Quite often I get asked about my favorite Amsterdam attractions. When to visit? Where to go? What to do? To be honest, I’ve lived in Amsterdam for three years and I am still discovering something new every day! That said, there are many great Amsterdam gems that I would love to share with you, so here are a few of my favorites.
Be a true Amsterdam tourist and. . .
Start with a boat tour and cruise down the canals. It may sound cliché, but you’ll get the lay of the city and if you see something of particular interest, you can always double back again later. It’s also a great way to learn about the city’s history, and this will help you appreciate your surroundings more throughout the trip. I recommend the Blue Boat Company – it’s a 75 minute boat ride around the city and will only set you back €15. Tip: Buy your ticket online ahead of time for a discount price. The hop-on hop-off canal bus is a neat concept, but in my opinion it’s quite over priced.
The Dutch love their flowers. In fact, flowers are one of the main exports of Holland. If you love flowers too, take a walk down the Bloemenmarkt, Amsterdam’s floating flower market. You’ll find pretty bulbs, colorful succulents, and ample flower souvenirs to take home to family and friends. The flower market is located right in the city center, and is an easy walk from Dam Square. If you happen to visit Holland during the spring, I would also highly recommend a day trip to the Keukenhof, the world’s largest flower garden. It requires a bus ride outside of Amsterdam, but it’s well worth the trek. You will be amazed by the endless, stylized gardens and rows and rows of colorful tulips. You can buy a combi-ticket (bus and entrance ticket) at the Tourist Information Office in Stationsplein or Leidseplein. Tip: I highly recommend visiting Holland the spring so you can catch the flowers in bloom, at the Keukenhof and beyond!
If you’re in Amsterdam to party, head towards Rembrandtplein or Leidseplein. At night these two squares are packed with people ready dance the night away, and here you’ll find an abundance of lively pubs, clubs, and beats. You’ll also find greasy eateries, movie theaters, comedy clubs, and ample shopping. Tip: If you’re visiting Amsterdam in the winter, both of these squares erect large ice skating rinks during the cold months. There are also lots of Christmas stalls set up in the main squares this time of year, serving up warm drinks and sweet holiday treats.
If you’re looking for an even bigger celebration, come to Amsterdam over Queen’s Day and watch the city transform into a massive street party, with stages, dancing, food stalls, party boats, and lawn sales. It’s an amazing celebration of the royal family, and everyone goes mental! Tip: Bring some orange to sport, as everyone wears this patriotic color on Queen’s Day.
OK, so you might not actually want to eat at Febo, but you’ll definitely want to take a picture. These walk-up fast food joints cook up fried cheese, burgers, and chicken. . . all served in a heated vending machine! Febo is pretty much the Dutch equivalent of McDonalds – there are 22 locations in Amsterdam alone! I am ashamed to admit that I have eaten at Febo – only once – after one too many cocktails at a late night house party. Tip: If you do plan on getting a snack at Febo, go for a kaassoufflé. This is deep fried cheese, the US equivalent of a mozzarella stick, and probably the safest thing on the menu!
If your curiosity gets the better of you, take a walk through the Red Light District. Large glass windows showcase naked and tassel-clad women, all illuminated by a tell-tale red light. This part of town is usually quite busy, swarming with tourists, potential suitors, and locals alike. Tip: Plan on spending about five minutes here before you’ve seen more than enough.
Also on Amsterdam’s taboo tourist list is a visit to the infamous coffeeshops. Instead of serving up coffee, these fragrant establishments sell weed and other drug paraphernalia. You’ll usually find a menu on the counter with a selection of marijuana products, ranging from hash to space cakes. The Bulldog Company is a very popular coffeeshop chain with tourists and there are a couple throughout the city. If I have friends visiting who want to take advantage of Amsterdam’s lenient drug policy, I usually take them to the Abraxas – a coffeeshop with a cool, hippy vibe and three stories of comfy couches. People play cards, sit outside, and listen to mellow tunes. I recommend the location on the Jonge Roelenstg. Tip: If you do smoke, be safe, do it with a friend, and know your limits. Amsterdam let’s you indulge, but it’s up to you to be responsible and do so within reason.
