The brightly colored houseboats floating in the canals, the artistic heritage, the many cyclists briskly biking across cobblestones, the antique lamps holding glowing red bulbs...Amsterdam has much to offer in the way of inspiration. It’s one of the most visited cities in the world, on average bringing 30 million people across its harbors. And those numbers are continually growing. Perhaps it’s the fact that all of the worlds vices have finally found a home to live, for the most part, rather harmoniously, but even if you’re not here to partake of the famed mary jane coffee shops, the glittering casinos, or the lovely legs of the legal sex workers, we assume you must be looking to get an incredible tattoo to remember your time here.
The Amsterdam tattoo scene has exploded here, and there are hundreds of shops lining the quaint streets. But, of course, quantity does not necessarily mean quality, and we’re here to give you a personal look into four of the best Amsterdam based tattoo studios. The talent here is extraordinary, which each tattoo artist displaying a unique and specialized style we know you’ll deeply appreciate.
So after you’ve visited your fair share of museums or heritage landmarks and in between enjoying the serious relaxation that the cities serene park system can offer, perhaps spliff in hand, we advise making a stop at thes best tattoo studio’s Amsterdam can offer. We’ve even included a few additional spots to check out to steep yourself in the special cultural quality of this city, as well as to get your 420 foodie fun on.
Whale Whale Amsterdam is not only a tattoo studio, but a piercing parlour as well. Their shop is located right on the corner of Keizersgracht and Leidsestraat, with a lovely view of a tree lined canal. The shop itself is spacious, clean, and decorated with a fascinating array of paintings and decor. There is even a curio cabinet containing gorgeous jewelry for the piercing of your pleasure. While there is definitely an atmosphere of professionalism, this space has the kind of chilled out vibe that people will seriously appreciate. Escape from the intense tourism trade to lounge on comfy couches and pillow laden chairs that are at your disposal while you wait for the body mod expert of your choice.
I was fortunate to meet with three resident tattoo artists at White Whale. Alba, Katya, and Franki were each kind enough to take some time out and tell me a bit about their creative work. When asked what makes this Amsterdam tattoo studio so special, Alba is devoted to making sure that the client is the most important aspect of a good shop, “I think it’s about how warm are you with the people. How open are you to new things? Not only doing your style, but always be a little bit open to new ideas! Give your touch, but always be nice. This is key to a good experience.” Katya agrees saying, “A creative approach to a customer is important. I personally try to be kind to every customer, and listen to what they say. Sometimes, especially if it's their first experience, they don't know how to express themselves...it's really important for us to speak clearly and be a nice person.” It’s immediately apparent, too, when I walked into the shop that this is part of the White Whale ethos. You can feel that when you step through the doors into their creative world.
Most artists have a real concrete philosophy behind their work, and the tattoo artists here in Amsterdam are passionate about that. For Alba, it’s about really connecting with others. “Tattooing gives me the opportunity to show my art, but also to have this contact with people. To hear their stories, their histories...to know people, to travel without traveling. To give...to give someone a part of you because you give your energy and you ideas, but it’s always a two way relationship.”
For Franki Brasty, it’s also a symbiotic relationship between artistic expression and interacting with others. “I think that there are more tattoo artists here than just tattooers, you know? They are artists more than just tattooers…it’s really cool. But, for me, I think I started tattooing because I love to do things with my hands, I like to do woodworking...anything with my hands. But it's also really nice when you are working with someone to give them a tattoo, and afterwards they are so happy! And then they go off into the world with that.”
Even looking at Katya’s vivid pieces, you can tell there is a lot of depth there...worlds within worlds inked into bright and beautiful visual memories. “I do tattoos to entertain. I tell stories. I am a storyteller and I’d be a writer if I wasn't a tattooer. I try to imagine a story behind each scenery.”
And each of these tattooists, with their unique style, brings something absolutely incredible to the tattoo collector's life. Not only a wonderful visual that they’ll love for a lifetime, but a friendly and inclusive experience that is absolutely indicative of Amsterdam’s welcoming environment.
