Forge your own path in this tourist magnet, toward places that are less crowded but no less wondrous.Explore
Peel back multiple layers of history with every turn.
It’s always nice to start your day with some old-time religion. Plus, you’ll miss the crowds. One of the city’s oldest inner courtyards, the Begijnhof, is just off the Spui Book Square with its many cafes and bookstores. The Beguines were a lay Catholic religious order of women who sought to imitate Christ: living in poverty and devotion, and for the care of others. And hidden in the hidden courtyard where they lived was a hidden church. Upon exiting the chapel, don’t trip over the grave of a former resident Beguine hidden under a slab of red granite in the gutter. Clue: it’s often adorned with flowers. Today, the courtyard’s residents are no longer nuns, but do remain strictly female.
Begijnhof 29, 1012 WT Amsterdam, Netherlands
Oersoep, which means “primordial soup,” is an almost 5,000 square foot mosaic of Italian glass that pays tribute to the city's famed canals. It also tells a visual story of how all of Earth’s lifeforms originated from water (after, perhaps, first arriving from outer space). Besides additional images associated with the Dutch city’s iconic waterways, the alleyway also features fish-eyed Art Deco mirrors and chandeliers made from recycled bicycle parts. The floors, which were made with traditional Italian Terrazzo, were designed with patterns that mimic those typically found at archaeological excavations. In short: trippy.
Beurspassage 1, 1012 LW Amsterdam, Netherlands
Just across from Oersoep you'll find the stock exchange building, designed by the local architect H.P. Berlage and considered the city’s first modern building. Completed in 1903, the structure was stripped of all the “Neo” ornamentations of the 19th century and built up out of clean lines. As such, it formed the blueprint for the more swoopy lines of the Amsterdam School of architecture that soon followed. Today, Beurs van Berlage is mainly a congress and exhibition center. While architectural tours can be arranged, you can also get a sense of Berlage’s work by setting down in one of the building’s two cafes.
Damrak 243, 1012 ZJ Amsterdam, Netherlands
If you enter Oudemanhuispoort through the Oudezijds Achterburgwal side, you will get one allusion to this passage’s past. Overhead, chiseled into a pediment, is a set of spectacles, referring to old age. Indeed, “Old Man’s House Passage” once acted as part of the country’s first senior citizens' home back in the 18th century. Now part of the University of Amsterdam, it has a 400-year-old history that has seen it home to a convent, a hospital for cholera victims, an arts academy, and a museum that formed the basis for the Rijksmuseum and its famous collection of Rembrandts and Vermeers. Since 1886, the stalls of this covered walkway has been selling second-hand prints, sheet music, and books. The stalls are currently run by an older generation of fellows—many with spectacles—who are only too willing to share their knowledge.
Oudemanhuispoort 1A, 1012 CN Amsterdam, Netherlands
Back in 1488, De Waag was built as one of city’s main city gates, which closed every night exactly at 9:30 p.m. to keep out the bandits, the poor, and the desperately diseased. By the 17th century, when the city expanded, the building became a weighing house for incoming products: tobacco, ropes, spices, artillery, slave chains, etc. Towers were built to accommodate various municipal militias and guilds, including one for the masons who did all the evocative decorations over the various entrances. Another tower housed the Surgeons' Guild and its Theatrum Anatomicum, which hosted public dissections and formed the setting for Rembrandt’s famed The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp. So it’s squishingly fitting that this tower is now home to Fablab and its famed Bio-hacking Academy and Wetlab (open to the public on Thursdays between 4 and 8 p.m.).
Before you turn your attention to the square and its eating possibilities (perhaps grabbing a bite at Indonesian Toko Joyce, or Café Bern, whose perfectly formulated cheese fondue was invented by an actual Swiss nuclear physicist), take a moment to recall the dark history of this place during WWII, when the square was barb-wired off to enclose Jews awaiting transport to concentration camps.
Nieuwmarkt 4, 1012 CR Amsterdam, Netherlands
A short stroll away from the chaos of the Red Light District, a new public space is emerging that drips with both history and hipness. In the 17th century, this was where the Dutch East India Company built their enforcer ships. In 1870, Vincent van Gogh lived here for a few months—while failing to become a theology student—with his uncle who was the terrain’s director. Later still, with the navy still in control, this place became ground zero for Cold War intrigue, filled with safe houses, secret listening posts, and encryption centers. All very hush-hush, the whole area was in fact blurred out on Google Maps until just a few years ago.
Today, following the sale of this land by the Ministry of Defense to the city, it remains a still-to-be-discovered hotspot known only to start-ups and foodies. The area reaches its peak as a view-worthy spot at Pension Homeland, a quirky hotel, restaurant, and brewery that retains its 1960s officer lodging stylings.
