Amsterdam is a very literal city and it means dam of the river Amstel. A city entwined with canals, flooded with bicycles and filled with friendly people, it is one of my favorite European cities!
Did you know Amsterdam has more bikes than people? They have houses that are 4 ft. wide! There is a Kindergarten in the Red Light District. Ok all of that sounds kind of crazy. And it is. But it is all part of the Amsterdam charm.
Amsterdam is hard to describe. It’s an open, unique, romantic and vibrant city that is easy to fall for. Everything from the man made canals, narrow houses, abundant bikes and openly tolerant culture, make Amsterdam truly magical. Yes it is a place with lots of vices, but these do not tarnish its beauty and authenticity. It is a place that you can equally enjoy with your partner or a group of crazy friends.
We spent 5 nights kid-free in Amsterdam which was a good amount of time to see the sites and get a little time to relax. With that said, I could easily spend a week there since its the type of city that is easy to relax and experience with a cup of coffee at a local cafe.
There is so much to see and do in Amsterdam that I would recommend deciding which sites you, for sure, want to visit, and then filling the rest of the time with exploring. A must-do, without a doubt, is a bike tour to the countryside. It is a great way to experience the bicycle culture first hand in the city while also being able to tour the picturesque countryside. Think of a quintessential Dutch windmills you see in postcards and that is exactly what you will see. Our particular tour included a stop at a Gouda cheese farm where they still make wooden Dutch clogs. To make the tour even more amazing, we took a hand pulled ferry across a tiny river and fed a Dutch horse in the country side. All part of the unique Dutch experience.
Another favorite for us was the Rijksmuseum, the Dutch national museum dedicated to arts and history. Set in a stunning Royal Palace, the museum offers impressive art pieces like Rembrandts and Vermeer’s as well as an impressive collection of artifacts including musical instruments to weapons and ship models. Amsterdam in general is rich in museums. Van Gogh, Rembrandt, and Anne Frank to name a few. Lastly we loved exploring the countless Amsterdam open air markets. Our favorite was the Albert Cuyp street market. The largest and most popular outdoor market in the Netherlands, with 300 stands operating six days a week selling everything from traditional raw herring to freshly made stroopwafels (thin crisp waffle with caremel filling). The perfect activity to spend all morning shopping, browsing, people watching and snacking on Dutch delicacies.
Food wise, there is so much going on here! First and foremost, sugar! So many amazing sweet treats! Incredible waffles, pannekoeken (enormously large pancakes), poffertjes (mini-pancakes), stroopwafels and so much more! Famous as one of the international centers of Europe, Amsterdam’s diversity is evident in the large array of international restaurants and cuisines. Middle Eastern, Thai, northern African, Indian, Surinamese, Chinese, Japanese and Indonesian are just a few of the options. We wandered China Town one afternoon and ate at the most charming Thai place, The Bird. Absolutely delicious and affordable lunch menu in a quaint setting.
Another food favorite of mine, was a little hole in the wall soup shop, Soup en Zo. The single chef is cranking out 6-8 soups a day from meat heavy to vegan with flavors from all over the world. My favorite meal treat on cold rainy dutch days.
I think people often think of Amsterdam as a party town with the Red Light District and marijuana smoking. But I am here to tell you that although those are definitely parts of the city, it is so much more than that and a place to visit and experience for yourself.
Favorite things to do in Amsterdam:
Rijksmuseum: Located in a stunning building, the Rijksmuseum is a must see for anyone coming to Amsterdam. Known for its extensive Rembrandt, Hals and Vermeer collections, there are many other impressive exhibits of 8,000 objects. A fun place to spend the morning and then wander to Albert Cuyp market for lunch.
Mike’s Bike Tour: One of the coolest tours I have ever done! We did the country side tour which takes you through the city and then out into the country to see the country side, windmills and a cheese/wooden clog farm. Tour guide was entertaining, and knowledgeable. This is truly a great way to live the bicycle Dutch culture and get a taste of the country. Tours happen rain or shine so get ready to a Amsterdam bike adventure! You will receive a coupon after the tour so that you can rent a bike on your on! Sadly we didn’t have enough days to do this but would highly recommend using it.
Free Walking Tour: This is a great way to be oriented and get to know this super walkable city! Learn some interesting history of how Amsterdam started as a city and learn about the different neighborhoods. It is always a great way to meet people and ask questions. We did the City Free Tour Amsterdam Tour and would highly recommend it! Knowledgeable and friendly guides. Don’t forget to tip 🙂
Pathe Theater: This was a special date night treat for us. A movie night in the magnificent art deco/art nouveau style Pathe Movie Theater built in 1921. Considered to be one of the most beautiful cinemas in the world, you feel like you are watching a movie in the 20s in the heart of Holland. Other great news is that all movies (aside from kid movies) are shown in the original language with Dutch subtitles. Fun place for a movie date night (in English too!)
Albert Cuyp Market: A 300 stall market near with the best traditional Dutch food treats! Get your homemade stroopwafels, waffles, Gouda cheese, poffertjes, herring, and fries here! Plus there are other ethic food options in addition to countless fruit, vegetables, flower and clothing stands. A fun place to wander and taste, so come hungry! Don’t’ forget to bring cash.
Cafés in the Old Centre: As parents we do not get to go out at night much, so checking out the café and beer scene in the Old Centre of Amsterdam was a super special treat for us! Countless cafes lining the canals in the heart of the city. Each serving up different out of this world beers and drinks in the coolest most delicate glassware. Sit under the heat lamps outside and watch Amsterdam awaken at night. Truly a unique and romantic experience.
- Lanskroon: The best homemade stroopwafels in town. Tiny place with out of this world pastries and coffee. Its hard to go anywhere else. Don’t forget to set your stroopwafel over your coffee Dutch style.
- The Happy Pig Pancake Shop: A cute totally organic breakfast place serving up the best original giant pancakes in Amsterdam. With a huge amount of toppings and options, this is the place to truly experience a pancake. Plus super friendly staff.
- Burgermeester: Ranked as one of the best burger joints in Amsterdam, it is no lie. This was our first meal upon arriving and it was a good one! Juicy perfectly and uniquely topped monster burgers cooked to medium perfection.
- Soup en Zo: hole in the wall place with insanely delicious soups at an affordable price.
- The Bird: Thai restaurant in China Town with a very diverse and affordable menu.
- Watch out for bikes and be very aware of bike lanes vs pedestrian sidewalks.
- Bring a rain coat especially in the fall and winter.
- Check out Albert Heijn grocery stores for snacks, great cheese, and super cheap picnic items.
- Book a bike tour a few days early as reservations do fill up.
- Make restaurants reservations for dinners.
- Wear comfortable shoes because you will walk everywhere. Public transport is not needed.
- Due to so many windy narrow streets and countless canals, navigation can be tricky. Pre-loading a map on your phone with your destination will help you navigate without the need for internet.
If you are ever near The Netherlands, stop by Amsterdam. You will not regret it.
Bon Voyage friends!