Amsterdam once lived with its back towards the IJ river. The raised embankments for the train tracks and the vast Central Station closed the riverbanks and some of the old harbor districts off from the rest of the city. The shores were mainly used for docklands, wharfs, and other industries -- often on manmade ‘islands’ leading out into the water.
But when the industrial activities moved farther out, developers and pioneers soon realized the potential of the buildings and plots left behind and before you kew it Westelijke Eilanden (Western Islands) was a desirable place to live.
It started with the now very picturesque Prinseneiland and Bickerseiland. Their cobbled streets with lush communal gardens, renovated 17th Century warehouses, and small wooden bridges are just gorgeous. In more recent years, the once desolate and empty IJ shores have been developed. They are now home to some of Amsterdam’s most renowned architecture.
Impressive designs along Westerdok and the peninsular Silodam are considered prime real estate, often offering stunning views. This in turn created a revival for the streets around Barentszstraat, on the most northern of the islands.
Together they make the Westelijke Eilanden a pleasant and diverse neighborhood to live in. Because of limited accessibility by car, this area is in high demand with families who like the safety and quiet. It also means parking is very limited, but a car is not needed as Central Station and the Jordaan and Westerpark neighborhoods are around the corner. And the Westelijke Eilanden are home to plenty of things to do for a night out, too.
Living here requires a healthy bank account. The apartments in the old warehouses and industrial buildings on Prinseneiland and Bickerseiland can go for record prices, as do the large lofts and penthouses in both the old and new buildings along the western docks. Some offer views so incredible that people buy properties without even visiting in person.
Not many places have a private garden, but the newer apartments sometimes have large roof terraces, and the warehouses often share communal gardens that are a safe haven for kids to play in.
The Dutch word "worst" has no relation to its English meaning. On the contrary. Worst means ‘sausage’, and this restaurant serves delicious ones. Most are made in-house while others are made by small, local businesses in town, other parts of the Netherlands, and even further afield. They can be paired with wines as Worst is also a wine bar. The staff loves to suggest great pairings. What a lovely place!
A rather uninviting tunnel under the train tracks leads to a small, charming square. Here, only the sharp shrieks of passing trains disclose that you are in central Amsterdam. Large trees give this square an almost Parisian feel, as does the blue and white striped awning of Café ‘t Blaauwhooft. It's a small, friendly café with big screens for footie matches, weekly live music on Saturdays, a decent menu and a sun soaked terrace. Very much a local pub, but well worth a visit for those living elsewhere.
Oh these views, they are something else! And still, you’d miss this spot if you don’t look down as you pass this stretch of windy street along the IJ river. But you’ll be glad you noticed, as this is a great place. Vintage interior, friendly staff and an owner that, in his own words, ‘really really likes ridiculously good food very much’. The terrace in summer is simply wonderful. Rumor has it you can dance here past certain hours too.
Amsterdam really is prettiest when seen from the water. But if a touristy boat tour is just not your thing, there is always the option to get your own boat. Many Amsterdammers have one but you can also opt for rental. Canal Motorboats is a good place to rent boats for a few hours or a day. They offer good prices and the boats are moored at a spot you might otherwise overlook. Don’t head straight for the canals, but make sure to sail around the Bickerseiland and Prinseneiland a bit before you head to town. You’ll love the wonderful small town feel there and the many lush gardens and old boat wharfs along the way. You can also rent life jackets for your kids or yourself.