Insider Tipps for Amsterdam: Sightseeing 101 for a perfect trip
Sometimes I think the Netherlands and I were made for each other. First I fell in love with Dutch men. Then the language, so adorable, I just had to learn it. And then the city I think about as much as other women think about their boyfriends: Amsterdam! What an amazing city!
If you’re planning a trip to Amsterdam, you probably already have these tourist attractions on your to-do list:
- the Museumplein
- the Negen Straatjes
- the city’s countless coffee shops
- the Anne Frank house
But let me tell you, that list is far from complete! In preparation of your next trip to Amsterdam I’ve compiled some insider tips. To make sure you don’t get lost, I’ve added a few small maps, too. Have fun! And if you have any other tips for Amsterdam, let me know.
INSIDER TIPPS FOR AMSTERDAM – GENERAL INFORMATION ABOUT THIS AMAZING CITY
A trip to Amsterdam is not just a trip to the capital of the land of bikes, coffee shops, tulips or Gouda cheese. It’s a trip to place that is a charming mix between a quaint, tolerant and happy town and a metropolis: countless bridges, more than in Venice, combined with a charming, slightly lopsided architectural style and a huge amount of hip boutiques, second hand shops, antique shops or flea markets. Amsterdam is one of the oldest merchant cities and it’s known for its international flair – the city is incredibly welcoming and has a wide selection of art and culture on offer. Amsterdam’s motto of ‘live and let live’ means there’s ample possibility to test your potential. The city attracts young families, and creative and self-employed professionals. If you want to be in the midst of it all, live in Jordaan, a hip place that used to be a workers’ neighbourhood. Today it’s home to flocks of ‘young professionals’. The Amsterdam canal district, especially between Herren- and Prinsengracht, is a lovely place to live, especially in the affluent Western part, like De 9 Straatjes. The Negen Straatjes span a small area in the inner city of Amsterdam that is made up of nine streets. A great spot to explore insider tips that make Amsterdam so special. The most spectacular buildings are located around Koningsplein (1), the “Gouden Bocht”. The Amsterdam canal district is a UNESCO-world heritage site. A rather posh neighbourhood is located between the Rijksmuseum (2) and Vondelpark (3), the big city park, in the southwest of the city. Westerpark, with free wifi, is located on the outskirts but it’s just as beautiful.
The eastern part of the city is more multicultural and this is where living becomes a bit cheaper. On the other side of the water, in the north, Amsterdam seems like a small town. The city hall, the main shopping streets and a few canals are located downtown in the red light district surrounding Oude Kerk (4) (Old church).
Amsterdam was the “gay capital” of Europe in the 1960s. Today, most of the gay bars are located in the red light district in Warmoesstraat, close to the central station, or in the area around the Amstel southwest of the Waterloopplein (6).
A long walk along the numerous canals and small lanes is the perfect way to get to know Amsterdam and be sucked in by this wonderful city. And don’t miss the houseboats and speeding cyclists. When out people watching, don’t forget to be aware of your surroundings: cyclists pass through narrow lanes and past crowds at breakneck speed, ringing their bells or yelling “Pas op!” (Watch out!). The general rule: cyclists before pedestrians. It might seem a bit dangerous, but somehow it always ends well.
The Dutch language sounds very cute and is easy to understand. It’s kind of like a mixture of northern German and English, but English is more than enough for a trip to Amsterdam. German is widely spoken in the Netherlands, however, it’s not very polite to simply address the Dutch capital’s residents in German.
Rain is as much as a part of Amsterdam as bikes. Even in summer it’s never very hot. Which means the city’s inhabitants enjoy every opportunity to catch some rays.
Amsterdam Tips: 1 – Koningsplein, 2 – Rijksmuseum, 3 – Vondelpark, 4 – Oude Kerk, 5 – City Hall, 6 – Waterlooplein, 7– Museumplein with Van Gogh-Museum and Stedelijk Museum, 8 – FOAM, 9 – Anne Frank House, 10 – Bloemenmarkt, 11 – The narrowest house, 12 – houseboat museum Hendrika Maria
INSIDER TIPPS FOR AMSTERDAM – TOP SIGHTS
People often queue in front of the Rijksmusem (2) in the southwestern part of the museum quarter: the newly renovated National Gallery, one of the most famous museums in the world, displayed famous works by Dutch painters and artists such as Rembrandt. Make sure you have plenty of time for the Van Gogh Museum (7), which houses the largest permanent collection of Van Gogh’s work. The Stedelijk offers a wide selection of modern art. If you’re interested in photography and don’t have a lot of time, visit the centrally-located FOAM (8) – a classic old building with creaking floorboards right next to a canal, not reminiscent of a museum at all.
