The weather in Europe can get very unpredictable; that’s why, whenever there’s a coming period that’s full of sunny days, a lot of locals take the opportunity to go on a trip — and that’s exactly what I did! With absolutely no prior plans at all, I set out on a spontaneous 2-day getaway to Amsterdam, Netherlands! (Things to Do in Amsterdam)
Living in Belgium, it took me only less than 2 hours to reach it by train, and of course: traveling to this wondrous capital of the Netherlands has been a great experience overall. My first impression though was that… it’s almost like Belgium. The architecture, the food, and the customs were all quite similar, and I guess it makes sense because Belgium and the Netherlands used to be one country up until the 1830s. (Though certainly, there are a LOT — quite a lot! — of distinct things that still separate one from the other).
That aside, should you ever decide on dropping by, here are the top 10 things to do in Amsterdam to make the most of your trip, no matter the number of days you have.
» Quick Travel Planning
Things to Do in Amsterdam
1. Rent a bicycle
Photo by: Shutterstock
Much like Belgium and Japan, Amsterdam is one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the world. They have proper bike lanes all over the city; but in my opinion: the biking experience wasn’t so ‘friendly’ at all.
Why do I say this?
Most of the cyclists here are seemingly reckless! (It doesn’t help that a huge number of those cyclists are tourists). For instance, while we were going around town, a LOT of them crossed the road even if the traffic lights had already turned red. What’s more, is that there are a lot of small streets in which bikes and cars mix all together — that there’s almost no space left on the road.
So picture this: a car going inside a small street, with a group of cyclists going along with it and another group of cyclists going the other way around!
BUT, I am definitely NOT saying this to discourage you from riding a bike! I didn’t include this as one of the ‘things to do in Amsterdam’ for nothing; it’s just that I see the need to discuss this first so that you would take the proper precautions and road awareness should you ever decide to bike around the city — which you should.
Besides, though trams are abundant, the experience of cycling in Amsterdam is a definite must. Trams will make you wait for the next one to arrive, but with a bike, you can go wherever and whenever you want! Plus, if you let yourself get lost in this city, you will definitely find some wonderful spots along the way.
Where to rent bikes? You will find them everywhere. Your hotel would even have their own bike rental service. Nevertheless, I suggest booking your bike rental online beforehand in order to ensure a hassle-free experience. You can also do a guided bike tour. (Take note: ALWAYS make sure to lock your bikes because theft can be quiet common!)
Now, of course, some of the wonders that you will see while biking are the canals of Amsterdam. I definitely recommend that you visit the top 3 main canals which are namely: Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht, and Herengracht — with Prinsengracht being the most picturesque (this is where you can also find the famous Anne Frank Huis).
After all, as of 2010, these 3 canals were placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List along with another canal called Jordaan.
You can definitely get a canal cruise if you want, but for me, biking was a lot more fun to do!
2. Catch a FREE concert or performance
Photo by: Shutterstock
The Royal Concertgebouw is known for its exceptional acoustics (see a virtual tour of the concert hall here.) You can book in advance for a specific performance, but if you want something FREE, visit the Concertgebouw on Wednesdays (lunchtime) and you will be treated to a mini free concert!
Disclaimer: These ‘Lunchtime Concerts’ are not held during July and August, and sometimes, it will not be held on a Wednesday. To be properly informed about their schedule, just check their website here.
These concerts range from public rehearsals by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra to chamber music performances by young up-and-coming artists that can play more modern music. As I’ve said, it is completely FREE; so you don’t need tickets, but you need to be there at least 30 minutes before performance time in order to get a seat since the free ‘Lunchtime Concerts’ are very popular. (The performance usually lasts 30-minutes long).
On the other hand, if you want jazz or improvised music, go to Bimhuis! They have a monthly free night called ‘Monday Match‘ in which dancers and musicians will cooperate in order to come up with improvised performances.
