For many people, the mere mention of the name Amsterdam is enough to conjure up images of a city of debauchery and smoky ‘coffee shops’. And it’s true that many tourists head to the city for exactly that reason. But Amsterdam has so much more to offer than just that.
Over the years I have found myself drawn back to Amsterdam time and time again. It isn’t just the abundance of sights and attractions that makes the city so appealing. It’s something a little more intangible than that. Perhaps it’s what the Dutch refer to as gezellig, meaning something along the lines of a cozy, comforting and friendly atmosphere. The city feels vibrant and fresh, the streets busy and criss-crossed with bicycles, scooters, cars, and pedestrians. You can’t help but get swept up in it.
Add to that the fact that Amsterdam is the cultural capital of the Netherlands, crammed full of more museums, architecture, and art than you can possibly imagine and it’s easy to see why I consider it up there as one of my all-time favourite cities.
Best Time to Visit Amsterdam
The best time to visit Amsterdam is during one of the shoulder seasons (April – May and September – November). During that time the weather is mild and pleasant and the tourist crowd has not yet reached its summertime peak. If you’re flexible on timing, I would recommend visiting at the end of April to coincide with Amsterdam’s tulip season and the famous King’s Day celebrations.
For those willing to brave the cold winter weather (usually hovering somewhere around zero) the run up to Christmas can be particularly magical. There are loads of festive things to do during December including ice skating on frozen canals and soaking up the atmosphere at the brightly lit Christmas markets.
Top Things to Do in Amsterdam
If you’re planning your first trip to the city, then this list of Top 20 Things to Do is a great starting point.
I would recommend kicking off with a trip to one of Amsterdam’s many museums. With over 50 of them spread throughout the city ranging from classical art to those a little more on the unusual side (ahem…a museum dedicated to cats), you are guaranteed to find one to suit your taste. Art lovers should check out this guide to the best art galleries in the city which includes the Rijksmuseum, the Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art and my personal favourite, the Van Gogh Museum. Whereas history buffs can learn all about the city’s rich history at the Amsterdam Museum or take a visit to the Anne Frank House.
If you’re looking for something a little more lighthearted then head over to the Heineken Experience. The €16 entrance price includes a tour of the brewery, tons of interesting information (did you know that the ‘e’ in Heineken is purposefully tilted to resemble a smile?) and a few glasses of beer for good measure. Or spend some time exploring some of the city’s more weird and wonderful museums.
When you have had your fill of museums, move on to the markets. In true Amsterdam style, there is an abundance of choice as to which markets to visit. If I had to choose just one I would recommend Albert Cuypmarket which is located in the Pijp district and is the largest outdoor market in the Netherlands, selling everything from clothing and antiques to food. And make sure you also squeeze in a visit to Bloemenmarkt, a picturesque floating flower market on the Singel Canal. If you prefer to do your shopping in shops, try the trendy Nine Streets area for a day spent exploring boutiques in the heart of the city’s most beautiful canal-lined streets, Oud Zuid for luxury shopping or Kalverstraat and Leidsestraat for big brand stores.
Travelers on a budget will be pleased to hear that you don’t need to spend money to make the most of Amsterdam. There are plenty of things to do around the city for cheap or, even better, free. Grab some food from a nearby market and head for a picnic in one of Amsterdam’s many parks or the secluded Begijnhof courtyard. Alternatively, hop on one of the free ferries to Amsterdam North and take advantage of the view of the city from the water or try out one of these Top 10 free things to do.
Make sure you set aside some time to just wander the streets, admiring the architecture of the tall gabled houses, the picturesque canals, and cosy little cafes along the way. I prefer to explore Amsterdam by foot but if you want to do it like the locals then hire a bike and take advantage of Amsterdam’s excellent cycle lanes. Try following this suggested route which takes in the sights of historic Amsterdam or book onto one of these free walking tours which take you around the main sights, the red and green light districts and hip neighborhoods lined with colorful street art.
Want more things to do in Amsterdam? Check out this article by The Guardian on Best Things To Do in Amsterdam.
