Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands, is absolutely inspiring at every corner of its streets, canals, and famously narrow houses. Its beginnings, from the dug up canals to its Golden Age, is one of history’s classics and is a testament to Dutch ingenuity. Here are my 2 fils on how to Amsterdam beyond the coffee houses and permitted thrills!
HOW TO GET AROUND
UBER was the quickest and most efficient way to get from Amsterdam Airport Schiphol airport to my accommodation. There’s free WIFI available at the airport so should you be struggling with an internet connection later, my advice would be to book the vehicle while still inside, and then make your way to the UBER pick-up location designated in the confirmation message to meet your driver. For UBERx, it was outside the airport to the far right, opposite bus stop C17 which is clearly marked.
Buses, Trams, and Metros: The public transport chip card known as ‘OV’ is used for travel on buses, trams, and metros. For tourists, you have the option of buying an ‘disposable’ card or an ‘anonymous’ card. More info on the differences here. I’d recommend buying a ‘disposable’ card for multiple days (1 to 7 days options available) which grant you unlimited rides. Either card can be purchased at a counter or self-service machine at the airport and at stations, as well as at newsstands or supermarkets. Tickets can only be purchased using debit or credit cards. Also, do ensure to scan your card when you hop on AND off your choice of transportation, as there are security personnel who may double check that you have scanned your card.
Travel Tips: For visitors who have opted to purchase the iAmsterdam pass, it includes unlimited use of public transportation on the blue GVB bus, tram and metro lines in Amsterdam, as per the validity of the pass.
Cycling: In the Netherlands, you’ll soon discover that bicycles outnumber residents (fact). So if you’re feeling brave, rent a bike and join the Dutch in making their way around the city. Hourly, day, and multi-day rates are available at the many rental companies around the city. Rates include locks. Do opt to get insurance in case the bike is stolen which is not uncommon.
Walking: Probably my favorite thing to do in Amsterdam. However, one must walk with caution to avoid any potential collisions with cyclists. The designated cycle lanes are clearly marked, and one must look both ways before crossing.
WHERE TO SLEEP
After having visited Amsterdam several times now and stayed in different accommodation options, I would have to say Airbnbs in Amsterdam are unbeatable. The Jordaan district is definitely my favorite, and is where you’ll find very modern and incredibly artsy flats. Many of the apartments have killer roof-top terraces which are worth renting for alone! The major caveat though is that many of the apartments can only be reached by first walking up long and steep staircases with luggage. Definitely not for the faint-hearted.
Travel Tips: It’s always advisable to book with a superhost. Also, if traveling in peak soon, do make sure to book your accommodation early as rates can be much higher.
WHAT TO SEE & DO
For Van Gogh fans, the reality of seeing his artworks in person and up close is surreal. Visitors to the Van Gogh Museum will get the chance to hear the story of his life, his inspirations, and his influences while immersing in his extraordinary talent. Home to the largest collection of Van Gogh’s artworks, the museum also showcases excerpts from his many letters to his brother Theo, as well as artworks by his contemporaries who were inspired by his visionary art.
Travel Tips: Buy your museum ticket well in advance as the lines to buy in-person can be incredibly long during peak season, even if using your iAmsterdam or Holland Pass. I would also highly recommend watching the movie Loving Vincent before visiting, to truly appreciate his genius.
You can’t come to Amsterdam and not experience a canal cruise. The canals are iconic and are what essentially put Amsterdam on the world trade map. So I’d highly recommend hopping on a 60 min open boat tour with Friendship Amsterdam to truly appreciate the city’s beauty and its colorful brick houses. You’ll truly get a sense of how the Dutch live, mostly because they love to keep their curtains open at what seemed like all times of the day. That, and the incredible history of what is often described to be the world’s most liberal city.
A visit to the Anne Frank House is a somber and moving experience. It’s where you’ll witness and hear the incredible story of a young girl and her family hiding in wartime Amsterdam from the Nazis for over 2 years in a secret annex of an old warehouse. During that period, Anne wrote in her diary to help her pass the time, and was inspired to document her thoughts during the war. Tragically, a police raid led to the discovery of their hiding place and to their arrest. Fortunately, Anne’s writings were preserved and her diary was later published by her father Otto, the sole survivor of the Secret Annex hideout. So a trip to this museum warrants a read or re-read of her diary prior to visiting to truly grasp its sobering history.
