Amsterdam is truly one of the most electric cities on earth. From beautiful canals, bright colored tulip fields, funky art, more bikes than people, and of course a very open policy on “soft drugs” and sexuality. But truly, Amsterdam has something in store for everyone. What surprises me most is just how lovely the city is; with picturesque houses stacked side by side and fancy gables atop every building. Whether you’re into museums, food, or just want to feel immersed in the culture, Amsterdam is the perfect city to explore. Here are 20 things you MUST do in Amsterdam.
20 Things You Must do In Amsterdam
Where to stay
I can’t say enough about Canal House hotel. This boutique hotel is exactly what I would choose in every possible way. It’s luxurious yet feels like home. It’s in the heart of it all with surprisingly peaceful rooms. It’s updated yet maintains its old world charm. For example, the lush purple and velvet in our room felt expensive yet there were full size bath products and food samplings from local Netherlands vendors. The view is right on the canal and close to the Anne Frank House and city center but tucked away in the back is a private garden (I was told they recently filmed an ad here for Guerlain perfume- so you know it’s lovely!).
Bonus points: they offer bike rentals from the hotel which is a huge perk (and my number one thing to do in Amsterdam.) You can of course rent bikes elsewhere but I suggest renting them from Canal House because they are the most up-to-date bikes. We’ve rented bikes before with bad brakes!
I sincerely cannot recommend this hotel enough. The friendly staff, delicious breakfast and drinks, plus the location make this an all around winner. Amsterdam is such a busy city- bustling with pedestrians, bikers, and so much to see and do, this is the perfect perch to rest your weary feet.
Things to Know About Amsterdam
Language – They speak Dutch and are truly excellent at English. The Dutch language is difficult and they don’t expect you to know it. I find the people of Amsterdam extremely friendly and welcoming.
Museum Central – There are over 60 museums, the world’s highest concentration, so make sure to find one that suits your fancy. I’ve listed some of the top ones below, but really, you’re sure to find one in a subject you’re interested in. If you plan to go to a lot of museums I suggest getting the I Amsterdam Card.
What to eat – Dutch food is great, but not as wide spread in the city as Indonesian. Make sure to try the waffles, stroopwaffel, croquettes, fries with mayonnaise, cheese, and pancakes. As Indonesian is very popular here, make sure to try the spicy rijsttafel, or ‘rice table’ which is an Indonesian banquet of small dishes that you share.
What to drink – Heineken, of course! But gin is also very popular here and you can find many bars offering a wide selection of Dutch gin. There is lots of nightlife around the city in pubs and clubs in places like The Medieval center, Leidsplein, the Red Light District, and Rembrandtplein. Remember that a coffeeshop isn’t selling coffee. These are cannabis cafes and are sprinkled throughout the city.
When to visit – Tourist season is in Summer and that means it’s the most crowded from about June to August. The mild temperatures tend to draw more people to the city, as it can get very chilly in winter. From about March through early June is tulip season and many flock to the fields then as well. Make sure to bring a light jacket as it can get chilly.
What to do in Amsterdam
1. Rent a Bike
The absolute best way to get around this city is by bike. Don’t be alarmed! There are lots and lots of bikers… EVERYWHERE. But this bike friendly city means it’s easy to rent (we have used both Black Bikes and Yellow Bike) and return your bike. The fastest and prettiest way to see the sights by far. Truly, it’s the best way to live like a local.
2. Explore the Rijksmuseum
A collection of Rembrandt, Vermeer, and more, this extensive museum has some of the finest art in the world. It’s also situated next to the Van Gogh museum so you can kill two museums in one go. Or Gogh. Sorry, had to do it.
3. Take a picture at the “iamsterdam” sign
Did you really go to Amsterdam without taking a photo in front of the sign? Let’s not find out. Get there early in the morning to avoid the (massive) crowds!
4. Eat Indonesian food
There are so many delicious Indonesian restaurants in the city. You really can’t go wrong with so many of the hot spots. Restaurant Blauw, Kartika, Long Pura, and Indonesian Kitchen are some of the best.
Bonus points: don’t forget to try the pancakes! I recommend The Pancake Bakery (right by The Anne Frank House.) I also recommend trying the delicious Stroopwafel. It’s a thin, two layer waffle sandwiched with a caramel like sauce. I couldn’t get enough.
5. Shop and marvel in Dam Square
There are so many things to see and do near and around Dam Square- where the city was founded. From the city’s National Monument, the incredible Oude Kerk church (the oldest building in the city), lots of shopping, and even Madame Tussauds – you’re sure to find something you enjoy. There’s also Koninklijk Paleis– the Royal Palace where King Willem-Alexander and his family live. You can tour the palace daily for €10.