And of course, the Anne Frank house (9) located on Prinsengracht warrants a visit! If you are planning on visiting more than three museums, you should consider getting a museum card (Museumkaart, ca. 50,-€) which gives you free entry to more than 400 museums in the Netherlands for a year.
Amsterdam is famous for its sights, but actually every house along the canals in the city is a sight for itself. And, of course, you shouldn’t miss out on the hunt for Amsterdam’s narrowest house! Pictures make for a great souvenir, too. Customs used to be charged based on the width of a house, which means that the architectural style of Amsterdam is defined by its extremely narrow but very high houses – everybody needed space, after all. Foundations are rather wet and sandy, so houses used to be built on stilts that are slowly rotting away. And that’s why a number of historical houses today are lopsided. Even today, heavy objects are hoisted up on the outside and lifted in through a window. Lots of houses have a beam on the outside just for this specific purpose. Quite a few houses also have fronts that lean forward – all of this combined leads to a somewhat surreal look. Watching people navigate the crooked city is pretty exciting, especially the steep staircases that lead into coffee shops (often without a banister). The narrowest house is located at Singel 7 (11).
And one more special insider tip for Amsterdam: It’s a good idea to watch out for small manufacturers, galleries or exhibitions such as the Torch Gallery.
Very touristy but also very typical: Amsterdam’s Bloemenmarkt (10), (flower market) which floats on water and is attached to the shore via connected barges. A good place to look for souvenirs like wooden shoes or small windmills. De oude Kirk, the old church downtown, is a famous monument. For some reason, the red light district is located around the church – this is where the ladies of the night present themselves in display windows.
Amsterdam is also the city of flea markets and antiques – see the extra section below.
If you’re interested in architecture, take a trip to Ijburg (Bus 329). Amsterdam’s newest neighbourhood is an experiment that consists of floating houses on artificial islands. Blijburg, the city beach, is also located here. NDSM, the der Nederlandsche Dok en Scheepsbouw Maatschappi, is quite an interesting spot: MTV Europe’s headquarters are here and the area is a creative hotspot, bustling with artists’ studios and start ups. There are a number of exhibitions and events – so don’t miss out on NDSM!
INSIDER TIPPS FOR AMSTERDAM – MY TOP RECOMMENDATIONS
Cycling (Fietsen, bicycle=Fiets)! Bike paths are clearly designated and separated from cars on all roads. Keep in mind – you’ll feel like a total beginner when you first take to a bike in Amsterdam. The most important rules: don’t hesitate, go with the flow and keep moving. And if you prefer to blend in with the crowd rather than standing out with a touristy colourful bike, rent a black bike from Starbikes Rental (A). It’s always great fun to try a Bakfiets (cargo bike). And make sure you always lock your bike!
The canals offer the best view of the city’s famous lopsided brick houses, one of the most beautiful vistas is close to Anne Frank House (9) in the Western part of the city. If guided canal tours aren’t really your thing, rent your own boat (if needed you can even hire a captain). It’s perfect for a short Amsterdam trip! And remember – you don’t need a license unless your boat is 15m long or more, or if you go faster than 20km/h. The canals get quite crowded if it’s a nice day out, lots of locals have their own boat. If you prefer calmer waters, rent a Waterfietsen (pedal boat), eg. via canal.nl.
Anchor your boat at Hannekes Boom at Dijksgracht, a sort of DIY pirate beach bar in the wilderness between train tracks and water – a popular spot with young students. Sit outside in summer and snuggle up on the comfy sofas inside in winter. This insider tip will help you to look like a local and not stand out as a tourist.
If you want to know what a houseboat looks like on the inside, visit the original Hendrika Maria (12) on the corner of Elandsgracht/Prinsengracht.
INSIDER TIPPS FOR AMSTERDAM – AMAZING VIEWS:
The Openbare Bibliotheek (1), the six-story modern library in the northeast, has a rooftop terrace.
So does Canvas op de 7e (2) – on top of a seven-story building in the southeast.
The harbour’s north side (3) is home to the Hotel de Goudfazant. Head here for a stunning view of the city from the hotel’s restaurant. It’s a unique combination of old timers, a living room, an open kitchen and a posh restaurant, all under a massive chandelier. An incredible tip for Amsterdam. And the best part? You can get across the harbour for free via ferry.
