Amsterdam is a city infamous for its hedonistic side, the side most often seen by visitors and limited only to a small area. Despite the city’s reputation, there are so many things to do in Amsterdam beyond the red light districts and “coffee shops.” Once you reach beyond the most tourist parts of the city, you’ll find historical areas nearly dripping with charm. Despite its pint size and the feeling that it is more of an overgrown village than a city, Amsterdam competes with other European capitals for the amount of great things to see and do. What to do in Amsterdam
If you visit Amsterdam, you can’t miss paying a visit to its most famous museums. Lucky for you, two of them are located right next to each other, allowing you to easily tick them off in one day.
Rijksmuseum is the country’s most famous museum, and houses predominantly 17th century art from the Dutch Masters. Here you’ll find Rembrandt’s most famous piece, Night Watch, along with dozens of other classics from the time period. I recommend getting your tickets ahead of time, and downloading the audio guide on your phone (so remember your headphones!), unless you’re a 17th century art buff. The audio tour will definitely help you get the most out of the Dutch Masters.
Van Gogh Museum is just a short walk from Rijksmuseum, and as the name says, houses the works of Vincent Van Gogh. Although some of his most famous pieces are not in this museum (Starry Night for example), you will find the largest collection of Van Gogh’s in the world. The museum is organized in chronological order of his life, taking you from his time living in the south of the Netherlands, living in Paris, and ultimately in the French countryside where he met his end. Through the chronology, you’ll go step by step with him through each phase of his life and see how that impacted his work. It is highly recommended that you book your tickets ahead of time as well, as lines for this museum can get very long!
Finally, think about a trip to the Anne Frank House. This museum has been extended beyond the house where she was hidden from (and discovered by) the Nazis in 1944 and where she wrote her famous diary. The museum also educates visitors not only on her life and the Holocaust, but spreading a message of peace and forgiveness to all visitors. Anne Frank House is quite difficult to get into, so again, book your tickets ahead of time – possibly weeks in advance as these tickets sell out very quickly.
Visit Vondelpark. Vondelpark is Amsterdam’s version of Central Park. Located just a few minute’s walk from Leidseplein, Vondelpark is a favorite of both tourists and locals. In summer months, consider bringing a picnic and chilling out on the grass like the Dutchies do.
Stroll through the Jordaan. The Jordaan is undeniably the most picturesque and famous part of Amsterdam. This is the charming Amsterdam you see in photos with narrow houses leaning precariously against each other, and often leaning forward (!), seemingly nearly tipping over. You can walk along any of the canals to reach the Jordaan, since Prinsengracht, Herengracht and Keizersgracht all circle the city concentrically. The best canal to stroll though is likely Prinsengracht, where you’ll find the most restaurants and bars. Don’t miss the most beautiful corner of the city where Prinsengracht and Brouwersgracht meet in a corner.
Where to shop in Amsterdam
The 9 Stratjes, or 9 Streets. Nine boutique-lined shops in the heart of the Jordaan, filled with some brands you’ll recognize, some local brands, and some small independent shops. The 9 Streets is a must visit for anyone who loves shopping, and is the perfect place to pick up a unique souvenir, especially if you like jewelry.
The trendy neighborhood, De Pijp, is another great area for shopping. There are several boutiques around Gerard Douplein which are also very conveniently located right by some of the most popular bars and restaurants of the city. After visiting the boutiques, make sure you stop by the famous Albert Cuypmarket, located on Albert Cuypstraat. This huge street market sells everything from fresh flowers to bike locks – and is one of the best places to pick up a fresh stroopwafel.
How to see Amsterdam like a local
If you’d like to get off the tourist track and see the city from a local’s perspective, consider these tips.
Rent your own boat and drive it through the canals. Sure you can do a hop on – hop off canal tour, but do you really want to listen to the announcements made repeatedly in every language under the sun? Renting and driving your own boat is way more fun, allows you to bring your own snacks and drinks on board, and is easy, too! Boat rentals in Amsterdam cost between €90-110, so with a group of 4 people or more you’ve easily paid the same amount as a guided canal tour. Of course, I’d only recommend doing this when the weather is good. The boats are all very easy to drive, and you don’t need a license! Plus, you’ll feel really cool when you see the city like a local, and not from an enclosed boat. My favorite place to rent from is Mokum Boat.
If you’re up for a drink, there are two hotspots that you can’t miss – again, in good weather! (In bad weather any bar will do!). The first is Hanneke’s Boom, located nearby Amsterdam Central Station and Nemo Science Museum. Here you can sit next to the water, watch the boats go by and enjoy drinks and snacks. This is one of the busiest places in the city for a borrel, or after work drinks. Another equally popular hotspot is the Waterkant, located just outside the Jordaan. The Waterkant is located at the bottom of a parking garage, just behind a gas station – so when you approach it, it might seem like nothing, but once you enter you’ll see how packed it really is! Here you can also sit by the water and watch boats, have a beer, and chow down.
How to get around Amsterdam
Amsterdam really is so small that you can walk everywhere, if you have enough time. I’d also recommend walking over biking, for the sanity of the local people. Unless you are really confident with your biking skills, don’t risk getting yourself or someone else in an accident. If you would rather take public transport, then the trams or busses are your best bet, but keep in mind the tram system in Amsterdam is not always very efficient, and sometimes only saves you 5-10 minutes of walking. Check out the IAmsterdam page to find the best public transport card for your visit. If you plan to travel a lot on public transport, getting one of these will typically save you significantly. The Amsterdam city cards also often include entry to Van Gogh museum, so consider these combi-cards!
Gabby is a native California who has lived in the Netherlands since 2010, missing good and cheap Mexican food but enjoying life abroad nonetheless. For more tips on Amsterdam and other travel adventures, visit her blog http://www.boardingcallblog.com/ or visit her on one of her social handles below: