Begijnhof: Amsterdam’s worst-kept secret in the heart of the city centre

Nestled in the heart of Amsterdam lies a place that draws in tourists like Dutchmen to a korting (discount) on cheese.

No, I’m not talking about the Red-Light District (that’s hardly a secret!), but the Begijnhof: a peaceful and historic courtyard in the middle of the bustling city.

I’d already read about this “secret” place, but I still wanted to find this hidden gem and explore it for myself. Luckily, I had a Dutch guide to help me locate this courtyard in the middle of the Singel, the innermost canal of Amsterdam’s canal system.

The origins of the Begijnhof

The Begijnhof was founded in the Middle Ages and is therefore at medieval street level, which is a metre below the rest of the surrounding streets.

the-entrance-to-the-begijnhof-in-amsterdam
The Begijnhof has a rich and storied history. Image: Freepik

It was originally a Béguinage, which refers to housing for Beguines. These Beguines were religious women who lived in a community together but took no vows and had more freedom than nuns.

Now a residential area and site of the English Reformed Church, the Begijnhof is a quiet place with the church and a few lovely old houses in a ring in the middle.

The archway and stairs in the tunnel also help add to the feeling of secrecy as you descend and then come out inside the courtyard.

So what’s the big secret?

Why is this spot touted as a secret to be discovered? Well, as the Church is invisible from the street, you don’t know it (or the courtyard) is there at all if you are passing by on the street.

A second reason is that there is another church within the courtyard, which was originally a secret because of the Protestant takeover of Amsterdam in 1578.

When the main church was confiscated, the Beguines converted two of the houses into a chapel until religious freedom was restored in 1795.

Along with these two historic churches, there is one last wooden building left in the Begijnhof courtyard: one of only two remaining wooden houses still standing in the centre of Amsterdam.

After a fire broke out in the 16th century, the building of wooden houses in Amsterdam was banned. Constructed in 1528, this solitary black house in the courtyard is the oldest wooden house in Amsterdam.

the-courtyard-of-the-begijnhof-in-amsterdam
The Begijnhof is a little slice of calm in the bustling heart of Amsterdam. Image: Depositphotos

Not only is this spot historically interesting, but it is also a quiet, little oasis amidst the myriad twisting and busy streets of the city outside.

Unfortunately, it’s not a secret anymore, with people often finding their way into the courtyard to wander around, take photos of the artwork, statues and gardens, and explore the churches.

It’s gotten so well-known that some of the areas are only open to residents, and you can no longer even sit and picnic on the grass.

However, if you want to feel like you have stepped back in time, or if you just want to take a quiet moment from the busyness of the city outside, this spot is still worth some of your time. (Even if just so you can say you discovered a not-so-secret courtyard and a secret church in the middle of the city!)

Have you visited the Begijnhof? Tell us in the comments below!

This article was originally published in April 2016, and was fully updated in December 2022 for your reading pleasure.

Feature Image:Depositphotos
Kristy Atkinson
Kristy Atkinson
Originally from Tasmania (Australia), Kristy was living in London when she unexpectedly met a Dutch bloke and ended up moving to the Netherlands to be with him. Now she can be found taking numerous photos of their four weird cats and blogging at Tassie Devil Abroad.

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