Traveling Amsterdam in a Nutshell

Updated: Aug 11, 2019

If you're anything like me, you don't always like to excessively plan out trips before heading out on your next adventure; my recent trip to Amsterdam was no different! A few days prior to flying across the pond, I decided where I wanted to go & where I would stay... the rest was left up to chance. You see, I love visiting new countries as if I am almost a local there. I don't do the tour buses or anything super "tourist-y" (other than museums or the 'must-sees', of course), and I like to just experience the cities and places I visit. Honestly, I find it to be the best way to learn the ins and out of a city, as well as form my own opinions about recommendations (which I then can pass on to y'all)!


With that being said, I absolutely love Amsterdam. It's such a unique city (if you've been, you definitely know what I mean), and I have so many recommendations for you, friends. If you keep reading, you'll get some more info on:


1. When to stay + more!

2. Food

3. Rules & tips

4. Museums

5. Neighborhoods

6. Things to do

7. Transportation



When & How Long to Stay


When:

The Netherlands are famous for their ever-beautiful Tulips fields, and if you in April or May, you should absolutely make Keukenhof a top priority on your travel list. Talk about an incredible Instagram opportunity!



If you want to enjoy a cool afternoon breeze while you're out and about, the end of summer is the best time to go! I personally love adventuring around cities, and after 5 or so miles in the heat, any normal person would definitely regret it. Visiting Amsterdam in late July/ early August is the best way to combat summer heat, all while getting to still enjoy the city without fighting too much of the cold.


If you are a winter-lover, visit the city in the later months of the year. There is still equally as much to do, and if you visit during an especially cold time, you may even have the opportunity to go ice skating down the famous canals!



How Long:

3-5 days is the perfect number of days to spend in Amsterdam.  Three days is enough to cover the major sites without rushing, while five days is enough to make some day-trips to see the famous tulip fields (in April), visit nearby castles & windmills, or visit another city (I would definitely recommend Haarlem to start)!




Eats + Drinks


While in Amsterdam, I explored so many different local eateries, and I compiled my absolute favorites into an ultimate Amsterdam food guide! Click here to read more in depth about the best local finds.



Rules & Tips


As a beautiful city filled with canals and quirky architecture (as well as more than enough adventure activities), Amsterdam makes for the perfect weekend getaway (or an even a longer stint). Here’s some practical advice, tricks, and tips for visiting Amsterdam. Hopefully, they’ll be useful whether it’s your first time in the city, or whether it’s your hundredth- after all, we all need little reminders every once in a while! After all, there are plenty of Amsterdam mistakes that you could easily make by accident if you’ve never visited the city before!



1. Mind the Cyclists:

Everywhere you look, you’ll find dozens of cyclists, going all directions (and at all speeds). Before crossing the road, double or triple check as people in Amsterdam pedal through the city via bicycles at great speed. If you’re planning to visit a lot of sites while in the city and you don’t want to cycle (or walk) the entire time, then you might consider purchasing an Amsterdam public transport ticket. 



2. Keep an Eye on your Belongings:

As someone who definitely was not as prepared as they could be when visiting Amsterdam, I would highly recommend being prepared for all weather when it comes to the city. In the winter, you can expect snow, while in the summer you can expect plenty of sunshine with the occasional shower.


And in the ‘shoulder’ (in-between) seasons? Well, expect a range from the freezing cold to the sweltering heat. It’s best to pack an umbrella, as well as plenty of layers you can easily change up depending on the weather! Like many European cities, Amsterdam is a place best explored on foot, so you’ll also need a sturdy pair of walking shoes!



3. Know the Difference between a 'Coffeeshop' & a 'Café':

While these two may sound very similar, the difference is quite surprising. Don’t be like me and embarrass yourself by accidentally saying the wrong one when all you wanted to do was find a good spot for a morning cappuccino. Learn and remember the difference. After all, one is for your regular latté (cafés) and the other is where you buy and smoke weed (coffeeshops). Yes, this may sound a little sketchy and highly illegal, but don't get this wrong, it is very legal in Amsterdam. And this is definitely far from the oddest thing you may see in the city!



