Written by Claire Hillsmith
Photo credit: Liam Gant
A city guide to Amsterdam – countless museums, culinary delights and the never-ending nightlife
Whatever you think you know about Amsterdam, there is a lot more to be discovered. There are certain sights which you may plan on seeing, such as the famous Red-Light District or Anne Frank’s house, but beyond that you’ll find over 40 museums, The UNESCO Canal Ring and an extreme 1,281 bridges. The diversity in nationalities found in Holland brings an eclectic mix of culture into the capital, making it a fanciful place to discover.
The beauty of Amsterdam
With a population of approximately 760,000 people it’s a tight-knit city full of friendly individuals and a calm atmosphere, perfect for a weekend away. Most tourists tend to explore the city by foot or rent a bike, but if you’re desperate to see all of the sights the excellent transportation links will take you wherever you would like to go. Why not buy a map and navigate around Amsterdam’s series of bridges and canals, or purposely lose yourself amongst the artistic treasures and various cafés. Prinsengracht is one of the most picturesque canals and where you will find some of the most interesting houseboats, whereas Brouwersgracht is a historic, charming canal perfect for an afternoon stroll.
A city of all ages
Many people don’t realise that Amsterdam has activities for everyone to enjoy regardless of whether you’re a group of teens or a family with little ones, so don’t miss out the great adventures the city has to offer. For those of you who like being scared and learning about history, Amsterdam Dungeon hosts 11 special effects shows guaranteed to scare the wits out of you (min. age 10 years old). Or excite yourselves with a boat, bus or bicycle tour of the city, letting you see all the sights with a guide.
From the collection of nightclubs, cafés, and bars that are scattered across Amsterdam, you can be a tourist during the day and party with the locals at night. You don’t need to stay the weekend to experience the party scene as nightclubs are open until 3am and cafés until 1am, entertaining a mixture of electro fans, jazz lovers or even the rock fanatics. Dress code is generally relaxed, but Jimmy Woo and Escape clubs adhere to their strict, smart dress code and many clubs charge entrance fees from €5 to €20, so it’s best to check online before turning up.
Amsterdam has a variety of weird and wonderful museums, from Fluorescent Art to The House of Bols Cocktail & Genever Experience that will leave you amazed, informed and enlightened. Why not see how your flirting skills match up against others at a Flirting or Pole dancing Workshop? Or enjoy the Friday Night Skate in Vondelpark. There’s no reason to only follow the crowd in Amsterdam when there are so many eccentric activities to take part in!
What to see and do in Amsterdam – a guide on what’s not to be missed
Amsterdam is continuously changing and new attractions are emerging all of the time, which means you’ll never be stuck for things to do in the city. In a weekend you will be able to take guided tours, visit beautiful churches and even try glow in the dark mini golf. Pick up an I Amsterdam City Card and you’ll save money on transport and some of the best attractions.
The Red Light District
Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll – if that’s what you’re looking for that’s exactly what you’ll find in Amsterdam’s famous Red Light District, locally known as De Wallen. As one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city, it holds a great deal of history and the walls now separate the erotic, religious, residential and the commercial. In this area you will be able to discover the Erotic Museum and the sex shops with their merchandise on display, along with sex shows of all natures. Whilst in the area, be aware that cameras are not usually welcome, particularly near the red hued windows. The Red Light District is also still a residential area where people are going about their daily lives.
Amsterdam boasts one of the highest densities of museums in the world, with over 40 to discover and dedicated to a range of topics from sex to handbags. Indeed, whatever you’re interested in you’ll find a museum. The Van Gogh Museum holds over 800 pieces of art work from the Dutch painter, making it the world’s largest collection and definitely worth visiting, but don’t miss the Rijksmseum as it holds national treasures from the Middles Ages to the 20th century. The Anne Frank house is located in the center and was the hiding place of Anne Frank during World War II, where she wrote her famous diary and her family’s lives are retold through exhibitions.
Bridges, boats and bicycles
Amsterdam is famous for being a cycling city and everyone has a bike, even the policemen. It’s the main mode of transport for the Dutch, and definitely the best way to discover the city. There are rental shops all over Amsterdam and cycles can be hired for as little as €12 per day from the Yellow Bike Rental Company. Amsterdam’s Canal Ring is a unique landscape which is made up of over 165 canals, and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. For this reason alone you should take a tour of the city by boat, whether you’re having a dinner cruise or taking advantage of the Rijksmuseum art tour there are a variety of tours to excite all ages. With the amount of canals in Amsterdam, there are so many architectural bridges which can easily be explored on foot or by hiring a bicycle, and if you head down to the corner of Reguliersgracht and Herengracht canal, you can view 15 of the bridges all at once.
After a manic day of sight-seeing, why not unwind in one of the exquisite places of worship that Amsterdam has to offer? From the Buddhist Temple to De Oude Kerk in the Red Light District to the Portuguese Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter, these buildings display a range of religious beliefs and beautiful architecture that is scattered around the city. In a charming canal house in the Red Light District lies the Our Lord in the Attic Chapel, which was used by the Roman Catholics when a man converted the top floor of his house as Catholics were not allowed to worship in public.
