Top Ten Ways to Spend a Few Days In Amsterdam
There is just so much to do in Amsterdam, these 10 ideas are just to get you started! Last October we spent 4 nights in Amsterdam and still did not have enough time to see and do everything we had hoped. Amsterdam is a city with a unique character all its own. Given my Dutch heritage, I was especially excited to see what the Netherlands were all about! So now, I share with you, 10 ways to lose yourself in Amsterdam - in no particular order.
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1. Explore the Canals
It would be impossible to visit Amsterdam and not experience the canals - they are everywhere. They make up the city and are a beautiful sight indeed! Colorful Dutch homes and shops line the canals. The quaint, flower-covered bridges arch over the water where you can spot ducks below. This city is perfect for romantic strolls, and the way to your destination is often just as enjoyable.
2. Bikes, Bikes, Bikes!
The next thing that you might find striking (literally) about Amsterdam is the unique bike culture! Watch out! Bikes are everywhere; bikes are life. We were very excited about this aspect of the city and couldn't wait to hit the streets. However, it is vital that you understand bike etiquette, even if you are not planning to ride one. Bike traffic is real, and the last thing you want on your trip is to cause an accident.
When Exploring the Streets of Amsterdam on Foot:
• Keep an eye out for cyclists - they ride fast! • Stay out of the bike lanes
• Use the pedestrian crosswalks - jaywalking is dangerous
Ready to Ride? Rent a Bike!
Riding your bike through the streets of Amsterdam is a thrilling way to spend an afternoon! It is also one of the quickest ways to get around. Biking in this city is not for the faint of heart. Even with lots of bike experience, we found biking in Amsterdam to be a little stressful. Familiarize yourself with the rules before you take off, always be alert and watch out for others. Keep in mind you are a part of this city's traffic. However, once we got the hang of things, biking along the canals was a beautiful and very fun experience.
Exploring Amsterdam By Bicycle
• Stay in your lane • Yield to pedestrians in crosswalks
• Ride single file, let others pass and always use your hand signals
• WATCH OUT FOR TRAM TRACKS! You don't want to crash!
• Watch out for scooters! We found these to be the worst!
• Don't ride through no-bike zones, walk your bike instead
• Limit your bell ringing and use a bike light at night
• Always properly lock up your bike and then remember where you parked!
Don't worry, when you rent your bike they will go over all the rules and safety regulations with you before you take off. It won't be long before you are zipping around like a local and having a blast doing so! We rented our bikes from Discount Bike Rental and had a good experience with them. There is a quiet alley outside their shop where you can get a feel for riding the Dutch style bikes if you are not accustomed to them already.
3. Eat! Energy for Exploration
All of the sightseeing will make you hungry. Also, food is one of the best ways to experience a place and culture. You will find that your dining options in Amsterdam are numerous. One of our favorite stops was the colossal Foodhallen! It is a large indoor market full of food stalls serving foods from many cultures around the world! Most of the vendors are selling unique dishes, and you can wander around and try whatever interests you.
After finding a place to sit we took turns going out on food runs. The first round included a sampling from Dim Sum Thing - steamed dumplings, vegetarian gyoza and fried curry triangles! Evan was in charge of round #2. He brought back tempura vegetables and gourmet hot dogs. Just look at those toppings below! The popcorn hotdog is vegan - Evan knows me so well! The Foodhallen is a popular place, and it honestly does fill up. I usually avoid crowds, but the atmosphere here is electric and lively. Just being there was so much fun, not to mention delicious!!!
4. Drink Some Tasty Beverages!
Now, grabbing a few drinks to enjoy canalside is a super way to spend some time. We love trying new beers, especially craft beers. Amsterdam has so many bars to choose from. Luckily, we have a friend that has made a career out of knowing just where and how to enjoy the best brews in Amsterdam! (Learn more about this 'beer god' below) He provided us with several recommendations before we left, and we enjoyed as many as we could during our trip.
In addition to beer, the Dutch are known for making genever, a type of gin that tastes more like a herby whiskey. We stopped at Wynand Fockink for a quick taste test and some mighty fine cocktails made with their genever. You can also go on a tour of their distillery located right next to the tasting room.
OUR FAVORITE AMSTERDAM BARS
• Proeflokaal Arendsnest - All Dutch craft beer bar with 30 beers on tap
• BEER Loves FOOD - We paired our drinks with some bitterballen snacks - yum!
• Tales and Spirits - Super imaginative cocktails
• Tunes Bar - Near the museums, Classy cocktails, Espresso Martini = : )
5. Amazing Museums
Amsterdam has some major museums! My husband Evan and I are both designers and were very interested in the Van Gogh Museum. We rode our bikes to the Museum Quarter (Museumplein), Amsterdam's largest square, where many great museums are located. The line outside the Van Gogh Museum wrapped around the building. We found out that you couldn't be in line unless you had a ticket. We headed towards the ticket booth only to find out that the museum was sold out for the day!
