Swimming in history and culture, with cobbled streets and canals radiating out from the town centre like ripples on water (look at it on google maps, you’ll see what I mean!). The familiar tall townhouses and cycling culture have become an iconic European scene. Amsterdam is beautiful.
I visited with a friend in the run up to Christmas, to see the city lights, look for gifts in the stylish and forward thinking shops, live in cosy cafes, and just wander along the canals, sipping mulled wine (bisschopswijn – Bishop’s Wine) and taking in the beautiful streets.
CURRENCY | Euro
TIME NEEDED | 2-4 days
SEASONS & WEATHER | Cold in winter, mild in spring and autumn, warm in summer. As with most cities in Northern Europe rain and clouds might be there too! Visit anytime, but summer should guarantee better weather.
LANGUAGES | Dutch, but English is widely spoken
HOW TO SAY HELLO | Hallo
HOW TO SAY THANK YOU | Dank Je
TRANSPORT | Walking, Bicycle, Public Transport (Metro, tram, bus)
NEAREST AIRPORT | Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS)
NEAREST TRAIN STATION | Amsterdam Centraal (Train, Bus, Metro, Tram and Ferry station)
THINGS TO VISIT, PLACES TO SEE
Amsterdam, like many large cities, offers an Amsterdam travel card that gives you free entry or discounted rates for a huge number of museums and experiences. It’s extremely flexible and available for 1-5 days, so definitely worth checking out to see if it covers most of the things that you would like to see!
Rijksmuseum | Full of Dutch culture and history, not to mention a huge selection of work from famous Dutch artists such as Van Gogh and Rembrandt. It’s the perfect place to head if you have a particularly cold or rainy afternoon. It can get very busy, so an early morning or late afternoon visit might have less of a crowd.
Vondelpark | The city park of Amsterdam, even in winter the park was bustling. In spring and summer it would be the perfect place to lounge out in the sun, or to stop for food.
Bloemenmarkt | A must for lovers of flowers. It’s the worlds only floating flower market place and is sat within the Singel canal. It’s filled with hanging bunches of dried floral arrangements creating a ceiling of flowers, tulip bulbs are set out like a pic’n’mix stand, and of course there are plenty of bunches of fresh cut flowers and even a few house plants.
Van Gogh Museum | One of the World’s most famous artists, you’ll recognise so much of his wonderful work in this museum.
The Ice Bar | A fun option if you haven’t experienced one before! But also fun to see how long some of the brave people last who wander in wearing short sleeves or dresses. Not long.
The Red Light District | Amsterdam is famed for it’s relaxed laws on prostitution and cannabis. It’s based in the older part of the city and is definitely an interesting place to wander. With old historic streets lined with cafes during the day, and a lively atmosphere at night, just make sure to be respectful. There are also a number of great ‘coffee shops’ here too!
Coffeeshops | The Original Dampkring Coffeeshop has an incredible atmosphere and was absolutely packed. Oceans 12 also has a scene which was filmed here which is pretty cool!
A Canal Cruise | The perfect way to explore the city at a slower pace, without the bustle of crowds moving past you. We opted for a night tour, gliding past the Light Festival displays that were on over the winter period.
The Botanical Gardens | Plants are my weakness. I’ll visit them anywhere. The Hortus Botanicus Amsterdam consists of a number of humid greenhouses, making it another beautiful place to explore on a cold winters day.
Visit the Tulip Fields | Keeping with the botanical theme… The beautiful tulip fields and Keukenhof gardens in Lisse are incredibly famous (in bloom late March to Mid May). Perfect for a day trip, you can catch the train to the airport and hop on the Keukenhof express that takes you straight to the gardens. Entry to Keukenhof gardens is 17 euros, whereas the Tulip fields are free to walk to (however you might consider hiring a car or bike as they are not close together).
Tip: This is a hugely popular experience, and as the season is fairly short it has a high number of visitors in a short space of time. Make sure to book ahead, and don’t trespass onto fields.
If you’re in Amsterdam out of season for the tulips, visit the Amsterdam Tulip Museum in the city and pick up some bulbs from the huge selection in the gift shop (as long as your country doesn’t mind you bringing them back! Most EU countries are fine).
The Anne Frank House | As moving and poignant as you would expect. Hers is a direct story of the horrors faced by Jewish people during the second world war. It’s educational, upsetting, but important. I think if there’s just one museum you have time to see, it’s the Anne Frank House.
We were met with this beautiful sunset after walking out of the Anne Frank Museum. It’s a beautiful area to wander around.
