Never have I fallen in love with a city so quickly. Filled with romantic canals, beautiful houseboats and vines crawling all over the tall, narrow leaning houses; I honestly could have never left Amsterdam Netherlands. While planning our trip everyone had told us that a long weekend was more than enough time, however we quickly realized that was not case. If you intend to solely (and lethargically) wander the coffee shops and ogle the red light district then no more than a weekend would be necessary. However I felt that even with months of time I could have kept wandering and slowly discovering Amsterdam’s many lovely secrets.
[Before You Go]
My number one recommendation is find accommodation that includes bicycles with your rental. Visiting Amsterdam without a bike would be like eating soup with a fork – it just doesn’t make sense. We stayed on this lovely Airbnb houseboat about a 20-minute cycle outside the city center. Becoming one with locals and riding with the eb and flow of the innumerable bicycles was honestly my favorite part of our time there.
[for a perfect weekend in Amsterdam]
There is SO much to do in Amsterdam, you really have to prioritize on the experience you’re looking for. Museums, tours, parks, canals, history, cycling, beer, coffee shops, churches, etc, etc. When we travel we love to learn, drink craft beer and experience our surroundings as authentically as possible (while still not missing out on the main events).
Therefore here were our favorite spots/things to do in Amsterdam:
1. Get Lost on a Bicycle
Amsterdam is BEAUTIFUL. It is such a stunning, vibrant city and the best way to get to know it is on bike. But don’t just stay in the center – venture out to the many surrounding neighborhoods like Jordaan and de Pijp.
Thanks to a friend’s advice we jumped on the free 2.5 hour walking tour to learn a bit about the city. Our energetic Scottish guide (yay!) did a fabulous job explaining how Amsterdam came to be the fabulous, bizarre city that it is. We enjoyed it so much that we ended up booking into the Alternative Amsterdam tour (€12 student/ €14 adult) the following day where our guide dove deeper into the many ways that Amsterdam is such a unique city. Would definitely recommend this company!
[ADVICE] Even though it is a free tour, I would recommend booking in advance online (especially leading up to the weekend)!
3. Drink Local Craft Beer
As one of our greatest hobbies include drinking craft beer, we were obviously on a mission to find good beer in Amsterdam – we were not disappointed!
- Brouwerij “De Prael” Oudezijds Armsteeg 26, 1012 GP
- FAVORITE spot in the city. Great atmosphere, nice staff, good food and most importantly excellent beer! You can watch people working in the brewery while you drink – next time I’ll definitely arrange a tour.
- Brouwerij ‘t IJ Funenkade 7, 1018 AL
- A brewery underneath a historic windmill. Enough said. But seriously – pretty good beer and you definitely feel like you’re in the Netherlands. Staff could be nicer, but you can’t always have it all.
- Joost Molukkenstraat 33, 1095 AT
- Craft beer bar (not a brewery). Great selections of beers on tap and in bottle. Small, cute location (a bit out of the center) that is buzzing with locals at night. Tasty toasties.
Yes, it’s touristy. Yes, there is a long line. Yes, it’s absolutely worth it. Having read Anne Frank’s diary as a child, seeing the house where they really lived and hid was an overwhelming combination of awe, horror and eeriness. Bring your tissues and plan something uplifting afterwards, but do not miss it.
[ADVICE] Book tickets online here if possible! However if you’re procrastinators like us, no fear! They have open admission to the public every day from 3:30 pm – 10 pm. For the shortest wait times show up at 2:30 pm or 7 pm.
5. Red Light District & the Oude Kerk [Old Church]
Like the coffee shops, a visit to Amsterdam isn’t complete without a visit to the infamous red light district (at night). At first you feel like you’re in a theme park, this can’t actually be real…. And then you see a man emerge from the doorway and the ‘ew’ factor sets in. However it can’t be missed – I would try and pay a visit to the Prositution Information Center, they exist to answer the hundreds of questions that you will have as you wander this bizarre street.