6. Pay your respects at the Anne Frank House
Truly, one of the most moving museums you can go to. The hiding place of the young girl and her diary is where she spent more than 2 years hiding from the Nazis. To see, up-close, what her life must have been like and walk in her footsteps is a reminder that we should honor the struggle so many went through during one of the worst times in human history. Make sure you buy tickets ahead of time to avoid the very long line. You might also like: How to Avoid Lines and People While Traveling.
7. Stop and smell the tulips at the flower market
The flower market, or Bloemenmarkt, is so much fun to peruse. You’ll find more than flowers. You’ll also find cheese shops, Dutch Souvenirs (wooden shoes!), and more. But the dainty flower stalls are definitely my favorite.
8. Take in the sunset views over the canal
Of course, one of the most impressive features of Amsterdam is the lovely canals that dip around every corner. It makes for such a peaceful addition to this busy city. I love seeing the house boats bop atop the canals. The best time is to watch the bright orange light pop at sunset over the glittering canals. A famous spot is the “7 Bridges” where you can see 7 arcs light up at night. Be aware: they aren’t as grand as you might imagine (just simple brick bridges). But the canals themselves are the real show.
9. Veer off the beaten path to the Amsterdam Museum
While the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh museum are awesome, I really loved the history of Amsterdam at the Amsterdam Museum. A super interactive museum that was not crowded at all, follows Amsterdam to its beginnings as a city made of wood pilings to it’s current beauty.
10. Have a Heineken Experience
This former brewery now serves as a museum for beer lovers. You’ll get an interactive view at how the beer is made and processed with a tasting at the end. Expect to pay 29,50 € for a full tour and tasting.
11. Revel in the architecture at Central Station
Some of the prettiest buildings are right around Central station and the station itself. It makes for an impressive view as you hop off the train.
12. Find Nemo
This beautiful modern architecture building (believe me, you won’t hear me combine the words “modern” and “beautiful” often in the same sentence) contains the largest science center in The Netherlands. You can chill, eat pizza, or just take in the sights from here.
13. Picnic in a Park
There are a number of green spaces in Amsterdam where you can hang. My favorite is Vondelpark with its English gardens and bike paths, but you can also go to Westerpark or Sarphatipark as well. Hard to pronounce (and spell) but easy to find. Just ask a local, they will kindly direct you.
14. Appreciate the artist at Rembrandt House Museum
The Museum Het Rembrandthuis has a large collection from the master artist. From 1639 to 1658 he lived here painting and finding inspiration. You can see why Amsterdam was the perfect place for the artist. Note, the above painting is “Night Watch” and is actually located in the Rijksmuseum.
15. Make a turn for the Red Light District
The Red Light District is world famous for it’s women (and men) in the windows. Yes, paying for sex is legal here and you can see it on display on the streets. It is interesting to walk around and see what this street is all about.
16. Find peace in Bejinghof
One of the coolest parts of this city is its notable acceptance of cultures and practices. Amidst the bustling of cars and dinging of bike bells is a lovely courtyard, Bejinghof. This former home to the Beguines – a group of unmarried religious women who chose to live together – is an enclosed group of homes around a small, green courtyard. You’ll find an almost hidden church and one of the oldest wooden houses in Amsterdam.
17. Visit the Magere Brug
This traditional draw-bridge is a throwback to the past. Originally built in 1670, it hasn’t changed much since. Every 20 minutes the bridge opens up to let boats pass through.
18. Find a charming street
There are a myriad of cute neighborhoods and streets in Amsterdam for you to peruse. I think part of the charm is just walking and biking around. Some of the quaintest areas are Jordaan and the Haarlemmerstraat area. This neighborhood guide will give you the best of the best. You’ll find idyllic canal streets and 17th century architecture everywhere.
19. Find a windmill
One of my favorite things we did in Amsterdam was bike around and find hidden treasures. As we were biking along we saw a large windmill that just happened to have a beer garden. It was the perfect place to relax and catch up with the locals. You can find it on the map by searching “Brouwerij‘t Ij”.
20. Take a boat tour
One of the best ways to see the city is to explore by boat. I recommend a cruise that includes drinks (usually priced at 15 euros including drinks for one hour). Cruise around sunset for scenic views and watch the city transform and light up at night. The canals are a Unesco World Heritage site and it will give you a good grasp of the city and its founding.
Amsterdam is one of those cities you could truly spend a month in, and still have so much to see. It’s one of the coolest cities both historically and continues to make its mark today. The golden canals, legendary nightlife, quirky and fun shops, mixed with the free spirit of the city make it one of the best in Europe. I can see why it’s so crowded!
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