Tour 4: The Waterfront
Start: Centraal Station.
Finish: Centraal Station.
Time: Between 4 hours -- not including a museum visit, rest stops, and an optional tram ride -- and all day, should you find there's enough to hold your interest.
Best Times: Morning or afternoon, it makes no difference.
Worst Times: During the morning and evening rush hours (8-9am and 5-6pm), Monday to Friday.
Amsterdam's waterfront, the narrow channel known as Het IJ (the IJ) that separates the main city on the south bank from Amsterdam-Noord (North), has been gaining ground as a visitor attraction in recent years. This changing circumstance is a by-product of the city opening up the old harbor to redevelopment. There's more to see and do than there used to be, both on the water and along the shore, and this tour is designed to bring you close to it all without you ever getting your feet wet. You'll get around with a mixture of walking and by riding buses, trams, and harbor ferries. This is a good tour to do with kids, because walking comprises only a part of it. There's much that should be of interest to them along the way; and going by ferry should be fun. Since the IJ will be a big feature on the tour, you should know that the word is pronounced more or less like "eye."
Most city trams and Metro lines, along with many bus lines (and trains, of course) end up at Amsterdam's main rail station:
1. Centraal Station
The hub of Amsterdam's transit network is an attraction in its own right. But you'll have more opportunities on this tour to sample its delights, so for now let's get started on the itinerary.
Cross over the bridge in front of Centraal Station, and from the bus stops to your front right, take bus 18, 21, or 22 westbound. It's just three stops to the Buiten Oranjestraat bus stop on Harlemmer Houttuinen, where you get out. Cross over the street and go under the railway arches in front of you. This brings you to the:
2. Westelijke Eilanden
The three artificial islands of the Western Islands, connected by drawbridges in this artmospheric old district are Bickerseiland, Prinseneiland, and Realeneiland. For all that they are only a short distance from the city center, they form a village-like community that seems set apart from the rest of Amsterdam. Centuries-old harbor warehouses converted to desirable apartments and artists' studios, along with some modern apartment blocks, line the connecting waterways. Berthed at the wharves are houseboats, barges, sailboats, cabin cruisers, motorboats, and all kinds of small boats.
The first thing you'll see after you pass under the railway arches and enter tree-shaded Hendrik Jonkerplein is the great Dutch eetcafé 't Blaauwhooft. It's early on the tour for taking a break (and besides the place doesn't open until 3pm), but it's worth noting for future reference. Go left to the canal, and then north along Bickersgracht. About midway along is a bridge that leads to Prinseneiland. Staying on Bickersgracht, you pass by a tiny petting zoo, Kinderboerderij De Dierencapel.
Cross over the drawbridge onto Realenisland, and go north on Zandhoek, keeping the water to your right. Looking across the Westerdok in that direction, you'll see the modern apartments and offices that line narrow Westerdokseiland (Western Docks Island). Farther along Zandhoek, at the corner of Zoutkeetsgracht, is the fine French bistro De Gouden Reael. Go left on Zoutkeetsgracht, then right on Houtmankade.
From the intersection of Tasmanstraat and Houtmankade, walk north on Tasmanstraat for 300m (330 yds.) to the ferry dock at the end of the street. Take the free passengers-and-bikes Houthavenveer (Houthaven Ferry) -- not the Distelwegveer (Distelweg Ferry) that departs from the same dock -- for the 6-minute ride across the IJ to the north shore to the:
The former facility of the Nederlandsche Dok en Scheepsbouw Maatschappij (Netherlands Dock and Shipyard Corporation) was used for shipbuilding, drydocking, and ship repair. Now in the process of large-scale redevelopment, it's an expanding star on the city's cultural scene, providing a home for performance venues, and art and design studios.
Here, too is the Amstel Botel, the city's only floating hotel. Within easy torpedo range of this waterborne lodging, a rusting, 1950s-vintage ex-Soviet Navy Zulu class attack submarine is tied up at an offshore wharf. Greenpeace International's environmental warrior of the seas, Sirius, is based across the dock from the Amstel Botel. The Pannekoekenboot (Pancake Boat; tel. 020/636-8817; www.pannenkoekenboot.nl) sorties from here to prowl the harbor laden with pancake-munching kids and shanghaied parents.
