The Ultimate Travel Guide to Amsterdam, The Netherlands
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Amsterdam, the city of canals and museums
Are you planning to spend your weekend in Amsterdam? As one of the most architecturally stunning and naturally colorful cities in Europe, Amsterdam is a haven for on-trend fashionistas and culture seekers alike.
TRIVIA: Did you know that Amsterdam’s famous canals are not a work of nature but an example of perfect town planning as far back as the 17th century? Whilst you are gliding along on one of the many sightseeing boats that take you through the canals, you will now know why some are called Prinsengracht or Herengracht, ‘gracht’ being the Dutch word for canal.
The town planners designed and constructed the canal system for three reasons: defense, water supply, and easy transport. It was dug out during Amsterdam’s Golden Age when it was the wealthiest city of the Western World and named of the ‘heren’ governors of Amsterdam at the time and the Prince of Oranje. The biggest canals, built in three concentric rings, lead along no less than 1550 historical buildings and monuments and are World Heritage Site.
Art and museum lovers find everything from classic to modern even quirky (Handbag museum). Parks, bicycles, and the thriving atmosphere of Amsterdam Noord where you can venture onto the world’s highest swing, make a visit to Amsterdam an event with things to do and see which will keep you on your feet all day and all night. Oh yes, and you can legally smoke weed too if you must.
In this Amsterdam Travel Guide blog, we’ll give you important travel tips and advice on things to do and see, itinerary, places to eat, the best hotels to stay, recommended tour packages and more.
Best time to visit Amsterdam
Amsterdam is considered to have a mild climate year round with the occasional hot days in summer and cold ones in winter. You might want to visit during tulip season which is at its best mid-April and make your way to the famous tulip fields of Keukenhof, a 45-minute drive along the A4.
Language, Money, WIFI etc
English is spoken virtually everywhere, so no problem there. The currency is the € and you have WiFi all over the city.
Amsterdam Travel Essentials
What to Wear
Clothes – Amsterdam style is generally casual; guys will get away with wearing a shirt and jeans and be considered ‘dressed-up’. Natural colors are preferable if you aim to blend in with the locals or opt for something a bit louder if you’re feeling daring. Girls – pack vintage/kitsch accessories to glam-up your daytime look and slip on a pair of heels to make the transition from day to night.
Shoes – A word of warning if this is your first time in the ‘Dam, the city’s designers were partial to the odd cobblestone or tow so you could find heels or thin-soled shoes less than ideal if you plan on walking around town for many hours.
The city boasts numerous methods of transport including trams, canal boats, and bicycles to borrow! In that case, comfy shoes are a must; anything with a thick sole would be ideal for sightseeing and generally getting around the place.
As well as packing your mobile, camera and other gadgets (and chargers), don’t forget your EU adapter! It’s also worth double-checking if your accommodation provides a hairdryer or trouser press if you’re going to need one.
Other Travel essentials
Earplugs are always a good idea – especially if you’re staying in a hostel. No one likes being a tired tourist thanks to a snoring roommate. As with your hairdryer, find out if towels and linen are provided.
How to get there
Amsterdam’s Schiphol international airport is the third largest in Europe and serves countless airlines. I found the connexxion service the best to get from the airport to your hotel. Book online and if your flight is delayed, the attendant at the departure point will book you on the next one. As the shuttle serves many hotels you even get a tour of the city for free.
Or you can take the train to Amsterdam’s main train station near the IJ lake. The main station connects to trains as far as Russia.
Amsterdam is the capital of bicycle culture, so, do as the locals do and move around hiring a bicycle. Note that Amsterdam cyclist doesn’t dress in spandex, they wear their normal clothes, sit ramrod straight with elevated handlebars and cycle along at a sedate pace and nobody (except the police on bicycles) wears a helmet.
Otherwise, there are plenty of bus and metro lines and, of course, your feet. Four free ferries take you across IJ to the popular district of Amsterdam Noord.
Places to stay
Movenpick Hotel Amsterdam City Centre
Address: Piet Heinkade 11, 1019 BR Amsterdam, Netherlands
As I was invited to visit a cruise ship for an art exhibition on board, I stayed at the conveniently located Hotel Moevenpick.
The best that can be said about this 4star hotel is the view over Ocean liners on the one side and the IJ on the other. It’s even easy to walk to the city center on a marked path, which takes about 35 minutes. If you plan to go on a cruise, it’s the ideal place to stay.
Ramada Apollo Amsterdam Centre Hotel
Address: Staalmeesterslaan 410, 1057 PH Amsterdam, Netherlands
Ramada Hotels are never a bad choice and so is the Ramada Apollo close to the city center. It’s also reasonably priced.
WestCord Art Hotel
Address: Spaarndammerdijk 302, 1013 ZX Amsterdam, Netherlands
If you like a modern hotel with an artistic touch, the WestCordArtHotel is for you. It features a collection by Dutch painter Herman Brood, lush grounds and an outdoor pool. Close to the city center you can hire bicycles at the reception.
Best places to eat
Ojo Bar and Restaurant
I had my first dinner in the Ojo bar and restaurant in the EYE Film Museum/Amsterdam Noord.
