A BEGINNERS GUIDE TO AMSTERDAM

There is an incredible amount of activities to do in any city in the world but especially in Amsterdam. I have been here three times and have yet to feel accomplished, but I have seen a lot. Not to mention there’s something for every season. So the good news is you will always find something cool to do. The bad news is you will rarely crack the shell on this super cool city if you’re just passing through. Don’t let that stop you though, here’s a peek to help you get excited about your trip:

What to bring:

Amsterdam is usually on the cooler side of the temperature scale no matter what time you are there. Basic fall or spring wardrobe should keep you covered along with a good winter coat starting in the colder months. If anything it rains, so just keep that in mind!

Transportation:

Schiphol Airport to Amsterdam: If you’re staying in a hotel there are usually round trip shuttles for an affordable fee. These are especially convenient with lots of luggage. If you’re packing lighter there are tons of options of public transport, something I love so much about big cities, especially in Europe. There’s a train station right in Schiphol airport for an easy ten minute train into the city center, or there’s your choice of Uber and Lyft and of course buses.

In Amsterdam: If you plan on traveling train/metro during your stay, I would recommend grabbing the reloadable OV-Chipkaart.

If you plan on renting a bike (which can be a bit pricey) just make sure you ask about the rules of the road!

Bikes and canals
One of the many bikes, and canals in Amsterdam

Where to sleep:

For places to stay in a new city- Google maps is my best friend. Try to find the city center and look for hotels around it.

My favorite hotel in Amsterdam is Hotel Casa: loyal to the name it makes you feel right at home which can be so comforting in a new city and has a train station that’s a quick walk away and ten minutes into the city center. You can catch great friend and family deals on their website that can have you snoozing in comfort for 80 Euros a night.

If you’re traveling on the budget side, Stayokay Hostel, is right in one of the most popular parks in the city. My favorite website to find hostels through is hostelbookers.com, so you can read the reviews.

Other options:

*I haven’t stayed at any of these places (other than Hotel Casa), some I walked past and others I found on the the Hotel tonight App- which is great! Get that on your smartphone for last minute deals on nice places in your current city.

What to eat:

  • Febo is one of the funnest places I have ever eaten at. You put coins in a slot and out pops a burger, or chips (fries) or my favorite Bami snack!
  • “Chips” and Mayo: are super popular in Holland and I refused to try them because it was the weirdest thing ever but I was SO wrong and it was so delicious. The dairy is different here than in America, so the mayo was much lighter tasting.
  • Poffertjes: Small Dutch pancakes, my favorite toppings are chocolate sauce and strawberries. (The produce is so fresh all year round here because the country is huge on farming. It makes the cold weather not seem so drab.)
  • Cheese: The Dutch are actually known for their cheese (and dairy in general.) Please don’t feel bad if you thought that was France, I did too. Hop around the tourist area and the cheese shops have FREE samples of all the cheese. YES please cheese!
  • Bitterballen: These are dutch meatballs filled with mashed meat. They come in tons of different flavors too, you can order these at most bars but my favorite place to get them is the foodhallen.
  • Kaassoufflé: “Kaas” is the dutch word for cheese and this is basically a fried grilled cheese and you can not ever go wrong with grilled and cheese, just trust me.
  • Kaasstengels: Another cheesed stuff snack that comes with sweet chili dipping sauce. You can find these at most bars to munch on while you have a drink.

Local Grocery Stores like the Vomar, Albert Heijn and the Lidl also have tons of treats I am going to recommend you buy and try and then take home for all your family and friends. I also found these treats REALLY cheap at Big Bazaar in the city center and Xenos also in the city center.

  • Autodrop Wine Gums: These are so addicting and all the nutrition info is in Dutch so you don’t feel guilty about the calories! Just kidding, but my favorite are the cadillacs, they taste most like gummies, the other flavors are more like european licorice.
  • Tony’s Chocolonely: Dutch chocolate is a lot different than American chocolate and these candy bars support fair wages for chocolate farmers. They come in a million different flavors for everyone’s taste.
  • Patatje Joppie (pah tajh e yo pee) Lays Potato chip flavors. This is a traditional Dutch Gravy sauce turned potato chip flavor and I couldn’t get enough.

Where to eat:

  • The Butcher: my favorite burgers and chips, if you catch the one under the A’dam tower (the social club) they have delicious chicken wings too.
  • Albert Cuyp Market: perfect for finding Poffertjes and lots of other fresh food and fun stuff!
  • Ron Gastrobar: for the fancier, treat yo self, night out. Save room for the Ice Cream Sundae bucket!
  • Foodhallen: tons of different food options and a really great spot for finding Bitterballen.

*Like any big city, restaurants are always changing, so I would recommend using Yelp or Google to find somewhere near you if you’re into reading reviews or my personal favorite method of finding hidden gems- just walk in! Most restaurants have menus outside for you to see if you want to pop in.

Where to drink:

  • Pilsvogel: is a sweet little bar located in a busy area with other restaurants, bars and ice cream stops down the road from another beautiful park and my favorite market Albert Cuyp. Try the mint tea!
  • De Duvel: located in De Pijp neighborhood is a great place for a few drinks and a cozy terrace.
  • Brouwerij ‘t IJ: Iconic Windmill Brewery.
  • Bar Broker: A bar that prices its drinks around the stock market, close to the shopping street and other bars and restaurants.
  • Bulldog Red Light District: one of the bars in the Red Light District.
  • Cafe Lux B.V.: a cool bar near the city center.
  • De Brabantse Aap: corner street bar in a cool neighborhood.
  • Basically anywhere: you can buy a beer from the corner shop and drink it as you walk around.
Beers at a brewery in Amsterdam
Enjoying beers at the Brouwerij ‘t IJ

Where to shop:

There are a lot of shops near the city center, a main shopping street with some of my favorite shops to see, especially when I am in Europe:

  • The Flying Tiger (trinkets)
  • Bershka (clothing)
  • Zara (clothing)
  • Sostrene Grene (home goods, trinkets)
  • The Sting (clothing)
  • Hutspot (photo booth, clothing, barbershop, cafe)
  • De 9 Straatjes/The 9 Streets: is best for one of a kind boutiques and picturesque canals.

