Amsterdam City Guide

Known for its canals & bicycles, Amsterdam is a free-spirit international capital. Visit the home of Anne Frank, admire the tulips in bloom and learn about post-impressionist art at the Van Gough museum.

We have been lucky enough to visit Amsterdam twice. The first time was to celebrate New Years, and the second time was with our mothers to see the tulips. Check out our top things to do and see:

Anne Frank House

The Anne Frank House is the building that the famous diary writer hid with her family from Nazi troops while they occupied the Netherlands. Anne’s father, Otto Frank, was the only surviving member of his family after the war. He helped to establish the house as a nonprofit museum in 1957. Visiting the house is truly taking a step into a haunted part of history, but incredibly important to understand first hand what many people went through during this dark period in Europe. We definitely recommend purchasing your tickets (at least 2 months) in advance to avoid waiting in long lines.

Heineken Experience

The Heineken Experience is an interactive brewery tour. It’s interesting to learn about the history of this international brand. If you book your tickets online in advance, you get a designated time slot to enter, you can skip the line and you save 3 euros! It also includes a tasting halfway through the tour, as well as 2 Heineken beers at the end.

Keukenhof Gardens

The Keukenhof Gardens are a perfect day trip from Amsterdam. They are only open 2 months out of the year, from mid March until mid May, during tulip season. It’s about 40 minutes to get to the gardens so we recommend making a day of it if you can and pack a lunch! Check out our previous post dedicated to visiting the gardens here: Keukenhof Gardens.

  • Cost: €29 (combo ticket – including transportation)
  • Reserve spots online here: Keukenhof Garden Tickets
  • Estimated time needed: 4-5 hours / all day

Red Light District

  • Cost: Free
  • Estimated time needed: 30 minutes – 1 hour

The Red Light District is definitely an adult-only experience. Prostitution is legal in Amsterdam so store front windows are lined with half-dressed women looking for customers. There are many sex shops, shows and café’s in this area. It’s such a unique experience, that it’s worth a stroll in the early evening before things get too crazy!

Canal Cruise

With over 165 canals, Amsterdam is often considered the Venice of the North. Taking a canal cruise is a great way to take in the city. You can preorder a ticket online and go to any one of the 14 pick up stations to scan your ticket and join the cruise (no reservation required). We have yet to do this ourselves but I’ve heard it’s especially nice to do at night!

Brouwerij’t IJ brewery

  • Cost: €5-8 (for a drink)
  • Estimated time needed: 1-2 hours

The last remaining windmill in Amsterdam can be found next to Brouwerij’t IJ brewery. It’s a great spot to grab a flight of their blonde and dark beers and soak up the view.

I Amsterdam

The Iamsterdam sign is a newer symbol for the people of Amsterdam. Originally located in Museumplein, it was removed in 2018 due to the amount of crowds drawn to a limited space. You can find this famous sign at Schipol airport (outside arrivals 1) or in Sloterplas lake, a park area in Amsterdam.

  • Cost: Free
  • Estimated time needed: 15 – 30 minutes

JWO Lekkernijen

We don’t normally focus on specific places when writing our city guides, but we had the best sandwiches at this local deli! If you’re visiting Amsterdam in nice weather, it’s the perfect spot to grab a to-go lunch. The people behind the counter asked us a bit about what we liked and created delicious sandwiches for us. Definitely let them take the reins since they know what cheeses and sauces go best with which meat.

  • Cost: €5-10 (per sandwich)
  • Estimated time needed: 15 – 30 minutes

Van Gough Museum

This museum is dedicated to the work of post-impressionist artist Vincent Van Gough and his contemporaries. It’s located in Museumplein, a neighborhood of Amsterdam with other museums.

  • Cost: €19
  • Reserve spots online here: Van Gough Museum
  • Estimated time needed: 2-3 hours

Rijksmuseum

Rijksmuseum is a national museum dedicated to the arts and history of Amsterdam. It is also located in Museumplein, along with the Van Gough Museum.

Rembrandt House Museum

Going off the museum theme, Rembrandt House Museum is a historic home, turned art museum. Painter Rembrandt lived and worked in the house between 1639 and 1656.

Jordaan Neighborhood

The Jordaan neighborhood is one of the more picturesque and artistic parts of Amsterdam. It’s a great area to take a walk and get lost in. Chances are you’ll stumble across some unique boutiques and modern restaurants.

  • Cost: Free
  • Estimated time needed: 1-2 hours

Dam Square

Dam Square is a central spot in Amsterdam used for many public events. During the holidays, there are Christmas market booths and attractions set up there.

  • Cost: Free
  • Estimated time needed: 15 – 30 minutes

Visit a pancake house

After all of that sightseeing you’re going to want to refuel! Amsterdam is known for their sweet and savory pancakes. We recommend Pancake Bakery. Although there was a line outside to get in, don’t be fooled – it moves quickly! The pancakes are large so if you’re not too hungry, we recommend sharing.

  • Cost: €8-12 (per pancake)
  • Estimated time needed: 1-2 hours

Accommodations

During our New Year’s Eve trip to Amsterdam, we stayed in a private room through Airbnb. It was right in the heart of the Canal District, walking distance to the Anne Frank House and other sights. Our second time in Amsterdam, we rented a small studio apartment.

Amsterdam Travel Tips

  • Transportation
    • Amsterdam is very walkable.
    • If you’re feeling brave, it’s also accessible to rent a bike and get around that way
    • Finally, if you are not comfortable with walking a lot – the tram system or hop on hop off boats are another scenic way to get places quickly
    • Uber also exists in Amsterdam
  • Tipping
    • Tipping is not as prominent in the Netherlands as it is in the US because servers are paid a livable wage
    • Some spare coins or 5-10% is a nice gesture if you enjoyed the meal or service
  • Weather
    • Amsterdam is further North so it has cold winters and moderate summers. It is busiest in the summer months so traveling in the shoulder or off season will help to avoid the crowds.
      • Winter: 32 – 48 F
      • Summer: 55 – 70 F
  • General
    • Do not make the mistake of walking in the bike lane. There are very clear areas meant for bikes and for walkers. Bikers will ring their bell and furiously whip past you if you’re in the wrong lane!
    • Know the difference between a café and a coffee shop
      • Coffee shop = a shop that sells marijuana
      • Café = where you buy your morning coffee
    • Don’t take photos in the Red Light District. It is meant to protect the sex workers and a security guard will come out if you try to.
    • Don’t forget your allergy medicine in Spring! With all the tulips and gardens in full bloom, you’ll want to make sure you’re prepared.

Amsterdam is a city full of life! I always dream about the day I’ll make it back there to stroll along the canals.

Cheers, Amanda

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