Browse the incredible independent shops | Whether you’re looking for unique gifts or seeking beautiful Scandinavian fashion and homeware for yourself, look to the Haarlemmerdijk, Haarlemmerstraat and the Nine Streets (de Negen Straatjes). From the recognisable big brands found in De Bijenkorf, to the vintage finds you can pick up at the flea market of Waterlooplein (Waterloopleinmarkt), there’s plenty of places to choose from!
PLACES TO EAT IN AMSTERDAM
As such a popular cultural European city, Amsterdam has an incredible offering when it comes to food. Drawing in chefs, bakers and restauranteurs from across the World, as well as incredible local offerings.
Local foods to try | Stroopwaffels, Gouda Cheese, Dutch Pancakes, Dutch Fries with plenty of toppings and if you’re feeling brave, Raw Herring (or Broodje haring = raw herring in a bun with pickles) from Frens Haringhandel (the Herring season is from May-July)!
Local’s tip: Place a stroopwaffel over your hot drink to allow the syrup to melt slightly, sweet gooey heaven!
For Coffees | Melly’s Cookie Bar (£) amazing cakes and great for people watching too! Monks Coffee Roasters (£) and Bocca Coffee (£) both have amazing speciality coffee.
De Laatste Kruimel | ££ | We were guided here by two friendly locals who assured us it was the best cafe in Amsterdam. I feel like I have to agree! Perfectly cosy and friendly, and filled with homemade cakes, pastries, sandwiches and great coffee and hot chocolate.
Staring at Jacob | ££ | The perfect breakfast/brunch/lunch stop. Their signature chicken & waffles, hearty vegetarian and vegan options are mouth watering, with good coffee too. They get busy so consider reserving a table!
De Koffieschenkerij | ££-£££ | Situated in the old church in the Red Light District, this cafe is a great option for breakfast, lunch or just a great coffee. Check out their popular Dutch apple pie and sit out on the small tree covered terrace next to the canal.
Little Thai Prince | ££ | Another place located down a popular street in the Red Light District. We had some incredible Thai food here, and the ambience was really cosy inside.
van Kerkwijk | ££-£££ | For truly traditional Dutch food, this super cosy restaurant will not disappoint. They have good vegetarian options and are a short walk away from Dam square.
MAX Amsterdam | £££ | The Netherlands has a strong appreciation of Indonesian cuisine, so a stop at one of Amsterdam’s top Indonesian restaurants is definitely worth a visit.
PLACES TO STAY IN AMSTERDAM
BUDGET | £
Generator Amsterdam | Located in Oosterpark this hostel is incredibly modern and stylish and really has more of a hotel vibe. From dorm rooms, to suites it’s a great option whether you’re travelling solo or with friends. You can even hire bikes here too!
Hotel Sebastians | Close to the train station, and overlooking one of the many picturesque canals, this townhouse hotel has a cosy but glamorous vibe. You can also hire bikes here as well.
MID-RANGE | ££
Monet Garden Hotel Amsterdam | A beautiful hotel, with elegant botanical decor, it’s a short walk away from the botanical gardens and breakfast includes freshly made waffles, perfect!
Short Stay Group Vondelpark Apartments | We rented a cute and cosy loft apartment which was close to Vondelpark and the museum quarter. The owners kindly left us some Stroopwaffels and Dutch tea, however just note the stairwell is quite narrow, like a lot of townhouse accommodation in Amsterdam.
LUXURY/SPECIAL OCCASION | £££
SWEETS Hotel Amsterdam | A collection of incredibly cool apartments that are featured within unique bridge houses dotted across the city. Each boasts exquisite views across the canals or across to iconic sights. ‘HORTUSBRUG’ is a beautiful example, located next to the Botanical Gardens.
The Dylan Amsterdam | If you require opulence then opulence you shall have at this hotel. The rooms are exquisitely decorated, and harmonise perfectly with the exposed beams of the building. It’s centrally located and romantic as heck.
Amsterdam is one of those cities where you can just step out of the hostel/hotel/apartment/boat, and just dive right in. Whether you hire a bike from a local cycle shop, or glide around the canals. Simply meandering around will allow you to experience the beauty of the city itself, whilst coming across intriguing museums (like the Hash, Marihuana & Hemp Museum!), hidden cafes, open parks and beautiful townhouses.
If time is short and you only have a day or two (as you’re here on a stop over or work trip!), make a small list of places, but don’t cram things in. Between these places we sat happily in cafes and cosy bars, eating waffles, drinking hot chocolate, basically anything sweet, deep fried or smothered in chocolate… and soaking up the atmosphere of this beautiful city.