Last on the Amsterdam tourist list are a few cultural attractions. A visit to the Anne Frank house is an eye-opening experience, but be prepared to wait a while to get in – the line usually goes around the block! Tip: Planning a visit at the beginning or the end of the day may help you avoid the queue.
The Van Gogh museum is stunning, I’ve gone a few times and never tire of it. Tip: If museums are your thing, plan a visit in early November and buy tickets to Museum Night. All of Amsterdam’s museums stay open till well past bedtime, and can be accessed with one magical ticket. You can find more info here.
The Rijksmuseum, home to over 8,000 objects of art and history, just reopened this year after a decade of renovations. It is absolutely massive and if you find yourself in Amsterdam on a rainy day, you can easily spend from sunrise to sunset exploring this beautiful, national museum. Think Rembrandt, Frans Hals, and Johannes Vermeer. Tip: Don’t forget to stop by Museumplein after a visit to the Rijks, and take a snap on the giant I Amsterdam sign!
Now that I’ve told you about all of my favorite touristy things to do in Amsterdam, here’s a list of my personal recommendations – the things you might not stumble across in a travel brochure.
Live like the Dutch and . . .
Spend a day in the neighborhood of de Pijp, and be sure to visit the Albert Cuypstraat, Europe’s biggest street market. At the Albert Cuypmarkt you will find a variety of stalls selling leather goods, raw herring, fabric, electronics, organic produce, and warm, fresh pressed waffles . . . just to name a few things! OK, so maybe I’m biased as this beautiful market is right at my doorstep, but it really is quite a sight, and a bright cultural hub of the city. The market is open from 9-5, every day except Sunday. Tip: Those waffles I mentioned? They are not to be missed! Also, you can usually find tourist trinkets here – magnets, postcards, flower bulbs – for a fraction of the price you would find in the rest of the city.
If you want to drink with the Dutch, check out the bars in de Pijp, especially along Eerste van der Helststraat. Sit outside and sip a coffee in the day, or drink a pint in the street on a warm Friday or Saturday evening. Also note worthy in the neighborhood . . . . Sarphatipark, a cute park for a picnic or stroll. Blond Amsterdam, selling adorable pottery and more – I love them! Taart van mijn Tante, a colorful cake shop with warm drinks and a big sweets menu. All The Luck in The World, one of my favorite vintage shops. And of course the Heineken Brewery – see where Heineken is made, sample a pint. Tip: Spend a day in de Pijp if you want to see how the Dutch truly live. Go for a stroll in Sarphatipark, grab brunch at Little Collins, do some shopping in the neighborhood, stroll the canals, and enjoy some Japanese tapas and a cocktail for dinner at Izakaya. Congratulations, you’re Dutch!
Rent a bike and cruise the canals. There are designated bike lanes in Amsterdam and everyone in the city is very bicycle savvy. Hardly anyone drives! Biking is the best way to get around, and you can easily rent a set of wheels for the week at MacBike. But beware – peddling around on one of these will immediately brand you as a tourist! If you’ve biked around the city for a day or two and are comfortable peddling, I would highly recommend an afternoon bike trip out to Durgerdam. It’s an adorable fishing village just north of Amsterdam, and you can get there on your bike in about 45 minutes. There’s a pub with benches and tables on the water, and a single cobblestone road that winds through the town. If you follow this road north, you will bike past windmills, fields, islands, and sheep. It’s a lovely trip and is actually where B proposed! It’s quite a special place :) Tip: You can take the free ferry from behind Central Station to Amsterdam Noord. Amsterdam Noord is a trendy area to explore on a bike, and you can then carry on your bike trip out to Durgerdam.
If you’re making a trip all the way to Holland, you’ll probably want to see some windmills. Kill two birds with one stone and stop by the Brouwerij ‘t IJ, a small brewery in Amsterdam located next to De Gooyer windmill. They have a good selection of cold, organic beer and a large outdoor terrace. Sit outside on a sunny afternoon, drink a pint, and admire the windmill. Tip: The pub is open daily from 15:00 to 20:00 – on a sunny day, go early if you want to get a table!
