A twilight stroll of Amsterdam’s secret islands
Lying just to the west of Amsterdam city centre, yet seemingly an entire world away, are the serene Western Islands (Westelijke Eilanden) of Amsterdam.
Made up of a series of man-made islands reclaimed from the sea in the 17th century, this sleepy little neighbourhood is connected to the rest of the city by a series of little wooden bridges that transport you not just over the water, but to an entirely different side of Amsterdam. A side populated with historic warehouses, quaint wharfs and cobbled lanes, secret gardens, roaming chickens and bohemian water communities. The area has a higgledy-piggledy, olde worlde charm where it feels as though time has stood still for hundreds of years, and it’s a wonderfully rewarding place to visit at any time of the day. For the best experience, lock up your bike and explore the neighbourhood on foot.
Birth, growth, decline and rebirth of the Western Islands
Like much of the Netherlands, the Western Islands are made up of man-made land masses reclaimed from the sea. They were born in the mid-17th century as part of the expansion of the port of Amsterdam, and before long the Dutch West India Company began constructing warehouses to store goods including herring, grain, tobacco, wine, salt, anchovies, cat skins (yep) and tar.
The three main islands were originally called Front, Middle and Back Island (Vooreiland, Middeneiland and Achtereiland) but were eventually granted the more thought out names of Bickerseiland (after the merchant Bicker family), Realenisland (after Jacob Reael) and Prinseneiland, after the first three Princes of Orange.
After a 200 year heyday, the islands eventually fell out of favour in the early 20th century when the Eastern Islands took over as Amsterdam’s major maritime hub. Neglected and abandoned, the island’s warehouses and homes stood derelict until the mid 20th century, when they were rediscovered and revived by artists and bohemians, who moved in and formed a community that still exists today. The crumbling old buildings were brought back to life and concerted into apartments, and the area is now considered one of the most desirable places to live in the whole of Amsterdam.
Eating and drinking tips in the Westelijke Eilanden
Traditional neighbourhood restaurant with a sunny terrace and excellent fondue.
Named after a Spanish coin from the 16th century, this historic restaurant at the end of a row of captain’s houses has been an inn since around 1800.
Bickers aan de Werf
Modern yet rustic restaurant with a pleasant terrace overlooking the water.
Take a look below at some pictures of the magical Western islands, and don’t forget to pay them a visit yourself next time you’re in town.