Travel Tips: the museum is very popular and tickets sell out pretty fast, so make sure to buy your tickets as soon as they’re released 2 months in advance.
Vondelpark is a perfect escape from the buzzing city (but not the cyclists). A nearby walk from the Van Gogh Museum, the park has lush gardens, beautiful tulips when in season, ponds, and parakeets to name a few perks. I’d definitely recommend bringing a blanket and having a picnic here for a couple of hours. If you’re brave enough to join the Dutch masses, you can also rent a bike and cruise through acres of gorgeous views.
If there was ever a chocolate heaven, it would be called Tony’s Chocolonely Super Store. For anyone with a sweet tooth, a visit to this place will guarantee not only a sugar rush, but also a quick lesson on the cocoa slave trade that Tony’s has made its no. 1 mission to eradicate. Wander over to their underground space where you can actually taste every one of their delicious creations for free, make your very own chocolate bar (takes 2 hours), stock up on all their flavors, and become all the choco-wiser about how our favorite dessert can be made differently. Their Caramel Sea Salt bars are my favorite!
Travel Tips: Do follow the route on their website when visiting as the store can easily be missed. Also, you can only pay by card here.
WHERE TO EAT
Coffee & Coconuts is a hip hangout housed in a 1920s converted cinema, with 3 floors, high ceilings, and incredible interior design. This beautiful space was filled with such an interesting crowd of people either there to work for the day, or to soak up the buzzing atmosphere over a bite. Despite the long queues and nonchalant staff, the place is pretty cool and their avocado on toast is on point.
Foodhallen is an old tram hall turned foodie’s paradise. They’ve got everything covered from Dim Sums to the Dutch bitterballs you’re soon going to obsess over. The market officially opens at 11AM but stalls open at their own pace so the safest bet is to come in just before lunch time to secure seats, before placing your orders.
Travel Tips: Some of the stands accept either only cash or only card, so make sure to carry both.
As the name very clearly suggests, the Vegan Junk Food Bar offers comfort foods without meat. So it’s not necessarily healthy, but it makes you salivate just enough to consider switching over to the ‘other side’ at least while in Amsterdam. The Original VJFB 3.0 burger is fantastic, as are the truffle fries. Portions are big so just make sure to also leave room for their Dutch bitterballs.
Winkel 43’s homemade apple pie is what sweet dreams are made of. Was never a big fan of apple pies, but this one was a game-changer. Crumbly, crusty, melts-in-your-mouth fantastic. Also, served with a side of whipped cream. Double trouble. The place does get busy as it’s no secret to locals or tourists so prepare for a worthwhile wait. Also, the outdoor seating area is a better spot to enjoy it from.
Travel Tips: Don’t expect to share.
Van Stapele is a small store which you might easily walk past in any other situation, until you see the long queues there quite literally every day. Better yet, there’s only 1 thing on the menu: chocolate cookies. Not just any chocolate cookies. Soft chocolate cookies with melted white chocolate in the center. So if you’re thinking, I’ll just have one to taste. Stand corrected. You’ll soon start strategizing how many you can bring back home without setting off customs’ alarm bells. The struggle is real.
Dutch cheese is not a topic to be taken lightly. The Netherlands is home to some of the best Edam, Gouda, and Geitenkaas (Goat Cheese) you’ll ever taste. There are many chain stores around the city which offer samples to taste and experiment with flavors. They also sell the cheese vacuum packed, so it's easy to take back home and devour. Personal favorite store: Reypenaer.
You haven’t really been to Amsterdam if you didn’t try a Dutch Stroopwafel. It’s hands down one of the best simple dessert creations made of a heavenly caramel syrup sandwiched between 2 baked wafers. You can find them sold in supermarkets in tins ready to take home, or made fresh in bakeries which you can also add toppings to. The Dutch typically eat them by first laying them on top of a hot cup of tea or coffee so that the steam softens the inside syrup and it becomes all warm and gooey. It’s waffelicious!
Amsterdam’s incredible art scene isn’t only found in its museums. Wander its streets and design stores, and you’ll come across beautiful murals and other innovative creations. While there was no particular route that I followed to do this, I was lucky enough to stumble upon some super cool artworks like the Van Gogh mural below. A friend also led me to a place called Droog, a conceptual design store, which had some incredible works on display like the aquarium below. So my 2 fils would be to keep your eyes peeled as you wander around!