In the six years that I have been living in the Netherlands, I have been to Amsterdam just a few times; and then only when I had a specific purpose to visit the city, like seeing a special exhibition in one of the great museums -for example, the Rembrandt/Caravaggio comparative held in 2006 at the Van Gogh Museum- or attending a performance of Het Nationale Ballet at the Muziektheater of Amsterdam. Indeed, up until very recently, the biggest city and capital of the country, did not seem to attract me enough to spend a day or two exploring it as I very often do in other parts of the Netherlands.
My indifference towards Amsterdam came to an end about a year ago thanks, to a great extent, to my friend Nicolás.
Nicolás and I are members of the Argentinian forum at SkyscraperPage, an international community about achitecture, town planning, photography and travel. There we talk about different cities in the country, urban projects, tourist destinations, etc. Last year Nicolás contacted me asking for advice as to the places he should include in his itinerary during his holiday in the Netherlands and Belgium. I certainly suggested Amsterdam, but I am pretty sure that I was not very enthusiastic in my praise of the city at the moment of recommending places that he should visit during his trip.
Upon his return to Argentina, Nicolás started participating in a thread about Holland that I had opened in the SkyscraperPage forum, sharing with us his views of the city, his anecdotes and adventures, illustrating everything with his wonderful photos. That was when my indifference towards Amsterdam turned into curiosity: Nicolás' pictures made me want to see the city for myself and to explore it like he had done.
One of the places Amy took me to, was the Albert Cuyp Open Market in the area known as De Pijp in Amsterdam. Click here to find the location of the market on the map.
The opportunity presented itself last July, when another friend, Amy, invited me to spend a day exploring Amsterdam with her. Amy had done some research and carefully planned our itinerary in advance; we more or less managed to stick to it, also stopping for lunch at the Café De Jaren and later in the afternoon, for emergency shoe shopping when the straps in one of my sandals came loose... (it was an emergency, I have a witness!)
De Albert Cuyp Market is one of the most popular markets in the Netherlands. Approximately 300 stalls lined up on both sides of the street offer just about anything you may think of, from great fresh produce (like veg, fruit, fish, cheese) to exotic delicacies from around the world, rare spices, trendy clothes, bedding textile, leather wear and even jewelry.
But apart from the diversity of the products on offer that you can find at this market, what really makes a visit worth is the true Amsterdam atmosphere that you can enjoy there. The market is frequented by regular customers from the area Oud-Zuid (Old South) of the city and is very popular with the residents of Surinamese, Antillian, Turkish, Moroccan and Hindustani origin from Amsterdam which gives the place a rich, multicultural feel.
De Pijp, where the Albert Cuyp market is located today, used to be an area occupied by sawmills and timber merchants. By the end of the 19th century the housing shortage in the city was so serious, that the place had to be cleared to make room for new town development which once finished, housed a large population of mainly shopkeepers, craftsmen, low-rank civil servants and students.
The stretegically situated Albert Cuypstraat (a street named after Albert Cuyp, a Dutch painter from the 17th century) soon attracted pushcart vendors who would go up and down the street selling fresh produce and all sorts of goods to the inhabitants of De Pijp. The concentration of a crowd of vendors with their pushcarts, vehicles and customers, produced such a traffic chaos in the area, that the police often chased the vendors away, but these kept coming back for the local residents needed the goods they had for sale.
In 1905 the city council finally legalised the market which was at first held only every Saturday, and as of 1912, every working day of the week.
The Albert Cuyp street vendors had a very hard existence. Every day, they would get up in the small hours of the morning and go to the central market halls in order to get their supplies for the day sell. They would then rush to the Albert Cuyp street, still very early in the morning, and wait there with their pushcarts ready. At a fixed time, a policeman would blow a whistle and a crazy race would start, for the vendors, pushing fully loaded carts, competed with each other to get the best and most strategic places along the street in order to attract more customers .
But despite this natural competion, camradership and solidarity always existed among the tradesmen of the Albert Cuyp market. During the 1930s crisis, for example, poverty struck the vendors very hard; and later, during the German occupation, Jewish tradesmen were not allowed in the market, there were curfews in the city and everybody was having a hard time. But the spirit of unity among them brought them closer together in those difficult times and they often helped each other out whenever it was possible.
In the 1960s and 1970s the market became even more popular attracting not only tourists from around the world but also local residents from outside the Oud-Zuid district in Amsterdam who came looking for a koopje (bargain) or special or exotic items that could not be found anywhere else in the city. The locals have a saying which goes, "if you can't find it in the Albert Cuyp, then it doesn't exist or it has not been invented yet".
Today the Albert Cuyp street market is not only a place where you can find good bargains or exotic goods. It has also become a place where you can meet with friends for a nice cup of coffee and enjoy the lively atmosphere around you.
At the Albert Cuyp you can also try some of the typically Dutch delicacies, such as stroopwaffels (a sort of treacle waffel) or the Hollandse Nieuwe Haring in one of the stalls you will find along the street.
The Albert Cuyp market is then a place for everyone. Whether you are spending a holiday in Amsterdam or are there just for the day, you should definitely not miss this place. You can for example, combine a visit to the Albert Cuyp before or after your tour of the museums which are located not very far away.
And if you are currently living in Amsterdam and you often go there to do your shopping or occasionally, to nose around the stalls, please share with us your views about this very special area of Amsterdam! How does it feel to be a part of the Albert Cuyp market crowd on a regular basis?
Here is some practical information about the Albert Cuyp street market:
- The market can easily be reached by tram from the Central Station or from the Dam Square - with trams 16 and 24 you need to get off at the Ferdinand Bolstraat stop and then walk to the Albert Cuypstraat.
- If you decide to go by car, you can park in one of the P+R (park and ride) garages for 6 euros a day and you also get an OV (public transport) card for free. Here you can find the locations of P+R parking lots in Amsterdam. The P+R Olympisch Stadion (Olympic Stadium) is the closest to the Oud-Zuid district.
- The market is open every working day (Mon. through Sat.) from 09:00 to 17:00.
Note: Many thanks to Amy for the very nice photos she made of me that day in Amsterdam! Harstikke bedankt, Amy!