MT Ondinaweg 15-17 (tel. 020/633-7162). Even if "IJ Canteen" doesn't immediately grab as an alluring name, the reality behind the handle is far superior. This large and multi-faceted cafe, brasserie, and restaurant on the NDSM Wharf waterfront does indeed occupy the former shipyard's cafeteria -- restored to a squared-away shine, and sporting a grand dockside terrace.
Board the free passengers-and-bikes NDSM-Werfveer (NDSM Wharf Ferry) -- not the Houthavenveer (Houthaven Ferry) -- to:
5. Centraal Station
The 14-minute ferry ride is your best chance to take in much of the city's harbor in a single gulp. Along the way you'll likely notice the distinctive green-and-blue Fast Flying Ferry passenger hydrofoils, outbound to or inbound from the Nordzeekanaal (North Sea Canal). You'll pass the modern architecture on the long, narrow redeveloped Westerdokseiland (Western Docks Island) jutting out from the IJ's south shore.
At the end of your minicruise, you arrive at the Waterplein-West dock behind Centraal Station. Explore the station and its immediate surroundings.
Oosterdokseiland (Eastern Docks Island), just east of Centraal Station, is the latest piece in the rapidly-filling jigsaw of harbor redevelopment. The city's giant new Centrale Bibliotheek (Central Library) opened here in 2008; it has an excellent English department, for anyone who wants to spend a rainy day browsing the bookshelves. Nearby is the shiny new Conservatorium van Amsterdam, the city's music school, where you can take in concerts staged by the students in their fine new concert hall.
From Waterplein-West, take the free passengers-and-bikes Buiksloterwegveer (Buiksloterweg Ferry) -- not the IJplein-veer (IJplein Ferry) that departs from the same dock -- for the 5-minute ride across the IJ to:
There's not a lot you can get to see in this northern district of Amsterdam without a bicycle, nor time enough to shuttle around by bus (there's no tram or Metro service in Noord). I suggest you just kick around on the north shore for a short time. If the weather is bad, you can retreat to the more-than-decent Café-Restaurant De Pont, Buiksloterweg 3-5 (tel. 020/636-3388), at the ferry dock.
Take the ferry -- one departs every 5 to 10 minutes -- back to:
7. Centraal Station
See waypoint 5, above.
8. Grand Café-Restaurant 1e Klas
Spoor 2B, Centraal Station (tel. 020/625-0131). Head to platform 2, for that surely rare phenomenon -- a station restaurant that's just about worth missing your train for. An alternative that keeps you right at the water's edge is Pier 10, De Ruyterkade, Steiger 10 (tel. 020/427-2310; www.pier10.nl), an atmospheric small place for lunch or dinner, right behind Centraal Station.
At this point, if you have no interest in visiting either one of the two museums (don't try to do both) covered in waypoints 9 and 10, below, stay put at Centraal Station, and pick up the itinerary again at waypoint 11. Otherwise, remember to choose between waypoints 7A and 7B, and follow the getting-there instructions for the one you select.
Take bus 22, 42, or 43 from outside Centraal Station (no. 22 departs from the stops to your front right as you exit the station, and nos. 42 and 43 from the stops to your front left), for two stops, to the IJ-Tunnel bus stop, and then walk the short distance north to:
9. Science Center NEMO
This hands-on science and technology attraction should have a strong appeal to kids, of all ages. Its striking design by celeb Italian architect Renzo Piano gives it something of the look of an ocean liner. In fine weather, the rooftop terrace of NEMO's Café DEK5 (tel. 020/531-3533; www.e-nemo.nl) affords grand views over Amsterdam's harbor.
Take bus 22, 42, or 43 from outside Centraal Station (no. 22 departs from the stops to your front right as you exit the station, and nos. 42 and 43 from the stops to your front left), for three stops, to the Kadijksplein bus stop, and then walk the short distance to the:
The Maritime Museum, Oosterdok 2 (tel. 020/523-2222; www.scheepvaartmuseum.nl), where a thousand years of Holland's history as a seafaring power is recorded, makes a good alternative to NEMO , and on a tour of the city's harbor it's even more fitting. There's just one catch. The museum, housed in the 17th-century Amsterdam Admiralty Arsenal, is closed until the summer of 2011 for a much-needed modernization. Call ahead or check the museum website for the latest state of play. In the meantime, one of the museum's star attractions, a full-size replica of an 18th-century sailing ship, the Amsterdam, is moored to a dock just across the water at Science Center NEMO, and is currently open to visitors.
