Last month I finally visited Amsterdam for the first time. I’d avoided the city for years, thinking it couldn’t possibly live up to the hype. Boy was I wrong! The city is as beautiful and as fun as everyone makes it out to be. But it’s also much more than I was expecting. If you go to Amsterdam thinking it’s all just sex, drugs and booze then you’re in for a real surprise. There is so much more to this European capital.
1. Rent a bike
In a city as famous for its bicycle culture as its more sinful pleasures, this might seem a bit obvious. But seriously: one of the best ways to have some fun in Amsterdam is to get on a bike and see the city on a set of wheels. You can go farther and see more than if you’re on the tram or a bus. Just be careful: the bike lanes can get a bit crowded!
2. Visit De Pijp
De Pijp is a former working class neighborhood which has seen its share of gentrification over the years. Now it’s a hipstery ‘hood with cute cafés, underground bars and a fair amount of street art. Also cool in this area is the Albert Cuypmarkt— a daily food market with cool shops and great street food.
Make sure to visit the Albert Cuypmarkt (open every day except Sunday from 9-6pm) to find quirky clothing, street food and fresh fruit & veggies. And for a bit of fun at night, check out the bar Gollem which sells local brews.
3. Eat, eat, eat and eat some more!
Go for a stroopwafel (the most delicious cookie EVER) at the Albert Cuypmarkt — or you can get them at many cafés in Amsterdam because they go so well with coffee. You’ll also want to try other Dutch food specialities such as poffertjes (small pancakes served with powdered sugar), bitterballen (fried meatballs of ghoulash or other fillings) and cheese (gouda is the local speciality). Amsterdam’s food scene might not be at the top of your travel itinerary, but it’s something that will surely surprise you.
To sample the best of Dutch cuisine, take a food tour with Eating Amsterdam Tours in the Jordaan neighborhood. Arguably the prettiest part of Amsterdam, it’s also probably the tastiest. The tour includes 12 mouth-watering tastings on a 4-hour walking tour including Indonesian food and other Dutch specialties.
4. Visit Amsterdam’s best museums
With more than 50 museums in the city, Amsterdam is a museum-lover’s dream. Arguably the city’s most important museum, Rijksmuseum features legendary works by Dutch masters such as Rembrandt and Van Gogh. But perhaps the museum most likely to be crowded during your visit is the Anne Frank House. One of the most recognizable figures of the Holocaust, Anne Frank’s diary tells what life was like during the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam during WWII.
For photography lovers, the FOAM photo gallery features exhibitions by both well-known and up-and-coming photographers. For art lovers, the Van Gogh Museum and Rembrandt House are both dedicated to their respective namesakes.
5. Lounge about in Vondelpark
Just a beautiful, big green space, Vondelpark is one of the best places to be on a sunny day in Amsterdam. That is if you haven’t found a suitable canal tour or made friends with a local who owns a boat. And since 2008, it’s apparently legal to have sex in the park (as long as it’s nighttime and you don’t leave behind any condoms). Not really sure why they needed a law about that, but hey — that’s Amsterdam for you.
In the summertime, Vondelpark also hosts open air theater. Check their official website for the summer schedule.
6. Hang out at Hannekes Boom
Along the water, this bar and café has been around since 1662 (that’s a long time!). People pull up to Hannekes Boom along the canal on their boats and end up just chilling out among the picnic tables. There’s music, outdoor seating, fun people, cheap beer and good food. Really: you can’t go wrong here!
If you’ve got a boat, pull up in style. The bar even has a dock for visitors arriving by boat!
7. Visit Noord
When visiting Amsterdam for the first time, most people leave the Centraal station and head straight for the Red Light District. But instead of doing that, if you turn around and go out the back of Centraal station you end up at the ferry port. There you can catch a FREE20-minute boat to Noord (NDSM). Once on the northern side of the city, you’ll find warehouses full of art projects & artists spaces, a skatepark, festival grounds and shipping containers that have been converted into beachside bars & restaurants.
Try the beachside Cafe Norderlicht for good food or plan your visit around Holland’s largest flea market: IJ-Hallen (once a month, check the official website for dates).
8. Check out the street art on Spuistraat
This street in central Amsterdam is full of cool street art and graffiti. Bring your camera because some of it is definitely photo-worthy! Find the yellow “snake house” (der Slang) at Spuistraat 199 — it’s a squat house which puts on regular events and workshops.
9. Visit the Red Light District
This area is a hot mess — really. I wasn’t sure what to expect of it before seeing it for myself…and it ended up being one of the more surprising things I saw in Amsterdam. Sure, I guess I always knew sex was easy to come by in Amsterdam but it was still a bit weird to see it all right there.
There are numerous companies that offer tours and pub crawls through the Red Light District which visit places like the legendary Sex Museum. Look for the flyers in your hotel, hostel or guest house.
10. Shop on Haarlemmerstraat
Only a brief 5-minute walk from central Amsterdam, the Haalremmerstraat has a huge variety of cool shops selling everything from fine Dutch cheeses to cool mens clothing. There was even some street art along the way. Plus with bars, cafés and restaurants all open on Sundays, it’s a great place to just wander around and get lost.
Check out Vinnie’s Deli for organic, healthy food.
7 Great Blogs to Help Plan Your Trip to Amsterdam
- Official Tourism Website – iamsterdam.com
- Food & Travel Guide – eatingamsterdamtours.com
- Secrets of Amsterdam – awesomeamsterdam.com
- Dutchified travel videos – on YouTube
- Restaurant Reviews – amsterdamfoodie.nl
- Travel Tips – amsterdamblog.co.uk
- Local News & Events – dutchdailynews.com