Once the clock strikes 10PM, a DJ will take over and will continue playing dance music until midnight. There are also a series of Workshops usually held on Tuesdays (8PM) wherein there’s free admission not only for audiences but for performers as well (most of the time, an impromptu performance as instructed by the workshop leader.) To see Bimhuis’ schedule, go here.
Meanwhile, if you are rather looking for the perfect jazz and blues café, you should definitely try the Jazz Café Alto at Korte Leidsedwarsstraat (in the city center near Leidseplein). Other music places that you can check out for paid concerts of different music genres (that sometimes convert into a club during the wee hours) are Melkweg and Paradiso.
3. Visit the flower market and buy some plants or a bouquet
Photo by: Shutterstock
Found on the Singel canal, the Bloemenmarkt (Flower Market) is said to be the only floating flower market in the world given how the flower stalls stand on houseboats or barges.
This is a very colorful ‘attraction’ in itself that was worthy to be seen when in Amsterdam, and I say this because there were a LOT of different flowers that were being sold including the famed tulips!
The Netherlands is the world’s main producer of commercial tulip plants so you will see a lot of their bulbs being sold here! I definitely advice that you buy a pack or can of tulip bulbs to plant in your own house or to give away to friends. We were told that it’s best to plant them during winter or fall so that they will bloom in time for spring. If you are planning to take it out of the country as a souvenir, make sure that it has a customs-cleared stamp on the packaging so you won’t have trouble at the border or at the airport.
UPDATE: There are articles circulating online that only about 1% of the tulip bulbs in Bloemenmarkt will blossom. It’s said to be an elaborate scam, so if you want another place where you can get blooming bulbs, check out Tuincentrum Osdorp or Intratuin near Amstel Station.
4. Enjoy the city’s green spaces
Photo by: Shutterstock
Vondelpark is the largest and most popular ‘green space’ in Amsterdam and it spans around 47 hectares! It was an absolute joy to bike through the park’s paths, and even more of a delight if you stop to enjoy the view and have a quaint picnic.
Other than the grand landscape, there are also different statues, ponds, and fountains found within the premises; as well as restaurants and cafés situated in some select spots. There is even a rose garden (with 70 types) and an open theater called Openluchttheater.
In June to September, concerts and performances are held in Openluchttheater; check out their schedule.
It can get a bit crowded here especially on the weekends so I suggest that you come during the weekdays — but I guess the weekend crowd is an attraction in itself so I leave the choice to you!
5. Explore an Amsterdam neighborhood market
Photo by: Shutterstock
For one of the best things to do in Amsterdam, go and buy vintage finds or local food as you rub shoulders with Dutch people!
The most popular market to visit is the Albert Cuypmarkt in the neighborhood of De Pijp and it has almost 260 stands that offer almost everything you can think of! (It opens from 9AM to 5PM on Mondays to Saturdays).
Other markets that you can choose from are:
- Dappermarkt: general market in Amsterdam Oost (open from 10AM to 4:30PM, Mondays to Saturdays)
- Lindenmarkt: food market in Jordaan (open from 9AM to 4PM, Saturdays)
- Ten Kate: open daily near De Hallen, or Westerstraat market near Lindengracht market for lesser crowds.
- Noordermarkt: (mainly an) organic food market in Jordaan (open from 9AM to 5PM, Saturdays)
- Waterlooplein: flea market in (open from 9AM to 6PM, Mondays to Saturdays)
6. Eat local food and snacks
Photo by: Shutterstock
It’s a must to try and eat a typical Dutch dish, one of which is the Haring ‘Hollandse Nieuwe’ (soused herring) which is basically a boneless raw herring fish served together with chopped raw onions and pickles. The herring will be a bit salty and slimy (in a very delish way!) as it is usually marinated in a preserving liquid, but the paired pickles make this dish divine.
This was such a good combo that I definitely recommend everyone to try it! And sometimes, this is served or eaten with a bread bun.
