A blog about (hidden) Amsterdam


A blog about (hidden) Amsterdam

Our Take on a Self-Guided Tour of Amsterdam

One of the best things to do in Amsterdam is explore it.

The self-guided tour of Amsterdam was one of the unexpected results of the pandemic. With guidebooks, apps, or even PDFs, Amsterdammers of all stripes discovered facts that had been hidden in plain sight as they went about their city lives. We wanted our Badass Amsterdam DIY Tour to take that experience and make it into something special.

One advantage of our obsession with Amsterdam is that on every city walk, we see stories. Sometimes it’s something monumental. Our founder Elyzabeth, for example, usually refers to the Royal Palace as the Stadhuis, which it was in the 17th and 18th centuries. Sometimes it’s small things, like the hidden church where two Black 17th-century Amsterdammers married after a lifetime of wandering. Friends, relatives, and tour guests often enjoy hearing these hidden history asides as we walk along the historic waterways.

Self-Curated Walking Tour users

To share this experience of seeing stories everywhere, we needed a different approach than a normal tour. Most guides (us included) build tours by thinking about the key stories they want to tell, then finding places for them. That’s as true for mainstream tour guides who use the Spinoza statue to talk about tolerance as it is for us using a tower from the old city wall to talk about Gracia Mendes Nasi, who helped Jewish people flee the Portuguese and Spanish Inquisitions.

Self-Guided Tour of Amsterdam participant
A local on our self-guided tour of Amsterdam

With our self-curated walking tour, we flipped the process. We wanted to create tours of Amsterdam neighborhoods that overlapped the history of major locations. So we started with Centrum, the oldest part of Amsterdam, and looked at the places that stand out, both now and across Amsterdam’s history. Dam Square and Nieuwmarkt are high points in any guidebook, many walk by the Kattengat or the Nes without any idea what their eyes are sliding over

Once we had a nice mix of sites that included highlights from the present and various points of the past, we started looking at the stories connected to them. For each location, we found stories from each of our themes: women, LGBTQ+, BIPOC, and Jewish people. (Read this article on why we use the term BIPOC.) This gave us an interesting mix of people who changed the world and people whose impact was more local.

Dirkje Kuik, who paved the way for trans people around the world, shares a stage with Mina Kruseman, a 19th-century actress who first promoted anticolonial writer Multatuli and then went to war with him. A single site holds Indonesian hero Surapati, the financial backer of the Dutch invasion of England, and a group of women whose names are as lost as their cause was. A 17th-century interfaith relationship rubs shoulders with 20th-century protests that brought down a homophobic law.

We ended up designing a different way to get a picture of Amsterdam. Where some tours will try to give a soft-edged photo of the city now, our self-guided tour of Amsterdam uses historical pointillism. Like Georges Seurat, the painter of A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, or Belgian pointillist Théo van Rysselberghe, we use many points to create an image. We try to show you the city by overlapping stories across centuries that tie to a single place, placing people whose names and actions still echo alongside those who struggled to get by.

We hope that between the giants and survivors of Amsterdam’s hidden history, you will catch a glimpse of what makes both Amsterdammers and the city we love so very special.

See our Badass Amsterdam DIY Tour for yourself

Begijnhof, Amsterdam

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