10 Awesome Things You Should Do in Amsterdam
There are so many awesome things to do in Amsterdam. But as a traveler visiting a new city for just a few days, it can be hard deciding how to divide your time. There's nothing worse than reflecting on a trip and feeling like you misused your time or missed seeing something.
When I look back on my time in Amsterdam, I really have no regrets on how I spent it. The city is like nowhere else I've ever visited in Europe and I was fortunate enough to share this experience with three of my closest friends. In no particular order, here are the things I think everyone should do when visiting Amsterdam.
Rent a Bike
I know I just said this list is in no particular order, but I cannot stress how serious I am about this one. Renting a bike might be THE BEST choice I made while in Amsterdam. Having a bike allows you to get around the city quickly and easily, while saving money by not ever having to take a cab.
The city is flat, so riding around is a breeze. Are you worried about your safety while biking in the busy streets? Don't be. I was pretty freaked out about it at first, but felt really comfortable once we started riding. The roads are designed bike friendly and easy to navigate. Multiple locals I spoke to said that the cars actually fear the bicyclists because there are so many of them. While riding around, I could see how true it was — bikes rule this city.
Spend the Morning at Albert Cuyp Market
I LOVE visiting markets around the world! When I'm in a new city, seeking out local markets is one of the first items on my agenda. Hop on that bike of yours first thing in the morning and head over to Albert Cuyp Market, located in the heart of De Pijp.
You can lock your bike in one of the many bike racks along the side streets and then stroll the market by foot. Spanning about four blocks or so, the market has tons of fresh produce, local meats & cheese, flowers, souvenirs and much more. I suggest setting aside 1-2 hours for exploring the market.
Walk, or Bike, Through Vondelpark
Vondelpark reminds me a lot of San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. This is another great place to visit on your rental bike. The park is quite large, so a bike-ride through is best for covering a lot of ground.
Cruise through the lush, green landscape and find a nice spot to pull over and observe the scenery for a bit. You'll see locals exercising, playing sports, and just hanging out on the grass with friends. Stop at a market on your way to the park and pick up some snacks - it's the perfect place for a picnic!
Take a Canal Boat Tour
I generally try to avoid touristy activities, but this one was totally worth it. You'll see a ton of different companies around Amsterdam offering canal boat tours. Sure, you might have to ride on a cheesy boat that is packed with other tourists, but it's such a great way to see the city from a different angle.
Cruising around in a boat allows you to see parts of Amsterdam that you might otherwise miss. You'll wind through neighborhoods in the city's infamous canals and the tour guide onboard usually provides riders with an informative history lesson along the way. Our tour guide told us the city pulls nearly 20,000 bikes out from the bottom of the canals each year — that blew my mind.
Visit the Anne Frank House
I was 8 years old the first time I read The Diary of Anne Frank, and I've been intrigued by her and her story ever since. Visiting the Anne Frank House was most definitely at the top of my to-do list when I found out I'd be visiting Amsterdam.
Take a step inside the small, dark space where Anne and her family hid for over two years. I promise you will feel something, as well as learn a lot about a devastating time in history. Plan to spend around two hours at the Anne Frank House.
TRAVEL TIP: Buy your tickets to the Anne Frank House online before your trip. You'll see when you arrive, the line is hours long before the doors even open in the morning. We booked tickets for 8:30 a.m. and were immediately let in the doors upon our arrival — it saved us hours of time!
Live Like a Local
If possible, stay outside of the busy areas that are overflowing with tourists and immerse yourself into a quiet neighborhood surrounded by locals. We rented an apartment in Oud-Zuid, about one-block walking distance from Vondelpark.
I loved waking up in the morning and walking to the nearest cafe for coffee — a simple activity that ended up being such a special memory of Amsterdam. We'd enjoy our coffee with a breakfast sandwich, then people-watch as the Dutch started their day and headed off to work. Even if you're only visiting for a few days, nothing beats feeling like you are a resident rather than a tourist.
Check out a Coffee House
If you don't already know, coffee is not the specialty in Amsterdam's coffee houses. Even if the green stuff isn't exactly your thing, I suggest checking one out. I mean, you're in Amsterdam — you need to at least take a peek in and see what it's all about.
There are quite a few of them scattered throughout the city, some with better reputations than others. Park your bike outside, pop in and see what the hype is, even if you just want to be an observer. The environment is generally chill and relaxed — a great stop for a mid-day water break on your bike.
Try Traditional Dutch Foods
What would traveling be without treats? Do yourself a huge favor and try the many delicious culinary creations that Amsterdam has to offer. A few of my favorite Dutch treats are stroopwaffel, poffertjes and pickled herring. These items can all be found scattered throughout city at food stands on busy street corners. You're bound to come across one — or ten.
Strike a Pose in Front of the I-Amsterdam Sign
You know you want to. You can find one of these iconic signs at Museumplein, the home of the city's most famous museums. The signed is usually swarmed with people, so if you want a solo shot your best bet is early morning or late night.
I was also surprised to find a second I Amsterdam sign when I exited Schipol airport. So if you're traveling into Amsterdam by plane, you will have two photo ops. I found the airport sign to be much less crowded, so definitely take advantage of that one if you cross paths with it.
Attend Local Festivals & Events
I happened to be visiting the week of SAIL Amsterdam, the largest free nautical event in the world. Occurring only once every five years, it was plain to see how excited the locals were to see the thousands of ships sailing back into the city via the North Sea Canal. Click here to learn more about the festivals and events Amsterdam has to offer.
TRAVEL TIP: hen we booked our trip to Amsterdam, we had no idea this festival was going on — we actually didn't know about this festival until we showed up and our apartment host told us about it. Point of the story — it was nearly impossible to book an apartment during this week, and we had no idea why! Well, it was because people from all over the world were visiting Amsterdam for this festival. Keep festivals in mind when booking travel, as it can really affect the prices and availability of lodging.
I'm gonna guess that someone out there is thinking, but what about the museums? Yes, I know that Amsterdam has a few very famous museums.
On this trip, I received advice regarding the museums that really stuck with me. If you're really into these artists, go to the museum. If not, spend your time enjoying the city. So that's why you don't see any of the museums on the list.
No disrespect to the amazing art in Amsterdam, but I would much rather spend my time exploring the streets of a new city than being stuck in a building for hours on end. But that's the beauty of traveling — there is something for everyone! So if you are particularly interested in art, please do look into the incredible collection of museums in Amsterdam.
Have you been to Amsterdam? If so, what are your favorite things to do while visiting?