For a list of things to see or places to eat, scroll to the bottom. Otherwise, enjoy the pictures and ramblings 🙂
Everyone knows Amsterdam, and it is world-renowned for being the city of sin. From it’s wide array of coffee shops to countless streets cloaked in red lights, if you tell a friend you’re going to visit they certainly don’t expect it to be innocent.
Regardless, you don’t have to be the seedy type to enjoy Amsterdam. If you don’t smoke, do drugs, or have sex with strangers, you can still have a lot of fun! The canals that weave their way through the city are gorgeous, and if you’re an art or history lover, there are tons of museums to choose from (*coughAnneFrankcoughVan Goghcough*). You just need to plan ahead!
There’s just so much charm in Amsterdam, even in the random neighbourhoods.
Expect lots and lots of people. We should have seen it coming, but it was a little bit overwhelming, especially compared with all of the other cities we visited that trip in Belgium (read about Brussels, Ghent, Bruges, and Antwerp). We asked a local if it was normal to have so many people or if it was just because of the holiday weekend, and she replied that it was always like that. So prep yourselves.
Museum Tickets – Plan Ahead!
Two weeks before leaving, I tried to book tickets for the Anne Frank House. Everything was fully booked for months into the future. I had heard that lines outside of the Anne Frank House could last for many hours, so my friends and I decided not to make that commitment. If you’re planning a trip, buy everything ahead! Even for the Van Gogh tickets you had to wait a few hours in line. We got lucky and only had to wait about 45 minutes to buy the tickets, and we bought them for an entrance time of 3 hours in advance so that we could walk around.
Since it was a holiday weekend, most hostels and hotels were already booked up or at extremely insane prices (for instance, one hostel was charging nearly 80€ for a simple hostel bed in a room of 30 more – insane!). We ended up deciding on the ibis Amsterdam Airport Hotel, which is about a 30 minute train ride away from the center of the city. Not ideal, but necessary. They provided a free shuttle to the airport, but it was the worst experience ever for us. The shuttle only comes once every 30 minutes or so, and if you’re there on a busy weekend, it can be nearly impossible to get on. Everyone is shoved in like sardines, and many people who have already been waiting for over 30 minutes had to wait yet another 30 minutes for the next bus, with no guarantee of space. When you’re on vacation or trying to get to the airport, that’s the last thing you need.
Public Transportation – The 3 Day Pass
From there, you take the shuttle to the airport and then take the train to the center of Amsterdam. The train pass is very confusing, even though they sell it to you as being very simple and all-inclusive. We bought a 3 day pass for 25€, and they assured us that it worked on all buses and trains in the city. But that’s the trick, right there… the airport and hotel are NOT technically in the city of Amsterdam. So when we tried to take the night bus back, we were told that are passes were useless and we’d have to pay 7€. WTF. Luckily, the bus driver was kind enough to let us on anyways. But all of that stress was enough to really piss us off, especially since we had 2 more nights to figure out.
Another stupid thing about the pass – you have to check yourself in AND out. I had never seen this before. When you enter the bus or train, you scan your card. But you CAN NOT forget to scan it again upon exiting, or it’ll screw with your card. We ended up having to go back to the airport and reset our cards because they refused to scan (we think we missed a scan upon exit one time).
Even though the pass proved to be a royal pain in the ass, it was necessary. Without it, public transportation in Amsterdam is ridiculously expensive. We also found a night bus that was included with our pass (hooray!), but it only picked up in one part of Amsterdam, came only once an hour, and it took FOREVER to get to the hotel. We fell asleep on the bus every single time we took it. Plus, the bus stop is about a 10-15 minute walk from the hotel itself… in the freezing cold.
The moral of this story? Don’t stay at the ibis Airport Hotel unless you absolutely have to!
When you finally arrive in Amsterdam, you will find all kinds of food shops with waffles, fries, burgers… you name it! We ate so many fries on this trip, it was ridiculous. We preferred the waffles in Brussels, though. Of course, you also find a lot of coffee and sex shops. It IS Amsterdam, after all. Weed and fatty foods go together like peanut butter and jelly.
On our first day, we decided to take it easy and just wander around. We ended up near the Red Light District, and it was super interesting to see just how many canals there are that wind through the city. Sure, you know that Amsterdam is known for its beautiful canals… but until you’re there, it really doesn’t hit you. Also, Amsterdam’s layout on a map looks super cool (and illustrates my point about just how many canals there are):
The Red Light District and The Oude Church (or Oude Kerk)
Near the famous Red Light District, you will find The Oude Church, Amsterdam’s oldest building. A strange place for a church, eh? You have to pay to go inside, so we decided to pass… considering just how many churches you come across when in Europe.
The Red Light District is like no other place in the world. Women are literally on display at all hours of the day, scantily clad in lingerie of all types. You find all varieties of women, from blonde to dark haired, skinny to fat, etc. It wasn’t nearly as sketchy feeling as I had thought, and my friends and I didn’t feel uncomfortable walking down these streets, even at night. I wouldn’t go alone, though. We were truly surprised by just how many customers these ladies got, at all hours! The rooms are super small (basically a closet), and oftentimes you just see the girls looking bored and playing on their phones. I was surprised by just how little effort they put in, but I suppose the customers come anyways.