My next stop was at Order Collective, which is more creative powerhouse than simple tattoo studio. They not only use their space at a spot for radical tattoos, but they also hold events, and support an insanely varied amount of creatives. From graffiti artists, to fashion mavens, to photography, screen printing, and more, Order is about the artistic experience as a whole. The small space is used to its max capacity; one can find tons of things to buy, or tons of things to admire on the walls...I spotted a few pieces by Death/Traitors and Luxiano that totally filled me with glee. Saying these guys have exceptional taste is a serious understatement. Everything they create, and are involved in, is filled with dynamic energy.
Located right around the corner from De Oude Kerk, a 13th century cathedral, Order Collective is nestled between red light district luminaries and the famed Bulldog coffee shop peddling the finest in reefer refreshments. The unified artists of Order, and even the diverse cultural surroundings, are a perfect testament to the foundations of harmony of Amsterdam.
I was finally able to meet Nicobone in person, who is an insanely skilled tattoo artist that focuses on mind bending cerebral studies in linework and blackwork. His tattoos are like graphic arts meets ancient esoteric sigils, which is no surprise since he actually went to school for, and worked as a graphic designer before becoming the talented tattooist he is today. Nicobone is completely in love with his craft and takes the transformative aspect of it pretty seriously. “Using the human body as a living canvas is extremely fascinating and intense. People fully trust you on letting you tattoo them and they will carry your artworks through the world for the rest of their lives. More than grateful for that and everybody I meet on my path. Besides that I’m interested in people and their stories, so it's a blessing to meet and work with them. Tattoos are beautiful markings on human skin and memory of times. You connect a time in your life with a tattoo. So it's an important moment between two people!”
Etienne, one of the founders of the collective and a tattoo artist himself, was also around and kindly gave me some insight into his idea behind the space. “I’ve been tattooing for twelve years, but about three years ago I started this collective with a few friends of mine. We had, like, an atelier because we started doing a lot of different stuff than tattooing. I was traveling and I was really getting into photography, I was always down with clothing. I’ve also been doing graffiti all my life, that’s like the first thing I was doing before I started tattooing. At one point, I started doing this collective with all my friends, we were all doing a lot of different stuff. One friend is an art director, another is a photographer, another is doing parties, and I was like...yeah, let’s put this together. And that’s when we started Order, the collective. So, this is just a studio actually, it’s not really a tattoo shop. You can do whatever you want here. We sell clothing here, we make art stuff here. We don’t have opening times, you know? It’s open when it’s open. We don’t follow any rules. And for the rest, now we’re doing a bunch of cool stuff...it can go anywhere! We’ll see what happens!”
If you're looking for something more lifestyle based than your regular tattoo shop, you've found it. If you're in the Amsterdam area for life or for travel, keep tabs on these guys. The possibilities of what they're capable of is totally endless.
Motorink Finest Tattooing is in the heart of Amsterdam. Surrounded by a busy hustle of tourist trade, clothing stores, and mouthwatering restaurants, not to mention the famed Royal Palace of Amsterdam and the adjoining Dam Square, you’d think Motorink would be just as intense as its surroundings, but nothing could be further from the truth. Stepping into the studio is like finally finding some peace from the manic tumult of globetrotters just outside the door. With the big happy Buddha beaming down from his space above the artists stations, it’s quite natural to ease into the tranquil atmosphere of this particular Amsterdam tattoo studio.
Dedicated to high quality tattoo arts, Motorink has tattoo artists that give their clients superb pieces that will last a lifetime. While Celio and Junior have a graffiti infused Japanese style with hints of dark Neo Traditional, Israel and Gery focus primarily on illustrative aesthetics with a heavy hand. Bojana, who hails from Serbia, does exquisite linework and dotwork that looks like it could have been pulled from fairy tale story books. Recently, Ann Sally also joined the Motorink fam, and her work is certainly based on Traditional iconography and aesthetics but fused with a tropical vivid fluorescence.
Owner Celio Macedo is ultra passionate about his work, and the work of the artists that he curates to work within these walls. “The scene in Amsterdam is fraternal and promising, many shops with a lot of art have emerged. My desire to open Motorink has always been to remain willing to deliver the best to the customer, much beyond an excellent tattoo, they will carry an unforgettable experience for life. We have fun over here and we want to show it to the world.”
