Thursday 29 September 2022

Hot and hungry? Where to swim and eat in Amsterdam

Photo: Deborah Ferraz

The Netherlands seems finally to be having what other countries consider to be a proper summer: days – weeks, even – of weather so reliable that the prospect of organising a picnic or a BBQ more than a few hours ahead doesn’t seem so crazy.

While the heatwaves that have been sweeping Europe are certainly cause for concern when it comes to climate change, here in Amsterdam we’ve been lucky: escaping the hottest temperatures while still benefiting from dry and sunny weather.

Better still, summer’s steamy days and balmy evenings are the backdrop to two of Holland’s greatest pleasures: taking to the water (whether in a boat or in a swimsuit) and al-fresco eating and drinking.

But such warm weather is not conducive to long bike rides or sweaty trips on public transport. Most Amsterdammers would rather stay firmly within the A10 – hopping onto their bikes for 20 minutes at most before taking a refreshing dip in one of the city’s prettiest swimming spots* and then exchanging one form of refreshment for another at the closest café. So without further ado (and before the weather changes), here’s a hand-picked selection of the best spots to swim and dine…

*It’s worth noting that not all of the places mentioned in this article are official swimming spots, although they do have easy access in and out of the water. For Gemeente’s Amsterdam list of official swim locations, visit: maps.amsterdam.nl/zwemwater.

Park Somerlust

Just south of Amstel station, on the east bank of the Amstel river, you’ll find a strip of grass known as Park Somerlust. It’s a lot smaller than many of the parks in the city, but has the benefit of boasting shallow steps leading down into the water as well as a large section of river that’s cordoned off for swimming by a series of yellow buoys. Plus, there’s plenty of space to lay down your towel and dry off after a dip.

The borrelplank at tHuis aan de Amstel. Photo: Amsterdam Foodie

Immediately accessible from Park Somerlust are three excellent options for dining: tHuis aan de Amstel is a large café housed in what used to be one of the buildings of the Zuidergasfabriek (southern gas factory). Serving lunch, dinner and a fantastic borrelplankje, tHuis aan de Amstel is ideal for many occasions and groups of any size. Meanwhile, L’Osteria is the place to be for Italian fare: think antipasti, pizza, pasta and more. And at the eastern entrance to the park, George Marina offers the perfect terrace for a glass of wine and some people-watching.

Weesperzijde

Head north up the Amstel from Park Somerlust, past the Ringdijk canal, and you’ll reach a long wooden platform that serves as a jumping off point for swimmers all year round. In summer, it’s packed with young people picnicking and messing around on the river. In winter, it’s just the die-hards taking their icy daily dip. But whenever you go, you’re sure to find company.

Fortunately, that area of the Weesperzijde is packed with bars and restaurants to refuel after your swim. Bamboa is a neighbourhood gem with its airy bamboo and linen interior and its international menu of shareable dishes: the ceviche, tartare and bao buns are particular favourites. Café Hesp is a brown café that’s been going strong for decades, but its beer and borrelhapjes still make Hesp a local staple. Nearby Weesper is a little quieter and serves simple, classic dishes like steaks, burgers, roast chicken and satay.

Marineterrein

Further north still, you’ll find the wildzwemmen paradise that is Marineterrein. Just a stone’s throw from Central Station and NEMO Science Museum, it’s a newly developed part of the city that’s about as central as you can get. While you swim (there are even lanes if you like that kind of thing), you’ll get to enjoy a majestic view of the huge replica VOC ship outside the Maritime Museum.

Enjoy seasonal food at Scheepskameel. Photo: Amsterdam Foodie

New restaurants and bars keep springing up in this area of the city, from Homeland Brewery to Kanteen25. But for something a little more special (you might want to take a change of clothes if you’re planning to dine after your dip), make a reservation at Scheepskameel. The menu changes regularly, but is always locally, seasonally led. But it’s the wine list that’s particularly unique: Scheepskameel serves only wines from Germany. Luckily for us, it seems the Germans know a thing or two about grapes!

Borneo Eiland

Directly east from Marineterrein, you’ll find a variety swimming spots dotted around the Eastern Docklands. A family favourite is the wooden platform down by the water along the south side of Borneo Eiland (look for the middle of Borneokade on Google Maps). Generally quiet, clean and devoid of tourists, it’s a spot that’s worth branching off the beaten track to find.

In the square immediately behind the swimming platform, you’ll find Oceaan – a simple eatery with a spacious terrace that’s both family-friendly and dog-friendly. The menu is typical eetcafe, but what more could you want after an afternoon spent playing in and on the water? Plus, the fun continues at Oceaan’s pool table, darts board and regular pub quiz nights. Alternatively, walk slightly further and stop into Thull’s Deli for a selection of gourmet picnic produce to take away.

Houthavens

Heading to west instead of east from Central Station, you’ll reach Het Eikenhout – a long wooden pier in the fast-developing Houthavens neighbourhood. Its sheer size means you’re likely to have a fair bit of space to yourself, and there are plenty of handy metal ladders for pulling yourself in and out of the water.

Afterwards, treat yourself to a quick drink or a full-blown meal at Vessel – one of the Houthavens’ many new up-and-coming venues. With its sun-kissed terrace, exotic cocktails and menu that leans heavily on local suppliers, you’ll feel like you’re on holiday in your own city.

De Ceuvel

Over the IJ in Noord, you’ll find plenty more swimming spots – perhaps the most accessible of which is along Papaverweg. You’ll easily while away half a day or more at Café de Ceuvel, where you can lounge by the water, take a dip, order a craft beer or enjoy some of the dishes from the sustainably-focused, plant-based menu.

Vicky Hampton writes about the capital’s eateries on AmsterdamFoodie.nl – for more dining recommendations, download the Amsterdam Foodie’s Restaurant Guide.

For approved swimming spots nationside, check out Zwemwater.nl.

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