“If you want to have the local experience, you should know about them and visit at least two.”
The Netherlands is full of local stores, from which you can buy different things. If you want to have the local experience, you should know about them and visit at least two. This guide was made by a local to help you find your way around all the most famous supermarkets, pharmacies, and department stores in the Netherlands. After reading this blog, you will know where to go for specific needs and not waste your time.
Albert Heijn, known as the AH, is the largest supermarket chain in the Netherlands and Duchies’ favorite. It was founded in 1887 when 21-year-old Albert Heijn took over the small grocery store in Oostzaan from his father. Today the brand has more than 1000 store locations in the Netherlands and Belgium. If you pay attention while walking through the city, you will see different sizes of AHs: from the larger stores, where you can find all kinds of fresh produce, to the “To Go” ones, where you will mostly find ready to eat items. At Dam Square, you can buy fresh-baked pizzas that are great and have excellent prices. Ideal for eating while watching the sunset at one of the canals nearby. The biggest AHs, known as XLs, are located in the suburbs, there you can find everything from kitchen supply to fresh pastries.
At the stores, it is usual to find self-scanning machines. Implemented in 1987, the devices are where you can scan and pay for the products yourself. Another supermarket feature is the bonus card, a free card that gives great discounts on different goods throughout the month. Furthermore, the chain also sells its own branded products, known for the high quality and lower prices! If you come to the Netherlands, you cannot leave before going to one of them. Actually, there is a large one at the Schiphol Airport, where you can buy a snack or a stroopwafel to bring home!
Albert Heijn to go
The smaller size of AH, you will find at train Stations, shopping streets and city center. As the name says, they are perfect for grabbing food on the go. They sell sandwiches, fruits, smoothies, salads, and sometimes even fresh bread and pastry. They are always equipped with self-scanning machines, to make your shopping even faster. The ideal place to buy snacks or lunch while you are exploring Amsterdam – or any other city in the Netherlands, because of the high-quality products, handy locations, and affordable prices. AH to Go is also an excellent option for a quick and cheap breakfast before visiting a museum or jumping in on a canal boat – my favorites are the cheese croissant and the fresh orange juice.
Jumbo, with a very similar quality range and prices, I would venture to say, is AH’s most significant competitor. It is the second-largest supermarket chain in the country, with more than 680 stores in The Netherlands and Belgium. In some of them, you can also self scan your products. Like AH, some Jumbo units have their own in-store restaurant, called La Place, from which you can buy ready to eat food. They also sell great fresh products such as pasta, pizzas, smoothies, and so on. You will find quite a few in the city center. My favorite one is the Jumbo City, at the corner of the Wolvenstraat with the Keizersgracht.
Marqt & Ecoplaza
Marqt and Ecoplaza, the sustainable supermarkets. In the Netherlands, most of the supermarkets are striving to become more sustainable. They often set deals and goals with suppliers to provide more eco-friendly and fair trade products to their customers. However, Marqt and Ecoplaza have focussed on achieving a better impact, selling only sustainable products. You will find fresh, organic, fair trade, and natural ingredients and ready to eat items at both supermarkets. For instance, at the Ekoplaza, you can make your own peanut butter using the in-store machine. There, you will also find an extensive range of vegan options, as well as gluten-free and sugar conscious. The brands are also concerned about their product packages, offering many plastic-free options.
Marqt has 11 stores across the country, with 9 in Amsterdam. The most central location is at Haarlemmerstraat 165. On the other hand, Ekopaza is present in different cities across the country, with 139 stores. In Amsterdam, the city center’s closest ones are at Waterlooplein 131; Weteringschans 133-137; and Elandsgracht 118. With modern stores and a wide variety of exciting products, for those who love supermarkets like me, visiting those stores is an attraction itself!
Vomar, Lidl & Dirk
Those are cheaper supermarkets, but you still can find suitable products. If your hotel is close to one of those and wishes to save some money, I recommend you buy some items to leave in your room’s mini-fridge. Take the opportunity to try one of the best bakeries in town.
A Dutch supermarket opened in 1968 by the Zwanenburg family; today, Vomar has 70 across Noord-Holland, the Bollenstreek, Utrecht, and Almere. There you can find from well-known brands to own branded products – cheaper but not as high-quality as Albert Heijn’s. The most central Vomar in Amsterdam is the Kinkerstraat 34 unit, a busy commercial street, where De Hallen and other stores, such as Action and Hema, are located.
Dirk van den Broek
Dirk van den Broek is a family business that started with a milk cart through Amsterdam’s streets in 1942. Currently, this is one of the better-known national brands with more than 120 branches. There you can find all kinds of products, with very competitive promotions. Amsterdam’s most central locations are at Warmoesstraat 157-163; Bilderdijkstraat 126; Marie Heinekenplein 25.