As a family-friendly city, most of Amsterdam’s attractions have enough to offer children of all ages. The Artis Zoo is a must, and since it opened in 1838 it now homes over 900 species of animals and also has an aquarium and numerous historical buildings. For the animal lovers, De Poezenboot is a floating boat that serves as a cat shelter, making it a truly unique and heart-warming attraction for all ages. The NEMO Science Center will keep you and the children entertained for hours as they learn about extra-terrestrial life, how to make clean water and how to build a dam.
Where to eat in Amsterdam – a food and dining guide
Amsterdam’s cultural diversity shines through in the vast amount of restaurants that serve cuisines from Thai to tapas, local Dutch to Arabian. Whether you’re looking for an award-winning menu or a local café, there’s no end to what you will find in the city as it offers something for a huge variety of tastes. Just remember, coffee shops in Amsterdam will offer something a little different than the ones back home so be careful what you order!
There’s no bigger name in cafés than the Hard Rock café chain, with yet another in the center of Amsterdam that offers hearty meals and friendly service throughout the day. However, if you’re looking for something more low-key then Singel 404 is open from 10.30 and offers beautiful canal views and a large selection of sandwiches. For traditional Dutch food, just behind Waterlooplein Metro is Café Greetje, serving delicious home-cooked Dutch meals and providing excellent service. However, don’t mistake a coffee shop for a café, as these are alcohol-free establishments that sell soft drugs, allowing people to consume them in a relaxed and controlled area.
- Hard Rock Café,Max Euweplein 57-61, Amsterdam 1017 MA. Tel: +31205237625.
- Singel 404, Amsterdam 1016AK. Tel: +3120 4280154.
- Greetje, Peperstraat 23, Amsterdam 1011 TJ. Tel: +31 20 7797450.
Maybe you’re missing a big sports game whilst you’re away or just want some home comfort food? Coco’s Outback will satisfy your needs. Serving 15 different beers from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa and providing pool tables, dart boards and 17 TVs to watch the latest sport on, this bar is part of the bustling nightlife of Rembrandtsplein. If you prefer drinking wine to beer, Bubbles & Wines Bar offers you over 50 wines by the glass and gourmet snacks, making it the perfect place for a pre-dinner drink, or for a relaxing evening out.
- Coco’s Outback, 8-12 Thorbeckeplein. Tel: +31206272423.
- Bubbles & Wine Wine and Champagne Bar,Nes 37, Amsterdam 1015KG. Tel: +31204223318.
For a mixture of Western style and far-eastern flavors, Momo serves international cuisine in a sophisticated setting for both lunch and dinners. Perfect for enjoying a few drinks with friends, order one of their innovative cocktails and relax amidst the Asian décor. Michelin star restaurant La Rive serves of mix of French-Mediterranean flavors and can be accompanied by superb wines that should not be missed if you’re looking for a classy dinner. If your taste buds are after something a little different, Norling serves mouth-watering Tibetan food all day and at very reasonable prices.
- Momo Restaurant,Hobbemastraat 1, Amsterdam 1071 XZ. Tel: +31020671747.
- La Rive, Professor Tulpplein 1, Amsterdam 1018 GX. Tel: +3120520326.
- Norling Restaurant: Reguliersdwarsstraat 23, Amsterdam 1017BJ. Tel: +31614345433.
Markets and street stalls
Holland has numerous culinary delights of its own, without needing to rely on other cultures, and the best place to find them are at the markets or on the street stalls. The Boerenmarkt in the Jordaan area is a local market, easily overlooked by tourists and is filled with the very best Dutch cheeses. Don’t be afraid to ask for a taster before buying, and if you can’t remember your Dutch words, everyone speaks English. Pancakes are a national favorite and come in two different forms, both different from the American style, called Pannekoeken (enormous pancakes) or Poffertjes (little pancakes). These pancakes are eaten with almost anything you fancy, from blueberries to bacon, strawberries to cream cheese, so don’t be afraid to add whatever you like.
Amsterdam shopping guide – where to go and what to buy
Amsterdam has a fantastic array of shopping malls, markets and independent shops that will keep you busy for hours, selling everything from antiques to Gucci, souvenirs to hemp; you won’t know where to start. With shopping streets such as the Negen Straatjes or the Kalvertoren Mall, you can chose from fashion brands or second hand items with plenty of opportunities to stop and catch your breath in one of the quality cafes.
One of the most popular ways to discover what Amsterdam has to offer is by visiting a flea market. From Waterlooplein in the Jewish Quarter to the Albert Cuyp in De Pijp, each market is a goldmine, offering visitors a range of rare books, antiques and vintage clothing. Many also sell souvenirs, flowers and textiles and the Albert Cuyp boasts items from Turkey and Morrocco, imported by residents and traders from those countries. The world’s only floating flower market can be found on the Singel Canal which boasts a beautiful selection of flowers, in an area full of lovely cafés and a mix of locals and tourists. Explore IJ Hallen and Haarlemerstraat for a selection of absolutely everything, including old junk that nobody wants, they’re excellent places to visit.
