For an authentic taste of Amsterdam and Dutch culture, a stop at one of the so-called ‘brown cafes’ is essential. Traditional Dutch pubs, they are, as the locals say, ‘gezellig’, a term that translates to more of a feel than any one word could possibly convey: cosy, homely and warm, connoting belonging and good times spent with family and friends.
Step inside the rich wooden interiors and feel it for yourself. An inimitable lived-in feel oozes from the dimly lit corners, the walls and ceilings stained by nicotine over centuries. These brown cafes in Amsterdam are the perfect spot for a morning coffee, a bite or a brew at any time of day.
Drink up the history alongside the locals in one of the city’s oldest buildings, one of only two remaining 15th century wooden structures. Once laden with gambling sailors, it’s said the cafe is named after these sea folk who often had aapjes (monkeys) with them, and sometimes even paid with them when short on cash. Cafe Int Aepjen hasn’t always been a pub though; its colourful history saw it transform from a house to a trading location and an inn first.
Address: Zeedijk 1
One of Amsterdam’s most famous brown cafes, for centuries intellectuals would gather here to discuss world affairs, politics and art, though it originally opened as a distillery in 1670. Now a National Monument, it is much-admired for its ancient wood panelling and antique stained-glass windows and sand still coats the floor. Just beware: it’s a standing-only affair. For those afraid of weary feet, a newer section offers seating next door.
Address: Spui 18-20
It was on this very spot that the famous Pieter Hoppe opened his gin distillery and tasting house in 1786, right on edge of one of Amsterdam’s most beautiful canals. Many can’t resist a seating on the stone terrace with its lovely vistas, but don’t miss a poke around inside, where antique porcelain beer pumps and lead-framed windows still nod to yesteryear. Gorgeous and authentic, there’s even a reproduction of Cafe ‘t Smalle in Japan.
Address: Egelantiersgracht 12
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Touting a central location perched on the Nieuwmarkt (New Market Square), this popular brown cafe is one of the oldest and prettiest in the area. Uniquely set in a former waiting room for horse-drawn trams dating back to the early 1900s, it’s full of character and still touts much of the same embellishments, including beautiful tile tableaux and etched-glass windows. Attracting a vibrant mix of tourists, local students, artists and businesspeople, Cafe t’ Loosje spills out onto the square to offer prime seating on a wondrous sunny day.
Address: Nieuwmarkt 34
It’s all about the entertainment at De Twee Swaantjes, which means ‘Two Little Swans’. There’s always something fun lurking in the wings. On Tuesdays its disco and soul, Wednesdays gets heartfelt with sweet love songs and Thursdays require a little audience participation because it’s karaoke night! Other days see anything from traditional accordion performers to well-known classics belting out the stereo. As you can expect, weekends are very popular while weekdays attract more locals.
Address: Prinsengracht 114
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