For the price of stay-cationing in the UK its almost as financially sound to look further a field to *whispers* is it safe to mention Europe yet? With flights to major European cities costing the same if not cheaper than a return trip to London (or Blackpool!), flashing my passport, donning a hand luggage sized suitcase for 3 nights and booking in some city break sight seeing is the best idea a gal could have.
Amsterdam may be the sin city of the EU, but don’t let it’s unsavoury reputation fool you; It’s rich history, architecture, open skyline, food and relaxed, easy going attitude towards life has won itself a place in my heart and over the years I’ve headed back to the city three times. I’ve spent numerous hours exploring the city, walking firstly with map in hand like an eager tourist and then allowing the my feet to take me wherever the road may lead. I’ve partaken in one two many dutch beers with a local dr, got stuck into the local cuisine and even dabbled in some of the cities better known attractions.
Even after my third visit, there’s still so much of Amsterdam that’s still fairly untapped but if a few days is all you have or you’re contemplating a visiting, I’ve rounded up a couple of tips and must sees for an Amsterdam City Guide.
Getting There & Getting About
Weekend breaks are always going be popular because it means you can cash in on not having to use as much sacred annual leave but financially and sanity wise, you’re much better off booking midweek. Flights are notoriously cheaper midweek, as well as accommodation and after visiting both midweek and at the weekend, I found the influx of long weekend tourists noticeable and queues for attractions and the streets themselves were much busier.
I actually hate the thought of dropping hundreds of pounds on a hotel for a city break. It’s not that I’m tight and don’t want to spend money on quality accommodation, but for a 3 day break all I really need is a clean bed to lay my head, shower and be in a centralish enough location to explore is completely feasible. Hotels in Amsterdam I found to be pretty pricey unless you don’t mind bunking up in a mixed dorm or sharing a toilet with Hanz from Berlin (sorry, Hanz). Our last Airbnb was an absolute bargain, was smack bang in the centre of the Jordaan district (more on that later) and we were hosted in a private annexe by the most accommodating couple who provided us foodie recommendations, must drink in pubs and greeted us with freshly baked cake. What more could you want?
You can often save yourself quite a few euros by ditching the airport transfers and private taxis and make use of the public transport links in and around the city. The Connexxion Amsterdam Airport Express stops right outside Schiphol Airport Plaza (look for the 197 bus), has an easy to spot ticket vendor AT the bus stop and costs just €10 for a return trip or €5 for the single. With 6 buses an hour both to and from the airport, you’re not going to be stood around for long and the bus takes only 30 minutes from Schiphol Plaza to the centre of Amsterdam and has a number of stops along the way including Museumplein, Rijksmuseum and Leidseplein.
If you’re using public transport in Amsterdam and beyond, you’ll need to pick yourself up a travel pass (OV-chipkaart) which can be used for travel on trams, buses and metros. The most convenient option for visitors is a disposable one-hour card for those one off trips when your boots just aren’t made for walking or a day pass which has you covered for 1-7 days (dependent on the length of your stay) and started at just €7.50. One-hour tickets can be bought from the conductor or driver on the tram or bus and day tickets can be bought on the tram or purchased in advance.
What to See & Do
Take a Tour
Whether its a walking tour or a canal boat tour, the best way to get a feel for any city is to quite simply, explore it and Amsterdam is no different. Pop on your comfortable shoes and grab yourself a map (if you want to) and take in the beautiful architecture, boutique shops, quirky places to eat whilst soaking up the history of the city and its famous landmarks such as the dancing houses, Westerkerk and Vondelpark to name just a few. Canal Tours operate throughout the day (and evening if you’re after a romantic tour of the canals under the stars). You can pick up tickets at various kiosks around the city but the majority of tours leave from a central point just off Damrak.
