With its cosmopolitan ambience, history and freewheeling attitude, it’s frequently a must-see for visitors to Europe. Strolling along its canals and soaking in the sights can build up a powerful thirst, though, and at the end of a day you’ll want to unwind with a tasty beverage. You can still do that and take in the sights, as outdoor dining is popular in the warm months, and the variety of bars and other venues will let you take in the local flavor as well as quenching your thirst.

Beer is still the most popular choice around Amsterdam, even though the Heineken and Amstel –the two most famous Dutch brews– aren’t as much in evidence as they were years ago. There are plenty of “tasting rooms” in addition to more modern bars. Gin, whose origins are Dutch, is popular too, and there’s a great variety among the bars around town.

To help narrow down your search, here are twenty of Amsterdam’s best bars and pubs.

1. Wynand Fockink, Pilsteeg 31

Wynand Fockink

Get your history on at this old tasting room, which has been around since 1679 and has been a meeting place of choice for the famous and not-so-famous almost since the beginning. You won’t find bar stools–it’s standing-room only, but the atmosphere is charming and historic and they have an incredible list of jenevers (that’s gin, folks) and liqueurs.

2. Twee Zwaantjes, Prinsengracht 114

Twee Zwaantjes

If you thought folksy singalongs were just for Bavaria, think again. The scene here livens up considerably on weekends; it’s a working-man’s bar and the crowd will indulge in some old-school tunes. Definitely a place to fit in with the locals.

3. Cafe Soundgarden, Marnistraat 164-166

Cafe Soundgarden

If you’re not feeling the history so much, try some more recent history. This place is for the rockers who never got old (or at least act like it). There’s a good selection of beer, dancing and pool. Get your grunge on.

4. Cafe Chris, Bloemstraat 42

Cafe Chris

OK, so 1679 isn’t old enough for you. Amsterdam’s oldest bar goes back to 1624 and has no highbrow pretensions. Another good locals place with lots of memorabilia from its very long history.

5. Cafe de Dokter, Rosensteeg 4

Cafe de Dokter

Another old-timer popular with locals–but not too many at once, as it’s also the smallest bar in the city. Good selection of drinks and inexpensive, tasty snacks. This one only dates to 1798, though.

6. Cafe de Pels, Huidenstraat 25

Cafe de Pels

Anyone with literary aspirations might want to put Cafe de Pels on the list–it’s long been known as a hangout for the intellectual set. Small, friendly and relaxed.

7. Papeneiland, Prinsengracht 2

Papeneiland

“Papeneiland” means “Pope’s Island” and lends a fun note to this beautiful bar with Delft tile: supposedly, there’s a secret tunnel that once connected to a nearby Catholic church when Catholicism was illegalized. Since that’s no longer an issue, it’s now just a cheerful place for a drink.

8. ‘t Arendsnest, Herengracht 90

t Arendsnest

Definitely the place for the beer lover, with 350 (!) standard selections. Note: if you don’t want beer, take this off your list–that’s all it serves, and Dutch beer only, at that.

9. Hannekes Boom, Dijksgracht 4

Hannekes Boom

It’s a little bit outsider art and a little bit hip. Built of scrap lumber, this is definitely a hot spot and has its own view of the waterfront.

10. Barco, Oosterdokskade 10

Barco Bar

A view of the waterfront isn’t good enough? Try this: it’s a canal barge that’s been turned into a bar. Views of the city in all directions, bands, and affordable food.

11. Roest, Czar Peterstraat 213

Roest Bar

If “Roest” sounds like “rust,” it’s because that’s what the name means. It has an industrial setting, a terrace and beach; the decor is “late graffiti.” A good spot to see local trendsetters in their natural habitat.

12. ‘t Smalle, Egelantiersgracht 12

Cafe t smalle

Another one that lives up to its name, it’s pretty indoors, but the terrace is what makes ‘t Smalle–it’s situated on one of the city’s prettiest canals. Get here early, though; it fills up quickly on nice days.

13. Vyne, Prinsengracht 411

Vyne Bar

See, names aren’t so hard to figure out, are they? Vyne specializes in–surprise–wine. They’re also big on pairing wine with food. The decor is streamlined and elegant.

14. Wildschut, Roelof Harplein 1-3

Wildschut

This place does it for the concept of Elegant Cafe. Beautiful Amsterdam-style design sets off the fashionable diners and tipplers here. You’ll pay for it, though; it’s decidedly on the upscale side, but worth a visit.

15. Twenty Third Bar, Ferdinand Bolstraat 333

Twenty Third Bar

On an upper level of the Hotel Okura (guess which floor?), Twenty-Third offers no fewer than seventeen varieties of champagne–which tells you what it can do to your budget. The views are fantastic, though.

16. Prik, Spuistraat 109

Prik Bar

The hot gay bar, Prik has the music you’d expect, with good food and a fairly diverse crowd.

17. Proust, Noordermarkt 4

Proust Bar

A longtime favorite of trendy locals and tourists alike, Proust is a little short on decor (other than the huge crystal gun over the bar) but long on atmosphere.

18. Lion Noir, Reguliersdwarsstraat 28

Lion Noir

With interesting art and furniture, stuffed birds et al, this bar feels a little bit like a remnant of the 60s. The atmosphere is pleasant and the outdoor terrace is great, but drinks are a little on the pricey side.

19. Lellebel, Utrechtsestraat 4

Lellebel Pub

No list would be complete without a drag bar. There’s official nightly entertainment, but the customers are as entertaining as anything on the playlist. Despite its official theme, it’s very welcoming and friendly.

20. Mata Hari, Oudezijds Achterburgwal 22

Mata Hari

Mata Hari is a fairly new place in the Red Light district. It’s a little more upscale than its surroundings, but has a pleasant feel to it. Don’t let the retro decor fool you; the food from the open kitchen is up to the minute.

Armed with your list, enjoy the relaxing side of Amsterdam. This is a list of favorites and by no means the last word–take this as a primer and then explore on your own. Amsterdam’s incredible diversity and openness means there’s something for everyone.