If you’re in Amsterdam in the summer, do like the Dutch and hit up an urban beach. Roest and Plek are two hotspots in the city, serving food and cold drinks, inviting guests to lounge in the sand and enjoy the cool water vistas. Tip: Check out their websites before heading over – both of these spaces are quite experiential and often have unique events, markets, and musical performances. Plek is in Amsterdam Noord and you could easily make a day trip out of the adventure. Roest is actually close to the Brouwerij ‘t IJ, so you could have a mini pub crawl and end at Roest on the urban beach!
I can’t tell you about Amsterdam without mentioning the Jordaan. The Jordaan is an upscale neighborhood, dotted with art galleries, speciality shops, and restaurants. Stroll along the canals and do some serious shopping on The 9 Streets, where you can find adorable boutiques and random knickknacks. It’s a beautiful neighborhood, but I’m quite biased and prefer the younger, more lively neighborhood de Pijp ;) Tip: Get a sandwich from Hartenkaas – they are out of this world!
If you like the sound of the 9 Streets, you may also want to check out the Utrechtsestraat. The Utrechsestraat is a long shopping street, lined with unique and trendy shops. You’ll find interior design stores, fashion boutiques, gift shops, gourmet food, and some really great music and literature shops. Tip: If you’re a vegan, check out the Golden Temple. It’s located right on the Utrechsestraat and the food is great . . . . and you can request any item on the menu to be served vegan!
If you’re cursed with a rainy day in Amsterdam, head to Dam Square and get ready to shop till you drop. De Bijenkorf is a high-end department store with five stories of decadent shopping! Think Armani, Burberry, Calvin Klein, Longchamp, Diesel, Fendi, G-Star, Louis Vuitton – the list goes on! There’s a cafeteria on the top floor with pretty balcony views, and in the winter you can snuggle up inside with a warm cup of tea. The perfect antidote for a rainy day! Tip: You could also spend a rainy day on a boat tour or at the Rijksmuseum, both fun, dry activities!
And a few honorable mentions . . .
If you’re in Amsterdam for an extended period of time, here are a few other activities to fill your agenda.
Go for a walk through the Vondelpark. I love stomping through the Vondelpark in the winter snow, and in the summertime, you can catch some rays along with a large majority of Amsterdam’s population. Vondelpark is the most famous park in the Netherlands, and offers a calm escape from Amsterdam’s otherwise bustling city life.
NEMO is a hands-on science and technology museum, housed in a long, angular boat-shaped building. A great rainy day activity, and also a fun one for the kids.
The Artis Zoo is one of my all time favorite attractions in Amsterdam. The reason it’s not higher on the list is because it’s not truly unique to Amsterdam. You’ll be hard pressed to find dreamy Dutch canals or original Rembrandt art outside of Amsterdam, but most major cities do have a zoo. That said, Amsterdam’s zoo is pretty stellar. Have lunch next to the giraffes, hang out in the tropical butterfly house, and say ‘hi’ to Amsterdam’s very own baby elephant.
Go on a boat. In Maine, when the weather is lovely or you have a long holiday weekend, you head up to camp. Most people in Maine have a friend, or a friend of a friend, with a charming woodland or lakeside cottage. There you will swim, roast marshmallows, and bask in the sun. In Amsterdam, we do not have friends with camps, we have friends with boats. And when the weather is nice, we stock up on fuel, prosecco, and snacks, and hit the canals. We cruise around, waving at fellow boaters and feeling awfully smug at our trendy mode of transportation. If you’re lucky enough to catch the sun in Amsterdam, I highly recommend a boat trip. You can find some decent rental prices at Boaty.
And last, but not least, Amsterdam food. . .
I had to make a separate section for Amsterdam restaurants, as I love dining out and have quite a few spots to suggest. The Dutch aren’t known for their culinary excellence, but there are a few gems throughout the city.
