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What to see, do and expect in Amsterdam

Never Ending Honeymoon | Tips for Exploring Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Amsterdam is the  largest city and capital of the Netherlands in Europe. The city has a metropolitan population of 2.28 million people and is located in the province of North Holland. The flat city is only two meters above sea level, and comprises of 165 17th century canals and squares that give this beautiful city its unique identity. The historical canal district was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2011.

Better known for its Red Light District and cannabis selling coffeeshops, the city also has the highest museum density in the world and is home to cultural highlights, such as the Van Gogh Museum, Anne Frank House, Hermitage Amsterdam and the Rijksmuseum with Rembrandt’s world-famous Nightwatch. Other well-known places of interest in Amsterdam are the Palace on the Dam, the Artis Zoo, Jewish Historical Museum and the Rembrandt House.

Currency: Euro / €

£10 = €11 – €12 (approx.)

US $10 = €7 – €8 (approx.)

What you will notice in Amsterdam

  • Bikes – they are everywhere and are a great way to get around and see the city as a local. Bikes have right of way and often ignore traffic rules, pedestrians nearly always come off second best
  • Girls in red illuminated windows – very common in the red light district, but photos are strictly forbidden.
  • The sweet and potent stench of marijuana in the local ‘coffee shops’
  • Canals & bridges – there are 165 canals in the city, lined with houseboats and beautiful cobblestoned streets

Things to see and do in Amsterdam

Rembrandtplein Square

Rembrandtplein square is lined with pubs, restaurants, cafes and hotels and is one of the main places to celebrate NYE each year. A popular centre for nightlife, it also includes traditional Dutch pubs which play real Dutch music. Check out clubs Prime, Escape or Smokeys for a dance.

27 Rembrandtplein

Leidseplein Square

Leidseplein  is one of Amsterdam’s most popular centres for nightlife. With many restaurants, clubs, coffeeshops, cinemas and theatres in the area, the Leidseplein is vibrant and colourful. Many pubs have outdoor seating for a long, lazy drinks with friends in the summer. Street performers liven up the square, often till the early hours. There are numerous Argentinian BBQ, Italian and Indian restaurants fighting for business, try to get the best deal. Also, check out Cafe Alto or Bourbon Street after 10pm for awesome blues and jazz.

Bike rides and picnics in Vondelpark

Vondelpark is Amsterdam’s largest park (47 hectares) and is located only a few minutes’ walk from Leidseplein Square. Locals and tourists alike relax on the grass between the trees and ponds because it’s the perfect place to enjoy a picnic in the sun, or a bike ride.

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De Oude Kerk (The Old Church)

The Old Church is a monumental church with exceptional architecture, high windows full of light, beautifully sculpted misericords in the choir and impressive old granite gravestones on its floor. Standing in the church’s main entry, you will be amazed to see the coffee shop just left to it, windows with sex workers in front and the Princess Juliana Nursery School left right the church (at no.8 on the Oudekerksplein).

Canal Cruise

Canal cruises are one of Amsterdam’s most popular attractions – and with good reason! If you’re visiting for the first time, it’s an excellent introduction to the city’s many sights. There are a number of departure points throughout the city and the tours are available in a multitude of languages.

OR, if you are travelling with a group, you can hire your own boat and explore the canals yourself! We did this in May 2015 and had the best time.

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The four main city center canals are Prinsengracht, Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Singel. There are also numerous smaller canals in the neighbourhood of Jordaan, of which the Brouwersgracht, the Bloemgracht and the Leliegracht are especially beautiful.

Museums

Amsterdam is home to a variety of world-famous museums. No trip to the city is complete without stopping by the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, or Anne Frank House (get there early to avoid the lines). However, there are over 50 more museums that you can enjoy while you are there. Amsterdam Historic Museum, Jewish Museum, Rembrandt’s House and the Willet-Holthuysen Canal House Museum.