The group not only continually creates awesome ink, but also constantly produces imaginative films that capture the vibe and ethos of the studio perfectly. Lovers of graffiti and illustration will certainly find a haven in the specialized tattoo studio. To learn more about what makes this shops to unique, check out our spotlight on them! More tattoos to peruse, and even some badass videos that wonderfully highlight their artistic qualities.
My final stop was at Tattoo 1825 on Spuistraat. The team here is incredibly kind and welcoming, and the studio itself was wonderfully clean and modern. Kimihito, a Japanese tattoo artist who moved to Amsterdam years ago, opened up the studio in hopes of making a supportive space for her work. He explained that in Japan there are many tattoo artists who do very good quality work, but they are still forced underground due to legal issues. “The culture of tattooing in Japan is very interesting and I like it more, but the business is difficult. Here, in Europe, the trend for getting a lot of tattoos began, which makes our shop does well. There are a lot of tattoo artists in Amsterdam, but not everything is good quality. This is also good for our business, because many people like the Japanese style.” For him, a tattoo studio is about good quality and good artists and it’s so important that the tattooist are constantly trying to evolve their work.
Many of Kimihito’s tattoos have foundations within his homeland culture, and although he can certainly give you a classic Japanese dragon or Foo dog, he’s also embraced a unique calligraphic style that covers his clients skin in large swaths of graceful brushstrokes resulting in images that seem to dance around the body. “I did Japanese calligraphy, with the brush, and also Japanese sumi painting with ink and water, and sometimes the calligraphy, to me, looked like dragons, so that’s why I started. I also like to do Traditional Irezumi, but I want to make more powerful work...but not too Neo Japanese. And I like how the calligraphy style looks on the body, it fits the body and has a lot of impact.” Kimihito’s work is intentional, and it’s very clear that he takes his craft seriously.
As an extension of Kimihito himself, the tattoo artists at Tattoo 1825 are wonderfully balanced, each with a special aesthetic. Selina has a really gorgeous Neo Traditional styling; she captures portraits of women with an especially sensual and potent quality. She also often fuses her designs with Japanese iconography like Hanna masks and peonies. Digz, a tattoo artist who hails from France, blends dark art with black and grey realism. Death and demons are a common concept within his work, but he also takes inspiration from films, nature, music culture, and legends or persons of old. Andrea, much like Digz, is enamored with esoteric and dark imagery. Andrea’s style is much more illustrative and textural, however, and most of his pieces seem to burst with a flash of ink and energy. Mario does bold and bright Traditional tattoos that inhabit the sphere of iconic Trad designs. Ships on the high seas, lush roses, eagles, anchors and more, Mario rounds out a crew that can give you a special piece in a serious but serene ambience.
Of course, now that you know all of the best tattoo studios to visit in Amsterdam for your particular stylistic needs, I feel like it’s really important to address one of the biggest tourist draws for this city: sex workers. Around the world the stigma for this community is continuing to make life difficult for those who have specifically chosen this self-empowered and sexually liberated path. And although many are forced into sex work, there is often no distinction made between the two, especially when it comes to the law which continually disregards the fact that many of these women want economic and moral autonomy.
This Red Light District is one of the oldest in the world, and the legal sex trade brings millions of travelers on a yearly basis. However, with increased travel and crime in the area, new bans and actions are being put into place that will likely change this most beloved aspect of Amsterdam. One of these bans is on the “historical sex tours” that many organizations give out…and while they may seem like a chance for 16 year olds to giggle and point at the sex workers smiling behind glass, many of the Red Light ladies appreciate the educational aspect of these city walks. In an interview with Thrillest, Sunny, who works for My Red Light, the first ever non-profit brothel in Amsterdam, says of the tour ban, “Personally, I don’t mind the tours -- I think [banning them] will just make things worse because if you have really good guided tours, they explain how to behave. At least you have a possibility to educate people on life in the red light district.” While many the districts sex workers seem to have either similar or disparate views on the changes, it’s also hard to deny the cash flow that the tourist trade offers.
Obviously, in cases like this, only time will tell what the overall repercussions of these new laws and bans will be. Moving the sex workers to other parts of town would, in my humble opinion, damage the historical standing of the city, while also seriously displacing the people who work there. But ...I digress. My main point is that if you visit Amsterdam and it’s one of your bucket list bits to bang, just remember that sex workers are people who deserve your respect, so show some classy behavior. Respect is key to any healthy human relationship, and that doesn’t change just because outdated stigmas still exist.
