- Download our Moving to Amsterdam Guide (PDF)
Amsterdam offers a wonderfully diverse selection of leisure and lifestyle activities. With world-class restaurants and shopping, renowned entertainment options and annual events, expats will have no problem settling into their new lives.
Numerous nationalities make up the city's cosmopolitan atmosphere, but most people speak English, making communication much easier. Amsterdam offers plenty of entertainment for single expats and those with families.
Active expats and sports fans won't have trouble finding the right gym or perfect area for jogging, as sports and fitness are a big part of Amsterdam's lifestyle.
Shopping in Amsterdam
When it comes to shopping in Amsterdam, the city has everything expats could want, including international brand outlets, antique stores, exclusive boutiques, contemporary Dutch design and street markets.
Although the concept of shopping malls is not very popular in the Netherlands, there are a few compact shopping areas in Amsterdam. Many roads in the city centre are closed to cars, making the shopping experience even better.
Kalverstraat and Leidsestraat feature familiar high-street brands; The 9 Little Streets (De Negen Straatjes) are packed with vintage shops and boutiques; trendy Haarlemmerstraat and Haarlemmerdijk have a mixture of shops and restaurants; Pieter Cornelisz Hooftstraat, in the museum district, has luxury shopping; and Spiegelkwartier is good for art and antiques.
Those looking for an authentic experience can also explore independent designer shops dotted all over the city.
Eating out in Amsterdam
Although Dutch cuisine isn't as famous as French or Italian food, a mixture of international restaurants in Amsterdam reflects its diverse population. There is a great variety to choose from, with everything from Indonesian, Surinamese, Indian and Japanese to North African, Turkish and Eastern European cuisine.
The prices fit any kind of pocket, from affordable fast food chains and street-side herring shops to Michelin-starred restaurants. Expats may want to avoid the tourist areas when selecting a restaurant, since many have inflated prices without the quality to match, but there are a few gems among them.
Some of the best areas to search for food include Haarlemmerstraat, Nieuwmarkt, Utrechtsestraat, the 9 Streets area and Reguliersdwarsstraat.
The only downside to eating in Amsterdam is the famously poor service, which can be quite jarring for anyone used to the more polite treatment. With a few notable exceptions, most establishments provide good food but not much in the way of staff friendliness. As always, a smile and a nice word can go a long way towards warming up the atmosphere, but expats shouldn't take it personally if it isn't reciprocated.
Nightlife in Amsterdam
Amsterdam's nightlife is anything but boring, and expats can spend a night as quietly or as wildly as they wish.
There are many bars and traditional Dutch pubs known as 'brown cafés' which have a good selection of beers. Numerous clubs await dance lovers wanting to party until morning. The main spots to spend a night out include Leidseplein, Rembrandtplein, the Jordaan and the Red-Light District, although this last one can be overcrowded by tourists. These areas are packed with bars, live music venues and nightclubs.
Sports and fitness in Amsterdam
The Dutch value a healthy lifestyle, especially in the nation's capital. Fitness in Amsterdam is closely intertwined with the simple act of living. For instance, most people ride their bikes to work to start the day off with a boost of energy. For expat fitness fanatics that need more, there are many options. Expats in Amsterdam can join a gym, take up a team sport, dance, yoga or Pilates classes, or enjoy what nature has to offer in terms of outdoor sports.
Many gyms in Amsterdam cater to different clientele at different price ranges. High-end gyms offer group lessons, state-of-the-art equipment, swimming pools, saunas and even babysitting areas where members can drop the kids while they work out. They usually have several membership options which give variable access to their facilities.
The prospect of joining a team sport may be more appealing to expats who don't fancy joining a gym. Volleyball, football, field hockey and rowing are all highly popular in Amsterdam, but finding the right club may be difficult because the information is generally in Dutch.
