When we travel to a city that we’ve visited before, we try to find new experiences. A different neighborhood, a new restaurant, or a place that people who actually live in the city tell us they like frequent.
During our pre-cruise visit to Amsterdam in early June, when we ask locals what they liked to do in their city, we kept hearing, “I like Westerpark.”
“My favorite way to spend a sunny day is at Westerpark. Enjoy the park, and then have some food and cocktails at Mossel & Gin.”
We decided to add a visit to Westerpark to our agenda.
From our hotel – the Renaissance Amsterdam – in the heart of central Amsterdam, we walked west, through the Western Canals and the Jordaan neighborhoods to the Westerpark neighborhood, part of Amsterdam West. While we like to walk, this was a very long distance. (My Fitbit indicated we walked more than 10 miles in total at the end of this day.)
We arrived at the Westerpark just before 12 noon on a sunny Thursday. We found a vast park filled with green space, walking trails, a concert/exhibition space and a variety of eating and drinking establishments. Since it was a beautiful day, people were out enjoying the sunshine, some perhaps, just over their lunch hour.
Westerpark is a peaceful, urban oasis that has an interesting past. Originally called Westerplantsoen (Western Garden), the small park was created in 1845 to give the residents of the emerging working-class neighborhood fresh air.
In 1885, next to the original park, the Imperial Continental Gas Association built Westergasfabriek — a vast industrial facility designed produced gas from coal. (Gas was needed to light Amsterdam’s dark streets, among other uses.) Renowned architect Isaac Gosschalk designed the gas plant’s symmetrical red brick buildings in the Dutch neo-renaissance style popular in 1880’s Amsterdam. Gosschalk also designed the Heineken Brewery of the same era.
By 1899, Westergasfabriek became the Netherlands’ largest gas extraction plant. The facilities continued operating until 1967. Natural gas discoveries in the North Sea had made Westergasfabriek uneconomical to operate.
When the gas plant closed, some buildings were demolished while others were used as storage. The remaining buildings were abandoned until 1992, when they were used– temporarily — to host cultural and creative activities. The large gas holding tank became a spectacular venue for the first Amsterdam mass techno raves.
This activity caused local residents to see Westergasfabriek as historically significant and important for the future of art and culture in Amsterdam. The 22 buildings were listed officially as monuments. But the area was polluted with by-products of gas production, and required a lengthy and expensive environmental cleanup.
American landscape architect Kathryn Gustafson was hired to design the area’s remodel. In 2003, her vision was finally completed with the original Westerpark incorporated with the vast land and buildings of the former gas factory, to become one of Amsterdam’s biggest cultural venues. Now officially called the Cultuurpark Westergasfabriek (Western Gas Factory Culture Park), visitors will discover a huge park with wading pools, walking trails, breweries, restaurants, clubs, music festivals, and much more.
After walking through the huge park for about an hour, we located the recommended Mossel en Gin Foodbar, but were disappointed to learn that restaurant did not open until 4 pm on Thursdays. We vowed to come back another evening.
Now ravenously hungry, we walked onward, following the park’s trails. Eventually, we stumbled onto the WestergasTerras – a restaurant with a large outdoor terrace. Sitting outside, we enjoyed lunch with a view on the famous Gashouder (a concert venue created out of a huge gas-holding tank) and the park’s water gardens.)While the lunch menu at WestergasTerras is limited to sandwiches, salads and soups, the old cheese spread sandwich on whole wheat bread was anything but standard. It paired perfectly with a glass of white wine, while Mr. Jones enjoyed the Croque Monsieur with a local beer. Throughout our stay in Amsterdam, we were impressed with the fresh produce in every cafe and restaurant we tried.
After wondering through more of the park’s gorgeous paths, we soaked in the sunshine, and vowed to return.
We took a different route back during the long walk back to our hotel.
Have you visited Westerpark, or some other unique part of Amsterdam?
When planning our visit to Amsterdam, we appreciated the detailed maps and descriptions of each neighborhood in this guide:
DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Amsterdam
If you enjoy exploring a city on foot, check out:
National Geographic Walking Amsterdam: The Best of the City