So, you're heading to The Netherlands for the first time and wondering where to stay in Amsterdam? Holland's capital of Amsterdam is separated into 7 districts, called stadsdelen by locals, which are further sub-divided into smaller neighborhoods.
Understanding the basic structure, what's in these larger stadsdelen, and where the best areas are to stay, will help you find the perfect place to stay in Amsterdam!
So, wondering where to stay in Amsterdam that will be best for the type of experience you're looking to have? The borough and neighborhood you select will have a lot to do with what's conveniently near, and ultimately what you'll spend your time doing - so let's jump into it!
Centrum, or the Centre of Amsterdam is located exactly where you think it might be - it's the tightly coiled lines in the center of the map above, representing the geographic heart of Amsterdam, and one of the places that crosses your mind first when you consider where to stay in Amsterdam.
It's also where probably over half of the people who visit Amsterdam will stay.
With that being said, however, Centrum is broken up and sub-divided into many different neighborhoods and boroughs, all with their own vibe, own feel, and things to do. This is where we'll spend the majority of our time discussing where to stay in Amsterdam, before addressing some of the other areas outside of Centrum where tourists enjoy staying while in Amsterdam.
Binnenstad is the most central district in Centrum, so it's sort of the bulls-eye within a bulls-eye if you look at it on a map of Amsterdam's districts. It's the location of the area known as Dam Square, which is the busiest part in all of Amsterdam and location of two Amsterdam legends - The National Monument, and De Bijenkorf. It's actually less specific of an area than the rest of those will discuss, and in fact encompasses some of those neighborhoods within its border - such as the Red Light District. In fact, Binnenstad is just a general term that loosely translates to "inner city".
It's the most fawned over place to stay in Amsterdam, with perhaps the most to do, but it's also the most in demand, most expensive, and an area where you should be prepared to book well in advance - if possible. You'll find Amsterdal Centraal Station here, as well as the Magna Plaza, and Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam - the city's most popular and modern library.
There are, of course, many bars, restaurants, and the well-known Amsterdam coffeeshops throughout this district, and the other districts spin away from Binnenstad like spokes on a wheel across the canals.
Where to stay: The A-Train Hotel, located just in front of the Amsterdam Centraal Station. The location is perfect, we love the hotel , so much so that it's a place we've stayed twice in Amsterdam (we almost never pick the same hotel twice). This train-themed, boutique hotel is owned and run by locals, and only about $100 USD per night!
The Gratchtengordel is another great place to stay in Amsterdam - known as the "Canal District" in English, it flanks Binnenstad and contains some of the best areas to walk and ride bikes along Amsterdam's beautiful canals.
Slightly less bustling than Binnenstad, and about the same price, Gratchtengordel is one of our favorite areas to spend time while we're in Amsterdam, and has some of our favorite restaurants. It's a classy, educated district - full of museums and attractions for the intellectually stimulated.
Where to stay: The Albus is an incredibly stylish hotel, and while more expensive than the A-Train (about $150-200 per night), it has a unique feeling of luxury and the staff is excellent.
Museumplein is where you'll want to stay in Amsterdam if you want to hit the "heavy-hitting" tourist attractions, but perhaps aren't as interested in the coffeeshops. It's the area of town where the most legendary, primary of museums exist, such as the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and Stedelijk Museum.
Additionally, Museumplein is a great place for music lovers, as the famous Concertgebouw is located centrally in the district - a testament to Amsterdam's deep classical period and its importance in the background of classical music and famous composers. If you're a fan of orchestral music, the Amsterdam Orchestra (the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, to be proper) is one of the best in Europe!
Where to stay: NH Museum Hotel is one of the best values in the city, at around $100 USD per night. It's small but comfortable, beautiful, and perfectly located to everything you want to see. Also, the breakfast is awesome!
The Jordaan district, today, is a beautiful, serene area with cafes and coffeeshops, but it's perhaps best known as the site of four popular marketplaces in Amsterdam. As Amsterdam Sights explains it;
"On Saturday you will find the Lindenmarkt, a general market, on Lindengracht and a biological food market at Noordermarkt. On Monday a flea market is organised at Noordermarkt and a nice fabric market (Lapjesmarkt) on Westerstraat."