Rent a bike

You can’t visit Amsterdam and not rent a bike! It is the best way to get around the city and you’ll be able to see more and venture further. There are plenty of bike rental places in the city, however it is recommended that you book ahead if you are going at a busy time of year (holidays, tulip season, summer). Some hostels, like Stay-ok Vondelpark, have reasonably priced bike hire and storage onsite. (see below for more about getting around Amsterdam and bike hire)

IMG_5931 jacqui on kbike

North Amsterdam

With your bike, catch the free ferry behind Central Station to North Amsterdam for windmills, dykes and all the cute Dutch villages you can stand just a short ride away.

Chasing Tulips (March – May)

Tulips are an integral part of Amsterdam life and history. You can see the tulips at Keukenhof or hire a bike and go on your own adventure.

Check out our video and tips on where to find the tulips.

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Reypenaer Cheese Tasting Room

Located in Amsterdam’s centre, you can personally evaluate the flavour, aroma and quality of several cheeses all under the guidance of an expert cheese taster.

Dutch Craft Beer in a Windmill

For a more authentic beer tasting experience, catch the 22 bus from Central Station to the east of the city where you will find a large windmill, now being used as a micro brewery. Sample the numerous craft beers while you enjoy the sunshine in the beer garden under in a very Dutch setting.

Heineken Experience

(For a touristy beer experience) Here you’ll experience Heineken’s rich history, its people and the tradition and craft of brewing. Attractions at the Heineken Experience include a mini brewery, a tasting bar, as well as the ‘Stable Walk’. A visit to the Heineken Experience attraction takes about 90 minutes, and two drinks are included in the admission price.

House of Bols Cocktail & Genever Experience

The House of Bols is an interactive adventure that takes you into the glamorous world of cocktails, spiced up with the history of the world’s oldest distilled liquor brand, Bols.

Food & Local Cuisine 

Typical Dutch dishes include pea soup, crepe-style sweet or savoury pancakes, meat croquettes, thick-cut fries, raw herring and wholesome variations of meat and potato dishes. Fresh seafood, such as herring, mussels and shrimp are available all year round. There is also a strong Indonesian influence in Dutch cooking, with Nasi Goreng and peanut sauce as common as Dutch kibbeling (deep-fried cod chunks) and poffertjes (mini sweet pancakes).

Red Light District 

The Rossebuurt, is in fact one of the oldest and most beautiful parts of the city with its long winding narrow, cobbled streets and utterly charming 14 th century architecture. Here you will find the gothic Oude Kerk, or Old Church, as well as red illuminated windows filled with girls of all nationalities and sizes, flashing their wares and theatres such as Casa Rosso (OZ Achterburgwal) and Moulin Rouge (Oudezijds Achterburgwal 5-7) offering live sex shows. There are three Red Light Districts in Amsterdam: the main area is in the Walletjes area (between Centraal Station and Nieuwenmarkt), and the other two, in Singel (between Raadhuistraat and Centraal Station) and de Pijp (behind the Rijksmuseum).

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City Pass/ Travel Card

The “I amsterdam” City Card is the key to your visit to Amsterdam. This card provides you with unlimited travel for one to three days on all GVB tram, day and night bus, and metro routes (but not on EBS, Arriva, or the NS). You also get free entry to 37 museums and a round trip on the canals. The ‘I amsterdam City Card’ also provides you with a 25% discount for numerous attractions and restaurants.

I amsterdam City Card prices (in 2015):

  • 24 hours (1 day) € 40.00
  • 48 hours (2 days) € 50.00
  • 72 hours (3 days) € 60.00

Available at GVB Tickets & Info and the VVV Amsterdam Tourist Board at Stationsplein

For more information, go to http://www.iamsterdam.com/

Cannabis

This section is for education and information only. This should not be considered in any way to condone the use of cannabis, marijuana or other mind-altering substances. Please check up to date information from other sources. 