Kattenburgerstraat 7, 1018 JA Amsterdam, Netherlands
The history of jenever is a rich one. It began in 1650, when a doctor from Leiden first infused juniper berries into a spirit, and deemed it a wholesome family cure for an upset belly. Soon millions of gallons of the stuff were being shipped worldwide. Various herbs, spices, and flavors were added to create ever more spectacularly “medicinal” elixirs. Eventually the British got hold of the recipe and bastardized both the name and the product into “gin.” At Distillery ‘t Nieuwe Diep, or "The New Deep," jenever and various other elixirs are distilled in a former water mill in the middle of a lovely park—one that turns particularly magical in the sunshine (and, um, under the influence of jenever).
Flevopark 13a, 1095 KE Amsterdam, Netherlands
From edgy to the edge of town.
There’s nothing like starting your day with a nice cup of coffee and pondering the nature of one’s own existence. Located in Amsterdam’s iconic Canal Ring, the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica, also known as the Ritman Library after its founder Joost R. Ritman, is a goldmine of early manuscripts and books on ancient mysticism, religion, and philosophy. And in its new location inside the Embassy of the Free Mind, it now even has room for a café.
The collection’s primary focus is the Hermetic tradition, and more specifically, Christian-Hermeticism. But you will also find volumes on Rosicrucianism, alchemy, gnosis, esotericism and comparative religion, Sufism, Kabbalah, anthroposophy, Freemasonry, and others lurking amid the stacks.
Keizersgracht 123, 1015 CJ Amsterdam, Netherlands
In a city chock-a-block with museums, one of the smallest and most delightfully eccentric is home to about 50 mechanical player pianos and almost 20,000 punched rolls of music. Volunteers are on-hand to give you a personalized tour.
The player piano was of course a very popular American invention of the late 1800s. The name Pianola was a trademark of the Aeolian Corporation of New York, but the name was broadly applied to all player pianos. So why is this museum located in the wonderfully scenic Jordaan neighborhood? At one time, there was a factory nearby that produced music rolls for player pianos. When the business went bankrupt, the factory was taken over by a certain Otto Frank, who moved in with his family to set up a business—that building is indeed now known as the Anne Frank House.
Westerstraat 106, 1015 MN Amsterdam, Netherlands
You may have already had your dose of museums, but Het Schip also has a freely accessible café and courtyard where you can sit, recover, and admire not only street furniture—including the iconic green “curl” urinal—but also the almost hallucinatory swoops of this iconic building.
During the early 20th century, Amsterdam was obsessed with building palaces— houses, institutions, and schools–for the working classes. These were often rounded and intricate brick constructions that suggested the imaginative work of the Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí. The museum is located in one of the most famous and fanciful examples. Completed in 1919, it takes up a full block and includes 102 homes and a school.
Oostzaanstraat 45, 1013 WG Amsterdam, Netherlands
Every spring, the community-supported public garden Toon Yland Plantsoen—named after a still-living gardener who transformed this once barren bit of land over the last 30 years—explodes with thousands of bulb plants. It’s a kinder, gentler version of the world-famous Keukenhof, whose colored fields can be seen from outer space.
Here it’s more about inner space: a place to relax. In fact, the whole surrounding neighborhood of Western Islands is made up of kinder, gentler versions of Amsterdam’s famous sights. Golden Age warehouses, with evocative names such as Mars, Pants in Waterland, Shellfish, or simply embellished by a laughing face, echo those of the more famous Brouwersgracht. A row of gabled houses along Zandhoek could be plucked from the Canal Ring. Various drawbridges echo the iconic Skinny Bridge over the Amstel river. The area even has the perfect local café: ’t Blaauwhooft. If it all gets too cheery, head to Galgenweg (“Gallows’ road”), which used to offer an unrestricted view over the river IJ to the gallows fields of Amsterdam Noord—now home to A’DAM Lookout.
Vierwindenstraat, 1013CW Amsterdam, Netherlands
You know when you’ve arrived: the free ferry (from Westerdoksdijk, or behind Central Station) passes a dark and foreboding Soviet submarine. This is NDSM, a sprawling former shipping yard, which evolved from being a squat to being where brands and festivals set up camp in the hopes that the hipness rubs off on them.
As you disembark you will see shiny neon extolling Sexyland, a conceptual nightclub that has a different organizer every night of the year. You’ll have already noticed the ship crane: it’s now a two-suite hotel complete with whirlpool. Head to the biggest warehouse you see, Art City, where inside creatives have each built their own unique studio space. The warehouse next door with the huge image of Anne Frank is set to become the world’s biggest street art museum. Yes, it’s all a bit much, so head to urban beach Pllek or the yet funkier Noorderlicht Café to unwind.
NDSM-Plein, 1033WB Amsterdam, Netherlands
If you ever find yourself having to kill time at Amsterdam’s Central Station, do it in style. Once the waiting room for First Class passengers, this brasserie has an original Art Nouveau interior and is perfect for lingering over a beer, a fine wine, or exploring the world of Dutch snacking options, such as deep-fried bitterballen (“bitter balls”!).
Elvis is on hand to amplify the already sumptuous décor of deep woods and polished marbles. Elvis is a cockatoo and lives on the bar. He’s definitely the King. And while not much of a talker, he can caw your ear off—and is always willing to pose for a photo.
