North of the IJ
It’s easy to forget there’s another chunk of Amsterdam. That is, if you haven’t already been there. Once you do, you won’t forget about it, or shut up about it, in a hurry. Yet it’s curious that even people who have visited the city a handful of times often haven’t taken their bike up to Amsterdam Noord.
The mixture of graffitied warehouses, obsolete industrial machinery, and stretches of wasteland against the backdrop of the water gives it a unique beauty. It is a beauty thoroughly unlike the tidily arranged canal houses and terraced cafes in central Amsterdam. Which is as good a reason as any to take yourself to the back of Centraal, and pedal your bike onto one of ferries. They will take you, free of charge, to a new and unexpected experience of the city that never stops surprising.
#1 NDSM Street Art Museum
How many museums let you ride your bike through them? That’s not a rhetorical question. In Amsterdam, it’s actually two. That said, I was a little disappointed that my cycle ‘through’ the Rijksmuseum didn’t take me past ancient vases and priceless Rembrandts. That one is more a passage under the museum. But this is the real deal. You cycle in, among, around, and sometimes over the exhibits in the NDSM Street Art Today. Anyway, enough prepositions.
There are issues with chainsawing up buildings and transporting the graffiti on them to museums in far off lands, then charging €15 admission for the privilege of looking at them. To do so is to miss the point somewhat… Did anyone say ‘Moco Museum’? The defining feature of street art is that it’s, well…on the street. But there’s a different story here.
The museum is housed in the cavernous IJ-Hallen – twice the size of the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall. It is an ex-shipping warehouse, its own exterior plastered with colourful statements and pictures – layer upon layer of careful work and considered ideas. You can see the artists spraying their creations most afternoons. What’s more, it’s free to enter, and the exhibits are displayed with sensitivity to their surroundings. All this makes the project one that is carefully thought-out, and makes this as suitable a means as you could find of placing street art in a museum.
Creator, Peter Ernst Coolen, says that although street art has ‘a relationship with the environment’, its perishability means that ‘it is also important to preserve this art for generations after us’.
The museum is not yet fully set up, but is still open to the public. It’s well worth cycling your rental bike over the threshold and breezing through to catch a glimpse of some of the fabulous pieces on display. The museum celebrates street art without disconnecting it from its very purpose.
It’s hard to fault this place. Pllek is where raw industry meets tasteful comfort, where youth meets age, and where water meets sand. Built out of old containers, this restaurant cum bar cum events space boasts panoramic views across the IJ. On colder days you can get cosy inside and watch the weather from behind impressive windows. When the sun comes out, this urban beach comes into its own. People laze on beanbags beneath the prayer flags, bob around in the water, and enjoy the creations from the kitchen.
Like many places in Noord, Pllek is geared towards sustainability. Its menu is 25% vegan and 75% vegetarian, and all products are ethically sourced. It’s not the cheapest of places to eat, but it’s worth the money and they more than make up for the absence of traditional Dutch favourites.
Pllek is impressive in its capacity to craft a vibe that makes all sorts of people feel welcome. Young or old, family or friends, visitor or local. As day moves to afternoon, to night, the atmosphere evolves. It can be a place to read and work, to eat, to drink, and to dance. They often have DJs on weekends, as well as a varied program covering all things from yoga to outdoor cinema.
It’s best enoyed on a sunny day. Take your bikes there in the afternoon, sit back, and see what happens.
#3 IJ-Hallen Market
NDSM is home to the largest flea-market in Europe. Every two or three weeks, visitors and locals flock to IJ-Hallen, its walls a mass of brightly coloured pictures and political statements. During the summer months, the 750 market stalls are arranged outside in the vast courtyard. In Autumn and Winter, the hall provides shelter from the elements.
You can buy pretty much anything here, and at a fraction of the cost of shops in the nine streets. Clothing, art, furniture, books, and some smaller items that are perfect for souvenirs or presents. It’s also nice to be aware that by going here, you’re taking part in a particularly sustainable form of recycling. Not only are you taking the strain off our constant appetite for manufacturing new things, but you’re also helping to promote a culture of sharing and reusing.
Whilst it’s not quite the aurora borealis, Amsterdam’s own northern lights makes for a special experience. It’s a little more low key than Pllek, and just a minute’s bike ride along IJ-Plein. Where Pllek captures urban-chic, Noorderlicht Cafe is more of a trippy hippy Woodstocky vibe.
Like Pllek, the large terrace looks out over the IJ, but feels more tucked away. It comes complete with a small stage that resembles a gypsy caravan, and serves for the dance events they put on in the summer.
The indoors is a large silo-shaped greenhouse, bathed at night in soft green light – hence the name. This makes it perfect for a romantic dinner under the stars and against the magnificent backdrop of Amsterdam across the water. If you’ve had enough of underground clubs and indoor smoking areas, you should check out the program of music they put on over the summer, ranging from electronic to salsa, to open-mic nights.
#5 Cafe de Ceuvel
This is a great place to stop off either at the start or end of your trip around Amsterdam-Noord. It’s close to the Buiksloterweg ferry (the short one over the IJ), so makes an ideal stopover for a round trip. That, and the fact it’s awesome.
De Ceuvel describes itself as a ‘city playground for innovation, experimentation and creativity where we aim to make sustainability tangible, accessible and fun’. It’s been around since 2012, and was designed as a space for businesses, homes, and wonderful cafe. It’s worth having a wander around the ‘offices’. Most of them are made out of houseboats, which their former owners donated to the project. It’s nice to walk around the decking and read about the project, and think about how much we can reuse when we engage our creativity.
That said, I come here for the cafe. It’s tucked in next to a quiet canal with plenty of greenery. Most of the furniture is made out of things most people would have thrown away, but of which the designers saw potential for quirky restorations. The inside seems to be made out of recycled wood, and gives the sense of being inside and old galleon.
During the week, there’s a relaxed atmosphere, making it perfect to have a chilled lunch or get some work done. At weekends, its mini-festival vibes pick up. There’s a great beer and food selection too. Try De Ceuvel’s Mr Pietersen, brewed in partnership with Gulpener, and their sourdough with mushroom croquettes.