Located within the heart of the district is the Old Church of Amsterdam (weird, right). With a bizarre and synergestic history with the Red Light District, it is definitely worth a visit. The audio tour is great (although a bit slow at times) and you can learn tons about Amsterdam’s oldest standing building. Don’t miss the man’s face in the ‘granite!’
6. Picnic in Vondel Park with Mouthwatering Cheese
A beautiful, massive park right outside the city center. Arrive in style via bicycle not forgetting your recently purchased mouth-watering cheese (don’t miss Reypenaer!), salami and wine. A great, relaxing way to escape from the city.
7. See the City From the Water
Boat tours are abundant in Amsterdam and although touristy, are a great way to see the city from a different perspective. We did our tour with Blue Boat Company, which was great. However while on the water I noticed many people (tourists) driving their own small boats around the canals! Next time I visit, I will definitely be renting one of those and spending an afternoon floating around the canals at my own pace!
8. Eat Indonesian food at Kantijl & de Tijger
Thanks to the large population of Indonesian’s who have settled in the city, there is now an amazing selection of delicious Indonesian cuisine in Amsterdam. If you’re like me and have no clue what is Indonesian food, essentially it’s like thai/asian tapas served with rice. Our New Amsterdam guide recommended us here; my mouth is watering just thinking about that meal! We got the mixed meat set menu for two (even though there were three of us) and eventually had to roll out of the restaurant. Our cocktails and drinks were quite tasty as well. My wallet is very thankful that this place does not exist near our home…
9. Museums, Museums & more Museums!
Amsterdam must have close to more museums per capita than anywhere else in the world. I’m not much a museum gal myself, however there were a few we felt were definitely worth it.
- Van Gogh Museum
- Art that you actually know! Having grown up in a culture where I had consistently seen Van Gogh’s paintings, going to a three story museum dedicated to his work was awesome. The audio guide is great (and worth it) as it takes you through his art as he developed his personal, revolutionary style. However don’t hold your breath for Starry Night (apparently it’s in Poland).
[ADVICE] On Friday night the museum is open until 10 pm, complete with a bar & DJ! Definitely a bit more our style. Although unfortunately your drinks can only be enjoyed in a contained area.
- Hash, Marijuana & Hemp Museum
- A great 2-part museum that is incredibly educational about the history, uses and benefits of hemp, hash and marijuana. Your ticket gets you into both parts (one side about hemp, the other about marijuana and hash) – don’t skip either side!
10. Visiting the notorious coffee shop
I don’t think it would be a proper trip to Amsterdam without at least visiting one ‘coffee shop.’ Marijuana is regulated by the city government, and coffee shops are locations you can buy and smoke weed or eat edibles. They are EVERYWHERE in the city. Even if you don’t plan on buying, smoking or eating (like us), just popping your head into one of these spots is worth it.
Many are dark and dingy, but thanks to our knowledgable walking tours here are some of the most interesting ones:
- Grey Area Oude Leliestraat 2, 1015 AW
- Opened by two Californian’s intent on creating the best possible weed by marrying plants and techniques from the West Coast and Amsterdam
- Siberie Brouwersgracht 11, 1015 GA
- Definitely the best for awkward, uncomfortable people like me 🙂 My favorite ambiance and the table with the built in chess board is not to be missed.
- 420 Café Oudebrugsteeg 27, 1012 JN
- Great, comfortable ambiance as well. Closer to the city center.
[ADVICE] Avoid The Bulldog café. Although the ‘original,’ today it’s just a chain and tourist trap.
11. Honorable Mentions
- Banksy Museum Damrak 243, 1012
- Awesome collection of Banksy’s works near the city center. Highly recommended! However it is a moving exhibition and therefore may or may not be there when you visit.
- Albert Cuyp-Markt de Pijp neighborhood
- Was told that you can get homemade stroop waffles here… Unfortunately we found out about this far to late and weren’t able to make it! It is a definite on my next visit!
Okay, this post is far too long, but it goes to show just how much I fell in love with this wondrous place. I really cannot wait to go back and hope this inspires everyone to visit! If you’ve already been – have I missed your favorite spots?? I’m already planning my itinerary for my return trip 😉