To be honest, when I visited Amsterdam a few years ago, I do not remember the tourism, or the tourists, being so boisterous...but with this space being one of the few ultra tolerant cities in the world, it’s no wonder that the tourist trade has gotten a bit out of hand. The amount of people visiting is growing by an insane rate. But blaming sex workers for that isn’t really the way to go. From my own experience, I really truly loved how the sex workers in Amsterdam treated me. I can imagine that sitting in a window all day can become a bit..monotonous...many of them smiled and waved at me, a few asked me about my tattoos or where I was from. Like me, they get stared at all the time, obviously for very different reasons, but that common ground was really refreshing since I was far from home and friends. I also have to say: party cities like Amsterdam can become a bit weary for working travelers like myself, so it was nice to connect with someone for a moment who wasn’t a blitzed out bro. Just saying...
And then, of course, the galleries, museums, and historical landmarks. I didn’t stop at the Anne Frank house, nor visit Rembrandt’s dead wife, but those are pretty typical spots on the Amsterdam to-do list. I also did try to go check out the Van Gogh museum, but when I approached and saw a line wrapping around the building...I felt that Van Gogh would have understood me literally running in the other direction. Just kidding, but, you know...everyone who travels has a different reason, and goal, for travel. Mine is usually to see the underground weirdo bits while also partaking of a few obvious sightseer stops. Last time I was here I did check out the Rijksmuseum, which was rad. This time, however, I tried to give the local galleries a go.
My first, albeit random, visit was at the Young Blood Initiative which was having a group show. Their whole mission seems to be to support emerging artists in an inclusive and collaborative atmosphere. In the back is also a studio and workspace that is part of the collective. The same goes for another artists atelier, W139, which had an ultra modern feel. The current show was like a blend between Skandinavian and Asian design tenets that resulted in a sort of sleek, but chaotic, minalism. This gallery had a wooden platform at the back of the enormous space that led, like stairs, up into a balcony that one could peer over to see the artists working within. One of the people working there also handed me a pamphlet put out by Amsterdam Art, a totally useful tool for people really wanting to get their culture on.
I also paid a visit to Tropenmuseum, which had a Japanese exhibit complete with the most beautiful chrome statue by Hajime Sorayama, hentai dakimakura pillows, tentacle porn, Lolita fashion displays, and, of course, a cute talking robot. Literally, if you know me, you realize this is my version of heaven. Of course, since this is a museum all about the world's cultures, there was more than freaky deaky kinky stuff. There was also a fascinating exhibit about child slaves in chocolate plantations and one about the millions of people who make the pilgrimage to Mecca every year.
If you’re interested in books, my two favorite bookstores are Kok and Het Fort van Sjakoo. Kok, or Antiquariaat A. Kok & Zn. B.V., is an antique bookstore that’s been in business since 1946. They have an enormous amount of awesome vintage books, prints, and papier ephemeral, which is perfect for people like me who enjoy collecting Victorian photographs and Art Deco postcards. The other place, Het Fort van Sjakoo, is an anarchist bookshop and activist collective with all profits going back directly into the shop. Everyone who works there is a volunteer and in an interview with Verso, one of the volunteers, Joris, spoke about their mission, “We opened in a squat back in 1977...Ultimately, I suppose you could say that we’re aiming for a global anarchist revolution, but that’s quite a long-term goal so on a day-to-day basis we provide a resource for people interested in all kinds of libertarian and radical ideas, anything that goes against the mainstream.” I picked up a copy of James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk and wandered over to Oosterpark to relax.
My last bits of must-do’s are as follows: a night time visit to Vondelpark which, especially if you’re traveling with your honey bun (and staying in cheap, but crowded, hostels), will be really fun because public sex here is legal as long as you “take your trash with you when you leave, and stay away from playgrounds.” Noted.
I’d also advise you to check out Maenaam Thai Restaurant...I haven’t had such extremely delectable Thai food since I was in Hin Tung, Thailand.
Beyond that, I leave the city of Amsterdam for you to discover.