The Jordaan hasn't always been a relaxed, peaceful area, however. In fact, just over a century ago, the population of the area was nearly five times what it is today, consuming a small area in the western section of Centraal, with most residents struggling for basic necessities.
In the 1970s, however, a revitalization attempt began in Jordaan, changing it from a working class slum into an idyllic artists' paradise that managed to keep a moderate-to-low cost of living, and inspiring a spirit in the district that is unique for the longing heart of any artist.
Where to stay: There are a ton of hostels in the area, but we really aren't fans of hostels unless it's absolutely necessary. Hotel de Paris Amsterdam is a great value at under $150 USD per night.
De Wallen/Red Light District
Did you know that the Red Light District is actually, technically in an area called De Wallen? Everyone who has heard of Amsterdam knows about the Red Light District, and if you want to stay in the area, you probably have some idea what you're looking for - literally and metaphorically.
While not the flavor of the type of thing we're looking for in Amsterdam, there are a lot of cool coffeeshops, and if you want to stay there, to take in the -ahem- unique vibe, there are certainly options for hotels. There are also a lot of great bars and restaurants, and you can find hotels on either end of the main strip in the Red Light District that won't be quite as crazy as what you'll find in the heart of the district.
Where to stay: We don't really love the value for the money in the Red Light District, as everything is a bit jacked up due to the popularity of the area. However, the Rho Hotel is a reasonably priced option that's right in the middle of the action.
The final area we'll discuss in the larger district of Centrum is Nieuwmarkt - a district that's known as one of the oldest in Amsterdam.
It's fanciful, beautiful, and the history of Nieuwmarkt dates back to at least the 15th century, and is dominated by medieval structures and beautiful scenery. It's also home to some of Amsterdam's most beautiful open-air markets, and many of the flower markets for which Amsterdam is so famous.
This is a beautifully ideal area to stay in, and one of the most convenient in terms of location and things to do - as it's still within walking distance of Amsterdam Centraal Station.
Where to stay: Nieuwmarkt is only a short walk from the A-Train Hotel, and with that in mind there's really nothing for the value that's equivalent of what you'll get at our favorite hotel in Amsterdam. Walk the extra 2 minutes, and stay at the A-Train!
Our first step outside Centrum is in the nearby neighborhood of Oud-Zuid - a mecca of shopping and fine dining in Amsterdam. It's perhaps Amsterdam's most luxuries and fashionable district, featuring outlets like PC Hooftstraat, Beethovenstraat and Cornelis Schuytstraat.
What we loved was the food.
Oud-Zuid has a host of restaurants of various types, including many fine-dining establishments, but also many semi-casual places that are known for great happy hours and as meeting places for the post-work crowd in Amsterdam. It's also full of great attractions, including a litany of popular museums, as well as the Heineken factory, where you can take a tour of Amsterdam's most famous export!
Noord Amsterdam really refers to anything north of Centraal Station - the north bank of Amsterdam. It's far more laid back, which is perfect if you want to swim in Amsterdam culture during the day before taking a step back into a much more casual environment at night.
From here, however, there are plenty of excursions you can take along the water, museums, and attractions that celebrate Amsterdam's history as a powerful port city.
There are plenty of options in terms of where to stay in Amsterdam, a city that stuns you, surprises you, and is simply cannot be imitated. Pick your hotel, set up shop, and have a blast in one of the most exciting cities in the world!
Useful Travel Resources for Amsterdam
Amsterdam Map– Plan your trip around Amsterdam with this handy map
RentalCars.com – Great site for comparing rental car prices
Skyscanner.net – Our favorite place to book cheap airline flights
Expedia.com – Book affordable accommodation or bundle flights and hotels in Amsterdam.
Recommended Guidebook: Lonely Planet Amsterdam
Suggested Reading: Amsterdam: A History of the World's Most Liberal City