By Keith Jenkins
Amsterdam is a city that is known for its picturesque canals, historic architecture, vibrant culture and open-minded attitudes. The city attracts millions of visitors every year, and this puts a big strain on the city’s infrastructure, resources and livability. As someone who lives in the city and experiences the impact of tourism on a daily basis, I urge visitors to be conscious of sustainable ways to enjoy my beautiful city. From eco-friendly transportation options to responsible dining choices, Amsterdam offers a plethora of sustainable activities for visitors to engage in. In this article, we will explore 10 sustainable things to do for visitors in Amsterdam.
1. Explore the city on foot and by bike
One of the most iconic ways to get around Amsterdam is by bike. With its extensive network of bike lanes and flat terrain, cycling is not only a convenient mode of transportation but also a sustainable one. Biking in Amsterdam is a way of life for locals, and visitors can easily rent a bike from various rental shops located throughout the city.
The best way to explore the Amsterdam city centre is on foot. I don’t recommend cycling in the city centre, especially if you’re not an experienced cyclist. The historic centre is the busiest part of the city, making it a big challenge to navigate streets packed with people, traffic and impatient locals on bikes. So, walk around the city centre to enjoy its famous attractions, and take a bike out into the surrounding neighbourhoods and further into the countryside. Check out my recommended Amsterdam cycling routes.
Cycling and walking allows you to explore Amsterdam at your own pace, while also reducing your carbon footprint and contributing to a greener city. Check out my Amsterdam travel guide for more tips.
2. Enjoy the UNESCO Heritage canals in low-emission ways
The canals of Amsterdam are a UNESCO World Heritage site, and a canal cruise is a popular way to see the city’s landmarks and learn about its history. Look for operators that have electric or solar-powered boats, which are much more eco-friendly than those powered by diesel engines. This is relatively easy as more than 75% of the canal cruise boats are electric-powered. Additionally, choose a cruise that focuses on sustainability and provides information about the city’s efforts to protect its canals and waterways. Examples of sustainable cruise companies include Plastic Whale and Starboard that organize fun cruises combined with a cleanup of plastics in the canals.
For a fun and zero-emission way to see the Amsterdam canals, hire a pedal boat. These canal bikes seat 2-4 people and ensure a fantastic workout as well! You can also hire a kayak or even a SUP board to explore the canals and Amstel River.
3. Explore the city with public transport
Amsterdam has an extensive and well-connected public transportation system, including trams, buses, ferries and trains, that makes it easy to get around the city sustainably. Utilizing public transport is a great way to explore the city and its surrounding neighborhoods. Two scenic routes I can recommend are:
This tram line links the Amsterdam Central Station with the Amstel Station. From the Central Station, it runs through the heart of the historic city centre, passing the Palace on the Dam and Spui square, and crosses all four of the major ring canals (Singel, Heren-, Keizers- and Prinsengracht) before continuing to the Museum Quarter (Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and the Stedelijk Museum).
From the Museum Quarter, tram 12 runs further through the Pijp (a vibrant neighborhood famous for the Albert Cuyp Market), Rivierenbuurt (a charming neighborhood with beautiful Amsterdam School architecture) and ends at the Amstel Station near the Amstel River.
From the back of the Amsterdam Central Station, hop on the F4 ferry to NDSM. This trip takes approximately 20 minutes and is a unique way to see a different, more contemporary side of Amsterdam. The ferry offers wonderful views of the Ij-harbour, Amsterdam Noord (North) with the futuristic EYE Filmmuseum and the old port area. The ferries run several times an hour and are free of charge.
At NDSM, visit the Ij-Hallen with its weekly flea market and art studios, STRAAT – the largest street art museum in the world, and cool cafés such as Pllek and Ijver.
4. Visit sustainable museums
Amsterdam is home to several museums that are dedicated to sustainability and environmental issues. For instance, the NEMO Science Museum is a sustainable museum that focuses on educating visitors about science and technology in a fun and interactive way, with exhibits that highlight sustainability and renewable energy. Don’t miss the rooftop terrace which offers beautiful views of Amsterdam.
Another museum that focuses on sustainability is the Fashion for Good Museum. This interactive museum showcases the ways in which our clothes are made and the future of fashion. It also teaches us about the impact of the fashion industry and how we can contribute to a greener planet through the fashion choices we make.
