I have been to Amsterdam twice: once as a single person wanting to experience it all & have some fun; and then as a responsible PhD student accompanying undergraduate students on a fieldtrip. They were both very different, but rewarding experiences. Which proves that whatever you’re into or mood you’re in, there’s something for you in Amsterdam! And I would definitely say that it is one of the most beautiful and funnest cities to visit in Europe. Read on for my top recommendations to make the most of your trip to Amsterdam!
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Preparing your trip to Amsterdam
I would advise visiting Amsterdam in the springtime, though I am sure it is lovely year-round. More specifically you want to aim for mid-April to mid-May to catch the beautiful blossoms at the Keukenhof. More on that below!
Amsterdam’s airport (Schiphol) is massive hub in Europe. Many trains and coaches go to Amsterdam too so you shouldn’t have any trouble finding a way to get there!
If you’re going to take a book, I would recommend reading Anne Frank’s Diary while you are there. It is quite strange to contrast the experience of today’s lively Amsterdam to her poignant account of living there in hiding during the war. Not always easy to read, but definitely worth it.
Almost everyone you encounter in Amsterdam will be used to tourists and be able to speak English. Last time I was there my intentions were good: I did a bit of Dutch on Duolingo & Memrise, and I took a Dutch phrasebook with me, but honestly I did not get much use out of it.
What to do in Amsterdam
1. Go on walking tour
I would say that this is a must in most cities you travel to! I recommend trying to do this as early on in your stay as possible. Going on a tour will give you the context to better appreciate Amsterdam. And it will help you figure out where everything is, so that you can navigate the city more easily. And you can decide what you want to go back and see in more detail.
I personally very much enjoyed the Sandemans New Europe tours: they’re fun and informative at the same time! During the free tour, you walk with a guide for a bit more than two hours. Then if you enjoyed it (which you will!) you leave them a tip. The guides also answer questions and can offer you tips for the rest of your stay.
It’s much better to get some information about where you are travelling rather than aimlessly wandering, staring at interesting buildings without knowing what they are!
2. Cycle the city
This is one of the best ways of not only seeing Amsterdam, but also experiencing a bit of the Dutch way of life. Don’t fear cycling somewhere you don’t know very well, as it is very safe and pleasant to get around on two wheels. Enjoy pedaling along the canals and in Vondelpark… And you’ll feel like you’ve deserved your large portion of fries (more on that below)!
Several companies rent out bikes: I have used MacBike and Stads Fiets which were both reasonably-priced. If cycling isn’t an option for you, Amsterdam is very well served by public transport. You can hop on and off of trams with a day card.
3. Spend a day at Keukenhof gardens
The Keukenhof gardens are not technically in Amsterdam, but the massive display of tulips is a must see! An easy bus ride away from the centre of Amsterdam, it is quite a sight to behold! Tulips as far as the eye can see, in all their colours and beauty.
If you are in Amsterdam for more than two days, it is definitely worth taking a day out of the hustle and bustle of the city to have a walk around these stunning gardens.
4. Visit the Tropenmuseum
Now, I am not that much into museums normally, but the Tropenmuseum really was a delight! The name means tropical museum or museum of the Tropics. It features collections on the colonial history of the Netherlands, but also temporary exhibitions (on subjects such as body modifications and African fashion).
I tend to be more interested in this kind of museum than in art museums, but I particularly liked that the descriptions in the collections were critical of the problematic role the museum held in some interactions with the Netherlands’s colonies (for instance exhibiting artifacts that were taken by force or deception).
What to eat in Amsterdam
What’s the point of going somewhere new if you don’t indulge in some of the food that goes with it? There is a plethora of food options in Amsterdam, but I have narrowed the options down to three recommendations.
5. Dutch “friet”
Dutch fries are good and you can buy them almost anywhere… Not much to add to this, just buy them and eat them!
6. “Cheese” at Mr & Mrs Watson
Mr & Mrs Watson is a secret gem (but now the secret is out!). The atmosphere is cozy and all the food is plant-based. I liked my jackfruit “sloppy BBQ bun”, but what I really really recommend is their vegan cheeses!
I went there with “non vegans” and they liked it so much that we went again a few evenings later. We all disagreed on which were the best “cheeses”, but as I am writing this blog post I can tell you for a fact that it is the blue and the brie, ha!
If you’re in a larger group, I would recommend you make a reservation online. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it!
7. Indonesian and/or Surinamese cuisine
Because of the history of the Netherlands, there are quite a few Indonesian and Surinamese food places in Amsterdam. I really regret not going to any during my trip, so please check them out for me and share your experience in the comments section below!
Where to stay in Amsterdam
I’ve stayed in some hostels in Amsterdam that were definitely alright (Hostel Sarphati and Generator). If I were to do it again though – especially with my partner or friends – I would book an Airbnb. This is for financial and dietary reasons.
Firstly, Airbnbs might sometimes seem costly, but I love the possibility of buying my own food and making a few meals “at home”. As I said above, I’m all for experimenting and testing new cuisines while on holiday, but it is much cheaper to only eat out for some meals and cook the others. Some hostels (the Generator for example) don’t have a kitchen or fridges available for guests, so you have to “eat out” at every meal, or survive off crackers sometimes!
Secondly, I don’t want to eat animal products. With websites/apps such as HappyCow it is easy to find vegan-friendly places in most cities. However that still requires a bit more planning than being able to cook a few meals from things bought at a market / from a shop. Also, this last time in Amsterdam I couldn’t access the Internet on my phone, so finding vegan-friendly places was a bit more involved.
In any case, there are loads of great places to stay, whether it’s by a canal or one of Amsterdam’s lovely parks. As always, prices heat up the closer you get to your stay, so make sure you book early!
If you’re looking for somewhere warmer, check out:
- Mykonos & Santorini: things to do (and not do)
- A guide to making the most of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: preparing your trip
- A guide to making the most out of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: what to do and what to see
Share your thoughts
Have you ever been to Amsterdam? If so, what did you love? If not, what are you waiting for? 😉 Please share your comments below!