Not only is the EYE Museum a fabulous futuristic place, the restaurant served great food at very reasonable prices. I got there with the free ferry across the IJ and enjoyed a delicious meal in stunning surroundings and with great views.
Located at Utrechtsestraat 109, this is the place to go for savory snacks, quiches and of course apple cake.
Guts and Glory
Who could resist a restaurant called Guts and Glory?
It has become one of Amsterdam’s most fashionable restaurants, it’s signature is a single main ingredient for a month or two with variations on the theme. Utrechtssestraat 6.
If you want something good and quick with a lot of beer, you’ll find many pub-style restaurants along the quay of the IJ under the arches next to the main train station. One or two of them are also marihuana coffee shops, so you have a choice.
Don’t forget to be like the Dutch and eat a raw herring, the best time being between May and July when new herrings in the stands are is the sweetest. There are fish stalls and stores abundant and the herrings are cheap and eating it is a true Dutch “cuisine.” When it is not the season for the herring, most people use onions and pickles and other types of garnishes.
The Dutch enjoy their drink, so go to a bar (café) and have fun getting acquainted with the locals especially during the day. At night party, listen to music, and again quench your thirst.
Things to do and see in Amsterdam
There is so much to see and do so it is up to you in deciding what you want when visiting Amsterdam but I have highlighted a couple of my recommendations.
Amsterdam, like Venice, is famous for canals of which there are 165. You can wander over the bridges, sightsee, shop, visit galleries and museums, and eat at a real Dutch café.
You could begin with a bit of sightseeing so visit the clog making museum, look at the windmills, and buy some beautiful tulips. Purchase one of the fine cheeses and take a picnic with the locals at the large Vondelpark.
At the park enjoy one of the many activities including a movie in the Netherlands Filmmuseum, walking, biking and various sports. In warmer weather, the Vondelpark Openluchttheater features music and children’s fun activities.
While wandering around visit the Rijksmuseum, the largest museum of art and other artifacts from the 15th century to 1900, with 400 hundred masterpieces including 40 Rembrandts. The Stedelijk Museum has wonderful displays of 20th-century artists. Pre-war art by Picasso, Matisse, Cezanne, Chagall, and Malevich are featured. There are, also fine post-war artists work such as Warhol and Stella and more. You will want to visit the Van Gogh Museum with 700 pieces of work by this often mentally tortured genius.
Then there are countless canal tours which take you all around Amsterdam’s waterways, under several of the 1500 bridges and admiring the prosperous merchant houses along the Herengracht and Prinsengracht. If you want it romantic, go on a dinner tour with candlelight.
The coolest place to be in Amsterdam is Amsterdam Noord, reached by free ferry across the IJ. The former industrial and wharf district has been transformed into the most popular venue. First, you see the A’DAM tower with the world’s highest swing on top. Buckle in and fly into space.
The EYE Film museum is dedicated to movies and the exhibits are unique. Even the restrooms are movie themed. A big screen open-air cinema is next door, ideal for a session at night.
A bit further along is a lively flea market where you can find the most exotic trinkets.
Talking about the night: Amsterdam’s red light district is legendary, so why not have a peek.
To clear your head the next day, go for a walk in the Vondelpark or indulge in a shopping spree in Amsterdam’s fashionable Hooftstraat.
Visit Anne Frank’s home, where the Jewish girl and her family hid with help from friends after fleeing Germany. There is still the bookcase where the entrance to the rooms led. There is a very good exhibit about Jews persecution during WWII. Also, the exhibition has displays on racism, neo-Fascism, and anti-Semitism. This is an extremely popular place to visit so to keep from standing in long lines go early in the morning or in the summer after 7:00 p.m.
As far as architecture is concerned, Amsterdam is a melting pot of many styles. From the baroque of the Westerkerk to Art Nouveau buildings along the Museum Square to the ultra-modern buildings in Amsterdam Noord, all is blending nicely together in a city which is very Dutch on the one hand and truly cosmopolitan on the other.
Amsterdam Travel and Tour Packages
Amsterdam Guided Half Day Tour
- See the iconic houseboats along the Amstel River
- Take pictures at a traditional Dutch windmill
- Stop by the Diamond Factory in the Museum District
- Sit high up in comfortable buses that offer great views of the surrounding Dutch countryside.
Dutch Masters Art Tour
- Learn more about classic and modern art with a private guided tour of the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum, home to more than 80,000 works of art.
- See the masterpieces of Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Frans Hals, Jan Steen, and more.
- Skip the queue at both museums with fast-track admission.
- Enjoy a light lunch among the works of art at the Van Gogh Museum café.
- Spend an hour cruising the historic waterways of Amsterdam’s UNESCO World Heritage canal district.
Amsterdam Travel Tips
- If you’ve booked any tickets (i.e. to museums, activities, events) make sure you print out confirmation emails in case your hostel/hotel doesn’t have a printer. Keep these with your travel documents and passport just to be safe.
- It’s also worth having a physical copy of your accommodation booking – anything with an address, telephone number or even directions will be super-helpful for your taxi driver when they collect you from the airport.
Other Amsterdam Related Stories:
- Amsterdam: Cafe De Tropen Opens Up for Lazy Days in the Hammocks
- 7 Most Fun and Free Things to Do in Amsterdam