Life in the Bijlmer – a former Ghetto, an Upcoming Neighbourhood in Amsterdam

I’m not particularly proud to confess this, but my initial expectations of living in the Bijlmer weren’t exactly optimistic. I had this mental image of residing in an area surrounded by the stereotypical Bijlmer flats that didn’t exactly exude an inviting vibe. I couldn’t help but notice myself constantly watching my back, fearing a potential robbery or, heaven forbid, a shooting. I even questioned whether I could continue dressing the way I liked and wearing my distinctive accessories. Putting these thoughts on paper now, I realise how far off the mark I was.

Bijlmer is an Amsterdam neighbourhood often stigmatised as problematic, with its fair share of challenges. In the past, it was synonymous with crime, drugs, unemployment, and an influx of illegal immigrants. The Bijlmer even held the title of being the first and only Dutch ghetto. Unfortunately, even today, this is still the image that the majority of people unjustly hold. And even I was not an exception in this regard. Yet, here I am today, having called this place my home for three years.

What many people may not realise is the remarkable transformation the Bijlmer has undergone over the years. Therefore, in the following sections, I’ll delve deeper into my journey in the Bijlmer, shedding light on the hidden gems and the vibrant culture that I discovered, since moving in the neighbourhood.


Bijlmer Arena – A Unique Melting Pot. Picture this: On a typical weekday morning, you’ll find a sea of office people and expats in sharp suits bustling through the area. Fast forward to a match day, and you’ll witness a transformation as football fans descend upon the Johan Cruijff Arena. Then comes the evening, and the Bijlmer Arena transforms again. Music lovers from all corners of the city gather for concerts that span genres and cultures. And let’s not forget the cinema lovers. The Pathe cinema at the Bijlmer Arena attracts crowds eager to escape into the world of cinema. But what truly makes the Bijlmer Arena special is its connection to the local community. The proximity to Amsterdamse Poort, the neighborhood’s bustling commercial centre, means that the area is not just a magnet for visitors, but a gathering point for local residents as well.


A World of Flavours. One of the most delightful aspects of living in the Bijlmer is its culinary diversity. This neighbourhood, known for its rich multicultural tapestry, offers a mouthwatering array of international cuisine. One of the joys of this neighbourhood is exploring the various food markets, such as at De Amsterdamse Poort, that celebrate its multicultural spirit. If you are struggling to choose a meal, it is worth visiting the World of Food, a compact indoor food court with a diverse range of delicacies.


Thriving Creative Scene. The Bijlmer is now a thriving hub for artists, musicians, and innovators. Bijlmer’s creative scene extends to music, dance, theater, and more. For instance, in Bijlmer Park Theatre, located at the beautiful forefront of the Nelson Mandela Park, many events and performances are organised, including circus, stand-up shows, dance, and art. And there are more and more creatives who now create interesting content to show the undiscovered side of the Bijlmer. If you’re interested in humorous content, I recommend giving “BIMS” a listen. This podcast delves into weekly life lessons drawn from the Bijlmer experience, and it’s truly worth your time.


Bijlmer’s Green Oasis. The Bijlmer is home to an array of parks and green areas that offer a peaceful retreat from the urban hustle and bustle. Whether it’s a leisurely stroll through the Nelson Mandelapark or a serene moment by the water at the Gaasperplas Lake, these green havens provide a sense of tranquility and peace. The community gardens and local initiatives promoting green living are not just refreshing but also contribute to the neighbourhood’s ongoing transformation.


I will be honest; when I began my apartment search, it became clear quite quickly that I didn’t have an abundance of choices in terms of location. So, I decided to be practical and focused on the southeastern part of Amsterdam, which fitted better with my daily routine and my favorite go-to spots in other parts of Amsterdam. Within 3 months, I found a 49m2 apartment on the third floor in the Bijlmer.

Fast forward to three years later. I have learnt that the Bijlmer Arena isn’t just a location; it’s a testament to the neighbourhood’s ability to harmoniously blend its diversity. It’s a place where the business-minded meet the football fanatics, the music lovers, the cinema-enthusiasts, and the locals. It’s a living, breathing example of how beautiful diversity can be when it comes together in harmony, creating a vibe that’s uniquely Bijlmer. It is a pity that the charm of the area is still unknown to many, but I am confident that this will change with time. And when it will eventually gain the recognition it deserves, I’ll proudly share this article I wrote from the time when the Bijlmer was still a hidden treasure in Amsterdam.

1 thought on “Life in the Bijlmer – a former Ghetto, an Upcoming Neighbourhood in Amsterdam”

  1. What a great piece Mekky! I have been in Bijlmere only for practical matters but i have never taken the time to explore the area. Thanks for sharing your insights. I look forward to visiting you in Bijlmere!

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