In between all of the women on display, you find sex shops and shows galore. There are dildos, vibrators, and toys of all types out on display like candy. Guys hang outside of theatres and try to convince you to go in, at insane prices. We asked, just for fun, how much a certain show cost and he said €60 for a half hour… insane! There are shows here for everyone’s tastes, but expect to shell out a lot of cash.. if that’s what you’re into. They also have peep shows, where you pay 2€ to see a couple going at it for 2 minutes. It’s a strange city for sure!
Another thing – there’s a strict no camera policy, hence a lack of photos besides the pretty canals. I was super tempted to take pictures, but you won’t find anyone else with one and I hear that the ladies put the curtains down and get pretty upset if you try.
Doesn’t look sketchy at all, am I right?
The ‘Coffee’ Shops
I have a question… what if you legitimately want a coffee? What then? I didn’t see any legit coffee shops!
Anyways, the famous Amsterdam Coffee Shops are EVERYWHERE. Some are bigger and more corporate than others. For instance, I wanted to take a peek inside one of them and the bouncers asked to see our passports and made us go through a metal detector. At a different one, they just asked if we were old enough and were happy enough when we said yes. While smoky inside, the coffee shops were not at all what I expected. People weren’t going crazy or acting super stupid, it was very chill. It was mostly people having casual conversations with their friends.
We didn’t partake in any of it, but from what I saw the prices aren’t cheap. Also, in every tourist shop you go into, they sell “weed” cookies, candy, beer, etc. You name it, they have it. But don’t expect there to really be weed in there, my friends. Most of the time it is just clever packaging and maybe a hint of weed flavor. Not to mention, everything is ridiculously overpriced.
Another thing I was super surprised by was how many ‘head shops’ there were that sold every drug you can imagine, from mushrooms to ecstasy. I knew marijuana was legal here, but I had no idea pretty much everything else was as well. Be careful if that’s what you’re into!
On the far end of the main part of Amsterdam, you find Leidseplein, a very popular square for young people. There are tons of bars, restaurants, and concert halls here. We walked the whole way, but we would recommend taking a tram considering it is free with the 3 day pass and it is much quicker.
Drinks here are super expensive, so beware. You can expect to pay about €5 for a pint, which is up there with Dublin for some of Europe’s priciest drinks. Also, on weekends, they seem to make you charge for the restroom… EVERYWHERE. It was super frustrating. When you’re out drinking with friends, the last thing you want to bother with is some jerk making you pay 50 cents every time you need to go. Be prepared, and bring change!
If you really enjoy music, especially electro, be sure to check the concert halls in this area for their schedules and tickets (see at the end of this post).
The I Amsterdam Sign and Museumsplein
It is obligatory to take a picture with the Amsterdam sign when you’re there, or so it seems from the plethora of photos all over the internet. Before we went, I had read somewhere that it’s necessary to arrive very early in the morning in order to get a decent picture without hoards of people in it. We didn’t heed this advice, unfortunately. If this is a priority for you, keep this in mind!
Nearby, you’ll find the Rijksmuseum (in fact, that’s the building you see behind the I amsterdam sign), the Van Gogh Museum, and the Stedelijk Museum. Like I mentioned before, it is necessary to buy tickets to all of these places beforehand, unless you have tons of time to kill! The Rijksmuseum is very highly rated, but unfortunately we didn’t have enough time for that and the Van Gogh Museum. You can expect to pay about 17.50€ to enter, and you’ll find a lovely collection of masterpieces including Rembrandt and Vermeer. It closes at 5pm.
A garden to the right of the Rijksmuseum.
The Stedelijk Museum costs about 15€, and last time I checked, it stayed open a little longer, until 6pm. In here, you will find Monet, Picasso, Rodin, etc. And last but not least, the Van Gogh Museum will cost you about 17€ and is open until 10pm on Friday. It displays Van Gogh’s early works and drawings, and has some great hand-written letters between himself, his brother, and his friends. It was very interesting, there was a lot about Van Gogh that I did not know before!
Van Gogh’s Palette
Would you have ever guessed this was by Van Gogh? There’s an interesting story behind it, too.
The Keukenkoff Gardens, Where You’ll See More Tulips than you have in your Entire Life!
View from the top of the windmill. I wasn’t kidding when I said there were tons of people.
We had read really good things about this, so we decided to devote one day to going. That day happened to be Easter, and everyone else had the same idea. You can pick up a bus from the airport that will take you there, it is about a 50 minute ride. However, if you’re unlucky, you will be stuck standing in the bus the whole time. Since Easter was a big day for the gardens, when we arrived at the airport there was a huge line like I’ve never seen. We almost ditched our plans immediately. However, we asked a few people towards the front of the line how long they had been waiting, and they said only about an hour. We sucked it up and decided to go for it. Luckily, they’re very efficient! It costs about 25€ for the gardens and transport to and from the airport.
