This Travel Writer’s Guide To Amsterdam was created specifically with the needs of a writer in mind. A traveling writer needs to know the history, where to find inspiration, a great place to write, and a great place to lay their head. That way all your energy can funnel into creating!
Amsterdam was founded as a fishing village around the thirteenth century. The city was developed around a dam in the Amstel river at the end of the 12th century. The name Amstelledamme occurs for the first time in the toll concession of Floris V, Count of Holland, dated October 27, 1275.
While it looks and sounds like a picture book, Amsterdam has a gritty, liberal, and even dark past. In the city, you might wander into the well-known Red Light District where you will find brothels and sex shops right out in the open. Prostitution in the Netherlands was made legal in the year 2000, although Amsterdam has always had a tolerant approach to the matter.
You will find the same goes for marijuana in Amsterdam, as it was decriminalized in 1976 for personal use. Although it is not completely legal, you are allowed to purchase small amounts in what they like to call coffeeshops and even smoke it indoors.
An interesting fact for writers is that Amsterdam was actually a mecca for book lovers in the 17th century. In relation to the number of residents, Dutch printers and publishers produced ten times as many books as in France, Italy, and Spain. One of the reasons was that the government exercised less control over the industry than the other countries that operated as monarchies.
Unfortunately, Amsterdam also houses very dark memories, as it was occupied by Nazis in the early 1940s. Before this time there were nearly 80,000 Jewish people living in Amsterdam. By the end of the war, 80% of the Jewish population in Amsterdam had perished. Today, the Anne Frank House memorializes the lives and struggles of the Jewish people in Amsterdam as well as those who helped to conceal them from the Nazi invasion.
What’s the use of writing abroad if you don’t catch all the inspiring locations? Here’s a list of all the places for writers to draw inspiration from while traveling through Amsterdam.
Red Light District
You might expect it to look like something out of Sin City however you would be surprised to see that the world of prostitution in Amsterdam is more quaint than expected. Many of the streets are something you would see in a postcard, tall buildings packed together in a slightly crooked formation along a reflective canal. The same is true for much of the Red Light District, with the addition of neon lights signaling you towards sex for hire or live pornography. Strolling past chocolate shops, women behind glass windows dressed in costume will usher you to come inside. Not to worry though, you don’t need to partake in the acts in order to experience the RLD. You can just walk past while eating your chocolate. If ever you were to need inspiration on writing about the life of sex work, the RLD should be at the top of your list.
If you’re looking to buy or smoke in Amsterdam, then the first thing to know is that you will need to visit a coffeeshop. Not to be confused with just a place to buy coffee. If you’re looking for inspiration in Amsterdam then you will absolutely need to visit one or more of them. As there are few places in the world where you are able to legally smoke marijuana in a public place, the experience is quite unique. Some things to know before you visit is that not each one sells, and you are not allowed to smoke at any bar or cafe. You’ll want to search for coffeeshops so you know where to go. For instance, you can smoke while having a drink at the Bulldog Cafe, however, you will need your own supply. This is not somewhere that sells marijuana. You can purchase it somewhere like Barney’s Farm. Then you can bring it somewhere like Bulldog Cafe, or across the street to Barney’s Uptown. Our favorite would have to be Lost In Amsterdam which has an incredibly funky and comfortable decor where you can enjoy cocktails as you smoke.
This library hosts some of the most beautiful books and artwork in an architectural landmark of Amsterdam. It holds more than 23,000 volumes on hermetic, Rosicrucianism, alchemy, mysticism, gnosis, esotericism, comparative religion, Sufism, Kabbalah, anthroposophy, Freemasonry, Judaica, and the Grail. There are 4,500 books printed before 1800 CE.
This secret covered passage in one of the oldest parts of the city hosts a daily book market. It originated in 1879 and continues to this day. Here you can find second-hand textbooks, prints, and sheet music.
Anne Frank House
While it is very sad to experience, the house where Anne Frank and her family hid from the Nazis is open as a museum for visitors to experience. Here you can go inside the home and even into the attic where they hid. Anne’s diary entries are shown throughout the house as well as a timeline of events that led to their eventual capture. Anyone looking to write through the scope of war times would find an overwhelming amount of inspiration in this heartbreaking location. Writers especially might find particular empathy in the situation as it had been Anne’s dream to become a famous writer.
