Amsterdam is an electric introduction into the Netherlands. From the beautiful canals to the risqué Red Light District, Amsterdam is a bustling city and one of the most popular tourist destinations. Its fascinating history, unique architecture and relaxed laws on drugs and sex make it a prime spot on many traveler’s bucket lists.
A city full of cheap thrills, this cultural capital of the world has tons of things to do for everyone. We were really only supposed to spend less than a week here….but a couple of coffee shops and a few hazy decisions later…we ended up staying and taking advantage of ten full days. We absolutely loved it here; we loved walking throughout the small alleyways, talking with locals, and learning about the history of the city.
If you have less than ten days, the below itinerary will give you a good overview and feel for what makes visiting Amsterdam so special. From popular attractions to trendy hubs, this list has all of the tips and tricks to enjoying Amsterdam.
You will probably see more bikes parked along the city’s canal than you will see people strolling the streets. The absolute best way to get around this city is by bike, which everyone does anyways. The bikes are super easy to rent and it is the most beautiful way to see Amsterdam like a local.
If you don’t want to spend your entire vacation biking all over the city (totally understandable) get a tram pass! The tram goes through the city and a week pass is super cheap and easy to use.
Amsterdam is not that big of a city, and once you are already within the main city center, you’ll find that you can easily walk to every location. A self-guided walking tour is a great way to orient yourself fin the city. You can accidentally stumble upon historic buildings, find your way crossing canals over old bridges and walking through undiscovered alleyways decorated with graffiti art.
There are over 60 museums in Amsterdam. SIXTY! That is the world’s highest concentration of museums..which is insane considering its not that big of a city. Museums can be a very personal experience and most of the time you will only enjoy it if it focuses on a subject you are interested in.
If you plan on going to a lot of museums, then consider getting the iAmsterdam card. The card includes free admission into most popular museums as well as free use of public transportation for 24 hours. You can also get your tickets at the ticket window of the Museum Store located in the center of the bustling square.
The Rijksmuseum has an extensive collection of Rembrandt, Vermeer and even Van Gogh on display. The Louvre of the Netherlands, the Rijksmuseum is huge and has a ton of exhibitions worth exploring. It’s best to dedicate an entire day here…once you are finished going through the Rijksmuseum you will be exhausted.
Anne Frank House
This was truly one of the most moving museums we had gone to. This young girl’s experience is well known around the world and seeing the place where she spent more than two years hiding from the Nazis was incredibly emotional. The museum itself was very well done. You have the opportunity to see what her life was like and to walk in her footsteps decades later. This physical reminder of one of the worst times in human history honors those who struggled through it.
Getting day-of tickets for this museum is a literal nightmare though. I haven’t been through that much stress since registering for classes in college. You can only get tickets online and day-of tickets go on sale at exactly 9am. This means you have to be logged on to your computer on the museum’s website well before 9 in order to get on the waiting list. Once it is your turn to book, you have approximately two minutes to find open spaces and pay the museum fee, otherwise you get out-bid by other people waiting to get tickets.
Bottom line is book your tickets a week in advance.
Van Gogh Museum
One of the most popular tourist attractions in the city, Van Gogh’s earliest work stands alongside his detailed biography in the museum. The museum also has paintings by other famous artists such as Monet (my favorite), Manet, and Matisse. There is no avoiding the crowds unfortunately, but it is definitely a must see. As one of the most influential painters in the Netherlands, the museum shoes his life, his inspirations, and the works that led him to become the icon he is today.
This was one of my favorite museums. This modern and contemporary museum focuses on political pioneers of art. The museum is located in an old mansion right on the Museum Square. Iconic works from Warhol and Banksy is displayed on the walls of the mansion.
Banksy’s rejection of violence and war is shown in his work Girl with the Balloon, Laugh Now and Flower Thrower. Warhol’s break into modern pop art is shown in his infamous Campbell’s soup can and striking painting of Kate Moss.
We also saw temporary exhibitions from artists, Yayoi Kusama, The Moco Garden surrounds the mansion outside which has sculptures resembling characters from Alice and Wonderland. The garden itself is full of surprises and its collection is constantly changing.
This museum was actually pointed out to us during our canal tour, Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder (“Our Lord in the Attic”) is a majestic clandestine Catholic church hidden inside a 17th century canal house during Protestant rule. The church was hidden out of sight of the authorities.
Hash Marihuana and Hemp Museum
This museum rocks. It presents information about the historical and modern use of cannabis for medicinal, religious and cultural purposes. The exhibit focuses on how hemp is used for agricultural, consumer and industrial purposes.
Amsterdam has definitely appealed to a specific kind of traveler. With the legalization of cannabis, its tumultuous state has revolved around the city’s iconic coffee shops where cannabis can be exchanged legally.
This section is no way supposed to encourage drug consumption, nor is it suggestive of our recreational habits; it is rather a source of information for Dutch Coffee Shop Culture. That being said, here are a list of our FAVORITE spots.
Bulldog : The Coffee Shop Empire. This was the 1st coffee shop in Amsterdam and laid the benchmark for contemporary coffeeshops. Now a chain, it can be found all over.
The Store : This rock ‘n’ roll themed shop plays a ton of 60s and 70s classic rock and the décor reflects this era of music. Located on the north end of the Singel Canal
Barneys : Amsterdam’s most original and futuristic coffeeshop and winner of multiple “High Times Cup” awards, Barney’s is only a few minutes walking distance from the Amsterdam Central Station. Its lounge is located on the canal and offers beverages and food-great after visiting their coffee shop.
Jolly Joker: One of our favorites, this coffeeshop is located right on the corner of Niuewmarket and is a lovely cozy wooden two-story shop. Everyone is incredibly friendly and helpful, and you can head upstairs to watch the bustling city outside of their huge windows.
