It’s funny how a moment of boredom can somehow become an eye-opening experience. I was sitting in a plane on my way back from Italy. The meal service had come and gone and I’d finished reading the inflight magazine. Feeling a bit bored, I took a peek at what my neighbour was reading. It was a beautiful guidebook of Amsterdam, full of elaborate descriptions and colourful illustrations. I felt myself smirk when I noticed what he was reading about: Amsterdam’s red light district. <Sigh>… “that’s what they all come to see don’t they? Such a pity as Amsterdam has got so much more going for it”, I thought rather smugly. However, as he flipped through the pages of the book, my smugness turned to wonder. I started to sit upright and my eyes grew wide. I thought I knew my city well but there, in my neighbour’s guidebook, were fascinating descriptions of places I’d never heard of before!

A gorgeous canal view in Amsterdam along the Oudezijds Voorburgwal looking towards the St. Nicholas Basilica.

A slight sense of shame floated through my mind – I am, after all, a travel blogger and I’ve lived in Amsterdam for thirty years. I don’t expect to know every single nook and corner of my city but these were places that sounded absolutely amazing, such as the hidden courtyards of the ‘Claes Claesz Hofje’. I consoled myself with the thought that tourists, armed with an Amsterdam travel guide, printouts from their online research and podcasts, are often better informed about a certain city than most locals. Locals live and work there, often have their preferred areas and tend to shun other parts of the city that aren’t related to their social activities or jobs.

Locals lounging on the banks of the Amstel River.

How well do I know my city?

My experience on the plane got me thinking seriously about how well I know my city. I could give a decent walking tour of the city to visiting friends, showing them the highlights and Amsterdam’s most photogenic spots. I could take them on a fun boat tour along Amsterdam’s beautiful canals. However, this experience triggered a deeper interest in the city I live in. I consider my knowledge of the city as pretty good but it dawned on me that maybe, I was too focused on exotic places far and away, while there were many more places to explore in and around Amsterdam… right in my own backyard!

Canal houses along the Kloveniersburgwal.

Feeling like a tourist in my own city

I’ve since decided to make a conscious effort to get to know my city better and explore my city like a tourist. One weekend, I went on a beautiful bike ride around the Amsterdam countryside. I also spent a weekend exploring the street art in Amsterdam. On other occasions, I celebrated my birthday at the Sir Adam Hotel and a weekend at the nhow Amsterdam RAI hotel. I’ve promised myself that I will do this more often. I’ll hop on a bike, stay at a hotel or go for a stroll in the various neighbourhoods and discover the many hidden gems of this wonderful city. Who knows, my next source of inspiration may just be around the corner!

Cycling through Durgerdam, a village just north of Amsterdam.

I must say, staying at a hotel and feeling like a visitor has made me see my city through a different lens. Feeling like a visitor motivates me to explore the city and see things in a new perspective. Here are some Amsterdam districts I’ve explored so far:

I’m a big fan of architecture and one of my favourite Amsterdam neighbourhoods to explore is the Rivierenbuurt, with its unique architecture from the ‘Amsterdam School’.
Another beautiful example of the Amsterdam School in the Coöperatiehof, Oud Zuid.
Doorways in De Pijp neighbourhood in the Amsterdam School style.
The blossoms along the Amstelkanaal.
On a recent stroll, I discovered a cool series of murals on the sides of flats in Amsterdam Oost (East). The three crosses represent the city of Amsterdam.
NDSM in North Amsterdam is the site of the old port area. This old crane was turned into a boutique hotel!
amsterdam street art attractions
Don’t miss a visit to the spectacular STRAAT street art museum in the NDSM area.
The ‘t Ij brewery in Amsterdam East is housed in a windmill.
Eerste van Swindenstraat and the surrounding neighbourhoods in Amsterdam East, with many Middle Eastern influences, are great areas to explore. It’s also a haven for Middle East (Syrian, Lebanese and Turkish) cuisine. 
The RAI-Zuidas (Amsterdam South) financial district is home to many exciting new buildings. I love this building opposite the RAI.
The NHOW Hotel next to the RAI.

Read more about my other discoveries

How well do you know your city?

11 Responses

  • I sure did! I’m still exploring Amsterdam but I’ve already discovered some very cool neighbourhoods like the Rivierenbuurt and the Oosterdokeilanden. 🙂

  • Thanks Lara for your comment. That’s really the great part about travel isn’t it? Taking it easy, mingling with the locals and discovering their fave places. Glad to know that Amsterdam inspired your GranTourismo project! 🙂


  • Nice post! It’s true that not all locals know their cities well. I always remember when we wrote guidebooks that nearly everyone we’d meet, upon asking us what we had done and where we’d been, always responded by saying something like “My god! You know my city better than I do!” But what I love to get from locals are ‘local’ tips – not information on old churches or the best museums to go to – but find out which is their favourite park where they take their kids on the weekend, or which pub they like best for afternoon drinks, where they take their family for a Sunday lunch. Because these are the things that you don’t always find in guidebooks.

    I love Amsterdam and we’ve been many times. In fact it was a particular apartment stay when we spent a couple of months there writing Lonely Planet’s Best of Amsterdam that partly inspired our Grantourismo project. We stayed off-the-beaten-track in a wonderful ‘local’ neighbourhood where couples had glasses of wine on their steps in the evening and kids played noisily in the parks, we made local friends who we met in their favourite pubs and bars, and we inserted lots of those ‘local’ things to do in that book. I’m sure the restos are probably out of date, but I’d love you to find our edition of that book to use to re-discover your city and let us know what you think! 🙂

  • I feel just like you ~
    We get blasé about where we live when people on the other side of the world travel miles to see what we take for granted everyday –
    The trick is to take the blinkers off and travel on our own home turf seeing the place through ‘tourist’ eyes 😉

  • Thank you for your comments Andi & Kenny. It is indeed a great reminder to start exploring one’s city for a change, instead of setting our sights on distant places all the time.


  • Ah, I feel embarrassed but what you say is true. Tourists probably know more about the hidden gems of Malacca and Kuala Lumpur (my hometown and current home in Malaysia, respectively) than I do.

    I remember more about the special places of Munich and Tokyo and Jakarta than I do those of the cities in my own country. But after we get over the initial feeling of “Aw, shucks”, hey — this can be a blessing in disguise!

    Instead of pining for our next trip out of the country, we can start exploring and “travelling” even now, in our own city! Yay for that. 😀

  • This is such a great reminder that you can actually travel within your own city! We often forget that!!!

  •  Getting to know your city better is a great idea. I’ve changed where I live so many times over the last ten years…and the last few weeks have always been filled with a sudden realisation that there’s so much more to see! “Moving day” has often been spent racing from one place to the other, before the opportunity disappears. Of course, as you suggest, it makes much more sense to explore in a more leisurely way before you get to that stage…

  • Really interesting points! I always really enjoy going to less familiar areas of my city – it’s like visiting somewhere new.

  • What you say is really true. Often we feel we have lots of time to explore the place where we live. Hence, we end up visiting less places. On a trip, we have limited time and thus, most will choose to maximise the time by visiting as many places as possible.

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