Coffeeshops have been a part of Amsterdam since the 1970s. Not to be confused with cafes, they will always display of an official, green and white sticker in the window. Under Dutch drug law, coffeeshops were allowed to sell a maximum of five grams of cannabis per person to their customers; providing they are over 18 years old (ID is required in most places). This may have changed with new laws introduced in 2013/2014 banning the sale of cannabis to tourists.

Most coffeeshops will have a weed menu from which customers can make a selection. You will then be presented with a plastic bag with your marijuana or hash inside and are free to leave with it or smoke it on the premises. Smoking cannabis is not permitted in public areas. It is a good idea to stay clear of pre-rolled joints and ‘space cakes’ if you are unsure as to your tolerance.

There have been talks about changing the laws to only allow people with a special ID to purchase cannabis in the city Coffee shops of Amsterdam. Please check other sources for accurate information.

17 Daniel I Amsterdam

How to get around Amsterdam

Since the city is so flat, most of Amsterdam can be seen by foot or bike. However, there are many forms of easy public transport that can be used to get around.

Bikes

To fit in with the locals you can simply hire a bike per day (€7-9) or week (€25 – 50) from one of the many bike hire companies that can be found in and around the city centre. They will usually require a deposit of €50-150 per bike and a copy of your credit card and passport. Insurance is extra and always remember to chain your bike when it is not in use. Most people in Amsterdam seem to think that if a bike is not chained then it is free to ‘borrow’.

Public Transport

Trams, buses and then Metro run at regular intervals, every 5 to 20 minuets, depending on the service. Night buses start at midnight and run until 6am. There are 2 runs per hour on Friday, Saturday and Sundays and only 1 per hour any other night.

Look out for the “I Amsterdam” card for tourists, or the GVB day/multiple day card that entitles you to unlimited travel around Amsterdam – day and night – on bus, tram and metro, for the number of hours that best suits your plans. It starts at €7.50 for 24 hours and increases to €31 for 7 days. They can be purchases at any station and various hotels and VVV offices.

There are also many canal boats that give you a different view of this beautiful city. Make sure you try to catch at least one!

Visit NS (Nederlandse Spoorwegen), www.ns.nl for train times & fares in the Netherlands.

Amsterdam bus & tram info can be found at www.gvb.nl.

Canal Bus

To enjoy the city from a more unique perspective, you can purchase a hop-on hop-off Canal Bus Day Pass. You have the choice of a 24 hour or a 48 hour pass and can hop-on or off as often as you like at 14 stops located near Amsterdam’s major museums, attractions and shopping centers. The boats operate a regular service along Amsterdam’s canals, following three routes: the Green Line, Red Line and Orange Line.

Taxis

Taxis can be a little expensive but are useful for longer journeys outside of the city center. Be aware that they cannot stop anywhere and you may have to find a taxi rank.

How to get to Amsterdam

It is easy to get to Amsterdam by car, air, sea or train.

Air

Schiphol Airport is only 18km from central Amsterdam and is the fourth-busiest passenger terminal in Europe. Trains and buses to Amsterdam Centraal and other domestic/international destinations run several times an hour. Amsterdam Centraal is only 15 minutes away by train and will cost you €3.80 each way. Easyjet offer very cheap flights from many destinations around Europe, but cost may not include checked baggage.

Train

Centraal Station (CS) is Amsterdam’s main train station and is one of the main rail hubs of the Netherlands. To get there from London you can take a Eurostar train to Brussels via the Channel Tunnel, then either the hourly InterCity train or a high-speed Thalys train from Brussels to Amsterdam Centraal Station. This trip is around 4 hours and 20 minutes and can cost from £53 one-way or £99 return.

To book a Eurostar or Thalys train or to check train times, please go to http://www.eurostar.com/dynamic/index.jsp

There are hourly trains to Rotterdam and Brussels, ten trains per day to Paris, 6 trains per day to Frankfurt and 1 train a day to Munich, Prague, Warsaw, Zurich and Copenhagen. It is also the starting point of Amsterdam metro lines 51, 53 and 54. It is very simple to buy tickets at the station at a window or via a ticket machine, but allow lots of time and be prepared for long queues and Dutch inefficiency. There is little difference between 1st and 2nd class, but buying a ticket on board means you will pay almost double the fare.