5. Support local and sustainable dining
Amsterdam has a thriving food scene, and visitors can make sustainable dining choices by supporting local and environmentally conscious restaurants. Look for restaurants that source their ingredients locally, use organic or sustainable farming practices, and minimize food waste. Additionally, choose restaurants that offer plant-based or vegetarian options, as reducing meat consumption is one of the most effective ways to reduce your carbon footprint. By dining at sustainable restaurants in Amsterdam, you can support the local economy while also making environmentally responsible choices. Restaurants I’ve been to which excel in low waste, circular dining and/or locally-sourced ingredients include:
- De Kas – food sourced from their own gardens in a classy ambiance in a greenhouse
- Cafe de Ceuvel – vegan dishes using ingredients from their own aquaponics greenhouse, and featuring innovative sustainable tech
- Elixir – a circular restaurant in Amsterdam Zuidoost (Southeast) that serves delicious home-cooked style food in a colourful setting
- Circl – another wonderful circular restaurant that focuses on reduced waste, sharing and sustainability.
6. Shop at eco-friendly stores
Amsterdam is a city that is committed to sustainability, and there are numerous eco-friendly stores that offer products that are ethically made and environmentally friendly. From sustainable fashion boutiques and vintage clothing to zero-waste stores, there are plenty of options for conscious shoppers. Look for stores that promote fair trade, use organic materials, and minimize packaging waste. By shopping at eco-friendly stores, you can contribute to the local economy and reduce your environmental impact. Here is a small list of sustainable and vegan stores in Amsterdam to get you started:
- For vegan lifestyle products, check out VEGA-LIFE in the Nieuwe Hoogstraat 3a, not far from Dam Square
- In the Jordaan neighbourhood, don’t miss visiting Sukha (Haarlemmerstraat 110), a concept store rooted in sustainability. Here, you’ll find clothing, fashion accessories, home interior and decorative products and lots of gift ideas!
- Up the road from Sukha, you’ll find Six & Sons (Haarlemmerdijk 31), a department store featuring sustainable brands. You’ll find a wide range of products, from clothing and bags to tableware and cacao products
- More sustainable clothing and handpicked vintage items can be found at The Collection One store (Czaar Peterstraat 128)
- For men’s shoes and clothing, visit About Lifestyle (De Clerqstraat 74H).
7. Visit sustainable markets
Amsterdam is known for its vibrant markets, and many of them have a focus on sustainability. For instance, the Noordermarkt is a popular organic farmers’ market that features locally grown produce, sustainable food products, and handmade crafts. The Pure Markt is a sustainable Sunday market that focuses on organic and sustainable food, and also features live music and entertainment. On Saturdays, the Nieuwmarkt artisanal market is a great place to browse around and purchase artisanal and organic food products. Visiting these markets allows you to support local farmers and artisans, while also making sustainable choices for your purchases.
8. Go on a low emission day trip
While Amsterdam has plenty to offer, there are also low-emission day trip options that allow you to explore the surrounding areas. There are numerous historic towns that are about a 30-minute train ride away. Utrecht, with its gorgeous canals, is my favourite. Alkmaar (famous for its cheese market), Leiden and Haarlem are other interesting towns to visit. You can also take a bus or hire a bike to cycle to smaller towns near Amsterdam such as Weesp, Naarden Vesting (a star-shaped fortress town), Edam, Marken and Volendam. These towns are all very compact and easy to explore on foot.
9. Support green initiatives and social enterprises
Amsterdam is home to various green initiatives and social enterprises that are working towards creating a more sustainable and equitable city. For instance, you can visit De Ceuvel, a sustainable urban development project that focuses on circular economy principles and promotes sustainable living.
You can also check out initiatives like Plastic Whale, a company that offers plastic fishing tours where you can help collect plastic waste from the city’s canals while learning about the importance of plastic waste reduction. Supporting these green initiatives and social enterprises not only contributes to sustainable practices but also supports local organizations that are making a positive impact on the city.
10. Enjoy nature in Amsterdam
Amsterdam is known for its beautiful canals but there are also numerous parks and green spaces to enjoy. Some of my favourite parks include the famous Vondelpark, Westerpark, Amstelpark and outside the city, the Amsterdamsebos (Amsterdam Forest).
In conclusion, Amsterdam offers numerous sustainable activities and initiatives for visitors to enjoy. From cycling around the city to supporting local and sustainable businesses, there are plenty of ways to explore and experience Amsterdam in an eco-friendly manner. By making sustainable choices during your visit, you can contribute to the city’s efforts towards environmental conservation, support local communities, and create a positive impact on Amsterdam’s sustainability goals. So, go ahead and enjoy your trip to Amsterdam while being mindful of sustainability!
Keith Jenkins is the Founder and Publisher of the award-winning Velvet Escape luxury travel blog. Based in Amsterdam, Keith has visited more than 80 countries across six continents in search of the best travel experiences. He often writes about his love for art/design, history, architecture, nature and food/wines.