There are two kinds of cafes or coffee shops in Amsterdam – the famous ‘coffee shop’ which is one of the city’s main tourist attractions (though this is fast changing with the new laws coming in), and the brown cafes which actually serve coffee, beer and food and which are where you’ll find the locals relaxing in an atmosphere that is both vibey bar and laid back café.
Brown cafes are so named for the color of their walls. Back in the day when people smoked cigarettes inside, the smoke, the candles and the coffee along with the fuggy enclosed warmth keeping out the bitter winter winds tended to turn the walls a distinctive brown color. These days the smoke is gone but the walls have stayed brown. And those bitter winter winds still blow along Amsterdam’s canals at the height of winter.
What better place to be then, during winter or at any time of the year, than inside one of these friendly cozy cafes with a good coffee, excellent cake, a local beer or a meal? In summer, the doors are flung open and you can sit on the streets and watch the cyclists whiz by – perfect.
Some of the best cafes in Amsterdam are:
1. Eik En Linde (Plantage Middenlaan 22)
Dates back to 1858 as the browning posters and drawings on the walls will testify. Beware of the clock behind the bar which runs backwards – that’s one excuse for losing track of time here.
2. Cafe de Wetering (Weteringstraat 37)
A bit of a locals’ secret, near the antique shops on Nieuwe Spiegelstraat in central Amsterdam.
3. Café t’Smalle (Egelantiersgracht near Prinsengracht)
Located in the excellent Jordaan district which is filled with brown cafes, this one is particularly good. In summer, you can grab a seat outside and watch the canal. It’s not far from the Anne Frank House.
4. Café ‘t Loosje (Nieuwmarkt 32-34)
One the edge of the Red Light District with a good view of Nieuwmarkt square, it’s been here a while and has lovely turn of the century tiling on the walls.
5. Café Berkhout (Stadhouderskade 77)
Café Berkhout is in the De Pijp district which is a wonderful cultural mix and filled with cafes and markets. Located opposite the Heineken Brewery so it’s easy to stumble across.
6. Café Pels (Huidenstraat 25)
The Nine Streets is one of Amsterdam’s prime shopping areas, with nine small streets crossing between Prinsengracht and Singel canals. Here’s where you’ll find lovely little design shops selling clothes, shoes, homewares, jewellery, cheeses. When you need to take a break head to Café Pels.
7. De Pieper (Prinsengracht 424)
One of the oldest cafes in Amsterdam dating from 1665. It’s not far from Leidseplein and has a small outside terrace overlooking Prinsengracht.
8. Het Molenpad (Prinsengracht 653)
If you only go to one brown café, this might be it. It’s very typical and serves excellent food, though you might have to wait for a table on the canalside terrace.
The streets of Amsterdam are full of brown cafes, so just have a wander and find one you like the look of. Along Prinsengracht and in Jordaan you’ll find some of the best.