Other than the raw herring, there are also some other popular Dutch dishes that you should try (some of which are common Belgian dishes too) and these are:
- Stroopwafel – a different type of waffle: it has two layers with a sticky syrup filling in the middle
- Kroket – unlike the American croquette (filled with mashed potato), the Dutch kroket usually has ground meat inside
- Poffertjes – small fluffy pancakes typically served with butter or powdered sugar
- Bitterballen – (also a common Belgian snack) savory meatballs that are deep-fried and are said to be a perfect pair for beer
- Drop – Dutch black licorice which is basically a dark-colored candy snack
- Kaas – the Netherlands is famous for its cheese especially since they are the largest exporter in the world (the most popular types are called ‘Gouda’ and ‘Edam’)
Rather want a guided food tour? Try any of these…
7. Tour ‘De Wallen’
Photo by: Shutterstock
We’ve all heard of Amsterdam’s famous red-light district (RLD) which is locally called ‘De Wallen’, and well, I can say that it’s a special ‘attraction’ in itself.
I swear, there’s nothing seedy about it though! In fact, for me, it felt like it was just such a touristy place because you will even see families with kids strolling around, eager to witness the ‘oddity’ of this area. But of course, you will also see the occasional man negotiating and talking to a ‘window girl’... BUT the number of curious couples and groups was far more rampant which in turn makes the place a mystifying thing on its own.
We obviously don’t have this in Asia — I’m not sure about the famed Pattaya in Thailand but our red-light districts like in Manila or Cebu are mainly just in distinct closed bars and clubs (that are most of the time: illegal) and to add, they don’t also hang out in front of ‘red windows’.
So this place was a new thing for me and I really wanted to witness it because I was merely curious as to how prostitution is approached on this side of the world.
NOTE: This kind of red light district is NOT only found in Amsterdam. It’s a common thing in the whole of Europe; Antwerp for example has something similar to this and it was more ‘organized’ in a sense that the windows are in a flowing manner, whereas the ones here are very scattered and you have to walk through small streets etc.
• • •
» Top Amsterdam Red Light District Tours «
Red Light Walking Tour
Explore the red light district with local guide!
Red Light Secrets Museum
Get to know the girls of the Red Light District!
Other than the RLD, you will also see a lot of sex shops and live sex shows (or peep shows) in De Wallen. The sex shows weren’t my thing but the sex shops were kind of fun!
You will definitely see a lot of people, if not couples, giggling in these stores (me included); anyhow, there’s actually one interesting shop that you should visit which is Condomerie.
This is a quirky place where you can buy some funny sex-related souvenirs for your friends!, and if you’re into exploring sexuality in an ‘olden fashion’, then drop by the Sex Museum!
To learn more about my red light district experience as well as the other tips and rules that you need to take note of when visiting, come check out my post below…
Also, if I may add, please refrain from laughing or saying anything obscene to the women; they may be prostitutes but they are human too. I saw some people doing this and please refrain from doing so.
They are just there to work, so there’s no need to laugh (check my article above to learn more about the law and situation of Amsterdam’s red light district). I wouldn’t know the number of people who were forced to be there — and of course, that’s something I don’t support — but we have to consider the general fact that for countries like the Netherlands that legalize prostitution, the majority of these prostitutes choose the profession, whether it be because they enjoy it or they just have to (for financial reasons, etc.)
8. Experience a “coffee shop”
Photo by: Shutterstock
It’s important to know that in Amsterdam, a café and coffee house (koffiehuis) are both different from a coffee shop (coffeeshop).
A café is usually a casual restaurant or bar, a coffee house or koffiehuis sells coffee, pastries, or light meals; whereas, a coffeeshop is where you can legally smoke weed or hash and eat space cakes etc. (a.k.a. where you can do soft drugs).
Ever since hash and marijuana were decriminalized in 1976, these licensed coffeeshops are spread out all across the city; and of course, the Netherlands in general. However, it seems that it is only in Amsterdam where you don’t need to show Dutch residency in order to go inside such establishments.