Lidl is a German supermarket, part of the Schwarz Group, the largest supermarket chain in Europe, with over 12,000 stores across Europe and the USA. The first store in the Netherlands opened in 1997, followed by six new other stores in the same month. There you can find fresh produce, meat, baked goods, and household products at the lowest possible prices. In my opinion, the place where you will find one of the best croissants in town. They have 430 across the country. In Amsterdam, the most central ones are at Alberdingk Thijmstraat 21 and Hemonylaan 25a.
Hema, like the AH, is one of the Dutchies’ favorite stores. They sell from clothes to house items and souvenirs, not to mention the supermarket & bakery, and an in-store restaurant at the largest ones.
The Hollandsche Eenheidsprijzen Maatschappij Amsterdam, or H.E.M.A., opened its first department store in 1926, in Amsterdam. The idea was to open a department store for “ordinary” people. Before this, department stores focused on wealthy people. It was the first department store of its kind in the Netherlands.
Today, with all the products developed in house, HEMA stores are located in 12 different countries, with more than 775 stores. Hema receives around six million visitors per week and is present in almost all Dutch households. If you want to have the local experience, this is also a must-go store, and you can take the opportunity to buy souvenirs or to have a quick lunch or snack.
Gall & Gall and other liquor stores
In the Netherlands, high alcohol content spirits, such as gin, vodka, tequila, etc., for off-premises consumption, are sold through liquor stores that need to have a liquor license to sell.
Although Dutch supermarkets are the largest sellers of beer and wine, you can also find liquor stores such as Gall & Gall. Typically those stores have a membership card, from which you can get discounts on different products from time to time.
Gall & Gall, owned by AHold Delhaize (parent company of the Albert Heijn and the Etos), is the country’s largest liquor store chain. You will generally find one of their 600 stores in the same building or close to an Albert Heijn.
Note: Alcohol consumption in the Netherlands is not permitted under 18 years old. Establishments that sell alcohol are required to ask proof of ago for customers that look under 25 years old.
Etos & Kruivdart
You can find everything from cosmetic products to sweets, toys, and even clothes detergent in drugstores like Kruidvat or Etos. They are like Duane Reades in the US or Lojas Americanas in Brazil.
If you fall from your bike and need to buy plaster or ointment, or if you have a headache and need paracetamol or ibuprofen, or need loratadine for an allergy, you can find those at a typical drugstore (or even at some supermarkets). There you can also find food supplements and vitamins.
These are also the best places to buy hair and skin products because of the incredible variety to choose from and the frequent deals, such as “1+1 gratis”, meaning you get another for free if you buy one.
Apotheek Benu, and others
The apotheek, the Dutch word for drugstore or pharmacy, is where you can buy prescript medications. In the Netherlands, without a prescription, you cannot purchase most of the medicines. If you need something else other than painkillers or vitamins, like antibiotics or birth control pills, you will need a prescription from your doctor. If you are registered at a pharmacy, your doctor can send your prescriptions directly, or you can bring the paper version yourself. Either way, the pharmacy keeps your medications digitized and is on track of the drugs you are taking to avoid drug interaction. Most of them send your bill directly to your insurance company. They have different working hours, but there will always be one open during the night or the weekend for emergencies. Some pharmacies have a 24h machine outside, in which you can register online or by phone, to pick up your medicines anytime.
At the apotheek you can also find vitamins, painkillers, infant formulas, homeopathic medicines, cosmetics, bandages, thermometers, etc. Products that you can find for a lower price at ordinary drugstores. I suggest that, besides an emergency, you avoid going to one of those.
Extra: Action, Blokker, and Street Markets
Action is the Dutch most popular budget department store, present in eight countries, with 1,700 stores. They sell very cheap products, but not so high in quality. There you can find snacks, chocolates, office stationery, toys, cosmetics, home appliances, cleaning materials, gardening, do-it-yourself products, and so on. My favorite place to buy costumes or decorations for thematic parties. Also, a great place to buy cheap souvenirs.
Blokker, founded in 1896, is a Dutch household goods store always nearby with surprising products. There they sell appliances, kitchen supplies, smart cleaning solutions, bedding, toys, and much more. If you have extra time and space in your luggage, it is worth a visit!
Street Markets are widespread in the Netherlands & Europe. There are different markets, from flea markets, like the one at the Waterlooplein, to farmer’s markets like the Noordermarkt. But usually, you’ll be able to find anything, from fresh produce to bike chains at those markets. To know more about Street Markets in Amsterdam, read my blog.
After reading this blog, I hope you understand a bit more about the Dutch culture and are prepared to visit the country, knowing a bit more about local stores. I hope that those tips make your stay in Amsterdam easier and provide you with a unique experience and let you feel like a local!