Where to Stay in Amsterdam
Its easy to blow the budget on Amsterdam accommodation, particularly if staying in the city centre, which is typically very touristy and charges the highest prices. I would recommend staying in one of the surrounding areas which are full of character, reasonably priced and well-connected by Amsterdam’s excellent public transport system. The Travelling Dutchman recommends staying in De Pijp, Jordaan or De Negen Straatjes which are all fairly central but less crowded than the city centre and Rough Guides gives an excellent round up of the different Amsterdam neighbourhoods with suggested hotel recommendations for each area.
Find and book these hotels on our favourite accommodation search website: Booking.com
If you’re on a budget but still want to stay somewhere spectacular then I recommend trying Airbnb. The stunning architecture in Amsterdam means that there is no shortage of beautiful apartments to rent. And staying in local areas will give you a different experience of Amsterdam. If you would rather a hotel, choose one of these recommended hotels to suit all budgets which includes my personal favourite, the Volkshotel, a former newspaper office building converted into a hotel with 172 different hotel rooms each with their own character and quirky flourishes.
Don’t have an Airbnb account yet? Sign up now and receive a discount to put towards your first Airbnb stay!
Where to Eat & Drink in Amsterdam
Amsterdam has a big street food scene and, in my opinion, this is the best way to sample the local specialities, ranging from sweet fluffy pancakes to crispy deep fried meatballs. If you’re brave enough, try the most famous Dutch delicacy of them all, raw pickled herring, either served on its own with pickles or as part of a sandwich. This is served at stalls throughout the city, but two of the most popular are Stubbe’s Haring near Central Station, and Frens Haringhandel near Bloemenmarkt.
If pickled herring isn’t for you then there are plenty of other street food options, including stroopwafels and fries smothered in mayonnaise. If you’re not sure where to head then try one of these 10 best street food locations or head to De Hallen to check out its excellent indoor food market.
There is no shortage of great restaurants in Amsterdam and you might be surprised to hear that some of the best are actually Indonesian. The Dutch food scene has a strong Indonesian influence dating back to when Indonesia was a Dutch colony (even the fries are sometimes smothered in satay sauce). I would highly recommend Blauw restaurant which serves an excellent Rijsttafel. A rijsttafel translates as ‘rice table’ and consists of a combination of various mouth-watering Indonesian dishes. Alternatively, check out this Indonesian Food Scene guide for restaurant recommendations around the city.
Meat eaters should head to The Butcher for one of their famous burgers or, for something a little more special, try to secure a table in its ‘secret kitchen’ which requires a password to enter. For more restaurant recommendations check out the links below:
- Top Ten Dutch Food Restaurants in Amsterdam
- Insider’s Guide to Amsterdam Restaurants
- Best Cheap Eats in Amsterdam
Want to try everything but not sure where to start? Consider signing up for an Eating Amsterdam food tour which will introduce you to many of the best local specialities.
When it comes to Amsterdam nightlife, to say that it is varied would be an understatement. Time Out provides a comprehensive guide to Amsterdam nightlife, listing everything from traditional pubs to swanky cocktail bars. One of my favourite places to drink is Café Karpershoek, a laid back bar lined with wood panels and serving good beers. It also happens to be the oldest pub in Amsterdam.
How Much Time Do You Need in Amsterdam
Amsterdam is one of my favourite cities and I could easily spend weeks there, especially given the huge amount of attractions packed into it. In reality, most people visit for between 2 to 4 days but I would recommend spending at least 3 full days there. Check out these itineraries to help make the most of your time in the city:
About the Author: Stacy left the UK in January 2015 to travel around Southeast Asia, and she hasn’t looked back since. She is currently in New Zealand blogging about travel and lifestyle and is soon to begin travelling again, this time indefinitely. You can read all about her adventures on her blog, as Simple as This, or find her on Instagram, Pinterest or Facebook.
BEFORE YOU GO: DON’T FORGET TRAVEL INSURANCE
We can’t stress enough the importance of travel insurance, especially in a country like the Netherlands. Whether you just plan to explore the cities or do a little bit of hiking being protected on your travels is an irreplaceable peace of mind. We learned about the importance of travel insurance the hard way and now we never travel without coverage.
Have you ever been to Amsterdam? What tips and advice would you give to first-time visitors to the capital of the Netherlands?
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