Did you know it’s very easy to explore Amsterdam on foot? I went on a historic self-guided walking tour in Amsterdam and share my itinerary in this article.
Before we start: have you ever heard about the Westerborkpad?
In The Netherlands, there are multiple long-distance trails, and the Pieterpad (form Pieterburen in the north to the Mount Saint Peter near Maastricht) is probably the most well-known. The Westerborkpad is also a long-distance trail and it has a very sad history. In World War II, Jews were round-up at the Hollandic Theatre in Amsterdam, and they were deported by train to Camp Westerbork. Westerbork was a transit camp, and most of the Jews were deported to concentration camps like Auschwitz and Sobibor. The Westerborkpad is a trail that follows the train tracks and is 342 kilometers long. During this self-guided walking tour in Amsterdam, you’ll hike a little bit of this historic trail.
Start: walk from Central Station to the canals
The walking tour starts at Amsterdam Central Station. Go to the right and pass the Ibis Hotel. You’ll notice lots and lots of bicycles. Look out for the white and red stickers that will lead the way. You will see them often on traffic signs or street lights and they’re very easy to spot. Before you know it, you’ll see the first canals, like the Singel and the Brouwersgracht.
The stickers will lead the way and you’ll wander through many historic streets and follow the canals. Amsterdam is a gorgeous city, make sure to check out the architecture of the canal houses. A lot of them have been built in the 17th or 18th century. At some of the houses you will see something like MDCCX, these are Roman Numbers, and they tell you when the house was built. In this case, it would be in 1710.
At some point, you’ll walk by the Anne Frank House, and there are usually long queues at the entrance. After that, you’ll see the Westerkerk, which is one of the most beautiful churches in Amsterdam, and you’ll walk through the area called ‘9 straatjes’. This area is a great place for vintage shopping and getting coffee. Keep following the Herengracht for a while.
Rembrandtplein & Hermitage
At some point, you’ll walk across some very touristic squares (square means plein in the Dutch language): Thorbeckeplein and Rembrandtplein. Here you’ll find a large statue of Rembrandt, and in front of that, there are some smaller statues that resemblance his most famous painting: The Nightwatch. A great place to take a picture!
You’ll reach the Amstel river and see lots of canal boats.
You’ll explore the area with a lot of buildings of the University of Amsterdam, and even walk through a tunnel. This is called the Oudemanshuispoort, and here is a market where they sell books. I was there on a Sunday, so no one was selling books at that time. I will come back to check it out someday.
You walk back to the Amstel river and see a huge building on your left. This is called the Stopera, and this is the place where the local council has its meetings, and it’s also the place where you can go to the opera. Follow the Amstel for a bit, check out museum the Hermitage and go left. You can also follow the Amstel for a bit longer because the famous Magere Brug (Skinny Bridge) is very close to this point.
At this point, there are more and more things pointing towards the horrible history of World War II. The Hermitage is located close to Waterlooplein and the Jewish Historical Museum. This neighborhood used to be the Jewish Neighbourhood, and a lot of Jews moved here in the 16th and 17th centuries. After that, the wealthy families moved to other neighborhoods like the Plantagebuurt and the Transvaalbuurt. You’ll pass the Hortus Botanicus and enter the Plantagebuurt.
This area feels so much different from the city center. There are fewer tourists and it’s very green. You can also find the city zoo called Artis in this area, which is quite big, it takes up half the neighborhood. Close to Artis is the start of the Westerborkroute: the Hollandic Theatre (Hollandsche Schouwburg). This is the place where Jews had to go to during World War II. Standing here gives me goosebumps.
The Hollandic Theatre is a museum now, so if you’d like to know more about the history of this neighborhood, I can highly recommend visiting the museum.
You can also continue this self-guided walking tour and follow the Plantage Middenlaan along Artis, the Tropenmuseum to the Oosterpark. In this huge city park, you can relax for a bit and enjoy the scenic views.
From the Oosterpak, you’ll walk to the Transvaalbuurt, where you probably won’t see any other tourist anymore. This is the place where you see many locals and get to explore the local Amsterdam life. Like I mentioned before, there used to live a lot of Jewish people in this neighborhood, and there used to be a lot of razzias. They were gathered at the Transvaalplein, to be transported to the Hollandic Theatre or the Muiderpoortstation. Nowadays, the Transvaalplein is just a regular square with a playground, but you can feel the history here. At some houses, you’ll see several signs, that tell you about the history of this neighborhood.
From the Transvaalplein it’s only a short walk to Muiderstation and from here it’s easy to take the train back to Amsterdam Central Station.
About this self-guided tour in Amsterdam
The total length of this tour is 11 kilometers and it’s an official NS-walking tour. The NS is the Dutch Railway company and they offer various walking itineraries from station to station.
I would highly recommend starting this hike early in the morning. Especially around the canals, it will be very crowded. You can do this self-guided walking in a couple of hours, but it also can take up a full day if you’d like to visit one of the many museums.
You can do this hike every time of the year. However, it might be a bit crowded during Spring and Summer months, but those months it’s nice to chill in one of the gorgeous parks in Amsterdam. I would recommend doing this during Autumn when you like to see the leaves changing colors. And also, it’s one of the best things to do in Amsterdam in Winter, especially on a sunny day.
Where to stay and how to get around?
Public Transport in Amsterdam is amazing, you can go anywhere by train, bus, metro or tram. You can buy tickets at stations and in buses or trams (only by debit cards, credit cards are not accepted most of the time!).
There are a lot of great places to stay in Amsterdam, and pretty much every neighborhood is safe (but always keep your eyes open for pickpockets). It is easy to compare and book rooms with Booking.com, which I recommend doing. Airbnb is also big in Amsterdam, but the government tries to control it more and more. Which results in illegal stays and people getting kicked out of their Airbnb. So make sure to check with the host before you book anything. If you’ve never booked with Airbnb before, you can use this link to get €25 off your first stay.
Did you ever do a self-guided walking tour in Amsterdam?