Take note that, of course, these shops are only allowed to sell cannabis products in small quantities that are not greater than 5 grams and they also have to be properly licensed. They are never allowed to serve alcohol or other drugs — especially hard drugs; and certainly, selling to minors is not allowed.
So in a sense, selling cannabis is still illegal but not punishable as long as you get it from these coffee shop establishments that follow the rules. That being said, this is something that you need to experience at least once in your life.
TIP: Once inside a coffeshop, don’t be afraid to ask questions about the menu and their products. It’s always best to ask the staff (since most of the time they have very weird names on their menu.) And hey, don’t worry, they are very friendly! It’s also helpful to ask for what they recommend and what effects might usually happen thereafter. For more info…
READ: First Timer’s Guide – Coffeeshop Experience
Here’s a fun fact for you: not a lot of Dutch people actually smoke weed and go to these coffeeshops. It’s actually mainly tourists who flock to these places.
Anyhow, you can smoke weed that you’ve got from another coffee shop as long as you’re smoking it inside a coffeeshop. Sometimes, some Amsterdam hotels, hostels, parks, or bars allow you to smoke but make sure to check that you’re not bothering other people with your smoke.
9. Stop by the local museums
Photo by: Shutterstock
There are a lot of museums in the city and if you’re into art and history, here are the most popular ones:
- Amsterdam Museum: shows the history of the city (website)
- Anne Frank House: of course, the famous Anne Frank; here, you can tour her hiding place during WWII (book a guided tour)
Tip: If you want to watch the life of Anne Frank, there’s an awesome theater named ‘Theater Amsterdam’ where you can do so. Check their website here for their show time schedules.
- Rijksmuseum: Netherlands’ national museum dedicated to arts and history in Amsterdam (book an entrance ticket)
- Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam: museum for modern and contemporary art/design – which is the one shown in the photo above (website)
- Van Gogh Museum: has the world’s largest collection from the Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh (book an entrance ticket)
There are still a LOT more museums in Amsterdam (there’s a cheese museum, a cannabis museum, a Science Center NEMO, etc.) so I’ll just leave it up to you to choose which you would like to go to.
TIP: To make the most of your museum visits, I recommend buying a City Card that grants you entry to over 70+ attractions for FREE.
10. Check out other landmarks as well as the nightlife
Photo by: Shutterstock
Much like Amsterdam’s museums, this city also has a lot of interesting landmarks and attractions other than the ones I’ve already mentioned above. The most known ones are:
- Centraal Station: for its magnificent architecture
- Dam Square: the heart of Amsterdam! Here, you can already see other famous landmarks such as the Royal Palace, Nieuwe Kerk (15th-century church), and the War Memorial.
- Haarlemmerstraat | The Nine Streets (De Negen Straatjes) | The Kalverstraat and Leidsestraat: top shopping districts
- Heineken Experience: if you are an aficionado of the famous Dutch pilsner, you can tour their brewery (book a ticket online)
- Leiden Square (Leidseplein): center of nightlife in Amsterdam, full of bars and restaurants, other nightlife options are…
- Central Library (Openbare Bibliotheek): largest public library with very good architecture and design
There’s so much more that I haven’t included in the list above, and to see the top list for this, simply go here.
BONUS TIP: Another interesting ‘landmark’ that you might want to go to is one of the ‘I Amsterdam‘ slogans. These ‘city icons’ (or what they call their city’s catchphrase) are placed throughout the city—I think, one can be seen in the Central Library or at the back of Rijksmuseum.
This was actually ‘born’ out of a marketing campaign made by the city government, and it seems like it’s mostly tourists that take huge interest of this slogan,. I’m pretty sure you might have a hard time having the slogan all to yourself when it’s in a crowded area.
» Photo by Gkamiya / CC
UPDATE: This sign has been taken away at Rijksmuseum. To find where the sign is nowadays, see here for more info.
• • •
Amsterdam Travel Guide
» Best Time to Visit
Amsterdam is a great place to visit all year long, but if you want to make the most of it, April to May or September and November are the best months given that the weather is usually better with more manageable crowds.
