The Unknown Amsterdam by Bike – part 1

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Mention Amsterdam, and people get all excited. Yet, the Amsterdam most tourists get to see is not at all what the city is about. Yes, it is great to walk along the canals, go to the Anne Frank house (finally), see the Van Gogh and Rembrandt paintings or rent a bike and go around the downtown if you dare. But today, I take you on a route less travelled.

Bike path through the North Holland polder landscape. With street lights even.

For a start, Karen and I rode our bikes from Haarlem to Amsterdam. I put a fairly direct route together through a great website called which has helped me tremendously putting random routes together, by connecting given nodes (knooppunten) with the click of a mouse. The nodes are preselected based on the attractiveness, not on the most direct routes. It makes for nice rides mostly away from busy traffic. The nodes are numbered and on the ground indicated with small standardised signs. While you click away, the route’s distance is being added up in a panel in your screen.

Man made greenspaces, with recreational paths running through it.

Soon we were in the fields west of Haarlem. The bike paths are fairly straight here and after a while we started to reach the outskirts of Amsterdam already, an area where man made forests (what they call ‘recreation areas’ in Holland), the Amsterdam harbours and allotment gardens meet.

Abandoned older industrial spaces converted to cool cultural venues. That is also part of a ‘recycling’ and the ‘circular economy’, not just the reuse of plastics and glass.

Cycling into Sloterdijk, we enter an area of boring office buildings, a railway station hub and bigger roads. The bike route finds its way though all that and we soon arrive at the Westergasfabriek. The Westergasfabriek is a former gasworks factory in Amsterdam now used as a cultural venue. As we were there early and the temperatures were cool-ish, there wasn’t too much to do, but the website shows lots of restaurants, cultural activities, small businesses, a park and water activities. It definitely looks like a place to go on summer days.

We made a wee detour as I had heard from a woman in Utrecht while on a tour through the Rietveld huis (another future blog), that we should visit “Het Schip”.

Het Schip is an apartment building in the Spaarndammerbuurt district of Amsterdam, built in the architectural style of the Amsterdam School of Expressionist architecture. Wikipedia

On the list for next year’s visit: “Het Schip”. Not really a ship of course, but a conceptual building style from the Amsterdam School of Expressionist architecture worth checking out.

Via de Spaarndammer neighbourhood, we connected to the waterfront (we are now getting closer to the downtown Amsterdam core, in order to take the free ferry across the IJ.)

Some very cool architecture, but at street level, we didn’t feel connected. Look for “IJdok Amsterdam” on Google maps and click around in street view.
Off Westerdoksdijk in Amsterdam: front basket with stuff, cell phone, flip flops, bag with things over one shoulder, other bag over the other shoulder, dress and O……..2 kids.

After the detour, we hopped on one of the many free ferries to get to Amsterdam North to see the NDSM Werf (dockyards). The NDSM wharf is something else. The building itself houses a number of work shops, the vast open space was hosting a food truck event.

Inside the huge building. One can’t really capture the size of the building so I didn’t attempt it.


Food ‘truck’ at the former NDSM ship yards, where some kind of a food festival took place.

From the Lonely Planet: NDSM-werf is a derelict shipyard turned edgy arts community 15 minutes upriver from the city centre. It wafts a post-apocalyptic vibe: an old submarine slumps in the harbour, abandoned trams rust by the water’s edge, and graffiti splashes across almost every surface. Young creatives hang out at the smattering of cool cafes. Hip business like MTV and Red Bull have their European headquarters here. The area is also a centre for underground culture and events, such as the ‘Over het IJ Festival’. Lonely Planet

Back to basics.
Johnny Doodle is a recently launched ‘cool’ Dutch chocolate bar brand.

There is also the Norderney, a ship that carried transmitters and studios. Veronica brought (illegal) commercial radio to the Netherlands, but broadcasted from international waters to avoid being caught. I was a bit too young to understand all that in the sixties, but I do remember my mom always listening to it. The ship is now a cafe/restaurant/event thing from what I read on the website. You want to see the movie ‘Pirate Radio’ to get what it was all about.


Heros for many, business people or criminals for others, Veronica changed radio in the Netherlands for ever.


No Heineken for me, mint tea with honey instead.

After a mint tea (with a bushel of fresh mint leaves) at the industrial look and feel IJ-kantine, we left the NDSM wharf. My old Amsterdam map wasn’t of much use, as Google maps showed at least four new bike and ped bridges, saving us some cycling.

De IJ kantine, nice place, great views, industrial look. Mix of different chairs is all the rage. We are stuck with the Keg in Ottawa.

We spontaneously dropped in at a brocante place called “Van Dijk en Ko”. Stuff comes from Hungary, Romania, France and Belgium: certainly a great place to look around. From gas masks to architecture books, from bottles to mannequins, you can find everything you want. If I’d ever start a restaurant I’d buy all my decorations there. But alas, I don’t like cooking so I fear it is not gonna happen.

A couple of stores and a food truck set up at the Papaver.
At Van Dijk & Ko: bottles…
tables, cupboards, piano’s, dresses…
A book about the typography of N.P. de Koo, graphic designer and interior architect…..
Lots of chairs…
And an East European box with traffic signs. Van Dijk & Ko has it all.

Next week we’ll continue the bike tour through Amsterdam North with visits to a small set of locks, The EYE film institute, Hangar restaurant, the Java Island and NEMO, the Science and tech museum in the Eastern docklands. Click here for part 2


  1. Wonderful posts, Hans. I live vicariously through them for a visit to Netherlands, and hope one day to go there with my children.

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