Easy Times : Located right tin the heart of the city, Coffeeshop Easy Times is directly on one of the most beautiful Amsterdam Canals. It has outside seating if you want to get fresh air and has a very modern and recently renovated interior. It looks like a swanky NYC bar.
Dampkring: This world famous coffeeshop hosted the famous movie Ocean’s 12 cast while filming in Amsterdam. Its spacious and gorgeous interior makes people feel welcome…especially when you find out that Brad Pitt and George Clooney came here.
Super Skunk : Decorated with comfortable couches and Arabic style puff pillows, this ethnic shop has all of the décor of an upscale lounge. . It is located right in one of the city’s hotspots known for its active nightlife.
Happy Feelings : True to its name, you leave this coffeeshop feeling Happy. The staff is incredibly happy, and they also sell tickets for their own customized canal tour, The Happy Feelings Cruise, where you can bring and enjoy their products while touring around the city.
Amsterdam is entirely built on canals and one of the best ways to explore the city is by boat. There are hundreds of companies you can book with and you really cannot go wrong with any of the tour groups.
Some boats serve breakfast on the canal while bringing you through the city and others can be considered a "booze cruise". Booking a cruise is a perfect way of roaming around the Amsterdam canal belt, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
We originally booked a Happy Feelings Cruise which, as you can gather from the name of the company, had more of a “party” vibe than other companies, but it just so happened that the day we wanted to actually use our ticket, the boat was totally sold out.
We ended up booking a last-minute tour with Blue Boat which was actually a relaxing and educational ride around the city. A bartender was present on board and served us champagne as we cruised around the city taking in its vast architecture and fascinating history.
Check out the IAMSTERDAM sign!
Or don’t. Totally up to you really.
It’s a cool photo op but there are tons of people and the chance of you getting a photo of just yourself and the sign is not likely. This is also a little uncomfortable to do with just two people…hence why there is no photo of us at this sign.
For the most part, the weather in Amsterdam can be unpredictable. There's nothing better than warming yourself up with some fantastic Dutch comfort food. You will surely want to try the local food while visiting..especially their waffles and poffertjes to satisfy your sweet tooth!
Every day is Pancake Day in Amsterdam and traditional sweet or savory Dutch pancakes are something else entirely. You will soon notice pancake places all over the city and it can be hard to decide which one to go to.
One time Brendan and I were standing outside in a long line waiting nearly half an hour to be seated in one of the best pancake houses in the city. As we were trying to keep warm wondering if the wait would be worth it, a local passed us riding her bike and yelled "they're the same everywhere!" Everyone on line broke out laughing because she was probably right; all of the pancake houses were the same.
They were not the same.
Sunday morning pancakes back home will never be the same after I tried traditional Dutch pancakes. The Pancake Bakery is probably the most famous restaurant that serves both sweet and savory pancakes. It is located in the heart of the canal ring and has been flipping pancakes since 1970.
The other place we went to was called PANCAKES Amsterdam. Though the name of the establishment is simple and to the point, their menu is anything but. There are three locations around the city and we went to the one by Central Station (which is also worth a visit in itself). They have a huge selection of unusual toppings and fillings that has no business being put on a pancake..but PANCAKES Amsterdam makes it work.
HACK: Share your order. Order one sweet and one savory and then split the pancakes for the best of both worlds.
If the Police’s hit song, “Roxanne”, runs through your head then you’re in the right district. Famous for the women in the windows, the Red Light District has rows of windows with women beckoning you over. Prostitution is legal in Amsterdam and all throughout the district you can see it displayed for yourself. If you want to really immerse yourself in the spirit of it all, there are plenty of live performances that you can see. Casa Rosso is the most iconic erotic theatre in the area since 1968.
For a great way of learning about the Netherlands drinking culture, head over to the Heineken Experience. The place can get very crowded, but if Heineken is a popular drink that you enjoy, its great learning about its history. The former brewery is where it all started for this world famous beer brand…and with admission, you get three free beers!
We stumbled upon this bar when trying to find a way to preoccupy ourselves two hours before dinner and were not disappointed. This pirate-themed ice bar is not only entertaining with tons of props and bartender actors, but the temperatures are well below freezing. Once you are inside, they give you a coat, gloves and three drink coupons. Use the alcohol coupons wisely..it will be the only real thing keeping you warm.
This beautiful Latin Quarter is full of restaurants, bars and convivial cafes. It is the place for younger people with a bohemian spirit.
Amsterdam’s de Pijp neighborhood lies just beyond the southern limits of the city’s canal belt and runs downwards along the river Amstel. It holds the city’s iconic Albert Cuyp Market, two breweries and dozens of excellent restaurants. If you go, be sure to buy freshly baked stroopwafels at Albert Cuyp Market.
This is where the city was founded! This beautiful square holds the city’s National Monument, the Oude Kerk Church which is the oldest building in the city. There are tons of shops around the square and the Koninklijk Paleis, the Royal Palace where King Willem Alexander and his family live.
This residential area is one of the most beautiful areas of Amsterdam. Very close to the city center, Jordaan has many restaurants, cafes and shops worth visiting. It may possibly be the most famous neighborhood in the Netherlands from its history in radical politics. The town attracts galleries, restaurants, specialty shops and a scenic atmosphere.
One of Amsterdam’s largest parks is an awesome place to walk, or take a morning run or just hang out and hangout after a trip to a local coffee shop. If you want to take a break from sightseeing and have a cozy picnic or read a great book, Vondelpark is a great way of saving money. Vondelpark is always filled with people and Is a great place to sit back and relax.
Amsterdam is one of those cities you could get lost in. It is such a cool laid-back city full of golden canals, awesome nightlife and great company that makes it one of the best locations in Europe. It’s truly one of a kind and offers so much to your average visitor.