Dec to Feb
March to May
June to Aug
Sept to Nov
– – –
» Getting in to Amsterdam
By air. Situated 15km southwest of the capital is Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS). If you want to get a cheaper airplane ticket, heading off to Eindhoven and Rotterdam Airports would be best as it’s where cheaper airlines usually land; but of course, this is further away from Amsterdam and you’ll have to ride a train/bus afterward.
To make your journey hassle-free, you can also book a private transfer from Schiphol. Meanwhile, in order to find the best flight deals from your point of origin, I recommend browsing through Skyscanner.
By train. Most trains arrive and depart from Amsterdam Centraal Station and trains from Thalys, ICE, Intercity train to Berlin, CityNightLine/Euronight, and Eurostar all pass through here.
» If you want a more detailed transportation planner, try using Rome2Rio! I am in love with this platform since it gives you all the possible routes.
– – –
» Visa for The Netherlands
The Netherlands is part of the Schengen Area, and unless you are a citizen of any of its exempted countries, you are then required to avail of a visa beforehand.
- Check full visa requirements here as per your nationality.
– – –
» Where to Stay (Amsterdam Accommodations)
To search for the best hotel accommodation in the city at the best prices, I suggest cross-checking hotel prices between Agoda and Booking.com. But if you’re rather interested in renting comfortable houses or apartments, you should search through AirBnB.
See here too for the list of the BEST hotels.
– – –
» Netherlands Currency
Euro (€) wherein 1 EUR is equal to about USD$1.05 or Php55~ (this is as of May 2022). In the event that you want to exchange your money for EUR, I highly advise that you do NOT exchange your money at the airport since the rates there are not competitive.
- How to best exchange your currency? Either exchange it at a bank or at a money exchanger in your home country or in any city center. Better yet, just withdraw from an ATM with your debit/credit card — however, you must do one big withdrawal to minimize fees with your bank.
– – –
» Cost of Travel in Amsterdam
You should expect to travel with an average daily cost of about USD $55~ (Php 2,800~) per person on a budget, or at least $140~ (Php 7,000~) if you want to experience more comfort in activities, tours, hotels, and more. (Values below show low budget to medium budget ranges only).
- Hotels: $30 to $80 USD / day
- Food: $15 to $35 USD / day
- Fun: $10 to $30 USD / day
- Transport: About $6 to $15
– – –
» How to Get Around Amsterdam
By public transport. The city is well-connected by bus, tram or train. To make the most of it, book an Amsterdam Public Transport 1-7 Day Ticket! It’s the most economical way to get around.
By foot or bike. You can reserve a bike rental beforehand online.
TIP: When you’re mapping out your day-to-day route, just use Google Maps because it will show in detail the fastest connections you can do (by walking, by car, by bus, and by train).
– – –
» Safety in the Netherlands
Travel around the Netherlands is relatively safe; in fact, did you know that they rank 4th in the Safe City Index list of safest cities in the world?! That being said, solo travelers don’t have much to worry about in this amazing country.
But of course, as it’s a touristy place, you still need to exercise the same ‘street smarts’ that you’ve practiced in your home country to avoid petty theft that may happen in crowded areas or isolated spots at night.
– – –
» Helpful Dutch Phrases
- RELATED READ: Best translation apps for travel
How are you (informal): Hoe gaat het? (hoo GAHT hut?)
How are you (formal): Hoe maakt u het? (hoo MAHKT uu hut?)
Thank you (informal): Dank je (DAHNK yuh)
Thank you (formal): Dank u (DAHNK uu)
Yes: Ja (YAH)
No: Nee (NAY)
Goodbye: Tot ziens (TOT seens)
I’m sorry: Het spijt me (hut speyt muh)
Is there someone here who speaks English?: Spreekt hier iemand Engels? (SPRAYKT heer EE-mahnt ENG-uls?)
Help!: Help! (HEHLP!)
Cheers!: Proost! (Prohst!)
