there are two types of tourists in amsterdam: the ones who fall in love with this little city somewhere between late afternoon bike rides through the vondelpark, sipping cappuccinos and forking into appel taart in sleepy canal-side cafés, and climbing the steep stairs to the annex at the anne frank huis. then there are the ones who spend their time in amsterdam popping in and out of its coffeeshops, bars, and nightclubs and who hardly remember a thing about their time spent here.
for those who fall into the former category, this guide will be more helpful for you than those who fall into the latter! my advice to all first-timers is to spend most of your time away from the very center of amsterdam. if you’re seeking to experience the city like a local, neighborhoods such as de pijp and de jordaan have a more “authentic” vibe and offer a wide variety of restaurants, markets, and shops.
museums and culture
if you’re planning on getting a taste of some of amsterdam’s world class museums, start early! the anne frank huis maintains a line out the door for the entire day, and from 9am to 3:30pm only those who made online ticket reservations are able to enter, so this is something to plan in advance or try your luck after 3:30pm when ticket sales re-open at the museum itself. the rijksmuseum, home to rembrandt’s “nachtwatch” and vermeer’s “milkmaid,” and the van gogh museum are also beautiful museums, but it is best to go as early as possible to get an unobstructed view of the works there.
if you’ve been to amsterdam before or are looking for alternative museum experiences, try the stedelijk which showcases modern and contemporary art, the FOAM photography museum, or the hermitage museum which houses exhibitions in collaboration with the hermitage museum in saint petersburg. the amsterdam museum focuses on the history of the city of amsterdam itself, while the red light museum is a more racy but similarly interesting choice for those looking for some unique stories to bring home. the nieuwe kerk often hosts exhibitions throughout the year, past examples including one ancient rome and on marilyn monroe.
spending hours traipsing through museums can certainly help you work up an appetite! for brunch, try lavinia goodfood, vinnie’s, or the breakfast club (try the buckwheat pumpkin pancakes!) which all have a variety of breakfast and lunch and vegan/vegetarian options. if you’re in the mood for coffee and quick bite, try caffè il momento in the jordaan, lot sixty-one coffee on kinkerstraat, the cloud gallery which serves as a cafe, a gallery, and a workspace on the nine streets, or toki off the bustling harlemmerdijk.
if it’s later in the day, try phutakun for what I believe is the best thai food in amsterdam, venus and adonis for luxury surf & turf, poke perfect for hawaiian poke bowls, or rose’s cantina for yummy mexican and cocktails. also, broodje bert is a super yummy stop for sandwiches and salads (try the goat cheese, honey and walnut!) and de bolhoed serves wholesome vegan and vegetarian fare, amazing desserts, and has a super cozy and eclectic vibe.
if it’s a saturday, you absolutely cannot miss the noordermarkt in jordaan. search for treasures among the stalls of locally made foods, antiques, vintage clothing, books, and nearly everything else under the sun. while you’re there, stop by winkle 43 for a coffee and a slice of their famed appel taart with whipped cream.
from there, head to the picturesque harlemmerdijk and spend some time weaving in and out of its wide variety of shops. for even more shopping, head to the 9 straatjes, or nine streets, district which is also known for its shopping, restaurants, and gorgeous canal views. if it rains or you simply want to sit, duck into the café de pels for a beer or a bite to eat. in de pijp, check out the eerste van der helststraat, and shops such as YAY health, anna + nina, and indianaweg 10 (my favorite vintage shop in amsterdam).
also, don’t forget to check out the de hallen! this former train depot is a gigantic dynamic space housing a food market, local goods market, café, work studios, and unique shops. grab a bite to eat at the foodhallen and then peek into the gathershop!
not that kind of green
in the summer, pack a picnic and take a bike ride through the vondelpark in the museumplein, the sarphatipark in de pijp, or the westerpark and relax amongst the leafy trees and ponds. in the winter, check out the horticus botanicus, amsterdam’s indoor botanical garden. if you’re staying for longer than a few days in the spring or summer, consider a night at a dutch bnb in the countryside, or go on a day trip to the keukenhof gardens to cycle amongst the tulip fields.
when the sun goes down
after a busy day of traipsing around the city, consider catching a film at the filmtheater de uitkijk, a show at the comedy club boom chicago, or a concert at the famous concertgebouw. if you’re looking for more of a night out, start with drinks at bar weber then take your pick of the many, many nightclubs that keep the leidseplein up all night.
tips and tricks
amsterdam is an incredibly dynamic and diverse city, but it is also very small, so instead of paying for expensive public transport passes, rent a bike or go by foot! with a bike you get a special kind of freedom and see the city in the most efficient way possible. oh, but please do be mindful of bike etiquette, locals take biking very seriously and there is literally nothing worse to them than groups of tourists on bikes!
some of the best experiences I’ve had in this city have been the result of aimless wandering. take your camera, grab some snacks from albert heijn and consider picking up a book at the abc bookstore and just enjoy being in this beautiful little city! you don’t have to go everywhere to see everything to truly enjoy amsterdam, I found that the hours I spent writing and reading while sitting on the canal in the jordaan were truly some of the most magical times I spent in the city.
I hope you love amsterdam as much as I do and feel free to send me an email or a message on instagram if you have any questions!