4. Don't put Love Locks on the Bridges:

As in other historic cities, many bridges in Amsterdam are being destroyed by so-called 'love locks'. For some dark reason, a couple that wishes to declare and seal their ‘eternal love’ attach a padlock to a bridge, lock it, and toss the key into the water. This may seem like a romantic idea to some, but the reality is that all those padlocks damage Amsterdam’s iconic bridges. Love locks are regularly removed from bridges and other objects throughout the city. So your declaration of ‘eternal love’ lasts at best six weeks.



5. Don't take Pictures of the Women in the Red Light District:

It is illegal (not to mention entirely disrespectful) to photograph those working in the Red Light District of the city. Just don’t do it. Trust me on this.




Best Museums to Visit


1. Van Gogh Museum

If you love Van Gogh, you will love this museum. It is beautifully designed, and houses many first editions & original copies of his works. The line can be quiet long, so consider buying tickets in advance


2. Anne Frank House

A must-see. Be sure to reserve ahead (up to 2 months ahead) as they’ve increased the number of tickets that are reservation only and the line can take hours. 80% of tickets are released two months ahead of time, and 20% are released to the public via their website at 9am each morning. If you didn't get tickets in advance, be sure to hop online about an hour or so prior to 9am – the queue of people waiting for tickets is very long & there are only roughly 200 available.



3. Rijkmuseum

This is one of the most classic museums in all of the city, and after spending many hours there, it became my favorite. It’s HUGE, and you can spend hours admiring the Dutch Masters. Admission can be reserved ahead of time by buying a ticket in advance.



4. Museum Van Loon

This beautiful canal house houses a secret garden that houses period paintings and furniture. Most canal houses aren’t open to the public, so enjoy this museum (especially if you have the iAmsterdam card).​



5. Rembrandt House

If you’re curious to see where Rembrandt worked, you can visit his studio. However, you’re just as well off visiting the Rijksmuseum if you want to see his art!



6. Mauritshuis

To see the original copy of 'The Girl with the Pearl Earring', you will need to take the train to the Hague to go to the Mauritshuis. ​​Although it is not directly in Amsterdam, the trip here is very short & I would highly recommend it!



7. The Jewish Historical Museum

(Joods Historisch Museum) is incredibly interesting and well-designed. The Portuguese Synagogue is worth visiting for it alone as it is a beautiful structure that remains entirely intact that is lit by candlelight.  As many Dutch Jews died in the Holocaust, this museum is a moving testament to the role of Jews in Dutch history and learning about Judaism.




Neighborhoods

If you're looking for something more 'lax to do, wander the streets of some of Amsterdam's most beautiful, interesting, or famous neighborhoods. Here are some of my favorites:


1. de Jordaan

For history, beautiful architecture and cozy cafes.


2. Papeneiland

For beautiful architecture, few people, and picturesque bridges.


3. Bickerseiland

For beautiful architecture, few people, and picturesque bridges.


4. Realeneiland

For beautiful architecture, few people, and picturesque bridges.


5. NDSM

For graffiti, unique cafes, hipster vibes and Amsterdam’s best flea market (take the ferry across from Centraal).


6. de Pijp

For cute cafes, a great street market (Albert Cuypmarkt), and great food/drinks.




Must-Sees & Additional Things to Do


1. Dam Square

Dam Square is the triumphal checkpoint of countless visitors to Amsterdam and an ideal first stop for those who want to see the local attractions in this area, such as the National Monument, the Royal Palace, the fifteenth-century "New Church," and De Bijenkorf for shopping.



2. Begijnhof

A hidden courtyard in the middle of Centre. This beautiful courtyard dates back to the 14th century and used to belong to the Catholic church. It was the home for women who lived like nuns, but could leave to marry.



