Amsterdam is all about canals, bikes and small quaint streets… not! Of course that is a big part of the charm of this city, but there’s a lot more to it. Visiting Amsterdam for the second time, we thought we would venture to the north side to explore NDSM Werf.
Only a short ferry ride (free might I add) takes you to the other side of the main canal. You can find the ferry station right behind Centraal Train Station.
: an architectural wonder & a long walk
If you’ve gone on a canal boat ride, you might have spotted a strange large white building on the other side. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the . Since its opening in 2012, the design by Viennese Delugan Meissl Associated Architects has caught the eye of tourists and locals alike, for good reason. The building is very impressive, both in size and shape. It’s white, with wooden staircases and large bay windows, and its shape sort of resembles a spaceship. You can look at it from all sides and see different patterns and forms.
I feel like every big city needs a unique architectural building such as this one. Think Opera House in Sydney, Science Museum in Singapore, Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris, etc. And now the in Amsterdam.
Apart from being an impressive piece of architecture, the is first and foremost a center dedicated to film. There are exhibitions, a research center, archives, a cinema complex and a café and shop.
We didn’t visit the exhibition as we weren’t really feeling it at the moment, but we did go to the shop and I almost bought a Shining themed towel with “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” written all over it.
After seeing the , we started walking towards NDSM Werf, only to realize that it was a lot further away than we thought. If you plan on visiting the north side, don’t be like us, rent bikes! We walked and walked, thankfully it was interesting to discover this other side of Amsterdam. There are more apartment buildings here, less cafés and shops, and to be frank, it was quite dead. But we did come across some beautiful things, like a huge red and white boat, or a whole street of gorgeous houses that looked straight out of an architecture magazine (Monnikskapstraat). We saw a lot of construction sites which makes me think that in a few years’ time, this neighborhood will be more lively and very nice to live in.
NDSM Werf: a postapocalyptic shipyard
NDSM Werf wasn’t always the cultural hotspot that it is today. In the beginning it was an industrial shipyard. NDSM actually stands for Nederlands Dok en Scheepsgebouw Maatschappij, AKA the Dutch Dock and Shipbuilding Company. It was one of the largest shipbuilding companies in the world, building cargo ships, passenger ships and war ships. After this era, the company stopped receiving orders and soon went bankrupt. The buildings were abandoned. In the late 1980s, the neighborhood became a squat for nomads, craftsmen and artists. That is how it became a creative and vibrant space for Amsterdam’s art community.
Today, you can still find old warehouses, abandoned tramcars, and even a sinking submarine in the river. Wandering around this strange but beautiful spot is truly enthralling.
All of the buildings and shipping containers you’ll see are covered with street art, making this a gorgeous open-air museum. The old main warehouse houses work spaces and studios for more than 80 artists. We walked through this maze of shipping containers and stumbled upon weird things like a Barbie peep show! Or a giant lego-looking shop.
If you’re lucky enough to be there at the right time (which we weren’t), NDSM Werf is also home to festivals, art exhibitions, and even the largest flea market in Europe.
Stop for a drink and a few bitterballen
There are several spots in NDSM Werf to have a drink and relax. The best one are: Noorderlicht and Pllek.
Pllek is more than a café, it’s also a beach! You can chill by the water, lounge in the sand, and enjoy a good beer. Pllek is made out of old shipping containers so it really fits into the neighborhood nicely. They have a large terrace on the waterfront where you can enjoy the view and fresh air.
We opted for Noorderlicht, a beautiful old greenhouse turned into a café. You can sit inside or on the large outdoor space. We sat inside because it was a bit too cold outside this time of year. The place is really nice, especially when the sun is out and the rays of light come through the glasshouse to warm you. We ordered a drink (beer for Lucas, ginger ale for me) and some bitterballen.
If you’ve never had bitterballen, you’re missing out on something truly delicious! Bitterballen are Dutch meatballs. You make a roux with butter and flour, add in beef stock, minced meat and onions, and then make that mixture into balls, roll them in breadcrumbs and fry them. They are usually served with mustard. Sounds healthy right? Haha but in all seriousness, bitterballen are so yummy!
NDSM Werf today and tomorrow
As this neighborhood is not yet as attractive to tourists as the city center, you won’t find many hotels. But there is a hotel that you won’t find anywhere else, the Faralda Crane Hotel.
If you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind experience, look no further. This hotel, as the name indicates, is in a massive industrial crane! It stands tall above all NDSM Werf. There are three luxurious suites, at more than 30 meters in the air. The guests can enjoy the hot tub that is at the top of the crane. If you’re not a guest, you can still enjoy the view by bungee jumping from the top platform (50 meters).
You’ll also come across student housing in shipping containers, which I thought was pretty original. Each flat is approx. 25 sqm and has a fully functional kitchen, bathroom, internet, etc. From the outside, you would never guess people live here if it wasn’t for the mail boxes and radio coming out of some flats.
A lot of top brands and companies have also decided to set up here, probably because the office space is cheaper than in the center. You’ll find the headquarters for HEMA and Discovery Channel for example.
There have also been talks on opening the largest street art museum in the world there. I’m unsure when the opening will be but it will certainly bring more tourists to NDSM Werf.
We really loved discovering this other side to Amsterdam. NDSM Werf is usually bypassed by tourists which is a shame because it ended up being one of the best walks we had during our trip.