Stationsplein 15, 1012 AB Amsterdam, Netherlands
A few years ago, the workings of all the city’s drawbridges were centralized, and the cute little bridge houses became obsolete. Now 28 of them have become individually styled hotel suites, and as a group reflect the roller-coaster history of 20th-century architecture. Highly recommended.Check Prices Or Availability →
Detroit and Nashville are synonymous with two all-American music genres. It’s no surprise that visitors flock to these cities each year to get a feel for the places where artists such as Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross & The Supremes, Johnny Cash, and Dolly Parton began their careers. A (relatively) straight, north to south route connects the two cities, as does musical heritage. Load up the RV, make sure your speaker system is in tip-top shape, and create a playlist filled with old-school Motown and Country hits. If you're not driving on the trip down south, you should be dancing.
The terrain along the Gulf of Mexico is sometimes called the “Third Coast,” but for an offbeat road trip, it’s second to none. Starting in Houston and ending in Pensacola Bay, this journey takes you through some of America’s most diverse landscapes. You’ll cross Cajun swamps, drive along sparkling white sand beaches, and even spend some time in the Big Easy. Take an RV and camp along the way to truly immerse yourself in this wondrous region. The world’s largest gulf, it turns out, holds some of America’s best-kept secrets.
The Coachella Valley and its environs boom in the spring, when tens of thousands of music lovers flock to catch their favorite artists perform in front of a dramatic, mountainous backdrop. But this region stays wonderfully weird all year long. If the festival drew you to the area and you only have a day to explore, choose a direction: Either head north, toward Joshua Tree and Landers, or southeast to the Salton Sea and nearby oases for a blissful respite. If you can spare a couple of days, lucky you—go forth and see it all.
Los Angeles’ Highland Park is a diverse, eclectic neighborhood that Native Americans and Latinx communities have inhabited for centuries. Celebrated for its history, art scene, ethnic diversity, and cuisine, Highland Park is filled with surprising delights that more and more people are discovering every day. Exploring the neighborhood's nooks and crannies is one of the most rewarding ways to spend a day in L.A.
Once referred to as “The Coney Island of the Pacific,” L.A.’s beachfront neighborhood of Venice has long been a popular tourist destination. Its colorful characters, quirky architecture, and carnivalesque atmosphere are well-known the world over. But take a moment to look past the kitsch, and you’ll discover a place where artistic ingenuity thrives more than a century after Abbot Kinney endeavored to bring a grandiose version of Venice to America. The bohemian beehive has always attracted artists and performers, and everyone is welcome to enjoy the show.
The 1970s brought a wave of artists into this former industrial area in Downtown Los Angeles. They sparked a fuse of creative imagination that burned for years. Up-and-coming creators took advantage of the then-low rents and built a foundation for the creative mecca that exists here today. In its infancy, L.A.’s Downtown Arts District came to life behind-the-scenes, with artists mostly working in closed studios. Today, the art has spilled onto the streets in the form of colorful murals, attractive gallery spaces, and stylish storefronts. But the curious explorer can still find literal and figurative traces of the ‘70s. In addition to the more historic spots that remain, a creative, entrepreneurial spirit abounds.
Wedged between Charing Cross and Leicester Square, Trafalgar Square is known for the throngs of people flocking to its famous attractions. Weave around the tourists on the National Gallery stairs and dodge the crowds clogging the street corners. Instead, duck down dreamy alleys and pop into unique, overlooked museums and shops. There, a secret side of this busy area waits to reveal itself.
Few cities on Earth are as well-trodden as New York–but as any intrepid traveler knows, the more you explore a place, the more wonders you find. You may not be able to discover all of these spots in a single trip, but that could be a good thing. No matter how many times you return, the city that never sleeps never ceases to surprise. Visit NYCGo to uncover more of the city’s secret spots.
Anchored by the Zócalo plaza and the architectural splendor of the Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City's historic center rightfully draws scores of visitors from around the world. If you look, smell, and taste carefully, you’ll also find a universe of culinary offerings that tells stories of immigration, adaptation, and imagination. With the help of Culinary Backstreets, we assembled a primer on eating and drinking your way through the district.
Hollywood Boulevard is world-famous—for the Oscars and the Walk of Fame, for schlocky souvenir shops and crowded tour buses. But beyond the terrazzo stars and the occasional celebrity sighting, there’s plenty left to discover. Here’s how to make Hollywood’s acquaintance, whether you’re a visitor or a local who keeps a practiced distance from these busy, saturated blocks. Look closer and you'll find a neighborhood full of nature, history, and wonder.
There's the Times Square you know, full of blazing billboards, selfie sticks, and costumed characters. Then there's the less familiar one, beyond the lights—the nooks and crannies that most visitors to Midtown Manhattan overlook. They're not obvious, but surprises can still be found along this world-famous stretch of real estate.
Follow along on our 2,200-mile adventure with NPR's 'All Things Considered.'
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