In the public imagination, Amsterdam is still a hedonist utopia – a city where beatniks flounce between coffeeshops and brothels, and nothing is forbidden. A picturesque village-town of clogs and cobblestones, with a famously lax drugs policy… what’s not to like?
The reality is unfortunately a little more humdrum, and a whole lot more conservative. Maybe it was the relatively early legalisation of gay marriage, but the Dutch are world leaders at describing themselves as ‘liberal’ without actually doing anything remotely socialist. What’s more, the encroaching gentrification and commercialisation of the centre is forcing the city into an increasingly sterile deadlock. Great if you like drinking the exact same cup of coffee that you do at home, but not so great if you want to get a feel for the ‘real’ city beneath the gaudy facade.
Luckily, it’s still possible to uncover that lost spirit of liberal opportunity – but only if you know where to look! Short of establishing our own tour company, we’ve sneakily compiled our ‘Alternative Amsterdam’ so that everything is reachable via the Hop-on Hop-off Tour Bus. Tourism with an ‘authentic’ twist – turns out you can have your cake and eat it.
Your bus starts its circuit in East, so escape its scarlet embrace as quickly as possible, and make a beeline for this offbeat cinema. Kriterion is managed and staffed entirely by students, which means two things: it retains a reliably counter-culture vibe, and the beer is cheap.
Whether you’re catching the latest art-house movie, or nursing a coffee over a battered copy of Nausea, it’s a primo hipster-hangout you can’t afford to miss.
Finish that last drag of your Gauloises and jump on the next bus. One stop later, and you’ll be within walking distance of Joe’s Garage, a one-stop-shop for all things alternative. Hosted in garage owned by a man named Joe (see what they did there?), JG is run like a community centre, with regular cultural activities and classes – and all proceeds reinvested in this non-profit collective.
You might catch an impromptu movie night, rousing political speech, or even be offered a free vegan meal. Whatever your experience, you’ll walk out entertained and informed… and maybe a little more radicalised.
Your carriage awaits, and so do some of Amsterdam’s tastiest beers. Tucked just behind Vondelpark is this unorthodox microbrewery, styled as a retro abattoir. Despite the name and decor, vegetarians have nothing to worry about; the only thing these ‘butchers’ have to sell is delicious, and lethally-strong, beer.
The impressively-bearded staff will be only-too-glad to recommend you something you’ll enjoy, but go easy – the beers range from 6-14%ABV, and it’s very easy to get inadvertently shitfaced before 5pm (not speaking from experience…).
Suitably refreshed, you can exit Vondelpark on its west side and stroll up the Overtoom. Your next stop is easy to find, as it’s named after its own address – number 301. Everything else about this venue is much less straightforward: it’s variously a concert hall, art gallery, cinema, studio space, restaurant (all-vegan, naturally) and nightclub.
There’s so much to do in this formerly-squatted building that it’s worth a repeat visit. Since the start, it’s been run by a committee dedicated to supporting culture without corporate interests. Looks like ethical consumption is possible (sort of).
Yes, it’s another cinema, but this one is decidedly different. While Kriterion might cater to a more high-brow, art-house (some might say pretentious) crowd, Amsterdam’s oldest ‘alternative cinema’ revels in all things schlock and sleaze.
With scarce resemblance to its cutesy namesake, Cavia is a reliable exhibitor of experimental, horror and exploitation cinema, with an admirable commitment to screening work from marginalised communities. The single screen can get a little ‘cosy’, so arrive early – the perfect excuse to enjoy their selection of Butcher’s Tears beer…
As your bus whisks you back into the comforting enclave of Centraal Station, the circle is almost complete. But the city doesn’t stop there! Before you call it quits, jump on the (free) ferry behind the station and enjoy the brisk ride over to Amsterdam Noord.
There you’ll find Amsterdam’s former shipping yard, now transformed into an urban paradise for creative types and entrepreneurs. The gargantuan disused warehouses serve as studio spaces (and occasionally the world’s largest hotbox) for artists and designers, and the surrounding areas host festivals, exhibitions and more.
It’s all painfully hip and, with plenty of bars and restaurants, the perfect way to spend an evening away from the tourist trap centre. You’ll go to sleep with the sense of smug self-satisfaction that only a day’s hardcore hipsterism can provide.
Now all you need to do is get an angular haircut and stop washing your clothes
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