amsterdam

Updated in April 2017.

I fell in love with Amsterdam within just a few hours of arriving to the city. I know the exact moment when I started pondering whether I could actually move there. It was night, after a delicious Dutch meal of local and organic ingredients, and we were riding into the city on our way to a cocktail bar on a rented bike. We rode past mid-century houseboats with glowing windows resting easily on the canals, over small bridges and beneath the traditional houses decorated like wedding cakes. The smell of grass and flowers and brackish water was the most pleasant city smell I had ever encountered. All was right with the world.

(PS. See the rest of my sustainable city guides to Paris, Miami, Boston Los Angeles and more!)

After this initial sweet embrace, Amsterdam continued to seduce me, with its food, its fashion, its culture and people. It strikes just the right note between tradition and innovation, style and seriousness. Three days was certainly not enough. But I’m sharing with you the places we visited, and the places I’m putting on my list for the next time we go back.

STAY

Conscious Hotel, sustainable hotel Amsterdam review

Conscious Hotel*

Overtoom 519, Vodelpark

This hotel has two locations, one right next to the museum square, and one located next to the large park. That’s where we stayed, a seven-minute bike ride from the museum area and a 17-minute ride from the city center. They are opening a third location in 2017. We found this hotel to be comfortable, cute, and accommodating – perfect if you want things easy and helpful! (And especially good for business trips.)

Conscious Hotel, sustainable hostel Amsterdam review

They have a large fleet of bikes to rent (which we did), a huge organic and healthy breakfast spread in the morning, and a light-filled café in the front if you need to sit and work for a bit, but still want to feel like you’re part of the city. We ran out of toothpaste, so I picked up some organic Lavera toothpaste from the mini convenience area, which also had other eco things like non-toxic tampons, solar powered phone chargers, and reusable water bottles. Each eco initiative – all reusable energy, furniture made from recycled plastics,  large pump bottles in the shower of non-toxic shampoo instead of mini toiletry bottles – is explained through a cute and pithy tag or sign, so everyone is on the same page.

Breakfast at Conscious Hotel

Breakfast at Conscious Hotel

Most importantly, our bed was comfortable, the service was great, and we had a view out onto the street. Our light for some reason went off, but as soon as we informed the front desk then fixed the problem. Definitely recommend!

EcoMama Hotel, green hostel Amsterdam review

Ecomama Hotel**

Valkenburgerstraat 124, Centrum

This ideally situated hostel charmed us from the moment we walked in. It has a vegetarian coffee shop up front where our local friend told us he sometimes gets coffee, since he lives a 3-minute walk away. In the back in the hostel area, past the front desk made of old books, there’s a large kitchen with two Smeg refrigerators and places to store your food, a large dining room table, board games and magazines, cozy seating, and even a hangout tent.

EcoMama Hotel, green hostel Amsterdam review

I was a little worried about staying in a hostel – I feel like at this point we’re a little too old for that – but since we booked a double with an ensuite bathroom, it felt just like staying in a (quirky) hotel. We had a view out our window to a canal, the low angle making it feel almost like we were staying in a house boat. Our room came with matching bathrobes, and a cute bathroom.

EcoMama Hotel, green hostel Amsterdam review

The only times I felt like we were staying in a hostel were when we would have to wait for up to 15 minutes to get attention from the overworked front desk person, or when we asked to do laundry and I was told they don’t separate darks and lights, they just throw them all in together. So no, not luxurious, but definitely fun and sustainable!

Other sustainable hotel:

 QbicMathijs Vermeulenpad 1, World Trade Center

GET AROUND

renting a bike Amsterdam

Bike

With Amsterdam being rather compact, the quickest way to anywhere is by bike. You can often rent a bike from your hotel, or there are bike rental shops all over the city, but especially near the train station.

Tram

Your second choice is by tram, which smoothly glides almost everywhere. Just watch out for them when trying to navigate the streets. They are huge and not very loud.

Ferry

To get to the hip NDSM area, take a free ferry from near the Centraal Station, which goes about every 10 minutes. You can take your bike right on, too.

Uber

It exists here, but you probably won’t need to use it. It should definitely be your last resort!