Luckily, we had time the following day and scheduled a late afternoon visit to the Van Gogh Museum. I am very glad we did! Van Gogh's works are arranged from earliest to latest in time of creation. A self-guided audio tour accompanies you as you progress higher up in the museum. Each level is a new chapter in Van Gogh's life - which you will learn so much about! If you are a fan of Van Gogh's paintings, you have got to check this place out.
Tips on Visiting the Van Gogh Museum
• Purchase tickets beforehand. There are only so many tickets available for each scheduled time slot. However, once you are in the museum you can stay as long as you want.
• Consider going during the museum's quieter times - early morning and late afternoon.
When we couldn't get into the Van Gogh Museum we opted for the Rijksmuseum instead. This museum is intense! The building itself is grand, not to mention the quality of art pieces you will find inside. It was moving to see, with my own eyes, so many famous paintings from my art history classes. You don't often realize the scale of these paintings when you see them only in books. For example, Rembrandt's 'The Night Watch' is roughly 12 X 14 feet! This large painting also attracts a similarly large crowd...
According to TripAdvisor, the Rijksmuseum is the #1 thing to do in Amsterdam. It is amazing but the crowds were starting to wear on us and made it difficult to fully appreciate the works of art. So, we snuck down to the basement where they keep the historical artifact collections. We were practically alone in this section of the museum. These collections might not be well known but I enjoyed them the most! We found strange works of art and interesting artifacts. I could have spent hours in this section alone. The best part was that it was just two of us quietly discovering centuries of history together.
6. The Magical Markets of Amsterdam
One of my favorite things to do when I travel is to tour the local markets. I adore them! We don't have much for markets at home, so seeking them out is very much a treat for us. However, we found that in Amsterdam, the market came to us! We woke up one morning to find that the quaint side street only steps away from our lodging had turned into a giant market that went on for blocks. Strolling through this market was a great way to start our day.
The Albert Cuypmarkt is Holland's largest market and looks like a lot of fun. We rode our bikes to the market on what happened to be the only day it closes, Sunday. We were not bummed for long as we then found an excellent spot for brunch. And really, there is no reason to be bummed while visiting Amsterdam!
7. Stroopwaffles - Oh, so good!
Yes, stroopwaffles get their very own spot on this list of 10 ways to enjoy Amsterdam! I had read about stroopwaffles before our trip. Everyone says, eat the stroopwaffles, they are good... I thought, “Sure I'll try one.” When Evan offered to buy me a fresh, warm stroopwaffle, I said I would just have a bite of his. What a mistake that was! Stroopwaffles are so good! Made of two thin waffles filled with caramel, Stroopwaffles are simply delicious. Savor one as you walk through the markets – you won't regret it. (We stocked up on stroopwaffles to bring home with us. I think my parents are addicted to them now...)
8. Specialty Lodging
Sometimes lodging is just a place to store your stuff and rest your head at night, other times lodging makes the destination. We splurged just a little bit on our Amsterdam lodging and rented a houseboat. The boat is located on a canal in the Jordaan District near many shops and cafes. For our last night in Amsterdam, we decided to take the night off and stay "home." We spent the evening sitting on the ship deck watching people pass by, drinking beers and enjoying the dinner we had delivered to the boat. What a great experience!
9. Get Lost by Wandering Around
Just start walking and see what you can find. Pop into a cafe just because it looks fun or maybe check out a local shop and pick out a gift for someone special. It was fun to casually explore the many neighborhoods of Amsterdam. We enjoyed the Jordaan District. There is much to see at the Dam Square, and you can't go wrong with a visit to Vondelpark - Amsterdam's largest park.
For a little contrast, you might enjoy visiting the Red Light District. A bit too touristy and crowded for my taste, but still very interesting. I would suggest checking it out if you have the time. Just remember your travel smarts, especially if you go at night when the crowds are more boisterous. Be sure to watch your belongings and don't take any photos.
10. Enjoy Holland's Countryside
The last idea involves leaving the city of Amsterdam. Whether you join a tour or go it alone, several nearby destinations offer quaint village experiences with views of The Netherland's many windmills. Our favorite way to explore, of course, is by bike! We found the bike trails extremely easy to navigate and enjoyed a day of biking to Haarlem. If you are interested in some of the many bike routes out of Amsterdam, check out iamsterdam.com. These bike routes offer a much more laid back experience when compared to biking in the city.
Inspiration - Amsterdam, The Netherlands
We visited Amsterdam near the end of October in 2018. Before we left for Europe, most of our trees at home had dropped their leaves. The beautiful colors of fall had mostly faded away and winter was well on its way. So we were delightfully surprised, once we arrived in Europe, to find that fall had barely started! In fact, there were more than just colorful leaves, there were many flowers as well!
I painted a few cheery flowers to remind myself of the beautiful bouquets and floral arrangements that lined the streets of Amsterdam. What about Amsterdam warms your heart? What did you or would you enjoy the most?
Cheers! To the Dutch and my Grandmother’s wooden clogs!
Freelance Graphic Designer
This trip took place during the fall of 2018. When planning your own adventures, please be sure to check for any current travel alerts or changes in destination conditions first. Keep in mind that businesses mentioned may no longer exist or offer the same products recommended in this post.