If you passed on the museum visits associated with options 9 and 10, you can now leave Centraal Station from behind the station, and walk east on Piet Heinkade, keeping the waters of the IJ on your left, before descending to waterside Oostelijke Handelskade, and the series of large modern buildings along this waterfront street, the first of which is the combined:
11. Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ/Bimhuis
These two ultra-modern concert halls -- the Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ for contemporary, electronic, and world music, and Bimhuis for jazz -- opened in 2005. The Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ has a hip cafe-restaurant, the Star Ferry (tel. 020/788-2090), with big picture windows looking out on the harbor, and a great, if on occasion breezy, outdoor terrace at the western end of the wharf. The neighboring concert hall's Bimhuiscafé (tel. 020/788-2158) is equally trendy and boasts just as fine views.
Continue east on Oostelijke Handelskade, past the Mövenpick Hotel Amsterdam City Center, to the:
12. Passenger Terminal Amsterdam
The PTA should usually be easy to recognize -- it will often have a large and colorful ocean cruise liner "parked" right outside, one of around 100 that dock here every year. Like the Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ, Bimhuis, the Mövenpick Hotel, and the Passenger Terminal Amsterdam, all the buildings stretching east from here along the water are either the latest thing in cutting-edge modern architecture, or are converted old harbor warehouses.
Either walk east on waterfront Veemkade for the harbor views -- past Jamie Olivers's cool restaurant Fifteen Amsterdam. Or, spare your feet by boarding tram 26 at the Kattenburgerstraat stop and going east for one stop, to the Rietlandpark stop. From here, either transfer to tram 10 going north for three stops to the Azartplein terminus, or walk north across the Verbindingsdam bridge to:
The long, artificial KNSM Island -- its name comes from the initials of the old Koninklijke Nederlandse Stoomboot-Maatschappij (Royal Dutch Steamship Company) -- was once thickly strewn with harbor warehouses and other port installations. Now it's a shiny modern residential zone. You might easily be trampled by hordes of visiting architects and city planners, both professionals and students, in town to get a handle on where cities are headed in the 21st century. The best thing you can do here is to stroll up and down the island, and in and out of the vast apartment complexes, until your interest or energy, or both, run out. Then, make for the island's south bank, to:
14. Kanis en Meiland
Levantkade 127 (tel. 020/418-2439), is both a Dutch play on words with the island's name, and a decent bar and eatery.
Re-cross the Verbindingsdam bridge, onboard tram 10 or on foot, to the Rietlandpark tram stop. From here you can take an optional ride east on tram 26 to the end of the line, at:
This new Amsterdam residential district has a population of more than 10,000 and counting, living on artificial islands on the Buiten IJ (Outer IJ), a southern bay of the IJsselmeer lake (formerly the Zuiderzee, or Southern Sea). You should maybe only do this side trip if you are interested to see how Amsterdam is providing homes for a fast-expanding population in a country where what little land there is to spare has to be reclaimed from the sea, lakes, and wetlands.
If you passed on the side trip to IJburg, board tram 26 (if you're returning from IJburg, you'll already be on the tram, of course), for the ride west back to:
16. Centraal Station
See waypoints 5 and 7, above.
Take the free passengers-and-bikes IJplein-veer (IJplein Ferry) from the Waterplein-West dock behind Centraal Station -- not the Buiksloterwegveer (Buiksloterweg Ferry), which departs from the same dock -- for the 5-minute ride across the harbor to:
From the ferry dock and the nearby sea dike, you get fine views of the central harbor zone.
Go east along the dike for around 300m (330 yds.), to:
18. Wilhelmina Dok
Noordwal 1 (tel. 020/632-3701), an orange-painted waterfront cafe-restaurant. You'll get great views of passing ships from here. Maybe too good -- a few years back a canal barge strayed from the ship channel and rammed the restaurant!
Walk back along the dike to the ferry dock and take the IJplein-veer (IJplein Ferry) back to Centraal Station. Note that the last ferry from here departs at 11:50pm. If you miss it, you'll have to hoof it around to the Buiksloterwegveer (Buiksloterweg Ferry) dock farther west; this ferry runs all night.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.