Amsterdam Tips: 1 – Openbare Bibliotheek, 2 – Canvas op de 7e, 3 –north side of the harbour (simply take the ferry to get across!)
INSIDER TIPPS FOR AMSTERDAM – SHOPPING: FROM LUXURY TO FASHIONABLE!
Want to go shopping in Amsterdam? Good news: most of Amsterdam’s shops are also opened on Sundays! What a great city, right? Amsterdam is colourful, young and fashionable.
Hip, stylish boutiques like Mad Men and Shabby Chic are located in De 9 Straatjes and in the canal area, for example in Utrechtsestraat (1). They are expensive but they are made for window shopping and ogling the interior design! You will also find authentic vintage shops like Episode (2) and Zipper (3). Amsterdam could write its own style guide for home décor and interior design.
If you’re into sleek, modern interiors, you won’t leave this city empty-handed. Antique lovers and fans of a good bargain will love Amsterdam’s street flea markets.
For a shopping tour of high street fashion, start at Dam Square (4) with a view of city hall and lots of street artists. The main shopping streets are Kalverstraat, Nieuwendijk and Damrak, which, in addition to international high street fashion brands, also host a number of souvenir shops, takeaways and cheese stores (where you can sample lots of different kinds of cheese). Amsterdam’s China Town is located between Nieuwmarkt (5) and the red light district around Oude Kerk (6). Expensive designer clothing stores are located on P.C. Hooftstraat (7), between the museum quarter and Vondelpark (8).
Amsterdam Tips: 1 – Utrechtsestraat, 2 – Episode, 3 – Zipper, 4 – Dam Square, 5 – Nieuwmarkt, 6 – Oude Kerk, 7 – P.C. Hooftstraat, 8 – Vondelpark
INSIDER TIPS FOR AMSTERDAM – BEST MARKETS
Amsterdam has a number of permanent markets. Usually a mixture of food markets, flea markets and antique markets. Here’s a list of the best markets in town: llen Stadt:
- Waterlooplein (1): If you’re into nostalgia, this historical market for antiques, known as the ‘Jewish market’ until 1941, is the place to be. One of the most famous and biggest markets in Amsterdam. Mon-Sat 9am – 5pm.
- Book market (2): Book market (2): For bookworms – books, old maps. Oudemanhuispoort, Mon-Sat //
- Postzegelmarkt/stamp market (3): For collectors – old postcards, Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal 280, Wed + Sat.
- Westermarkt (4): For fashionistas – In the heart of Jordaan. Originally only for fabrics, now for fabrics and fashion. Mondays only.
- Albert Cuyp market (5): For everyone – Biggest street market in Europe – everything from fruit to fish to jewellery and shirts. In the heart of De Pijp, an area in the south with lots of small manufacturers. Mon-Sat.
- Dappermarkt (6): For cosmopolitans – multicultural market, from food to fashion. Mon to Sat.
- Lindenmarkt (7): For lovers of fruit – classic market in Jordaan, Saturdays only.
- Vrijmarkt (8): On King’s Day (April 30, used to be Queen’s Day) lots of small, private flea markets spring up all over town, especially in Vondelpark. The entire city celebrates in orange.
- Sunday Market (9): For talkative people – private flea market for second hand items and handmade things. Every Sunday in changing locations.
Amsterdam Tips: 1 – Waterlooplein, 2 – Book market/Oudemanhuispoort, 3 – Postzegelmarkt, 4 – Westermarkt, 5 – Albert Cuyp Markt, 6 – Dappermarkt, 7 – Lindenmarkt, 8 – Vrijmarkt, 9 – Sunday Market
Another very important tip for Amsterdam: Haggling is not common at Dutch flea markets.
INSIDER TIPPS FOR AMSTERDAM – ENJOYING AMSTERDAM
Dutch food is usually simple, hearty and often fried, like Frikandel (meat patty) or Kibbeling (fried fish fillet, in small pieces). The chain Febo Snackbar offers Dutch fried snacks (1) in its vending machines. This place is perfect for times when you don’t really care what you eat. If it’s fried food you’re after try one of the small, dingy-looking pubs. Dutch people also like to just pop all available ingredients into a pot. And then there’s Nieuwe: pickled herring with onion and pickled cucumber, available at every market.
The best (breakfast) pastries can be found at De Bakkerswinkel (2); also stop here for interesting souvenirs like homemade Lemon Curd. Burgermeester (3) makes the best burgers. Ecological food production is at the heart of De Kas (in the southeast, not on the map). From farm to table is the motto here and the food comes from the restaurant’s own green house, which doubles up as the dining venue. If you prefer bringing your own food, head to Basis Amsterdam (4). And if you need to do some laundry stop by Wash&Coffee (5) with free wifi, FairTrade coffee, sandwiches and environmentally friendly washing machines.
