At a first glance, Amsterdam can be confusing. It’s a big old city in the northern Netherlands with an interesting history, and it is hard to make the most of it on your first visit if you don’t know where to go. Here are some ideas on what to do in Amsterdam and where to do it, if you are not only looking for a good party.
On arrival, I recommend purchasing a chip card for travel and transferring some money to it based on the length of your stay. The card itself costs 7.5€, but it will pay off almost immediately as you can travel at about half the price of individual tickets. The chip card allows you to travel with almost any means of transportation, including trams, trains, and buses, whereas the short-term tourist options range in their coverage of transport options. Some travel cards allow unlimited travel on trams and buses, but they are hardly worth their price if you are planning to walk or cycle at all. When walking, driving, or cycling in Amsterdam, it’s good to remember that cyclist paths are everywhere and cyclists always go first! Never walk on the cycle lanes and always look both ways when crossing.
Ideas For the Daytime
The area around Museumplein is a great choice for those looking to stay close to the busy Amsterdam central but are unwilling to pay top dollar, or euro, for a central location. The area near Museumplein is full of beautiful and trendy shops and cafes not to mention the museums. Museumplein hosts several museums including the popular Van Gogh Museum, but the most impressive of them all must be the Rijksmuseum.
Even though you would expect to see all of Van Gogh’s works in the museum named after him, you’re actually most likely to encounter his most known pieces in the Rijksmuseum. The Rijksmuseum is the biggest museum in the area and it’s the home to the art of Rembrandt and many other masters. In addition, the museum showcases an amazing collection of old weapons, jewelry, and other remnants of the Dutch history. After spending a cultivating day in a museum it’s easy to pop into any of the lovely cafés in the area for some refreshments and food.
Lunch at the Museumplein
One great place for coffee and lunch near the museums is Blushing Amsterdam. There you can find some decent cappuccino art and some healthy but very tasty pancakes to name some items. If you’re traveling on a tight budget, you might want to consider popping into the Albert Heijn (a local grocery store) and having a picnic on the Museumplein or at Vondelpark. Both parks are often very busy, but you are more likely to find a secluded spot at the beautiful Vondelpark. The nearby Albert Heijn is well stocked with quality Australian wines, tapas, fresh juices, and so on at reasonable prices. So, if you find yourself at Museumplein during some fine weather, I would highly recommend skipping the touristic restaurants and dining outside at a fraction of the cost. Many places in Amsterdam do not approve various types of credit cards, like MasterCard, so be sure to have cash at hand.
Best Eats in Town
Later in the evening, you might think about finding a nice restaurant. The closer you get to Amsterdam Centraal station the more restaurants you begin to see. There you can find a restaurant with food from any part of the world. However, it’s good to remember those places are very busy, the quality of food may not match the price, and nicer restaurants often require a reservation. I would recommend restaurants a little bit further off the main shopping streets.
CT Coffee and Coconuts on Ceintuurbaan
Near Museumplein, you can find the fashionable Hawaiian style restaurant, CT Coffee and Coconuts, on Ceintuurbaan, where they serve freshly made fruity drinks with spicy and healthy food. The restaurant serves as a café in the daytime with plenty of comfy sofas and cushions on three levels for you to lounge on. CT Coffee and Coconuts seems to be popular among people working from their laptops, but in the evening tables are reserved for those who come to dine. The prices may be a little high, but the overall experience is worth the price tag.
La Perla on Tweede Tuindwarsstraat
If you’d rather be closer to the center of Amsterdam I would highly recommend getting some incredibly nice pizza from La Perla on Tweede Tuindwarsstraat. The pizzas are made from fresh ingredients and they taste great with your choice of the local beers on the menu. The restaurant can be expected to be busy on weekends, so a reservation would be preferable, though La Perla also offers the option to take away. If you find yourself craving for some dessert after dinner, you can find some of the best ice cream in town from an award winning ice-creamery Monte Pelmo IJs on Tweede Anjeliersdwarsstraat just a short stroll away.
In the Evening
After dinner, you might want to relax and check out some of the gorgeous architecture of Amsterdam. On a tight budget, you can choose to ride a bike along the canals, but the best option would be to sail in the canals. The boat options range from a touristic mass cruises on flatboats to smaller speed boats and tiny paddle boats. You can find them from the Centraal station and many other locations along the canals, even as far as the Museumplein. Surprisingly, all the options are about the same price, so I would definitely recommend a smaller boat. You can find very basic ones, but there is also a luxury cruise leaving from the heart of Amsterdam. The cruise costs about 16€ offering great views, comfy seats, and the possibility to purchase alcohol during the cruise. The canals of Amsterdam are absolutely breathtaking during a nice summer sunset, so don’t settle for sweaty packed cruise if you can avoid it. This is something you will want to enjoy wholeheartedly.
One of the days you’re in Amsterdam you may find yourself wanting to shop, and when you do, it’s good to have an idea of where to focus your energy. Because Amsterdam has spread to such a wide area, you can find shops sprinkled everywhere. Just walking down random streets, you’ll probably encounter some chain stores several times but also discover some hidden gems. However, if you really need to find something particular, focus on an area you are most interested in.
If you are into the busy high street shops, head to Kalverstraat. Kalverstraat is simply packed with high street stores including River Island, Mango, Pull&Bear, and so many others. It even has a three story bookstore filled with books in English as the street is very popular with tourists. You will find yourself feeling exhausted after exploring the entire street, but you will probably have found some pretty awesome deals. However, remember to keep your money in a safe place as this street is known to attract pickpockets.
De Negen Straatjes
If you’re looking for something more unique at a slightly bigger budget, look for the cozy shops on the 9 Little Streets (de Negen straatjes). The area referred to as the 9 Streets is a group of streets surrounding Wolvenstraat. These streets are a home to many local shops selling crafts, vintage clothing, unique jewelry, and much more. In the area, you can find cozy cafés as well as quality shopping unique to Amsterdam.
Bijenkorf on the Dam
Or if you prefer high fashion with big price tags, you may want to visit the Bijenkorf shopping center on the Dam. The Dam Square is located in the heart of Amsterdam, just a short walk from the central train station. It’s also easily accessed from the Kalverstraat. The Bijenkorf is a large shopping center known for its expensive brands. There you can find everything from cosmetics to designer clothes and bags.
The Red Light District
A lot of tourists will also want to see the red light district, and it is easily combined with shopping, especially if you are at the Bijenkorf at on the Dam. You may also want to visit one of the many novelty sex shops around the area. Surely enough, you don not need to reserve all day for the red light district as it is simply put a few streets with sex workers behind glass doors and a few sex shops. It is a unique thing to see, but it’s best to give the girls their peace while working unless you are a looking as a possible customer. If you don’t feel quite brave enough to walk the narrow long streets full of doors, check out the single door at the Old Church. There you can combine the experience with a nice glass of beer in a bar right next to a “red door” or visit a lovely chocolate shop in the Old Church.