Amsterdam is bursting with an incredible amount of culture, so here is a handy guide to make the most of your time in the city.
We dedicated a healthy three days to explore the Dutch capital. I was pretty overwhelmed when I began researching ‘things to do’ as I was presented with so many options. Museums, galleries, landmarks, markets, parks, boat trips, walking tours… It’s meant to have more culture per capita than any other city in the world. Yeah, I know!
We finally turned a long list into a short list, which will hopefully save you the hours of planning!
1. First things first, stroll the Canals
One of the most recognisable features of Amsterdam has to be its canals. It’s known as ‘Venice of the North’ for good reason. In fact, it surpasses Venice by quite a bit. It has over 1200 bridges and around 60 miles of canals, which is triple the amount of Venice. Amsterdam is the most watery city in the world and the ingenious system finally became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010.
Don’t plan. Just wander. Explore. Walk over bridges. Stop. Take pictures. Every corner surprised me. Every bit of the city is individual, wonky and odd.
TIP: Be careful of the bikes. There are more bikes than people and they pass you at speed.
2. Grab a bargain at Waterlooplein Market
Amsterdam likes their flea markets. And boy do I too! Around 300 stalls are crushed together lining the streets with a myriad of products. From bicycles, jewellery, antiques and clothing. You could potter for hours and pick up some bargains along the way.
TIP: They start packing up a bit earlier than closing time so get there a couple hours before.
3. Hop on the waterways
We took a boat trip with Lovers Cruises during the Light Festival. Installations lit up the waterway. We slowly navigated the canals for 90 minutes as the audio tour shared history. For example, Amsterdam got its name from the river Amstel and the dam that was built in 1220. The tour pointed out dozens of Museums and showed us the thinnest house in Amsterdam. It’s one window thick. This is well worth your time!
TIP: Book in advance and turn up early so you can have a pick of the seats.
4. Admire the Royal Palace
The building originally opened as a town hall in 1655, until Louis Napoleon decided it was to become his personal palace in 1806. It’s still actively used by the royals today. Believe it or not, the sandstone walls were originally white. The material doesn’t age well and has given the Palace a dirty yellow tone. You can even enter the Palace if you want but we were quite happy to admire from the outside.
TIP: Terrible costumed characters outside expect you to take their picture for a fee. Avoid!
5. Surprise yourself at Body Worlds
As you all know, I’m a big Museum buff. I like the interactive and the unusual and this really does hit the mark. If you’re interested in the human body (who isn’t?) and you aren’t too squimish, then this is a must visit. 200 plastinated human bodies, organs and muscles are displayed on every floor. Plastination is where real bodies are preserved for research and education purposed. You really will learn something new about your health and happiness, and it’s basically a skip, hop and a jump from the train station.
TIP: Be sure you have the stomach to stomach this!
6. Have an authentic beer at Brouwerij ‘t IJ
The pub you can see in this picture feels very authentic not only because it’s part of a gigantic windmill, but also because it has an impressive selection of beers. My fella was a happy chappy. The pub was full of locals chit chatting amongst friends, all seated on long wooden tables. It felt grass roots, communal and they even had yummy sausages and cheese on sale.
TIP: The Dapper Markt runs right next to this and is worth a quick browse.
7. Get a birds eye view at SkyLounge
This roof top bar overlooks the city and is one of the best spots for a skyline view. The bar prices are very expensive so we ordered one cocktail each, the cheapest of course, and made that liquid last! We had no problem finding a seat right next to the window and even ventured onto the terrace for a clearer, albeit colder, view.
TIP: Time your visit just before sunset so you get two for one on views. Day and night.
8. Take a moment to reflect at Vondelpark
Most of the time we are frantically running around a city with a long list of things to do. Yes it’s thrilling but it is also exhausting. That’s why I loved visiting Vondelpark. It allowed us time away from our madness, as we took it slow exploring the park. The trees were bare and the ground was brown, which all added to the wintery feel. Also, SO MANY DOGS. This seems to be the place to walk your pet and I was living for it!
TIP: Keep a look out for beautiful wildlife resting in the trees and on the water.
9. Go back in time at Zaanse Schans
Want a traditional experience? Something off the beaten track? Well Zaanse Schans is your answer and is SO worth the 60 minutes journey to North Holland. It’s just a couple of trains and a short walk. No biggie.
Zaanse Schans is a ye olde Dutch town, which takes you back a good couple hundred years when life was slower and simpler. Little green houses line the bridged streets, costumed characters roam the town and windmills perch beside the shimmering river. There’s lots of quaint shops where we made our own hot chocolate and watched a clog making demonstration. I still can’t quite understand how wooden shoes are comfortable… It was the perfect place for a lovely stroll even in the chilly January winds.
TIP: Make sure you give yourself at least half a day here to properly relax.
10. Tuck in at Foodhallen
Foodhallen is by far the coolest place in Amsterdam. It’s a bit like Trinity Kitchen in Leeds but a smidge classier. There was a good selection of food on offer but it was incredibly busy and turned into a bit of a competition for a seat. Nothing a little patience couldn’t solve. It was also a nice opportunity to see a new district of Amsterdam.
TIP: I’d avoid visiting in large groups during the weekend to be honest. Seating is a nightmare, even for two people.
There you have it!
The great thing about Amsterdam is that there is so much to do. The iconic architecture makes this city incredibly instagrammable and the culture is practically bursting at the seams. I visited for a day in 2013 and saw the Red Light District and Anne Frank’s House, which are other places I would recommend too!
It is easy to hop across the channel and immerse yourself in the Dutch Capital’s culture. The perfect short European trip.
Have you been before? Did you find this guide useful? I’d love to hear your comments below.
Additional image credits: SkyLounge and Trip Advisor Body Worlds