EAT

Amsterdam has an excellent food scene, with both traditional Dutch treats, and innovative, worldly restaurants. This is really just a short list. You could visit for a month and not be able to hit up all the excellent local and organic restaurants!

Bolenius sustainable restaurant Amsterdam

Bolenius

George Gershwinlaan 30, World Trade Center

The first place we went for dinner when we arrived, we had a grand time at this innovative, “new Amsterdam cuisine” spot by the World Trade Center. Coming from Paris, where many waiter look down their nose at you, the contrast at this restaurant made us giggle. We were assiduously welcomed by an enthusiastic host, and tiny bites came flying out of the kitchen to land in front of us within minutes. We selected a wine (organic is available, though pricier), ordered some in-house sparkling water, and chose a tasting menu, and things only got more entertaining, with one of the courses arranged right on the backs of our hands, and another course arranged on a cart by the table like a mini food performance. In season, much of their produce comes from the on-site kitchen garden, one of the largest in Amsterdam. And if you prefer, you can get a vegetarian tasting menu. The interior design is streamlined, modern Scandinavian, to the point where when I visited the bathroom, I didn’t know what a minimalist hot pink string was, tugged it, and set of the disability alarm. Not even fair – in America it would have an ugly sign telling you what it was! But overall, it’s a meal I won’t forget.

Pllek sustainable restaurant Amsterdam

Pllek

TT Neveritaweg 59, NDSM

After a long day, we took a free ferry across the mama of Canals to Amsterdam’s Bushwick, NDSM, to have dinner. It was just what we needed. The restaurant is a cavernous, casual space made up of old shipping containers.

A nook inside a shipping container for relaxing, at Pllek

A nook inside a shipping container for relaxing, at Pllek

We made the amateur mistake of sitting at a table inside, when we could have sprawled across Bedouin-style rugs and cushions outside, or sat by the fire and looked at the lights of Amsterdam across the way, with the DJ spinning relaxed house music for us. Oh, and the food is organic and the fish sustainably caught. The wild boar croquettes were a highlight.

The Pancake Bakery

Prinsengracht 191, Centrum

We headed here for breakfast on our second day. While it’s not expressly sustainable, there’s no way I could regret sitting outside in the shade by the canal, having a crepe-like pancake filled with toppings of our choosing. We shared two of these plentiful pancakes among the three of us: one savory Norwegian style with smoked salmon, and a sweet one with ice cream, chocolate, and stroopwaffle toppings. It’s supposed to be consistently packed, but when we showed up in the early afternoon, we immediately found a seat.

Ree 7 sustainable cafe amsterdam

Ree 7

Reestraat 7, Centrum

We met our friends for breakfast at this homey little spot. It has sandwiches, pies, salads, and soups, and I really enjoyed a refreshing juice after my week of European eating. It’s also ideally located to fuel up before going shopping in the area.

Stubbes Haring

Singel Canal off Haarlemerstraat, Centrum

A French acquaintance recommended we get a real taste of Amsterdam at this street vendor, which serves local, raw herring. (Like sushi!) You could order it plain and drop it in your mouth like a triumphant cartoon housecat, or order it in a hotdog bun with pickles and onion, which is what we did. And we actually liked it.

Other places to eat:

Instock, Czaar Peterstraat 21 – A restaurant that uses surplus food that would go to waste in 80% of its preparations. Vegan and vegetarian options offered.

Buffet van Odette, Prinsengracht 598, Centrum – Soups and a salads for lunch, and a three-course dinner at night, right in the middle of Amsterdam’s notable sights.

Spelt, Nieuwe Spiegelstraat 5A – Local and organic lunch and dinner.

Wilde Zwijnen – good to sit outside

Balthazar’s Keuken, Elandsgracht 108, Jordaan – Three-course menus are set and tweaked weekly according to what’s in season. Definitely call ahead for reservations.

Culinaire WerkplaatsFannius Scholtenstraat 10 – Every few weeks they create a theme that inspires the cooking, like Light or Flowers, then serve a five-course meal that focuses on seasonal vegetables, fruits and grains.

SNACK

The Cold Pressed JuiceryWillemsparkweg 8H, Oud-Zuid and Prinsengracht 154, Centrum –  Cold-pressed and organic juices largely made from locally grown produce. Instead of throwing out juice pulp, they use it to make nut milks and other snacks.

