A guide to shopping in the Netherlands’ expat hubs

Edition 26 April 2018, by Phoebe Dodds

Unlike its neighbour Germany, in the past few years the Netherlands has embraced consumers’ desire for a round-the-clock shopping culture. Chain stores all around Europe are feeling the strain of customers opting for Amazon and bol.com instead of heading out to the shops themselves, and the need to offer a special in-store experience has never been more important. Luckily for expats in this country, the Netherlands boasts a massive variety of shopping options, from high end international brands through to local delicatessens nestled on traditional street corners. Read on for the best of the Netherlands’ retail offerings…

High-end and department stores

Fashionistas will be delighted to know that the Netherlands’ retail scene caters to those with a penchant for Prada and other high-end luxury brands. Amsterdam’s PC Hooftstraat, which lies alongside Museumplein, is home to Dior, Louis Vuitton and Gucci, amongst others. The shops in the street are indicative of the rise in tourists to Amsterdam who are interested in purchasing luxury goods: many of the designer stores in the street are looking for customer service staff who are able to speak Arabic, Russian and Chinese. PC Hooftstraat is also an attraction for those on a budget – many visitors who pass through the street are keen to photograph the Chanel store’s famous entrance made out of glass in the shape of the traditional Dutch brick wall. According to unverified local folklore, the street is also a noteworthy example of carefully considered urban planning: there are no cycle lanes on the street, because the majority of shoppers who walk down it travel only by car. Luckily for those who don’t live in the capital, most major luxury brands can also be found in upmarket department store De Bijenkorf, which has outposts in Rotterdam and Utrecht, as well as its flagship store in Amsterdam’s Dam Square.

Some expats in The Netherlands may find that there are far fewer malls and department stores than in their home countries – especially if they come from the United States or the United Kingdom. The reasons for this stem from cultural preferences: many anthropological studies have demonstrated that traditionally, shoppers in many Northern European countries have preferred to make their purchases in a range of different independent shops. This is partly due to a desire to be cost-effective – it’s thought that walking down a high street and visiting a butcher, baker and greengrocer separately allows the consumer to compare prices easily, and to get a better deal than if they were to buy all of their food for the week from one large supermarket. It can also be an incentive for shops to keep their prices as low as possible to beat the competition. Conversely, Brits and Americans often prefer to buy everything under one roof for the sake of convenience, meaning hypermarkets and large shopping centres are the norm in those countries. One of the great benefits to living abroad is being able to experience how people from other cultures live, and doing your groceries in different independent shops is one way to start. Even so, for those who want to stick to what they’re familiar to, Canadian department store Hudson’s Bay has recently sprung up in The Netherlands, and houses all major international brands. Despite being relatively new in the country, Hudson’s Bay already has stores in cities including Almere, Breda, Zwolle and Tilburg.

International chains versus boutiques

It’s often said that globalisation has meant that every high street in the world – whether you’re in Madrid, Copenhagen or Tokyo – looks the same. In other words, you’ll see an H&M, a Zara, a Nike, and possibly a Claire’s Accessories. That’s certainly true in the Netherlands, where all of the aforementioned stores can be found very easily, along with a host of other international imports. Take Amsterdam’s Kalverstraat as an example, which even features a Waterstones bookstore, beloved by British expats, despite the inflated prices. The Hague’s Grote Marktstraat tells a similar story, where expats can feel at home surrounded by international offerings including Bershka, TK Maxx, Primark, and of course a Starbucks. For those who prefer independent stores, The Netherlands is proud of its wide range of internationally acclaimed boutiques incorpo rating everything from fashion to interior design. The Witte de Withstraat in Rotterdam is a perfect example of this: the street is home to boutiques such as Marlies Dekkers, a local lingerie designer, as well as numerous fashionable clothing boutiques. You can also find more specialist stores, including RSI The Attraction, which sells in skate and snowboarding clothing, and Paraddy, which sells ballet clothes. Amsterdam’s boutique-lined 9 Straatjes are a massive tourist attraction, and it’s not difficult to see why. The 9 ‘little streets’ cross over the city’s most famous and picturesque canals, and are lined with boutiques, cafés, bars, and restaurants. From high-end candle and cosmetic shops to antique bookstores and specialist cheese shops, there’s really something for everyone. Elsewhere in the country, the focus is more on interior design. In Utrecht, Combo Design offers mid-range, stylish home furnishings, whilst Mooi & Belle offers country style furniture with a French twist. EmmaB, also in Utrecht, sells good quality but simple homeware, often in Scandinavian-inspired styles. Those in Amsterdam looking for a similar style can visit Hay, the Copenhagen import located centrally on the Spuistraat. If you’re looking to upgrade your home’s interior on a budget, high street staple Sissy Boy – primarily a women’s fashion shop – is known for its high quality but inexpensive homeware. Stock up on everything from blankets and metallic storage units to bathroom essentials like towels and soaps – all without breaking the bank.

Unusual shopping experiences

Ensuring The Netherlands retains its reputation internationally as a country that pushes the boundaries, Hutspot is a store which is reinventing the shopping experience. With multiple locations in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Eindhoven and Utrecht, Hutspot sells everything from clothing and glasses to books and aesthetically packaged gin. One of the Amsterdam locations of Hutspot even features a café and barber shop, so you can tick more than one item off your to-do list at once. Of course, there’s also a photo booth to cater to the Instagram generation, allowing them to capture their day out. Hotel Droog, a design store in the centre of Amsterdam, is another example of an unusual shopping experience: the space also houses a restaurant, exhibition space and even a hotel room where fans can stay the night.

