Amsterdam is a beautiful city full of great outdoor space and lush parks. But what if we told you some of the best pockets of outside space are hidden away behind closed doors? Scattered through Amsterdam, just minutes away from hot, bustling streets are oases of calm and tranquility. These ‘hofs’ are one of the city’s best kept secrets – peaceful courtyards behind closed doors, with gardens, a few houses and often a little chapel, hidden from the street outside.
Set up by wealthy social reformers centuries ago, mainly to help penniless widows, the spaces today are often run by religious or housing organisations and are still lived in. Most are closed on Sundays; others may have particular opening times during the week. When visiting, make sure you are quiet and respectful of the residents’ space.
The Begijnhof is the most well-known, and as a result can be a little busy, but will still offer respite from the tourist hoards and museum crowds. Dating back to the 1100s, it was originally run by nuns and has a beautiful chapel you can rest in. They hold services in English here every week. Look for the doorway a few doors down from The American Book Center.
The Van Brienen Hofje on the Prinsengracht is a stunning place to sit, with water pumps, quiet benches and an elegant clocktower.
For a quiet picnic, head to the Zon’s hofje. This peaceful space has picnic tables, shady trees and the odd residents’ cats looking for a lap to lie on.
The Karthuizer Hofje is the biggest of them all. Opened in 1615, it was once used to bleach clothes – spot the white washing lines above you.
Bosschehofje and Raephofje are in fact the same place – the original wall separating for them for religious reasons has been knocked down after 300 years. There’s a little pond and brightly coloured houses.
For a real hidden gem, try to discover Claes Claesz Hofje, completely unmarked from the street. Clue: find the Claes Claesz restaurant and spot an alleyway with a white fence above the entrance.
Images: hollandhochmans.blogspot.com, exploredforyou.com