November 17, 2016

Amsterdam-based photographer and writer, Laura van der Spek talks us through her favourite places to check out in one of the most idyllic European cities: Amsterdam. From twinkling lights and watching your breath fog in the cold air, to the best coffee shops to check out, Laura’s guide to winter in Amsterdam will leave you itching to jump on the next flight. Over to you, Laura…

Imagine a thousand lights glimmering and shimmering, wrapped around tree branches, embellishing bows and bridges. Hundreds of windows lighting up, showing glimpses of hundreds of different lives, different stories. As you wander past the canals of Amsterdam, dusk is setting in, the sky is stained pink and violet and the yellow and orange leaves of the many trees, lined up beside the water now seem to be coloured even brighter. Their reflection blends with those of the many, many twinkling lights and together they paint a picture of Amsterdam, a pretty reflection of one of the prettiest cities of Europe. The image turns into a wobbly distortion as a little boat drifts by. On it a blaket is spread out, displaying a bunch of candles and a bottle of wine. Two lovers clink their glasses and take little sips while looking each other in the eye.

Now before you return to your daily tasks and forget about this dream-like scenario let me assure you that it wasn’t a dream. Though it sometimes almost seems too good to be true, Amsterdam is very real.


The centre of Amsterdam is definitely the most touristic part of the city: it is often crowded and can get very exhausting. It does however, contain some of the loveliest, hidden gems and I love strolling past the canals, discovering hidden courtyard and adoring the dreamy views. The houses and bridges look extra pretty during autumn and winter, when tiny lights and lanters have been hung up everywhere. Just sitting on one of the little benches besides the canals is such a wonderful experience during these couple of months – watching the boats float by while breathing little clouds of condensed air.

I don’t think there’s anything better than warming up and grabbing a steaming cup of coffee or hot chocolate after a long day of discovering a new city. The Haarlemmerstraat and Haarlemmerdijk are lovely places to find a cute café to sit down and refuel. Green House Kitchen, for example serves a lovely chai latte and some gorgeous (vegetarian/vegan) meals as well. Toki, which is located in a little street beside the Haarlemmerdijk, serves a wide variety of tea and (in my opinion) the absolute best matcha latte.

Favourites for coffee:

- Toki, Binnen Dommersstraat
- Green House Kitchen, Haarlemmerstraat
- Vinnies, Haarlemmerstraat
- Zeezicht, Singel
- Vegabond, Leliegracht
- The Breakfast Club, Haarlemmerplein
- KOKO, Oudezijds Achterburgwal

I’d definitely recommend visiting Foam, Amsterdam’s photography museum, for amazing and inspiring exhibitions and Mendo, one of my favourite book shops. Rumors Vintage is a great vintage store and definitely worth checking out as well. And last but not least, even though you’ll find loads of tourists here, strolling past the lovely stores and cafes of ‘de 9 straatjes’ (the nine little streets) is an experience not to be missed.


To visit the North part of Amsterdam you take a ferry that’ll take you across the water within a couple of minutes. I love watching over the water, especially when the sun is just about to rise above the horizon or after sunset when the lights of the city skyline almost seem to blend with the stars above. It’s breathtaking. This part of the city is very up and coming – refreshing concept stores and cafes seem to pop up like snowdrops in early spring. Right across the water, you can find a movie theater and film museum called EYE and a handful of cafes.

Another ferry will bring you to the NDSM: an industrial site and home to a couple of my favourite cafes. Exhibitions are often hosted here and every month one of Europe’s biggest flee markets takes up a large part of the terrain. The entire place has a sort of fairytale-like atmosphere and works great as backdrop for photo shoots – no wonder multiple music videos and fashion shoots have been shot here.

Favourites for coffee:

- Pllek, NDSM
- Noorderlicht, NDSM
- EYE, IJpromenade
- De Ceuvel, Korte Papaverweg


Often forgotten is the East part of Amsterdam. I don’t know why so many tend to skip this part, it has so much to offer! The Czaar Peterstraat, for example, is one of my absolute favourites. Stroll around, grab a bite to eat at Instock or enjoy a (vegan) treat at Spirit – this vegan/vegetarian cafe has just opened its doors and besides amazing coffee and delicious treats serves healthy meals for small prices aswell!

Just around the corner you’ll find Roest – a lovely café for late night drinks. More towards the centre of Amsterdam are our botanical gardens: The Hortus Botanicus Amsterdam. If it fits your schedule I’d recommend taking a couple of hours to completely immerse yourself in the jungle-like environment. I love how calming these botanical gardens can be. The Artisplein, a little public square nearby would be perfect to ejoy a drink afterwards.

Favourites for coffee:

- Spirit, Czaar Peterstraat
- Instock, Czaar Peterstraat
- Rum Baba, Pretoriusstraat


Walking from the center of Amsterdam towards the South part of the city, you’ll find a couple of places you’d definitely want to check out. The Utrechtse Straat, Movie Theater Tuschinski, Royal Theater Carré – and these are just a few examples. Concerto is a record store located on the Utrechtse Straat and also one of my favourite places for coffee. The store gives off serious vintage/retro vibes and sometimes hosts live performances of bands and artists like Bear’s Den.

‘De Pijp’ is a neighbourhood more towards the South of Amsterdam. Here you’ll find sophisticated and instagram-proof coffeeshops like Scandinavian Embassy, Cottoncake and Little Collins but also colourful and exotic events like the Albert Cuyp Market – great for a sundaymorning stroll and treasure seeking. I love the chatter of both market-visitors and salesmen, smells of different kinds of street food and the messy mixture of local and foreign products.

Favourites for coffee:

- Cottoncake, 1e van der Helststraat
- Scandinavian Embassy, Sarphatipark
- Little Collins, Eerste Sweelinckstraat
- Hutspot, Van Woustraat
- Concerto, Utrechtsestraat

Worth a visit:

- Van Gogh Museum
- Stedelijk Museum


I absolutely love spending late afternoons reading beside the canals but the Westerpark is a close second. Even during autumn and winter this park is gorgeous and with heaps of cafes nearby, great for a morning or afternoon stroll. Imagine walking here and grabbing a fresh croissant on the way home. Sipping your takeaway chai while watching coloured leaves flutter down from orange and yellow trees. It will be everything you ever dreamt of. Probably even better.

Make sure not to miss the saturday market on the Lindengracht: I spend at least an hour walking past market stands, seeking through bright-coloured scarfs and silver jewelry every Saturday. My favourite thing ever is buying loads of in-season fruits and munching away while sitting on a little bench and writing poetry or diary entries. The market buzz in the background always eases my mind without distracting me too much.

Favourites for Coffee:

- Lot Sixty One, Kinkerstraat
- Wildernis, Bilderdijkstraat
- Berry, Bilderdijkkade
- Mook, De Clerqstraat
- Hutspot, Rozengracht
- DopHert, Spaarndammerstraat

See more from Laura here