It is basically a huge park with tons of different types of tulips. There are some buildings scattered throughout that house various exhibitions using different kinds of flowers, it was pretty cool to see. There’s also a windmill that you can go inside. The gardens are only open for 2 months a year, so check to see if you’re they’re during the right time! It begins at the end of March and ends sometime in May. If you go in the beginning of April, not all of the flowers will be bloomed, but it is very nice nonetheless.
We were lucky that we went at the right time, they were celebrating the 125th anniversary of Van Gogh’s death and had one building entirely themed after his paintings. Check their website to see if there are any special events!
- Van Gogh Museum: Paulus Potterstraat 7, €15, 9am-5pm Sat & Sun, 9am to 10pm Fri – A must-see. Opened by Van Gogh’s brother, contains a large collection of drawings, paintings, and letters.
- Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam: Museumplein 10, €15. 10am-6pm – Monet, Picasso, Chagall, Rodin, etc.
- Rijksmuseum: Museumstraat 1,€17.50, 9am-5pm – Also a must-see, housing Rembrandt, Vermeer, and other masterpieces.
- Heineken Experience: Stadhouderskade 78 – I didn’t personally do this, but it had good reviews. It is nearby Museumplein.
- Albert Cuypmarkt: 10am-5pm Friday and Saturday – Large market that sells everything you can imagine, including many local specialties.
- Anne Frank House: Prinsengracht 263-267, €9, 9am-7pm – Obviously a very important think to visit while in Amsterdam, but be sure to buy your tickets way in advance!
- Royal Palace Amsterdam: Dam Square, €10, 12pm-5pm
- Sex Museum: Damrak 18 – Worth a visit if you have an open mind!
- Oude Kerk: Oudekerksplein 23, €5, 10am-6pm (Mon-Sat), 1pm-5:30pm (Sun) – Amsterdam’s oldest building, near the Red Light District.
- Red Light District (De Wallen): Enge Kerksteeg 3 – No comment necessary.
- Begijnhof: Begijnhof 30, 8am-5pm – Former convent.
- Keukenhoff Gardens: Stationsweg 166A – Tulips galore! Only open 2 months a year. Outside of Amsterdam, pick up a bus at the airport.
- Amsterdams Verzetsmuseum: Plantage Kerklaan 61A – History of the Resistance during WWII.
- Museum Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder: Oudezijds Voorburgwal 40 – A hidden church with fascinating history.
Local Food Specialties – Must Try!
- Patatje Oorlog – A delicious sauce to put on fries: mayo (mayo is on everything!), sate sauce and onions. The literal translation is war chips. Mannekin Pis is the best place to try it: Damrak 41
- Stamppot – mashed potatoes with vegetables and sausage.
- Stroopwafels – waffle caramal sandwiches
- Bitterballen – deep-fried gravy bites
- Appelgeback – apple tart
- Poffetjes – little pancakes with sugar
Restaurants and Cheap Eats
Food is very important to me. Like, REALLY important to me. I generally research the best places online before I go somewhere, and back home in California I ALWAYS yelp places. I had read on one blog that they were very disappointed in the food they tried, and that it was necessary to research good places before going. Don’t have to ask me twice! Here’s the list of places all over Amsterdam I found in my research:
- Burgerlijk: Runstraat 1 – huge, delicious burgers
- Sky Lounge: DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Amsterdam Centraal Station, Oosterdoksstraat 4 – try bitterballen here! Amazing view of the city.
- Bar Huf: Reguliersdwarsstraat 43II – Great fondue and hang out place.
- Café Het Paleis – Paleisstraat Centrum 16 – Good for lunch or coffee. Try appelgebak!
- 5&33: Martelaarsgracht 5 – Great atmosphere, and good place to share food.
- Nam Kee: Zeedijk 111-113 – Cheap and delicious Chinese food.
- Hap Hmm: Eerste Helmersstraat 33 – cheap eats, around 6€ for a filling meal!
- Latei: Zeedijk 143 – healthy snacks, vegetarian meals.
- Broodjeszaak ‘t Kuyltje: Gasthuismolensteeg 9 HS – Dutch sandwiches.
- Singel 404: 1016 AK Amsterdam – Claims to have the best sandwiches in Amsterdam, starting at 5€.
Some of the burgers at the Getto.
- **Getto**: Warmoesstraat 51 – Actually made it to this room! Near the Red Light District, it is a very fun place with great food. Everything is drag queen themed, and they also put on shows! They also have some great and delicious drink specials. Worth a visit!
- Peperwortel: Overtoom 140 – Great fusion of food.
- Cafe Kooper: Leidseplein 16 – dive bar, but nice
- Skek: Zeedijk 4-8 – Good hang out place, and if you’re still hungry they offer snacks and burgers.
- Brouwerij ‘t IJ: Funenkade 7 – A brewery inside of a windmill! It was super cool, but unfortunately closes super early… at 6pm I believe. Great beer! Worth a visit, even though it is on the far side of the city. Use the tram!
- In De Wildeman: Kolksteeg 3
- One of the best drinking establishments I have been to. Huge selection of ales with a great barman. Relaxing atmosphere and somewhere you just keep revisiting. Search it out – you will not be disappointed