Sometimes a writer needs to get out of their workspace and bring the laptop (or notebook) to another setting. Here’s a list of places where writers can feel comfortable and inspired while working in Amsterdam.
Vondelpark is the biggest park in Amsterdam, and was named after Joost van den Vondel. He was a poet and a playwright and was named the ”Dutch Shakespeare”. He lived during the 17th century and is considered to be one of the most important Dutch poets and writers. Here you can spend your time writing and relaxing as long as you please.
This is the largest art library in the Netherlands. The library is open to the public and is expansive and stunning just to visit.
Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam
OBA is a public library close to Amsterdam Centraal train station. The library is 7-stores high. On the top floor of the library is a rooftop restaurant with amazing views. There are many different workspaces to choose from including the rooftop restaurant, tables, desks, and a cafe.
Aside from a park or a library, it can be nice to take your work to a cafe. This is one of the best cafes to do so in Amsterdam. At this quirky place, you can enjoy coffee, tea, lunch, or pastries while you work.
Coffeecompany Oude Doelen
Located right at the end of the RLD, this coffee shop is great for people watching from a window seat. It is perfectly normal to sit with just a coffee for as long as you please.
Anne&Max Amsterdam Zeeburg
This cafe is a chain however the best one is in Zeeburg due to its views of the water. You can enjoy coffee as well as snacks, breakfast, lunch, and brunch.
Zoku is an aparthotel, however, the café and restaurant space serve as a flex working space. This is a great place for digital nomads and writers. They have monthly and day passes, and have a workspace on the outside terrace for those who plan to be there for an hour or two.
CT Coffee & Coconuts
This was once a movie theater that was converted into a cafe in the De Pijp neighborhood. As it is a popular location it is best to go earlier in the day. Here you can enjoy food, drinks, or even a fresh coconut while you work.
Where to stay
For a city, it is surprising how much of Amsterdam is picturesque. It isn’t just a few blocks where you can stroll past beautiful canals. There are many beautiful areas to stay in while visiting the city.
One of the nicest areas to stay in would be the neighborhood Jordaan, or around Nine streets. Jordaan is very beautiful and has much fewer tourists than the other areas. Nine streets is a bit busier but have very nice shops even just to walk past. This is also near where you will find the Anne Frank House.
A little more bohemian is the De Pijp area where you can find plenty of restaurants and things to do in the evening. It’s also near Rijksmuseum and Vondelpark which are nice locations for writing.
Leidseplein is another nice area where you can find very nice hotels, restaurants, and shopping, and is a central walking location. Near here is Oud-West which is also close to Vondelpark where a writer will feel right at home.
Here is a list of hotels that are particularly of interest to writers staying in Amsterdam due to their literary influence.
A literary tour guide director explains that you should visit the Ambassade Hotel for insight into modern Dutch publishing and writers from around the world. In their Library Bar you will find a unique collection of over 5000 books, all signed by authors who stayed at the Ambassade Hotel.
This beautiful hotel has the option of staying in what they call the Book Collector’s Suite. If you’re ready to splurge then book this room and feel like you live in every writer’s dream room. The suite has a cozy chair next to a personal library of books, with a writing desk facing out the window, there will be no need to visit a cafe to do your writing.
Aside from being in Jordaan, a great neighborhood of Amsterdam, one of the nicest perks of staying in this hotel is the lobby. The hotel even offers guests a courtyard and a private meeting room. Upstairs is a quiet place to work, however, you can also find this space as a nice place for cocktails. Even if you don’t decide to stay at the hotel, you can bring your work with you here.
Amsterdam is very easy to get around by foot, Uber, or public transit. You can also bike as many of the locals do however the streets can be very crowded with bikes. This is also something to keep in mind as a pedestrian as you will have to watch out more for bikes than cars when crossing the street.
When To Go
For the weather, June through August is the best time to visit, as other times can be quite cold and rainy. May and September are good times to visit as well because it is less crowded however expect some cool days mixed in with the warm, and some colder nights as well. April through May will not be terribly warm however the weather will be tolerable and you will have a chance to see the famous tulips at their peak bloom.
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