At the other end of the spectrum are the downright bizarre stores, and these can be found easily in the ultra-touristic parts of Amsterdam. The Warmoesstraat’s Condomerie features in the majority of guidebooks about The Netherlands, thanks to its status as the world’s first specialist store focusing on condoms (and now selling much more in the same field). On the same street, there is also a special Venetian mask store as well as a shop which sells only rubber ducks. While their clientele might not be immediately obvious, the fact that the stores have been longstanding in an area where real estate is so expensive, is testament to the demand that exists for these products. Food shopping No shopping trip is complete without a stop for some food, and the offerings in The Netherlands are often so good that a visit to a food market is a day out in itself. Rotterdam’s Markthal is perhaps the best known, and as the city is The Netherlands’ city of architecture, it’s no surprise that the market features a cutting-edge design. The Markthal is in the shape of a giant airplane hangar, and its interior is decorated with massive colourful tiles depicting different varieties (and colours) of fruit, giving it the unofficial nickname of the Rotterdam Sistine Chapel. The food hall sells both ingredients to take home and whip up into a dish yourself, such as fish, sausages, nuts, and cheese, as well as food stalls which sell dishes to eat on the go. Although it has only been open for a few years, Rotterdam’s Markthal has already received celebrity chef attention , Jamie Oliver chose it as the location for the first Dutch branch of Jamie’s Italian. In Amsterdam, the indoor food court De Hallen is a little more upmarket, and the food is just as good. De Hallen’s stalls don’t really sell food that you can bring home, but the large amount of seating areas means you can sit comfortably while you sample the offerings. Particularly good are the Indian street food stall and the falafel stall – and the market caters to people with a wide range of dietary requirements, so no one is left out. To add to the experience, there’s a gin and tonic bar which serves almost every flavour combination possible, in massive glasses to keep customers happy. There’s often live music in De Hallen in the evenings, and there’s also a cinema in the complex for those who want to make a proper outing out of the visit. Of course, food trucks selling typical Dutch ‘delicacies’ like raw herring can be found all over the country, if you’re going for a more traditional feel.

A taste of home

However much expats may enjoy living in a foreign country and sampling life abroad, it’s always nice to have a taste of home every once in a while. Fortunately, The Netherlands caters to its sizeable expat community’s food choices in most major cities. The Hague, Rotterdam and Amsterdam all have sizeable Chinatowns, full of authentic Asian restaurants and grocery stores and supermarkets stocking popular local produce like dried squid and speciality noodle flavouring. Chinatown in The Hague is marked by traditional Chinese gates, and the area doesn’t just cater to Chinese expats: you can also find Japanese and Indonesian delicacies. Similarly, Amsterdam’s Chinatown is actually packed with restaurants and businesses from all around Asia, including Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia. One of the best known restaurants in Amsterdam’s Chinatown is Thai Bird and its Snacker across the road – queues often fill the street with locals and tourists trying to get a seat. Further to the east of Amsterdam is the Indische Buurt, home to streets filled with Moroccan and Turkish grocery stores and supermarkets, as well as a large selection of Middle Eastern restaurants. The Javastraat and Molukkenstraat are particularly popular – grocery stores here stock a wide range of food such as couscous, tzaziki and hummus, as well as Halal meat. The restaurants in the area cater mostly to expats and Dutch people who originate from countries including Afghanistan and Iraq, but tourists are missing out – the food is top quality and incredibly authentic. The Noord district of Rotterdam has similar offerings, making sure expats from all around the world are catered for.

British and American expats in The Netherlands are similarly lucky. The Eichholtz Delicatessen on the Leidsestraat ensures its visitors’ sugar cravings are handled, with walls lined with pop-tarts, Betty Crocker cake and brownie mixes, and a wide range of flavoured cereals imported from America. Candy lovers will be relieved to hear the delicatessen also offers a wide range of British and American candy, from Altoids and Life Savers from the United States, to the British Flake and Cruchies bars. For a more efficient service, expats fro these countries can also visit kellys-expat-shopping.nl, an store based in Wassenaar which also boasts a sizeable online store, delivering local favourites to homesick expats. From Kraft’s Macaroni & Cheese and Hershey’s Instant Chocolate Pudding, to Shreddies, Baked Beans and PG Tips tea, Kelly’s Expat Shopping covers all bases.

So there you have it – if you live in The Netherlands and you like to shop, there’s bound to be something to suit your tastes. The Netherlands really has the best of both worlds – there are the large international fashion and homeware brands like Nike and IKEA if you want them, but if you’d prefer a more individual experience, you can visit specialist sneaker shops and design stores offering the latest from up-andcoming Dutch designers. Vintage stores are also very popular, with Dutch chains like Episode springing up all over The Netherlands in Amsterdam, Utrecht, Haarlem and Rotterdam. There are chain restaurants and cafés like Starbucks, but local brown cafés and hipster bars line the streets in most Dutch cities if that’s your preference. Expats can buy all their food in Albert Heijn and local Dutch markets, but there are also plenty of store that sell international produce if they’re missing home – the great benefit in The Netherlands is that the choice is up to you.