Hop on a bike in Amsterdam and pedal in any direction, and you’ll probably wind up at a bar. There are over a thousand of them, tucked into cozy streets, floating on canals, and overflowing into alleyways, each one serving your favorite adult beverages—and maybe some you’ve never heard of.
In fact, choosing what to drink may be the hardest part. Beer’s a no-brainer. This is, after all, the city that invented Heineken. Or you could try a shot of jenever, Holland’s national drink, in a centuries-old brown café (a traditional Dutch pub.) How about a swanky cocktail in a trendy lounge with an ambient soundtrack? Thirsty yet? Cool. Grab your bike and let’s roll—but watch out for those canals. They can put a damper on your fun.
The Dutch have been brewing beer in Holland since the Middle Ages, so it’s no wonder their pilsner—“pils” for short—tastes perfect. Known as the birthplace of iconic brands like Heineken and Amstel, Amsterdam has long attracted beer fans. Brands abound—there’s even a brand called Brand. Try them all if you dare.
De Blauwe Parade (Blue Parade): This historic bar near Dam Square is where Heineken was first brewed in 1864. Today they serve Heineken on tap—natch—along with a variety of other Amsterdam beer brewed within the city. Try pairing your pils with a tasty plate of Dutch-style snacks, such as bitterballen, a croquette-like snack served with mustard. And guess what: They’re not bitter at all!
Café Hoppe: Tip your glass with a diverse crowd of locals—young and old—all united in their affection for this brown café that’s been serving patrons since 1670. Whether you choose a fluitje (small) or a vaasje (large), your bartender will be sure to serve your beer with a two-finger head. In Holland, a beer without a head is dead.
In de Wildeman: In this former distillery near Central Station, you’re invited to take a “flavorful trip through the land of beers.” Choose from 18 beers on tap and 250 bottled beers from around the world. But don’t expect any distracting music in the background. This bar is serious about beer tasting.
Brouwerij ‘t IJ: Housed in an old municipal bathhouse right next to a towering windmill, this craft brewery started making batches of beer in 1985 and has become Amsterdam’s biggest and best known craft brewery. From bocks to blondes, there’s a beer with your name on it.
Jenever, gin’s cousin, is made with juniper berries, herbs, grain alcohol, and malt. Oude (old) jenever is maltier, slightly sweet, served chilled, and sipped straight. Jonge (young) jenever is clear, less malty, tasty in cocktails, and often paired with beer in a drink called a kopstoot, or “blow to the head.” Order it straight and watch the bartender fill the tulip-shaped glass until the liquid swells above the rim. Then lean over and take a good slurp—that’s how the locals do it!
De Drie Fleschjes (Three Little Bottles): Near Dam Square is a historic jenever tasting room (circa 1650) with wooden barrels lining the walls. It’s where Anthony Bourdain slurped jenever on camera. Taste your jenever at the bar inside or sip it on the outside terrace—the perfect watching spot.
Proeflokaal De Admiraal: The rustic Van Wees distillery’s tasting room will transport you back in time to the Golden Age. Their products are still produced with authentic pot stills using 18th-century recipes. If you like herbal elixirs, try the Taainagel (Tough Nail) jenever. It’ll knock your socks off.
Wynand Fockink: This tiny tasting bar and distillery, also near Dam Square, is Amsterdam’s oldest and has been producing jenever and liqueur since 1679. In late afternoon, join the lively after-work crowd for a glass of beer or jenever in the adjoining alley.
House of Bols: Though touristy, this attraction near the Van Gogh Museum offers a dose of jenever history followed by customized cocktails at the end of your tour. Bols has been making jenever since 1575 and is currently promoting the world’s largest global bartending competition in search of the next Bols Jenever Pioneer, to be announced this year.
Cocktail culture is in full swing in Amsterdam, and luscious libations await. Order a trendy gin and tonic or a smoky Manhattan in a secret speakeasy or fancy hotel lounge. Not sure what you’ll have? Belly up to the bar, tell the bartender what you like, then swoon over the creation that’s crafted for you.
Tunes Bar: Known for its sleek transparent bar and signature gin and tonics, this trendy spot in the chic Conservatorium hotel offers 40 kinds of gin and six different tonics, as well as champagne, cocktails, tapas, and sushi. Low-key in the daytime, Tunes Bar steams up at night as a DJ plays ambient beats.
Pulitzer’s Bar: Classic, refined, and comfortable—what else would you expect from a bar named Pulitzer’s? Settle into a comfy couch or leather wingback chair and order an original cocktail, such as a Pineapple Julep or the Sherry Cobbler. This is a place to see and be seen.
Door 74: The only way to find this secret speakeasy is to call or text your reservation request and hope you get a response. If it’s your lucky day, you’ll enter this sophisticated, intimate bar and find yourself back in the Roaring Twenties. Try the To Be or Not To Be with prickly pear-infused mescal. Then sink onto the velvet couch and just be.
Vesper: Located in the Jordaan area, this boutique bar has a classy feel and drinks to die for. The signature Vesper martini features gin and vodka and is not for the faint of heart. Their version of high tea—available for groups of eight or more—features teapots full of intoxicating libations served with tiers of sweets and snacks.
Based in Virginia Beach, Peggy Sijswerda writes about travel, food, and spirits. She’s heading to Croatia next to find the mother grape of Chardonnay. Follow her on Twitter, Google +, Instagram, and at peggysijswerda.com.