The official 'I Amsterdam' website is a good point of reference, as it lists clubs that specifically cater to expats. Team sports are fun and can also be a good way to meet new people. Places such as the Amsterdam Dance Center offer classes in various styles from classical ballet and jazz to hip hop and breakdancing. Salsa and Zumba lessons are also popular.
Amsterdam offers many options for outdoor sports, mainly in the warmer months of the year. The Vondelpark and Westerpark are great for jogging, power walking or even inline skating. When expats settle into their life in Amsterdam, they may decide to buy or rent a bike. This is not only one of the best and most popular ways of getting around in Amsterdam but is also a way to keep fit.
See and do in Amsterdam
With so much to see and do in Amsterdam, expats will have a great time exploring and finding their way around the city's canal-lined streets. Below are some of the most popular attractions in Amsterdam.
Amsterdam coffee shops
An iconic part of the city. A trip to one of Amsterdam's coffee shops, where marijuana-based products are available, is an essential part of living in this city, even for expats who don't partake in any of the 'activities'.
Learn about the city's past as this museum covers Amsterdam's development from a small medieval settlement on the river to the modern, thriving metropolis it is today.
Anne Frank House
The older kids will enjoy stepping inside the home of Anne Frank, viewing the original diary she wrote over two years, and learning more about the horrors of World War II in Amsterdam, where anti-Semitism and Nazi persecution were part of daily life.
ARTIS Amsterdam Royal Zoo
Expat families can have a fun day out at the ARTIS Amsterdam Royal Zoo, with educational tours of the aquarium, planetarium and arboretum.
Red-Light District (De Wallen)
Most residents have visited the Red-Light District at least once, even if just to say they've seen it. It offers more than just bright lights, scantily clad ladies in the windows, throngs of tourists and canals. Expats and tourists are also recommended to pay a visit to the area's breweries and museums.
Van Gogh Museum
Housing several hundred paintings and drawings by Van Gogh, all new residents of Amsterdam should see the iconic artist's work in person.
What's on in Amsterdam
There are many great festivals and celebrations that have put the Dutch capital on the map. Here are just a few of the most popular annual events in Amsterdam.
Keukenhof (March to May)
Each year during the spring months, the world's largest garden and tulip flower park explode with colour and its beautiful tulips attract more than a million visitors. The themed gardens, sculptures and children's exhibitions provide a great day out for the whole family.
King's Day (April)
Expats shouldn't be alarmed when they see people wearing orange crowns in the streets; it's just the annual celebration of the King's birthday. Don a crown, dress in orange and enjoy the street party, jumble sales and festivities.
Holland Festival (June)
Each year, the country's most exciting dancers, artists and shows can be found at the Holland Festival. Expats who book a ticket will be supporting local artists while taking in some Dutch culture and artistic innovation.
Amsterdam Gay Pride (August)
Amsterdam is known for hosting one of the best Pride parties in the world. Celebrations take place over two weeks, with street parties, concerts, the Drag Queen Olympics and the Canal Parade.
Amsterdam Marathon (October)
This annual running event is known for its scenic course along the Amstel River and for passing famous Dutch landmarks before finishing at the Olympic Stadium.
►For info on how to travel in the city, check out Getting Around in Amsterdam
"I love the fact that, even though it's a very cosmopolitan city, Amsterdam manages to keep its Dutch charm, sometimes creating the feeling you live in a small town, where everyone knows each other, even if that is not the case. It is not unusual to be approached on the tram by an old lady who just wants to discuss the weather or the last movie she saw." Romanian expat Dana shares some experiences and thoughts on the quality of life in Amsterdam in this interview.
"Amsterdam is a very easy city to live in, with walking and biking the primary modes of transportation. It combines big city attractions like museums, concerts, etc. with a small town community vibe. The city generally feels very active, energetic and embracing. And, of course it is very scenic with the beautiful century-old houses along canals." Get insights into Amsterdam's lifestyle in our interview with Harini and Eric.
Are you an expat living in Amsterdam?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Amsterdam. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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