What to do in Amsterdam (and surroundings)

People ask me all the time, what should I do and avoid in Amsterdam? Well, there is a lot of fun stuff to do without it all costing an arm and a leg. Just enjoying the city, its sights and its outdoor seating is largely free (considering you have to eat or drink anyways)... Here are some of my favorite things to do and go see as well as some practical things.

Just Been There Art

Look at or buy art inspired by this trip. If you like this trip, but can't go, or you too have just been there, this unique art may rekindle fond memories of your own trip. Click the image for a link to the online store. Note: you will be leaving this site and connect to the artists site.

Amsterdam by Christine Ong-Dijcks
Canal Scene - Amsterdam

All art copyright Christine Ong-Dijcks.


The important bit (in my opinion) when wandering around Amsterdam. Of course you will see lots of restaurants around Leidse Plein or Rembrandt Plein. Some may even be worth it... but I would go with some more funky or local options.

You should find Van Dobben’s Lunch Room, try the kroket or the bitterballen, of course add mustard. Doesn’t look like much but real Dutch, and it sure as heck beats McDonalds for fast food.

If you insist on fast food, and prefer to get if even faster, make sure you have some Euro coins and stop by one of the FeBo, eat out of the wall " restaurants". Here is one smack downtown. My favorite is the "frikandel". Quintessential dutch, not found anywhere else in the world. Yes, go for it! Bring coins, or feed a bill into the coin changer in the store. No service required...

When looking for dutch food, eat Indonesian food. This restaurant is slightly off the beaten path, but one a few minutes walk from Leidse Plein:
Kartika, Overtoom 68IV, 1054 HL Amsterdam, Netherlands

If you just try dutch food, try Haesje Claes, it is a pretty place, with old decor and in a very nice part of town to wander about. Don't forget to finish up with a drink in one of the cafe's around the Spui:
Haesje Claes Restaurant, Spuistraat 275, 1012 VR Amsterdam, Netherlands

Personally, I would go and find places like the one below where you can (weather permitting of course) sit outside on the canal, have some drinks and enjoy the city:
CafĂ© Het Molenpad, Prinsengracht 653, 1016 XD Amsterdam, Netherlands
https://goo.gl/maps/Mcz7uyv8cz9zRmhe6. To find other places like this, just wander about, or look at a map. Find areas outside the tourist center of the city, for example, walk around the Jordaan area, or wander down to Amsterdam Oud-West and De Pijp. Lots of local "eet cafe" with a small menu, a good glass of beer and some authentic atmosphere.

And if you are looking for a place to have a coffee or tea, with a view, this is nice (walk through the place to the deck on the canal): Cafe de Jaren.

Fish. Yes, you are near the Noordzee, so there is lots of seafood to be eaten. Small shrimp, as well as world famous herring (haring). It is eaten raw with onions, especially when the new harvest comes in. You will see fish vendors around the city, in trailers selling things. A good snack is also a simple deep fried white fish (often cod). Good snack.

Beer: don't order a Heineken! No, there is nothing wrong with Heineken, it will taste nicely, but you don't order a brand of beer, you order, well, a beer. Most bars are owned by a brewery and these bars will have the brew that comes with the owner. So if you see Heineken signs outside, that is the lager beer they will serve. Grolsch, yup, you'll get that. And then most of them will have a beer menu that will have the latest stuff you all know and love: IPAs (yup, Heineken will have one), Hefeweizen, Wit Bier and more. A summer drink that will be refreshing and almost everywhere is a Ratler. Beer with lemonade. Comes in 2.5% or 0.0% alcohol.

Places to go and See

While walking around, you will wander past or over Spui. Right there, hidden behind a bunch of doors is Het Begijnhof. It a small square, with a church and houses for the nuns, who used to live there. It is amazingly quiet and very quaint. Makes for nice pictures.

If you want a dose of Rembrandt, but cannot muster the courage to brave the Rijksmuseum, visit the Rembrandt Huis. And while there, stop by Cafe de Sluyswacht. The combo will give you culture and a fun place to have a drink. Keep in mind it is very small, but the outside if fun and you are literally on the locks. Or you can visit the Westerkerk, where the man is buried.

Of course, either the Van Gogh or the Rijks are a must see. Very different, very nice, often very busy as well. So plan well and go early or late.

For some dutch history, and to see an "original" VOC ship, go to the Scheepvaartmuseum. After that you'll understand a bit about dutch history and why Indonesian food is so prevalent in the country. To get there, just walk down the Prins Hendrikkade from Central Station.

Don't forget to go the red light district, but I would recommend to go during the day or morning instead of evening. And ignore the windows, instead look up. This is the oldest part of town, and the streets are narrow, the houses pretty and it should make for a real nice walk across the canals.'

Het Vondelpark, think Central Park, but in Amsterdam. Short walk from the Leidse Plein, and a very nice park to just walk around, sit in and hang.