Anne Frank House
The Anne Frank House at Prinsengracht 263 in Amsterdam is where Anne penned her now infamous diary that documented the two years she spent in hiding with her family for more than two years during World War II. Anne Frank sadly died of typhus in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and the former factory has now been converted into a sobering museum and exhibition about the persecution of the Jews during the war as well as the history of Anne and her family. A must, must visit if you’re in the city and such an integral part of Amsterdam’s history. The Anne Frank House has also released a mobile app that encourages you to take to the streets and learn about wartime Amsterdam, Anne’s childhood and her friends and family.
National Holocaust Museum
If you’re visiting the Anne Frank Museum, you can learn more about the true horror of the Holocaust in Amsterdam by taking a trip to the National Holocaust Museum (Hollandsche Schouwburg). Today the Hollandsche Schouwburg is a monument and war memorial, but prior to the the Second World War it was a popular, luxurious theatre in the centre of the vibrant Jewish neighbourhood. Nazi occupiers turned the theatre into a prison and a deportation centre. Between 1942 and 1943 around 80.000 Jews were obliged to report here before being deported. Today an exhibition and a memorial commemorate the victims from the holocaust and honours the memories of all that were held here against their will.
Beer, Beer, Beer
If you love beer, then you’re gonna love the ‘dam. As well as the Heinken Museum (which is certainly worth a visit) Amsterdam is full of little boozers in the backstreets and of course, canal side for your to stop and enjoy a glass of the cold stuff whilst watching the world go by and of course, my favourite past time… people watching.
Speaking of beer and people watching you can’t go round in the residential neighbourhood of the Jordaan district. The Jordaan begins at Brouwersgracht, just west of Centraal Station, and arches around the Canal Ring between Prinsengracht and Lijnbaansgracht before ending at the Leidsegracht. Traditionally, the Jordaan was defined by the area in which you could hear the bells of Westerkerk – as described by Anne Frank in her diaries. The Jordaan is is home to a number of traditional and trendy bars and restaurants which makes it the perfect place to stay if you’re looking for an authentic stay away from the business of the centre.
Highlights: Winkel 43 (for the apple pie), Cafe Nol (for music and beer) and Burgers Patio (for food – not just burgers, surprisingly)
Red Light District
Yep, you’ve heard of the Red Light District. Yep, everything you heard is true. Yep, there’s naked women under the glow of a red light enticing potential punters in in exchange for euro and YEP, what you think happens behind those curtains happens and more so. If the thought of such an area fills you with intrigue then this lady lined canal really comes alive in the evening and is worth a visit if not to just tick off your “must see” lists.
If you’re heading to Amsterdam, you’ll wanna see a windmill or two, right? De Gooyer Windmill was built in 1725 and is the tallest wooden mill in the Netherlands. Prior to being damaged in a storm of 1972, De Gooyer was used as a corn mill. Forget your thoughts of fields and windmills, De Gooyer is smack bang next to a road, a canal and IJ Brewery next door which means you can sample one of Amsterdam’s best beers whilst taking in a national landmark. Sweet.
If you’re looking for a caffeine shot, this may not be the kinda coffee shop you’re looking for. Amsterdam is known for is it’s legalisation of “soft” drugs such as marijuana, and coffeeshops have been a part of the city since the 1970’s and the cities 200+ coffeeshops pull in hundreds of thousands of tourists a year. This Amsterdam “rite of passage” may not be your bag but even if you’re not going to take a toke (see how street I am?) they’re fascinating for people watching and some do actually do decent coffee. As well as cakes – be careful of those though!
Highlights: Coffeeshop La Tertulia (picturesque and wonderful peppermint tea), Rockland (a stoners throw – HAHA – from Dam Square) and Spirit (pot and pinball machines)
Albert Cuyp Market
I wrote an entire post about the Top 5 things to eat at Albert Cuyp Market (yep, I had to narrow it down to 5). The market itself is a real mish mash of antiques, fashion and food but is home to some amazing authentic dutch dishes such as Kibbeling and Stroopwaffels. Located in the 19th-century Amsterdam neighbourhood of Museumplein, the cafes and restaurants surrounding the 260+ stalls give the area a lively and varied character and are the perfect place to sit with a beer (La Chouffe or Wiekse are my personal picks) or a glass of wine and soak in the atmosphere.