The eastern docklands & Amsterdam Noord: A guide to Amsterdam's trendiest area

Step away from the Golden Age canal-scapes and dive into something more modern on your Amsterdam holidays. The city's docklands, once a vast maritime complex, are being reinvented and redefined as trendy residential and leisure districts, becoming a must-visit during Amsterdam holidays. Anchored by exciting cultural spaces such as the EYE Film Institute, these areas offer a glimpse into alternative Amsterdam. Whether you're inclined to embrace the hipster lifestyle, take a post-industrial tour by bike, or catch top-quality cinema and live music, these up-and-coming neighbourhoods are essential destinations for those looking to explore beyond the traditional during their Amsterdam holidays.

The docklands’ assorted artificial islands are home to some startling modern architecture – balanced by two reminders of the Oosterdok’s nautical heyday, the warehouses of Entrepotdok and the engaging Scheepvaartmuseum (Maritime Museum). On the north side of the River IJ, and reached by ferry, the former shipyards and commercial buildings of Amsterdam Noord, are blooming with new spaces and exciting ventures.

1. Oosterdok

Stretching east from Centraal Station lies the Oosterdok, or eastern docklands, whose network of artificial islands was dredged out of the River IJ to increase Amsterdam’s shipping facilities. By the 1980s, this mosaic of docks, jetties and islands had become something of a post-industrial eyesore, but since then an ambitious redevelopment programme has turned things around. Easily the most agreeable way of reaching the Oosterdok is via the footbridge at the north end of Plantage Kerklaan, which leads onto Entrepotdok.

2. Entrepotdok

Over the footbridge at the end of Plantage Kerklaan lies one of the most interesting of the Oosterdok islands, a slender rectangle whose southern quayside, Entrepotdok. The island is lined by a long series of warehouses, which have now been converted into stylish offices and apartments.

3. Scheepvaartmuseum

Find out all about the city’s maritime past at one of Amsterdam’s most popular attractions, the Scheepvaartmuseum (Maritime Museum). It occupies the old arsenal of the Dutch navy, a vast sandstone structure.

Visitors start in the central courtyard from where you can enter any one of three display areas – labelled “West”, “Noord” and “Oost”. The West displays are the most child orientated and the Oost is the most substantial, including garish ships’ figureheads, examples of early atlases and navigational equipment. There are many nautical paintings in this section, too. The “Noord” section features a couple of short nautical films and also gives access to the De Amsterdam, a full-scale replica of an East Indiaman merchant ship.

4. Arcam

Sitting pretty on the waterfront, ARCAM, the Amsterdam Centre for Architecture, is housed in a distinctive aluminium and glass structure, which looks rather like the head of a golf club. Inside, a small glass area is used for an imaginative programme of temporary exhibitions on contemporary architecture in general, and future building plans for Amsterdam.

5. Museumhaven

Moored on the long jetty leading up to the giant green hood above the IJ tunnel are the antique boats and barges of the Museumhaven, which together make an informal record of the development of local shipping. It may sound like one for the nautical fanboy, but the collection is really rather attractive.

6. NEMO Science Museum

Much of the distinctive elevated hood above the IJ tunnel is occupied by NEMO, a (pre-teenage) kids’ attraction par excellence, with all sorts of interactive science and technological exhibits spread over six floors.

7. Bibliotheek

Across the harbour-spanning footbridge from NEMO, Amsterdam’s principal Bibliotheek (Library) occupies a cleverly designed modern block. The spacious, subtly lit interior spreads over ten floors; among much else, it includes an auditorium, an exhibition room and a terrace café, which is a popular spot for students.

8. Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ

One of the Oosterdok’s prime buildings, the Muziekgebouw is a high-spec, multipurpose music auditorium overlooking the River IJ. It has two medium-sized concert halls with state-of the-art acoustics, and has given real impetus to the redevelopment going on along the IJ. As well as some contemporary music, it has a good programme of opera and orchestral music which brings a rather highbrow crowd to this part of town. It’s worth a visit for the building alone, but you may also want to take this opportunity to enjoy its café or bar.

9.Zeeburg

To the east of the Muziekgebouw lies Zeeburg – basically the old docklands stretching out as far as Java and KNSM islands, and today one of the city’s most up-and-coming districts. Actually a series of artificial islands and peninsulas connected by bridges, the docks here date to the end of the nineteenth century. This is now the fastest-developing part of Amsterdam, with a mixture of renovated dockside structures and new landmark buildings that give it a modern feel that’s markedly different from the city centre – despite being just a ten-minute walk from Centraal Station.

Explore the area by bike, especially as distances are, at least in Amsterdam terms, comparatively large – from the Muziekgebouw to the east end of KNSM Island is about 4km. Alternatively, there are two useful transport connections from Centraal Station: tram no.26 along Piet Heinkade to Ijburg and bus no.48 to Java Island and KNSM Island.

10. EYE Film Institute

The slab of land opposite Centraal Station has been transformed by the construction of the EYE Film Institute, Amsterdam’s best cinema in the city’s proudest new building.

Clearly visible from the south side of the River IJ, it occupies a superb, shimmering structure in sleek, angular lines. The EYE offers engaging views back over both the river and the city centre from all its three floors, which hold a bar-restaurant, a shop, a film-focused library and four cinema screens showing an enterprising programme of classic and cult films. There is also an exhibition area offering four major displays each year.

Take the free GVB Buiksloterwegveer passenger ferry across the River IJ from the back of Centraal Station; it’s a five-minute walk from the ferry dock.

11. NDSM Wharf

Further out along the north side of the river, there’s a second patch of cutting-edge regeneration in the former NDSM Shipyard. It used to be a key part of Amsterdam’s industrial economy and is now a creative arts and events hub. Take the free GVB passenger ferry service across the River IJ from the back of Centraal Station.

After NDSM’s demise, no one was quite sure what to do with the site, but very little was demolished. The first arrivals after the shipyard’s closure brought an eco-New Age vibe to the area: several of the old distressed industrial buildings and shipping containers were refitted and an old Soviet submarine was moored in the harbor, though plans to turn this into a party venue never worked out.

The main sight as such is the cavernous IJ-Hallen, which comes complete with a number of massive industrial fittings recalling the days it was the heart of the shipyard. Nowadays, the IJ-Hallen hosts a huge flea market while the recycled buildings nearby form a fashionable arts and events hub and several boho clubs and restaurants.

NDSM is probably also the largest shrine to street art, anywhere you care to go. The 7,000 square-metre former welding hanger is basically also a huge street art canvas, while artist studios nearby keep the vibe going and ensure there’s plenty to see.

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