I would also do a canal tour. Probably a tourist trap, but I would still do it. You will get the real Amsterdam perspective, from the water. You will understand why the canals are designed as they are, why all those houses have those hooks on the top, and just enjoy the water. If you can find a private boat, and enjoy it with a drink, even better!

Just for giggles, if you are at Central Station (CS), try and find one of the bike parking lots. Makes for great instagram moments... also, find one of the local markets, I would recommend the Albert Cuyp Markt in De Pijp.

Music: both Paradiso and De Melkweg are great live music venues. Many of the greats have played them.

Some other ideas, just outside the city, or a short train ride away:
  • Zaanse Schans (windmills!!) - see a nice row of windmills a short distance to the north of Amsterdam 
  • Alkmaar - cheese!! - see an "original" cheese market at the Cheese Museum and join the tourists to run around with cheese
  • Volendam and Marken - see the original fisherman's towns on the Zuiderzee (now IJselmeer)
  • Den Haag - seat of parliament. Definitely a nice place to visit, just take the train and while at the parliament visit the Maurits Huis to see the Girl with the Pearl Earring. Find an Indonesian restaurant here...
  • Den Bosch - 1 hour south by train. Old city on the water line, here definitely take the boat tour. Quite cool!
Lots of other things to do and see of course, for the engineers, visit Neeltje Jans, the work island for the dam (Oosterscheldekering) that closes the sea arm during major storms. Amazing and well worth a visit but you probably need a car to get there. Maastricht, a nice old roman city with a beautiful old city is 2 1/2 hours away by train. Worth it, but if you are doing a day trip, it is a long train ride to go back and forth. I would pick places closer to Amsterdam unless you are going to stay for 2 days or so in Maastricht.

Where to Stay

In the city, as close to the center as possible. Any other questions?

Ok, if you want a hotel, try to find something on the canals. The Rennaissance Amsterdam is a cute place, and it has (used to have) a car lift. Quite an experience to hop in the elevator with your car. It is a chain, of course, which means it is probably in your corporate travel portal and it is a good choice as a business hotel. Close to the station, and it has a fun hotel bar in the round tower. Also close to loads of food options. There are a lot of other hotels, the Amsterdam Marriott is not a bad place either. Definitely easier to get to with a car, and closer to the airport when taking car or taxi. But not even close to the charm of the Renaissance and other canal locations. If you are staying overnight at Schiphol, it might make sense to stay at the airport. Easy train ride into the city and back. I did stay at the Park Place Victoria as well. Not bad. Has seen better days, but a cheap option in the travel portal and very close to CS and therefore easy to get to from Schiphol Airport.

Practical Stuff

Bring your own shopping bag. When you go to the super market bring a bag or you will pay for that beautiful blue and white Albert Heyn bag. And if you go into one that has shopping cards, you may need a 1 Euro or 50 Euro Cent coin to unlock that shopping card. You'll get it back once you return the card. For all stores, bags cost money, so just find a thing foldable bag at Blokker, Xenos or any store for a few bucks and carry it throughout Europe. 

Restroom (WC) breaks cost money! Imagine you are wandering around De Beijenkorf (think Nordstrom for those from the US), and you have to go. Well, you have to pay! So bring coins because you will be paying 50 cents or a Euro to go. Yes, welcome to the Netherlands. So, whenever you have a coffee or a drink somewhere, make sure you also go do your numbers one or two.

The country runs on Debit or ATM cards. Whenever you see "Pinnen" it means they accept the ATM card. Credit cards work in many places, but if you somehow can figure out how to get a local ATM card, you will be king or queen. Makes taking the train much simpler as well.

Trams and busses are the best way to cart around Amsterdam. You can buy a 24-hour day ticket in the tram, or longer period cards the bus and in a number of locations (AKO bookstores sell them for example). Note that they work on GVB (The city transportation agency) busses and the trams. Not on other busses owned by other vendors like Connexxion. Main use would be the tram, especially if you choose to stay a little further on the edges of the city. For kids between 4 - 11 you can buy a kids ticket that matches your own 24 hour or longer ticket for a reduced fare. Generally, if you stay for more than a day, get a multi-day pass. It is just simpler to hop onto trams when you feel like it and cheaper over a full day.

When buying train tickets in Schiphol, have a look at this brief post, and keep in mind that trains will get you through most of the country in 2-3 hours one-way. The cities mentioned earlier are easy reachable with a direct train ride. For example, Alkmaar is 34 or 37 minutes, on a direct intercity train.

If you plan to take a bike (hem, maybe rent it, don't do as everyone else and literally take one!), make sure you pay some attention to the bike traffic lights, and figure out where you bike. Don't run into a tram, make sure you cross the tram tracks in a 90-degree angle to avoid falling or getting stuck in them, and make sure you realize that the other bikers are used to biking in traffic. Hand signals help, so signal your left and right turns, so other can anticipate your moves.

Wooden shoes. They are a commodity. But in Amsterdam and at Schiphol they go for tourist prizes. If you have the chance to go outside the city, try to find a farming store or a place that sells things for the flower industry. They probably sell clogs for cheap, as the farmers actually use them.


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