I have a confession to make: I’ve lived in the Netherlands for almost 13 years, but I didn’t visit Amsterdam for the first 8 of those years. Not once. But never fear, once I discovered the unique awesome that is the culture of Amsterdam, I’ve made up for my negligence in the last 5 years.
Here are some of the pluses of Amsterdam:
- European destination that is hip and open minded
- Delicious food and interesting food scene as well as great local dishes. Gouda cheese and stroopwafel, need I say more?
- Interesting cultural activities and heritage
- Beautiful architecture and landscaping
- World class museums
- Unabashedly itself
- Small enough to get around on bike!
- Also, the Dutch are also super creative in their problem solving, so it is interesting to see how they do things!
Amsterdam is known for its red light district and marijuana. But there is so much more to the city than that. It is bustling with young families, professionals, and tourists living in houseboats, narrow townhouses, and just about every other creative Dutch solution!
With that, here are 11 of my favorite things to do in Amsterdam:
10 Things To Do In Amsterdam
1. Rijks Museum
The Rijks Museum is situated in the center of Museumplein, right by the “I love Amsterdam” sign. Be sure to get your classic “I love Amsterdam” shot before heading into the Museum. The large historic building houses ancient to modern art, grouped by time period. There is an audio guide you can download for free from their museum app, and wifi in the museum to easily access it. I like to walk through the whole museum but especially love their collection of impressionist paintings.
2. Van Gogh Museum
There are other smaller and arguably more charming Van Gogh Museums around Holland, but if you are in Amsterdam, the Van Gogh Museum is the one to see. Be sure to buy tickets online ahead of time, or expect to wait in line with throngs of tourists for an hour or more.
Tickets for the Van Gogh Museum: https://www.vangoghmuseum.nl/en/plan-your-visit/tickets-and-webstore
Depending on how many museums you want to visit, the Dutch Museum pass might be a good option if you plan to visit 4 museums or more: https://www.amsterdam.info/museums/museumkaart/
3. De Pijp
This hip area of Amsterdam is alive with parks, delicious small local restaurants and shops. I love to walk through De Pijp because every time I find something new. Check out the restaurant serving all things Avocado and then finish at the organic gelato shop. Wander into the many boutiques with local designers. Finally, walk through Sarphatipark, the central park of De Pijp with a large park for children and an outdoor exercise area.
4. Explore the canals
There are so many ways to enjoy Amsterdam’s canals. You can take one of the many canal boat tours. Or you can just walk the streets, taking time to see all the interesting details in the canals, from lotuses to floating gardens.
5. Rent a bike
The Dutch are famous for both bikes and bike paths. Did you know bikes always have the right of way in Holland? Yes. So get yourself a bike at any one of the many rental shops, and start exploring!
The bike shops will usually give you a map of recommended routes and tours, and usually also have an option to join guided tours. For an authentic Dutch experience, bike riding is a must! Bonus points for balancing someone on the back of your bike, or pulling a trailer behind your bike.
There are many great shops scattered all over Amsterdam. The two most common shopping areas are Utrechtsestraat (which translates to Utrecht Street) and De Bijenkorf. De Bijenkorf is a large department store, mostly with International brands. But the spacious lobby with worth stopping inside. Utrechtsestraat has a variety of international brands and small local shops. Check out the adorably decorated bakeries along Utrechtsestraat!
For more upscale and less crowded shopping, you can also check out Beethovenstraat. Beethovenstraat is especially known for its Patisseries.
7. Tour the Royal Palace and Dam Square
Yes, the Netherlands still has a monarchy and the royal family is deeply loved here. Although they live in Den Haag most of the time, the original Palace was in Amsterdam and is now open to the public as a museum. If you get lucky, the bagpipers may be outside to welcome you!s
Although the Palace is right in central Amsterdam and doesn’t look particularly grand from the outside, the lush interior and rich history make for an enjoyable hour or two. Be sure to get the audio tour to follow along and note all the fine architectural details with nods to religion, nature, and history. The Palace is seated in Dam square, now surrounded by interesting shopping and restaurants.
Vondelpark is the largest and most famous park in Amsterdam. For a break from the bustle of the city, take a walk or a bike through the park. It is especially beautiful in spring when all the tulips and crocuses are in bloom. But the lakes, fountains, and gazebos make it enjoyable all year round.
9. A’dam Toren
A’dam Toren is a tower that gives you incredible views of the city of Amsterdam. There are two upscale restaurants where you can eat or even have a cup of coffee. And then you can go up to the viewing deck for a view of the city. If you are feeling especially brave, you can try out one of the world’s largest swings that is there!
10. Albert Cuyp Markt
Technically this should be part of De Pijp, but it deserves its own mention. Albert Cuyp Market is a large market located in De Pijp offering everything from fruits and veggies to Middle eastern Market stalls, antiques, and a variety of other goodies. This is where locals often come to shop, which is fun to get off the tourist path for a bit.
11. De Negen Straatjes (The Nine Streets)
And then to jump right back into the tourist area, The Nine Streets is a shopping district of Amsterdam. Instead of large designers, you’ll find little boutiques, coffee shops, and cozy cafes lining the canals. Even when busy (or perhaps especially so) it is quintessentially Dutch. Did you know Holland is one of the most densely populated countries in the world? Get ready to feel everyone is in your personal space!
12. Anne Frank Museum
Finally, although I’ve never been to the Anne Frank Museum and am not sure I’ll ever go, I couldn’t complete this list without mentioning it. I’d feel I hadn’t properly informed you if I left it off the list. If seeing the place a family was killed during WW2 is your thing, or you just love Anne Frank, then be sure to check it out and let me know how it was!
As I said, there is so much delicious food in Amsterdam to satisfy every palate. Typical dutch foods you should be sure to try are stroopwafel, Gouda cheese, Dutch french fries with mayonnaise, and Tony’s chocolate bars. As Indonesia was also a Dutch colony for a long time, the Indonesian food is some of the best outside of Indonesia!
That being said, there is an incredible variety of shops serving organic salads and some of the best organic coconut milk ice cream bars. I like Marqt for its variety of natural and organic options, and the fact that they are located all over the city so you are never far from healthy delicious food. They also specifically include ethical production in their mission statement, which is impressive. Marat carries a wide variety of prepared salads and other foods for when you are in a hurry.
Ekoplaza in Amsterdam is also making headlines for being one of the first grocery stores in the world to be 100% organic and 100% without plastic or waste. You can check it out to support the cause.
For fast healthy food, SLA is a chain with several stores around Amsterdam. Alchemist Garden is also good. But I recommend stopping in a cafe on nearly any street and you are guaranteed to find something fresh and delicious!
More to explore
Amsterdam offers such an incredible variety of activities. A few other fun things are to visit the city beach, try out the adult-sized ball pit, or visit one of the many theater performances. The science museum is also fun for kids of all ages and adults too!
I hope you have an incredible time on your visit to Amsterdam, or that this post has inspired you to plan a trip. Let me know when you’re coming and maybe we can meet up for a coffee. Finally, if you want a really accurate look at Dutch culture, you can also check out this blog: https://www.stuffdutchpeoplelike.com
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