De KoffieschenkerijOudekerksplein 27, Centrum – Gluten-free cake on the charming terrace of an 800 year old church.

JuiceBrothersRaamsteeg 2, Centrum – Cold-pressed juice, using as many organic ingredients as possible, smoothies, acai bowls, chia pudding, coconut yogurt, salads, snacks and sweets.

DRINK

Hiding in Plain Site cocktail bar Amsterdam

Hiding in Plain Sight
Rapenburg 18, Centrum

We arranged to meet up with our friend at this bar, which turned out to be the perfect place to go for absolutely delicious cocktails and quiet conversation. Our selection was verified by our local friend the next day, who said it’s one of his favorites.

DO

Van Gogh musuem

Museums

You can’t visit Amsterdam without availing yourself of some of the amazing art there. We spent hours in the Van Gogh Museum. If we had more time, I would have popped into the Rijksmuseum (even though I went there the last time I was in Amsterdam) for some Dutch historical and contemporary art, the Tropical Museum to learn about former Dutch colonies like Suriname and Indonesia, Foam for contemporary photographer in a historic former warehouse, and the Anne Frank House. The latter has notoriously long lines, so get up early and make that your first stop.

Nature

What a regret we didn’t have time for the Hortus Botanicus, one of the oldest botanical gardens in the world. But we did make sure to take a scenic route on our bikes through Vondelpark, which is sort of like Amsterdam’s Central Park. If you have time, get some beer, stroopwaffles, and other picnic supplies and head there for a lovely afternoon.

boat tours Amsterdam

Electric Boat Tours

You can’t leave Amsterdam without taking a boat tour! We were lucky enough to be invited in our friend’s boat, but if you can swing a big enough group of friends that makes this financially feasibly (it starts at $350), sign up for a zero-emission, semi or fully private tour on one of these quiet, eco-friendly boats. You can even BYOB, or arrange for a restaurant to deliver dinner to the boat.

Sustainable Fashion

Rokin 102

The recently launched Fashion for Good initiative has a coworking component for the circular apparel community, an accelerator for fashion tech companies, and a public-facing exhibit on the ground floor of a historic building in Amsterdam. Stop in to learn about the issues of sustainable fashion.

SHOP

Charlie + Mary

Gerard Doustraat 84

Find beautifully curated sustainable men’s and women’s fashion, like Popupshop, wunder[werk], l’herbe rouge, Knowledge Cotton Apparel, and People Tree. This was my favorite shop that I visited!

Denham sustainable fashion

Denham Concept Shop

Prinsengracht 495, De 9 Straatjes, Centrum

As a denim nerd, I was blown away by this store, which sells men and women’s Japanese and Italian selvage denim, plus other apparel made with sustainable textiles such as cupro, modal, and lyocell. Plus, they do repairs, hemming, and patching. I picked up a gorgeous indigo-dyed button down shirt. It’s a great place to get some of that signature Dutch style.

non-toxic skincare Amsterdam

Marie-Stella-Maris

Keizersgracht 357, De 9 Straatjes Centrum

For every purchase of a paraben-free skincare and bath product, 1 euro goes toward clean drinking water projects all over the world.

sustainable fashion Amsterdam

Nukuhiva

Haarlemmerstraat 36, Centrum

There’s a lot to like about this shop, which crams a lot of fair trade, ethical, and sustainable fashion for both men and women into a small space. Look for Swedish Stockings, O My Bag, and Armed Angels.

Geitenwollenwinkel

Utrechtsestraat 37

Sustainable, vegan, and ethical fashion.

Other places to shop:

Shoutout to @thefaircloset, who emailed me some great recommendations!

Friday Next, Overtoom 31 – A sprawling interior design concept store. The store’s cafe features ingredients found next door at Marqt, an organic supermarket with products from small local producers.

Studio JuxCeintuurbaan 252 – Flagship store of Dutch fair and sustainable fashion.

SukhaHaarlemmerstraat 110 – Fair trade and sustainable fashion and home goods.

*Gave us a discount on our room. I only accept discounted or free products and services from business I think are doing good things, and will point out drawbacks as well!