The Butcher is a new burger joint in de Pijp, and I’ll tell you a secret. They have a hidden, password protected bar out back. Do some digging for the password, and you could find yourself sipping cocktails with Amsterdam’s elite. They also make a killer burger. If you’re a burger fan, you’ll also want to try Burger Bar and Burgermeester, two greasy-sloppy-yummy Amsterdam burger spots.
Castell and de Klos are two of the best BBQ spots in town. Both are pretty laid back and serve large, meaty portions. I prefer de Klos – you can’t make a reservation here, but the owner will let you drink a beer across the way while you wait, and will come get you when your table is ready. Tip: Go for the ribs!!
Moeders is great for authentic Dutch food – the fare is warm and hearty. I recommend trying the ‘taste of Holland’ meal for two people – you will be served a family style dinner with stewed pears, sweet cabbage, sausage, bacon, potatoes, and more – a hearty, home cooked Dutch-style dinner.
Spaghetteria serves up delicious Italian – their menu changes daily and features only fresh, handmade pasta. The restaurant has a long bar and one giant table in the center of the room. Towards the end of the evening, conversations around the table start to mingle, everyone becomes great friends, and you’re left with a full belly and a wonderful new Italian family! Also deliciously Italian and in the neighborhood is De Pizzakamer, a cozy, atmospheric restaurant serving pizzas hot off the wood stove. Tip: Sit at the bar in de Pizzakamer and watch them toss and fire pizzas as you sip your wine.
If you’re looking for something a bit more fancy, try a meal at Marius. They have a set, four course menu that changes daily, so you never quite know what to expect. However, rest assured that it will be delicious, as Marius is often dubbed the best meal in town. The last time I was at Marius, I had the most sublime monkfish. If only it were a permanent staple on the menu!
De Kas is also a nice, special occasion restaurant, serving up cuisine inspired by the rural Mediterranean. The menu at de Kas changes quite often, as meals are based on the harvest of their very own green house. They offer a set, three course menu, that’s always sure to please.
I recently blogged about Izakaya, and I would definitely recommend it if you’re in town. Grab a cocktail, listen to the house DJ, and share a few Japanese inspired tapas. The fried rice is to die for, as are the scallops. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself surrounded by the rich and famous, Izakaya is a hotspot for Amsterdam’s young and elite.
I’ve also told you about Ron Gastrobar – a snazzy restaurant serving michelin star food in tapas portions. All dishes on the menu are €15, so you can have a decadent 8-course €300 meal or a snack and a cocktail for €30. Everyone wins! Tip: Ron has a beautiful outside patio area not to be missed in the summer.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for something tasty and cheap, I do have three recommendations. Sonny makes outstanding falafel and is a perfect quick dinner fix at a great price. Eat in and enjoy their bottomless topping bar, or take your treat to the nearby Sarphatipark and enjoy the sunshine.
Albina, also in de Pijp, may look like a greasy hole in the wall, when in fact . . . it is a greasy hole in the wall! But the food is amazing! Try the pork with Cantonese spices, or the roti special. Your taste buds will thank you. Tip: Don’t be fooled by the “New Albina” three doors down – it’s just not the same!
Also in de Pijp is Warung Spang Makandra – I’ve told you about them, here. I bet you can’t say their name ten times fast – but I bet you will have one of the most delicious javanese meals ever here (short of going to Indonesia)! It’s a small place but the service is fast, and it’s definitely worth waiting for a table. Go for the special, it’s huge and consists of a taste of everything divine on the menu. I also recommend trying a deep fried banana with peanut sauce and if you like a drink with a kick, their fresh, homemade ginger juice. Tip: Warung Spang Makandra is halal, so don’t come here if you want a beer with your dinner!
I’m sure more recommendations will come to mind, so check back, as I may evolve this post over time. If this list just isn’t enough, you can also check out the ‘Amsterdam’ tab on my top navigation bar – I’m always trying new places and recommending new Amsterdam spots. If you have a question about Amsterdam, feel free to post it in the comments section, I love this little city and am happy to help you plan your Amsterdam dream holiday!
PS. Although most of the photos on Pressed Words are my own, this post features some brilliant photography from around the web.