The Top 5 Things To Do In Amsterdam

Hotel Okura Amsterdam’s Insider Shares Her Favorite Places To Experience Local Food, Culture, Nature, And More
Louise O’Hare, chef de cuisine at the Hotel Okura Amsterdam.
Louise O’Hare
Chef de Cuisine, Hotel Okura Amsterdam

When chef Louise O’Hare first landed in Amsterdam as a tourist over a decade ago, the Dublin-born gourmand, just 23 at the time, felt an instant tug towards the laidback Dutch capital. “I immediately told my sister I was going to live here,” admits the chef, who now steers Taste of Okura, a range of innovative cookery workshops for Hotel Okura Amsterdam, an epicurean escape in the city’s bohemian De Pijp neighborhood.

For Louise, who spent much of her childhood vacations in a series of bed-and-breakfasts along the windswept Irish coast, the ocean continues to play a starring role in her culinary pursuits, including in recent on-property master classes, which serve as thorough tutorials on prepping local delicacies like oosterschelde, or fresh water lobster. Other spotlighted ingredients include locally harvested asparagus, a vegetable that’s affectionately known as “white gold” across much of The Netherlands, and wagyu beef, a tribute to the hotel’s Japanese roots.

The Taste of Okura workshop kitchen features top of the line furnishings and appliances.
Hotel Okura Amsterdam

Collectively, Hotel Okura Amsterdam’s five dining options, which include some of the city’s most sought-after Japanese eateries, have harnessed a whopping four Michelin stars. The luxurious food-forward property attracts a steady stream of locals in addition to international guests, judging from those who attend Louise's workshops, which she conducts in both Dutch and English. “I love seeing guests return to my classes. That makes me very proud,” Louise says of her regulars.

Local Recommendations

Uncover Amsterdam’s Most Well-Kept Secrets With Chef Louise O’Hare

From a clandestine 17th century museum to an unexpected stretch of sand, Louise O’Hare shares her most beloved sites in and around Amsterdam.

Clandestine Sights

Peek Inside A Once-Hidden Sanctum

From the outside, this Queen Anne-style canal house in the center of Amsterdam’s notorious Red Light District seems unremarkable. But ascend a steep, winding staircase, and you’ll discover a full-fledged church, aka Our Dear Lord In The Attic (40 Oudezijds Voorburgwal; +31-20-624-6604), complete with soaring ceilings, pink woodwork, and an exquisite marble and gilt Baroque altar. The schuilkerk, as it’s known in Dutch, traces its origins back to the 17th century, when Catholics were banned from worshipping in Holland. Incognito parishioners once entered through a fake door hidden in the living room. Today, the secret church, which was transformed into a museum in 1888—one of Louise's favorite places to seek serenity—is considered one of Amsterdam’s oldest institutions.

The hidden altar at Our Dear Lord in the Attic.

Noteworthy Nights

Where To Experience Live Music In Amsterdam

Louise recommends free summer concerts, which could feature anything from chamber music to spirited jazz, at Concertgebouw (10 Concertgebouwplein; +31-20-671-8345), a shoebox-shaped music hall, dating back to 1888, world famous for its pitch-perfect acoustics. Despite its grand exterior—gilded instruments, including Apollo’s lyre, embellish its classical façade—Louise insists the vibe inside is anything but stuffy. “As I discovered to my peril, I was all dressed up the first time I went, but its actually very approachable,” she recalls.

The Concertgebouw, a monumental 19th century music hall, hosts free summer concerts. Photo courtesy of Hans Roggen.

Food, Drink, And Film

Sample Artisanal Bites And Indie Films

“Let’s face it, Amsterdam isn’t exactly known for its sunny weather,” says Louise. On rainy days, the chef can be found grazing, tapas-style, at Foodhallen (51 Bellamyplein; an indoor market in the city’s trendy Oud-West neighborhood. Here, 21 quirky stalls occupying a former tram depot hawk everything from Dutch meatballs and gourmet hot dogs to temaki rolls and bao buns. There’s also a gin-and-tonic bar and plenty of locally-brewed beer on tap. Louise often pairs the noshing with a movie at the neighboring FilmHallen (12Hannie Dankbaarpassage; +31-20-820-8122), an eight-screen theater (the largest independent cinema in the country), including one especially chic Art Deco-accented space, which showcases European selections and collaborations with local film festivals.

A lively dinnertime scene at Foodhallen.

Day Trips From Amsterdam

Visit A Medieval-Era Town. Tulip Gardens, And More

To see the Netherlands’s oldest train station (11L Stationsplein, Haarlem; +31-900-202-1163) an Art Nouveau beauty that scored a memorable cameo in 2004’s Ocean’s Twelve, you'll have to visit Haarlem, a thumbprint of a city (about a 15-minute train ride from Amsterdam), famous for its leafy courtyards and quaint cobblestoned streets. In addition to a clutch of must-see museums exhibiting anti-Nazi works, this quintessentially Dutch gem, a town that Louise currently calls home, draws crowds for its lively Saturday morning farmers market with Gouda cheese-wheels galore, and is a worthy detour en route to the Keukenhof Gardens (166A Stationsweg 166A, Lisse; +31-252-465-555), 80 acres of flowers featuring 800 varieties of tulips alone.

The Keukenhof Gardens in Lisse.

Shore Thing

Get A Taste Of Dutch Beach Culture

“In a couple of hours, you can be anywhere in Holland,” Louise says of her adopted home country. The Netherlands’ sizable coastline means you won’t have to trek too far from the capital to feel the sea breeze. A 30-minute train ride will land you in Zandvoort—recently renamed Amsterdam Beach—a smooth, five-mile stretch of sand dotted with sun-bathers and charming pop-up cafés. Though locals brave the chilly ocean temps, this pocket of the North Sea isn’t tailor-made for dips, thanks to an abundance of jellyfish and seaweed. But the breezy resort town is a perfect backdrop for windsurfing and catamaran racing competitions, which make for a spectacular show.

The shore at Zandvoort Beach.