What to see:

There is a 25 Euro pass, called Rock the City, that will give you a tour of the Heineken Factory, a canal boat ride to and from the A’DAM tower and a ticket into the tower! Lookout towers are one of my favorite ways to see a city. The lookout swing on the roof is extra and there’s usually a wait.

  • Vondel Park: The parks in Amsterdam are something else, they make you feel like you are not just outside a huge city and can give you an excuse to relax for a minute in-between sightseeing. Grab a few snacks from an Albert Heijn (cheese, crackers and wine) and plop down and enjoy!
  • Anne Frank House: I missed this the first time I was there so make sure you book online well in advance of your trip or be prepared to wait in line. The way the museum is set up is really quite amazing and will immerse you in her story the entire time. Make sure you get there on time (15 min intervals) but once you’re inside you can stay as long as you like.
  • Artis Zoo: this wasn’t very high on my list but my tour guide insisted we go and boy am I glad, hands down one of the coolest zoos I have been to, there’s also an aquarium. Leave an entire day for this.
  • Floating Flower Market: if you love flowers as much as I do you’ll want to buy everything here. You can take home some traditional dutch tulips, make sure you peruse all the booths here for the best price. Also how cool that it is built on top of the canal!
  • Albert Cuyp: (and other street markets): are great for trying more Dutch delicacies and finding everything you need from fish to fruit, to clothes, bags, scarves, electronics and toiletries. Get Poffertjes here
  • Museumplein: Where the famous ‘I Amsterdam; letters are, get there early or late for less people, also for the museum lovers, you can hit a lot of the museums here at once including the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, Stedelijk Museum, Diamond Museum and so many more. In early November I was lucky enough to hit Museumnacht where I got entry into most of the museums (52) around the city but only had one night to do so.
  • Nemo: Science Museum with a cool view of the city from the Rooftop.
  • The Royal Palace / Dam Square: I still have not seen the palace, but it’s on my list
  • Muiden Castle: I haven’t been here yet either but it’s not far outside the city.
  • Zaanse Schans: the old Dutch windmills, wooden shoe shop, cheese store and history about the Dutch East India company as well as lots of cute antique shops about a 20 min bus outside the city
  • Zaandam: a really cool city, a quick 20 minute train outside of Amsterdam. Also lots of shopping.
  • Zandvoort Zee: ‘Zee’ meaning sea, is always one of my favorite places to go no matter where I am, no matter what time of year. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Holland has a gorgeous coastline of beaches including Bergen aan Zee and Hargen aan Zee.
A palace in The Netherlands
The Royal Palace at Dam Square
A market where flowers can be bought
Floating Flower Market “bloemenmarkt”
Amsterdam sign in front of the Rijksmuseum
Iamsterdam Sign (there’s several of them in the city)
Mills in The Netherlands
Dutch mills at the Zaanse Schans
Carnival
Carnival at Dam Square
Castle muiderslot
Update March 2018: have been to castle Muiderslot!

What to buy:

  • Postcards: I always buy these for my travel collection. I have yet to figure out what to do with them so I popped them in a travel photo album. They’re cheap and easy to transport home, I also always send a postcard home to my parents for the fridge!
  • Other collection ideas: patches, mugs, magnets, money
  • Tulip Bulbs: Native to Holland, you can actually catch some beautiful Tulip gardens in the springtime.
  • ‘Delft Blauw’ this beautiful blue design that you’ve definitely seen before you knew it was Dutch! You can grab so many things with this design including ornaments and decorative plates.
  • The local HEMA store (like target in the US) carries some sweet little pieces that let you take home a piece of Holland. I bought a few cutting boards in the shape of a rowhouse to bring home and hang on the wall! (Or you can use it, but it’s just too pretty.)
  • Dutch snacks: chocolate, cheese, candy, stroopwafels, pepernoten cookies are easy to take home.

Other tips when in Amsterdam:

PHONE: If you will be in an European city like Amsterdam for more than a week it would definitely be worth getting a sim chip for your smartphone. There is wifi but it’s always nice to have data to use Google Maps to use for public transport or if you need to call an emergency Uber. You can use Vodafone or other providers in most countries over there if you’re hopping around.

Another option is downloading offline maps when you have wifi of the area you’ll be going around.

The language that they speak is Dutch, which is phonetically in between English and German, so if you speak either of those languages you might recognize some words. They also speak English.

 

Go with the flow! Pick a few must sees and then let the adventure take you wherever else you’re meant to be.

Try to have some cash on you- exchanging at the airport can be expensive but is convenient, You also may be able to use your debit card in local ATMs.

Most Importantly a rule of thumb to here and anywhere you travel is to remember that you are a TOURIST. This is someone’s HOME, although you are only visiting, they live here day in and day out. Please BE RESPECTFUL and treat it like YOUR home. I have always only met amazing locals throughout my travels who helped with directions, suggestions, even digging us out of a snow pile when our rental car was stuck, not everyone is friendly OR owes you their time of day.
Be courteous, kind, and take out what you take in.
Don’t ruin a beautiful place for everyone, no matter where you go!

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