3. Bloemenmarkt

Brighten up your day with a visit to Amsterdam’s famous floating Flower Market (known locally as the Bloemenmarkt). Rain or shine, this stretch of the Singel canal in the city centre is filled with the vibrant colours and fragrances of fresh flowers every Monday to Saturday – serving tourists and locals alike. Head home with tulip bulbs for your garden or plants for your home, as well as a fun selection of typically Dutch souvenirs. (Tip: Not all can be brought home without a permit, so ask!)



4. Walk the Canals

Herengracht is considered one of the most beautiful canals with some of the most opulent houses, though exploring the canals through various districts & neighborhoods is super fun!



5. Red Light District

A fascinating place for many tourists to see what happens when a country legalizes prostitution.  Don’t take photos of the ladies, and be careful because scammers prowl this area day and night. This is definitely an interesting place to see, but also not a very 'family-friendly' neighborhood. I'd definitely recommend this for those 18+




6. Street Markets

  • Noordermarkt: Saturdays; food/books

  • Albert Cuypmarkt: Monday to Friday; ethnic food

  • IJHALLEN: Saturday/Sunday [once monthly]; used clothes



7. Canal Tour

These canal tours are an affordable way to experience the city although they often include a pre-recorded tour. For a more unique experience, you can rent your OWN canal boat (BYOB your own drinks/ food to picnic on the boat). It’s way more epic than a typical tourist canal cruise, and worth it if you have a few friends to split it with (~100 euros per hour.)



8. See the Tulips

Tulips are not in Amsterdam, but 40 minutes away. If you want to see the tulips, you should visit Amsterdam in April or early May ONLY, as there are many things to do in April in Amsterdam. Fun fact: you don’t need to pay for Keukenhof to see Holland's famous tulips. You can just take the bus to Lisse from Amsterdam Centraal, or walk/rent a bike to visit farmers' nearby tulip fields for free.



9. Amsterdam Lights Festival

During the Amsterdam Lights Festival (month of December) where light sculptures are installed around Amsterdam, it’s worth doing a night cruise to enjoy the lit-up sculptures!



10. Vondelpark

When it comes to green spaces in the city, one of the largest (and most impressive) parks in the city is Vondelpark. The lush green 45-hectare area makes for a great picnic spot and a wonderful place to escape the crowds of the city centre, especially if you’re exploring the Dutch capital by bike.



11. iAmsterdam Sign

A classic photo. You can find a few iAmsterdam signs around the city, although the most famous is in Museumplein by the Rijksmuseum.




Transportation

Depending on your travel plans and the duration of your stay, there are a number of different Amsterdam public transport passes that are especially valuable for visitors. If walking is more your speed, enjoy this free walking tour of Amsterdam!



1. iamsterdam City Card:

Free entrance to the city's top attractions, plus unlimited use of the GVB public transport system for 24, 48 or 72 hours.


2. GVB day passes:

Available from 1 to 7 days, with prices starting from €7.50. Valid on trams, buses and metros operated by GVB in Amsterdam. For your convenience, you can buy your tickets in advance from the GVB website.


3. Amsterdam & Region Travel Ticket:

1, 2, or 3 day transport pass valid on all public transport operated by GVB, Connexxion, EBS and NS in Amsterdam and the Amsterdam Area, including night buses.


4. Amsterdam Travel Ticket:

An all-in public transport solution valid for one, two or three days. This ticket includes return (2nd class) train travel between Amsterdam Airport Schiphol and any station in Amsterdam. Additionally, the ticket is valid for unlimited travel on all trams, buses (including night buses), metro and ferries operated by public transport operator GVB in Amsterdam itself.


5. Old Holland Tour:

An all-in-one ticket giving you unlimited use of bus routes between Amsterdam Central Station, Volendam/Edam and Zaanse Schans for an entire day.



Now that you have tons of Amsterdam knowledge, what do you think about traveling here? Let me know!



xoxo-







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