Literary City Guide | AMSTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS


You’re from Amsterdam?” Bavink asked. “I am, thank God.
— Nescio, The Freeloader

Tour Guide: Valeria CRISTINA

From Rome, born in New York, raised in Japan, and after brief stopovers in Boston and Mumbai, now living in Amsterdam. She's discovering the strange thrill of standing still, for once. Find her writing and photographing at Windows of Amsterdam.

Q&A

Relationship to Amsterdam: Came here on a gut impulse six years ago and haven’t left since. 

Writer you’d like to invite to dinner: Leonardo da Vinci

Chef you’d like to prepare the meal: Jock Zonfrillo

Writing soundtrack: Sounds of nature – thunderstorms, forests, birds. 

Pen or Pencil: Pen

Coffee or Tea? Coffee

Paperback or Hardback? “Forever books” are best as paperbacks that I can shove in a bag and take anywhere, always. Epic books that are enough to read once are for hardbacks.


Good Reads


BOOKSTORES

The American Book Center – it’s on the commercial side, but it’s comforting to have one place that just has every book you’ll need, in English.

The Book Exchange – the bookstore for real book fiends. This treasure chest boasts the best collection of second-hand books in Amsterdam. You can also sell your used books and pass on any gems dusting in your shelves.

The streets! Amsterdammers often build little shelves outside their houses, where anyone can share and donate their books. There’s also the Boekenmarkt book market every Friday on the Spui square. 

LIBRARIES

The OBA. The main public library is stunning. The selection of English books isn’t huge, but it is great for studying, working, as well as getting one of the best views of the city. 

The Rijksmuseum Research Library. One of the most beautiful spaces in Amsterdam. It’s inside the Rijkmuseum, which everyone should visit anyway, tucked behind a small hallway.

READINGS & CONFERENCES

John Adams Institute. The John Adams Institute hosts readings and sessions on American culture. Artists, politicians, photographers, scientists, poets, and all kinds of creatives come and go throughout the entire year.

The Amsterdam Writers Guild. This organization combines writing workshops and events ranging from readings, special guest speakers, and sessions on critiquing each other’s works. 

De Balie. Here you’ll find one of the city’s richest cultural centers, where readings and debates are often held with prominent authors during the Free Word Festival.

OTHER FINDS

Bar Bukowski. Not just a hotspot for readings, but also a great place for drinks, brunch, and hanging out in the East (Oost) side of town. The walls are decorated with quotes by the “lowlife laureate”.

Vlieger Papier. A little hole in the wall from the outside, but one of the fullest art and stationary stores in the city.

BoekieWoekie. Self-published books made by artists, for artists. Housed in a tiny little shop full of personality, the storekeepers regard it an extension of their own art: a sculpture-in-progress with a totally unique collection. 

Good Eats


COFFEE SHOPS

Trakteren. Run by just two guys, their coffee is consistently impeccable, no small feat. Their knowledge of global varieties of coffees and teas is equally impressive. 

Espressofabriek. Sparse aesthetics aside, this coffee house makes a fantastic coffee from self-roasted beans that is best enjoyed on a walk through beautiful Westerpark, one of Amsterdam’s main city parks. 

Quartier Putain. In the heart of the Red Light District, with tourists and customers abound, this new coffee spot makes for a completely different experience, but totally worth trying thanks to its fantastic coffee and view overlooking the city’s oldest building. 

A PROPER MEAL

Singel 404. The best variety of Dutch sandwiches in the city center. The quantity and price of each broodje is perfect for lunch after a day of shopping and walking. The only downside is actually being able to snag a seat.

White Elephant. Incredible Thai food. While not in a touristy part of town, it’s definitely worth the trip.

Mossel & Gin. There’s two things on the menu here: mussels (with Roquefort cheese, Thai herbs, or even chorizo), and a dazzling selection of gin cocktails, all tucked in a small and hidden restaurant with a backyard feel. 

Izakaya. In a city full of all-you-can-eat-sushi aberrations, here is a Japanese restaurant that combines fantastically fresh ingredients with inventive combinations. The drinks menu is also divine. 

The Pancake Bakery. Have you ever had a Dutch pancake? Head over there right away and try this culinary staple immediately. I highly recommend the pancake with Spek and apples. 

TREATS

Albert Cuypmarkt. Go downtown to the Albert Cuypmarkt (or uptown on Saturday at the Noordemarkt) and try some stroopwafels (warm caramel waffles) or poffertjes (tiny fluffy pancakes topped with sugar and butter). No finer treat on a cold day.

Cafe van Zuylen. As the evening falls, go for the real Dutch treat of beer and bar food. Café van Zuylen has a beautiful terrace and is a true Amsterdam brown bar. Go with a friend and watch how quickly the hours (and beers) fly by.

Vesper Bar. A small corner cocktail bar that makes sensational drinks. Ask the bartender to surprise you with one of their signature original cocktails.


Amsterdam sunset

VALERIA's 5 Favorites


1. Favorite view: The best view of Amsterdam is on a bike, going quickly and thoroughly. To get a total view from above from right downtown, take yourself up to the Blue° Café.

2. Favorite place to write: There’s a lovely café called Anne & Max that has the writer’s trifecta: excellent coffee, good tables for writing, and free Wi-Fi. 

3. Favorite museum: The Stedelijk is always exciting, no matter the exhibition, and no matter the number of visits

4. Favorite coffee shop: De Koffie Salon is the only place where I am reminded of the caffe’ al bar experience of Rome. The cups and spoons clanking, the machines whirring, the excellent coffee – I love it all. 

5. Favorite thing about Amsterdam: The windows! Amsterdammers celebrate their windows and invite you to look in, a great thing since curtains go against their Calvinist tradition.