Boat

The “Dutch Flyer” is the ferry option from London. You would leave central London by train at 7.32pm, sleep in a cosy private cabin with toilet, shower, satellite TV & free WiFi on Stena Line’s luxury overnight superferry from Harwich to Hoek van Holland, and arrive by train next morning in Rotterdam 08:41, Den Haag 09:17, Amsterdam 10:14. There is also a day ferry option that departs at 6.38am. London to Amsterdam is £39 one-way, £78 return the fare covers train+ferry+train travel from London to any Dutch station. Cabins are extra and are essential on the overnight ferry but optional on the daytime ferry. They start at £30 for a single berth or £43 for a 2 berth.

To book the Dutch Flyer, please go to www.dutchflyer.co.uk

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Weather in Amsterdam

Amsterdam is surrounded by large bodies of water and is strongly influenced by its proximity to the North Sea to the west, with prevailing westerly winds. Cold months in winter (November to March) are mild with light snow cover when the night rarely falls bellow -5°C (23 °F). Summers are warm, but not hot, with a daily average temperature of 17 – 23°C (63 – 72 °F).  On average it rains 185 days per year, which can be anything from a night storm to a drizzle throughout the day.

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What to pack for Amsterdam

What you will pack depend on when you will be going. If you are going in the winter months always pack your gloves, a scarf and a hat/beanie with your winter coat to keep warm when the temperature drops. In summer it is advisable to take a light jacket for a cool night or if you plan on being near the water. An umbrella is a good idea in case it does rain, and some good walking shoes (with good grip) since this is a city that should be explored by walking.

 

Want more travel inspiration? Check out some more travel guides here.

 

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4 Comments

  • avatar
    Reply
    Claudia
    May 31, 2016 at 7:12 pm

    Hi,
    My name is Claudia, I will visit Amsterdam in September. I will spend 2.5 days. I want to visit the canals, main attractions, museums and have a good time and relax. Also, I like the photography. And maybe visit Zaanse Schans.

    is it enough to know the main attractions of Amsterdam?

    Regards

    • avatar
      Reply
      Jacqui Moore-Moroney
      May 31, 2016 at 8:35 pm

      Hi Claudia,
      Surprisingly, you can see a lot in Amsterdam in only a couple of days. I highly recommend hiring a bike for your stay. You can use it to ride along canals, through the squares and in the streets of the city to and from the attractions you want to visit. Make sure you get up early to visit the Ann Frank Museum and the Van Goh Museum (these are my favourite). And, a bike ride to beautiful Zaanse Schans is one hour each way and a great way to spend a sunny afternoon. You can also enjoy a drink and food in the areas around Leidseplein and Rembrandtplein. There are plenty of beautiful places to take photos in Amsterdam. Zaanse Schans and Vondelpark are lovely to get out of the city centre.
      I hope you enjoy your holiday! Let me know if you have any other questions.
      Jacqui

  • avatar
    Reply
    Marisol
    June 30, 2016 at 5:01 am

    I really like the information you provided , we are going to Amsterdam on Oct 20, do you know if you can travel by boat to another destination rather than London?? thank you so much greetings from Mexico.

    • avatar
      Reply
      Jacqui Moore-Moroney
      June 30, 2016 at 9:44 am

      Hi Marisol,
      Glad you liked the information. You can travel to other cities in the UK (Hull, Newcastle and Harwhich) via ferry. From the UK it might be possible to catch a ferry to Denmark, Germany and some cities in Scandinavia. You can travel via train to Germany, France and Brussels – I would recommend checking out Seat 61 (http://www.seat61.com/Netherlands.htm#.V3Tnn2f2aiN) for more details.
      Enjoy your trip! Let me know if you have any other questions.
      Jacqui

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