• • •
TIP: It’s a good idea to crosscheck the prices with other popular travel insurance providers like World Nomads and HeyMondo (as my reader, you get 5% off)!
However, take note that a travel insurance’s affordability typically means lesser coverage; so please always ensure that you read the fine print in order to decipher which travel insurance company is the right fit for you and your trip!
• • •
Amsterdam has its quirks —what with its famous Red Light District and coffee shops—but let’s not think that that’s all that the city has to offer. Given this top list of things to do in Amsterdam that I have compiled, surely you should see how it has so much to give you; so, I suggest that you wander around and soak it all in.
(Please also feel free to leave a comment below if you have other interesting attractions or places in mind that I might have missed out.)
Literally YES to all of these! Exactly what I would say for Amsterdam too.
I love how Wikipedia managed to get a full picture of the I amsterdam letters, I wish I had one!
Thanks Kate! <3
And yeah, I wish I had one too but the number of people we saw that day on this slogan was INSANE. I didn't even try. LOL
very nice tips! i am bookmarking this :) thanks!
I was about to send you a tweet about your last comment on my blog re: questions section and then I saw it’s already up on your post! Yay! :)
If I were to visit Amsterdam, I would probably just do #1, #6 and #10 haha. Though the free concert would probably be a good experience, I might just sleep through the concert. Haha. And maybe do flower shopping too, I like tulips, they’re my favorite flowers but never actually had/bought one. Haha. Ang mahal kasi! Hehehe
How I wish I could visit Amsterdam or any other countries, but right now, I’m stuck here in PH. Haha.
Yay! Thanks, M! :)
I think the concert will still be a good one, at least just to see the interior because it’s really majestic! :P I actually bought tulip bulbs myself and I made the error of buying a pack of different colors (because I was thinking, just one color would have been nice on our veranda haha!)
Anyhoo, I’m pretty sure that eventually you can go out and have a trip somewhere in Europe or somewhere else! <3
I haven’t been to Amsterdam but after reading your post… I wouldn’t even know what to do first! Except for the biking… I don’t bike. Hehe. And the photo of the hanging condoms you poster are really funny. Showed it to my officemates (yeah, ‘cos I’m blog hopping here at work LOL) and they were laughing really loud while making some jokes on the side… Hahaha!
I guess it’s time to learn how to bike! Haha! But walking around has its charm anyways so I think you’ll be fine ;)
LOL yeah, that’s from the Condomerie, one of the sex shops in the red light district and a lot of people were giggling and taking photos of it too :)))))
I’m so sad that I missed out on the markets and the free concerts when we went to Amsterdam :( I wish I had read this post when I went there 5 years ago, huhu. Such a comprehensive and thorough non-touristy list of suggestions that I agree with. The museums aren’t must-sees if you’re not really into Art so we skipped most except for Van Gogh and the Anne Frank House – in exchange we roamed around the city and just lost ourselves to the sights and sounds :)
I feel like Amsterdam has this “sin city” kind of vibe thanks to the movie Eurotrip but we got so surprised it’s nothing like it! Way less than half of the population smoke weed (well, at least when we visited that’s what the tour guide said) – it’s mostly tourists. Also, it’s so quaint and clean and quiet – very unlike the “Amsterdam” in the Eurotrip movie. Which makes sense because that was filmed in Prague pala! And omg, I love Prague!!! Not for that, but it looks super different from the most of Europe. It’s probably my favorite city in the world (so far!) :) But anyway, thank you for sharing these! I hope to go back to Amsterdam soon and experience what I missed out on the last time!
I’ve had those moments too before when I visited some other countries and have not known of the other interesting things! >_< But it's fine, I'm pretty sure we can go back to those places again sometime in the future ;) Thank you, Shari!
Haha yeah, I thought so too, especially with how the RDL + weed is so over-exaggerated by some people but indeed, Amsterdam was a quaint city. And they're right about that–it is indeed mostly tourists who frequent the coffeeshops, and not really the locals themselves. :))