For guys: Fancy a good old-fashioned trim while sipping whisky? The barber knows his handiwork and knows how to make you happy.
The Dutch like their beer. The brewery Brouwerik Jet IJ (6) is based in an old windmill and you can try their homebrewed beer.
To really get to know Amsterdam, you have to go shopping at Albert Heijn, a supermarket (found everywhere) – it’s like a visit with friends. While strolling through the city, you will encounter cute cafes, cheese boutiques and proper bakeries. And here is our map for enjoying Amsterdam.
Amsterdam Tipps: 1 – Febo Snackbar – Dutch fried snacks, 2 – De Bakkerswinkel, 3 – Burgermeester, 4 – Basis Amsterdam, 5 – Wash&Coffee, 6 – Brauerei Brouwerik Jet IJ
INSIDER TIPPS FOR AMSTERDAM – EXCITING NIGHT LIFE
Cultural events are mainly held in the western canal district and the red light district, which is booming with small establishments and clubs. Whether you prefer English or Dutch theatre in the Stadsshouwburg, ballet, opera or musical, English comedy at Boom Chicago or international stand up comedians at Comedy Café: You will find the perfect spot around Leidseplein.
Kriterion (1), a cinema and art location run by students, offers films well worth watching, documentaries, live music and a bar. Going to The Movies (2), the oldest cinema in town (1912), feels a bit like time travelling, especially for dinner in Gatsby style.
A pubcrawl around Prinsengracht and Lijnbaansgracht is incomplete without a stop at the popular student bar De Gieter (3) – home to the cheapest beer. Keep in mind that it gets very crowded very quickly. Plus, locals prefer to end their evenings at a pub rather than start there. Coffee shops can be found in and around the red light district.
Want to see how Amsterdam’s “young professionals” spend their evenings? Then stop by De Nieuew Anita (4), a relaxed club with a living room atmosphere and floral wallpaper. The far side of the club has a balcony with a view of the dance floor. Definitely one of the best insider tips for Amsterdam, don’t miss out on this! That at home feeling is a given at Roest (5) where you can even drop off your old potted plants: visitors are encouraged to co-develop the interior design.
Music lovers will find whatever their heart desires in Amsterdam: from Jazz and Blues at Hannekes Boom (6) to electronic music and world class DJs at Trouw Amsterdam (7), maybe the best club in town in an unchanged old newspaper factory. In summer, open air events, mostly free, at Vondelpark are a highlight. And you will never see your favourite band play a more unique venue than in Amsterdam: Melkweg (8) is an old milk factory and Paradiso (9) and old, almost unaltered church that mainly puts on indie rock gigs.
Amsterdam Tipps: 1 – Kriterion, 2 – The Movies, the oldest cinema in town, 3 – De Gieter Bar, 4 – Nieuwe Anita, 5 – Roest, 6 – Hannekes Boom, 7 – Trouw Amsterdam, 8 – Melkweg, 9 – Paradiso
Beware: Sometimes concert halls request an additional membership fee of around 3€, which lasts for a year. So technically an extra few Euros entrance fee!
INSIDER TIPPS FOR AMSTERDAM – HOW TO GET AROUND
Amsterdam is ideal for walking or cycling. Downtown is very car-unfriendly: narrow one-way streets and expensive parking fees. Metro, tram and bus (central association: GVB) will get you safely from A to B. The last tram runs at around 12:15am, the last metro at around 12:30am. Night busses are operated throughout the city – make sure to buy an extra ticket from the driver. In general, there are very few buses in central Amsterdam. They mainly connect suburbs to downtown Amsterdam. You pay via the OV-Chipkaart: Day tickets are available on busses and trams for 7,-€. Tickets for more than one day are available at ticket machines located in metro or train stations. Hold your ticket against the reader when entering and exiting. From Schiphol Airport take the train to the central station, located in the heart of Amsterdam – the ride takes about 20 minutes and tickets for 3,60€ are available at ticket machines at the airport. The train station is located underneath the main departure hall in the airport. A taxi ride takes about the same time, but comfort has its price: expect to pay about 40 Euro. Busses (197, 370, N72) take longer, are insignificantly cheaper than the train and only make sense if you’re accommodation is half-way en route. If you have more insider tips for Amsterdam, please leave a comment. I look forward to reading them. Thank you!
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