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 this work, it’s the Dutch.
Here are ten top things to do in Amsterdam.
Rent a bike and ride along the canals
Yes, it may be a cliché. Yes, you may fall off or over on occasions. 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 is no better way to explore this quaint city than from a set of wheels as you weave along the winding, intricate canal network, struggle over steep bridges and navigate through the charming cobblestoned alleys. Get out there and have fun!
Mix with the ‘in crowd’ in the Jordaan
South of Haarlemmerbuurt lies the Jordaan, probably the most famous of Amsterdam’s neighbourhoods, once home to immigrants and the working-class and 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.
Visit a museum
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, Rijksmuseum and the Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art are all in close quarters, as well as the iconic ‘I amsterdam’ sign.
If you plan on visiting the Anne Frank House, be prepared to stand in line for a while — a long while. Some alternative options are the Cheese Museum, Tulip Museum, Sex Museum, Museum of Bags and Purses, and Electric Ladyland — the world’s first museum of fluorescent art. Take your pick.
Take a ferry to Amsterdam Noord
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.
Walk on the wild side in the Red Light District
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!
Check out the street art on Spuistraat
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!
Stroll through the Albert Cuyp Market
The Albert Cuyp Market is an open-air market held every day except for Sundays and is the heart of the hip and cosmopolitan neighbourhood of De Pijp. Expect to find hundreds of stalls selling everything from cheeses, vegetables and fish, to shoes, jewellry and other fashion items. Do yourself a favour and treat yourself to some stroopwafels or poffertjes from one of the vendors — just follow the mouth-watering waft of sugary goodness.
Afterwards, explore the lively De Pijp area which boasts great ethnic eateries thanks to its vibrant multicultural community.
Shop like a local around The Nine Streets
Shopping in Amsterdam isn’t necessarily cheap but you will be sure to pick up some quality products if you feel like splurging. The main shopping streets are Kalverstraat and Leidsestraat, but to find some real gems, head to De Negen Straatjes or ‘The Nine Streets’ which are three streets that cross two canals, Herengracht and Keizersgracht. Within this labyrinth, you will discover plenty of unique stores, independent retailers and vintage boutiques in which to exercise some retail therapy.
Chill out in Vondelpark
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.
Snack on Dutch treats
In Amsterdam it is all about the snack foods. We’ve already mentioned the must-eat stroopwafels, thin waffles with a sweet syrup middle, and poffertjes, small fluffy pancakes usually served with melted butter and powdered sugar. Also try bitterballen, a popular snack typically served in pubs, that are deep-fried crispy meatballs, and Dutch fries served with mayonnaise, or alternatively, satay or curry sauce.
For the more adventurous eaters, have a go at tasting the traditional raw herring, which you can order from herring carts 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
About the writer
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!