Most areas in Amsterdam sell antiques, whether you’re at a market or find an individual shop down a little alley you’ll be spoilt for choice. Whilst the Negen Straatjes and Utrechtsestraat are quirky places to shop, one of the most popular places for antiques is the Antiques Center. Located in the Jordaan area, which was once a district for the poor, it hosts over 72 stalls and cases full of art, paintings, silverware and glass of all styles. Spiegelkwartier is a must for any shopping fanatic and with of 80 years of history you’ll discover art pieces, antiques and a collection of vintage items.
Curious as to what Amsterdam’s malls have to offer? Your choices range from Kalvertoren and Magna Plaza in central Amsterdam, to De Bijenkorf in Dam Square. Similar to what you would find at home, these malls comprise of named brands such as Timberland, H&M, Nike, and local brands alongside beauty and music stores. However, De Bijenkorf offers a collection of high-end brands and is an institution of fashion in Holland, with Amsterdam as its flagship store.
With the diversity of residents in Amsterdam, locals have taken a shine to a variety of styles in fashion and general household items. Stores have been set up with owners from Japan, Morrocco and Turkey, providing residents and tourists with a cultured twist to their shopping. ‘T Japanse Winkeltje offers customers a taste of all things Japanese, but keep your eyes open down various lanes for other cultural gems. Vega Life takes being a vegetarian to a new level in this little store, located in the west canal belt, as all of their products are vegan, organic or Fair Trade. The Heineken Brand store is great if you like the beer, but also for souvenirs and Dam Square offers a typical tourist souvenir hub amongst distinguished buildings. For those of you curious about the soft drugs of Amsterdam, Sensi Seeds is an interesting place to see as founder Ben Dronkers has dedicated his time to finding and preserving some of the best cannabis strains.
Take note of these helpful tips to ensure your holiday isn’t ruined. Don’t take pictures in the Red Light District as it is disrespectful to both workers and visitors in the area, but keep your camera safe from pick-pockets. Ignore people who try to sell you something in the streets, it will most likely be drugs that won’t work or stolen bicycles, and there is a huge penalty for buying either. If you’re shopping at a market, look around and compare prices at other stalls before buying something you really like, be prepared to bargain but also know when to walk away if the stall vendors become pushy or rude. The best things to buy in Amsterdam that reflect the culture would be wooden clogs, tulips and something from one of the famous sex shops.
Where to stay in Amsterdam – a neighborhood guide
Amsterdam offers a range of hostels, apartments and five-star hotels to cater to the diversity of age ranges and budgets of people who visit the city. From romantic city breaks to student weekends away, Amsterdam provides excitement for everyone with a place to sleep at the end of the day. Whether you’re looking to stay amidst the buzz of the city center, or further out for a quiet night, there are enough options to suit any budget.
Where everything is happening, a great value for money hotel would be A-Train, just across from the train station. With friendly staff and a reasonable breakfast, this is exactly what you need if you’re traveling on a budget and want to be in the center of the city. For a different scene, the quietly located Jewel Apartments offer a home away from home. Along the Singel Canal and only minutes from Dam Square, you can enjoy the city’s best attractions before coming back to a relaxing setting for the night. Slightly more expensive, yet boasting excellent ratings is the Crowne Plaza, surrounded by an array of restaurants and shops.
In this romantic district you’ll find some of Amsterdam’s best accommodation, one of which being the Petit Prince apartments. Receiving unfaultable reviews from their guests, they offer a shuttle service, children’s activities and breakfast in the room. Also available is Hotel Nadia, a comfortable, budget hotel with historic surroundings that provides a private shower, toilet, Wi-Fi and safety deposit box. If they don’t appeal to you, consider the stylish La Festa B&B or quirky BackStage Hotel.
Red Light District
Home to the city’s more expensive hotels like De L’Europe and NH Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky, you can chose to be thoroughly spoilt in this area, but there are some more reasonable options as well. Doria Hotel and the Rembrandt Classic Hotel each provide friendly service in a convenient location to the city’s main events. The Heart of Amsterdam hostel’s breakfast will provide you with a great start to the day and a movie-themed, shared room for those looking for adventure and fun.
One of Amsterdam’s most popular parks, Vondelpark attracts locals and tourists alike, packed with cafés, an open-air theatre and a beautiful display of over 70 types of roses. The Owl Hotel provides decent size rooms and an excellent breakfast, and the staff are more than happy to make your stay as pleasant as possible. The Conscious Hotel is good value for money, in a perfect location for all of the museums and has won awards for being eco-friendly. For a slightly cheaper option, Hotel Abba offers authentic Dutch hospitality with an international touch, just five minutes from the buzzing night life.