Liberal by nature and refined in character, Amsterdam has always been a hot destination on the European tourist trail.
Romantic canals and waterways, picturesque narrow houses and bright tulips blend seamlessly with the steamy Red Light District, pungent ‘coffee’ shops and smartshops selling all kinds of psychedelics. It’s an odd mix, but if anyone can make it work, it’s the Dutch.
Here are ten top things to do in Amsterdam.
Yes, it may be clichéd. Yes, you may fall off on occasion. Yes, you may get exasperated looks from the locals who can somehow manage to ride their bikes while holding an umbrella and coffee in one hand and a book they’re reading in the other (OK, I may have made that last one up). The fact is, there’s no better way to explore this quaint city than by pedal power. Follow the winding, intricate canal network, over stone bridges and through charming cobblestoned alley ways. Get out there and have fun!
South of Haarlemmerbuurt lies the Jordaan — probably the most famous of Amsterdam’s neighbourhoods. It was once home to immigrants and the working-class, but is now a beacon for the ‘it’ crowd. The tightly packed streets, lined with myriad cosy cafes, hip bars, and trendy boutiques and galleries, emanate an air of ethereal charm. There are also plenty of outdoor markets to peruse, such as the Noordermarkt flea market that sells kitschy wares and antiques on Monday before turning into a farmer’s market on Saturday.
There is no shortage of museums and galleries to visit in Amsterdam for your daily holiday dose of culture. Head to the Museumplein, where the Van Gogh Museum, the Rijksmuseum and the Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art are all in close quarters. This is also where you’ll find the iconic ‘I amsterdam’ sign.
If you plan on visiting the emotive Anne Frank House, be prepared to stand in line for a while — a long while. For something quirky, check out the Cheese Museum, the Tulip Museum, the Sex Museum, the Museum of Bags and Purses, and Electric Ladyland — the world’s first museum dedicated to fluorescent art.
Most visitors don’t think to head north of Amsterdam Central Station, but if you board a free ferry over to the Noord, you’ll discover a thriving creative community hub that seems almost subterranean. Converted industrial warehouses and shipping containers house artists’ studios, creative spaces and entrepreneurial offices, as well as cutting-edge pop-up bars and restaurants. There is also the avant-garde EYE Film Institute on the banks of the river, showcasing an impressive collection of arthouse films.
Walking at night through De Wallen — better known to visitors as the Red Light District — is an eye-opening experience with brothel window after brothel window of skimpily clad prostitutes gyrating under the red lights. To be honest, it doesn’t feel all that seedy when everything is done so openly, and you’ll probably be more entertained by the groups of giggling girls and the rowdy bucks parties. Just remember not to take any photos — you may just find yourself being berated by one of the ladies of the night, or having your camera thrown into the canal!
There is a burgeoning street art scene in Amsterdam and the best examples are on Spuistraat, a bohemian street that also has a long history of squatter living. Impressive large and colourful murals cover the old buildings, quirky quotes are stamped on walls and there are paste-ups galore hidden down side alleys. There’s even art on the ground, so keep an eye out!
Amsterdam’s fabulous open-air Albert Cuyp Market operates from Monday to Saturday. It’s one of the largest markets in Europe, and the heart and soul of the buzzing neighbourhood of De Pijp. There are hundreds of stalls selling everything from cheeses, vegetables and fish, to shoes, jewellery and other fashion items. Treat yourself to some stroopwafels or poffertjes from one of the vendors — just follow the mouth-watering wafts of sugary goodness.
Afterwards, explore the lively De Pijp area. It boasts a plethora of great ethnic eateries, thanks to its vibrant multicultural community.
There’s no shortage of opportunities to splash your cash during a retail outing in Amsterdam. The main shopping streets are Kalverstraat and Leidsestraat, but to find some real gems, head to de Negen Straatjes (the Nine Streets). The precinct is made up of, not surprisingly, nine streets, bordered and intersected by four canals — Singel, Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht. Within this labyrinth, you’ll discover plenty of unique stores, independent retailers and vintage boutiques.
If the weather is on your side, pack a picnic and head to Amsterdam’s largest city park, Vondelpark. A popular place for locals and tourists alike, Vondelpark is the ideal place to laze around and while away the hours people-watching. There are also cafes and restaurants, an open-air theatre where free concerts are held and even a rose garden. See if you can find the Vondelbunker — an old nondescript shelter that was converted into a nightclub and venue for musicians to play during the 1960s, including the likes of Pink Floyd. Nowadays it is used as an event space for exhibitions, projects and cultural activities.
When hunger hits in Amsterdam, it’s all about the street food snacks. We’ve already mentioned the must-try stroopwafels — thin waffles with a sweet syrup middle, and poffertjes — small fluffy pancakes usually served with melted butter and powdered sugar. Also try bitterballen — deep-fried crispy meatballs, which are typically served in pubs, and Dutch frites or patat — fries served with mayonnaise, satay or curry sauce.
For the more adventurous eater, have a go at traditional raw herring. You can order it from the many herring carts dotted across the city.
Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of ten top things to see and do in Amsterdam? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Photodune/Bigstock
Camha Pham is a freelance writer and editor who has recently swapped the cosmopolitan laneways of Melbourne for the sunny beaches of Perth. Struck with the wanderlust bug from an early age, she has travelled extensively through Asia, Europe and parts of North America. When she isn’t travelling, Camha is planning her next adventure and loves nothing more than the thrill of exploring new destinations and learning about other cultures. Travel highlights to date include chasing waterfalls in enchanting Iceland, hot-air ballooning over the lunar-like landscape of Cappadocia and accepting a surprise marriage proposal from her now fiancé at the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto!