A Local’s Guide on Things to Do in Amsterdam

Are you looking for tips on things to do in Amsterdam?

As part of our city guides series, we interviewed Monique Rubin, who has lived in The Netherlands and traveled to Amsterdam for 14 years.

Monique shares with us her insider tips on the best things to see and do in Amsterdam, plus recommendations on where to stay, eat, drink, and explore.

things to do in amsterdam

Why Visit Amsterdam?

Amsterdam is home to roughly 750,000 inhabitants is proof positive that good things come in small packages.

There are more museums per capita in Amsterdam than any other European city and its city center has thousands of protected historic buildings, including the famously narrow, lofty former merchants’ houses by the canals.

There are also a number of wonderful attractions, gorgeous parks and trendy neighborhoods teeming with shops, restaurants, and cafes.

Things to Do in Amsterdam

Amsterdam is known as the “Venice of the North” because it has so many canals, and a canal boat tour is a great way to see some of them, including the four main ones – Singel, Keizersgracht, Herengracht and Prinsengracht – which are on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The Anne Frank Museum, housed in the building where Anne and her family lived in hiding during World War II, is an absolute must.

The Museumplein is where you’ll find the world-famous Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum, as well as the city’s contemporary art museum, the Stedelijk.

Though both the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh museums are currently under renovation, a wing of the Rijksmuseum is still open, where some of its most famous works are displayed, including Rembrandt’s “Night Watch”, and the museum reopens entirely in spring 2013.

I also recommend the Hermitage Museum and the Tassenmuseum (Museum of Handbags and Purses).

Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/joanet/5797835372/
Image: [email protected]

Best Neighborhoods to Explore in Amsterdam

I like to wander around the old Jewish quarter, Jodenbuurt, where you’ll find the Waterlooplein fleamarket, held daily, Rembrandt’s House, the Portuguese-Israelite Synagogue and the Jewish Historical Museum.

The New East is the old dockland area on the River Ij which run alongside Amsterdam is an up and coming area where you’ll find Jamie Oliver’s restaurant Fifteen and the museums NEMO and the Scheepvartmuseum (Dutch Maritime Museum).

Where to Eat in Amsterdam

  • The city’s best fries can be found at Vleminckx
  • Be sure to get a dollop of slagroom (whipped cream) on your Appelgebak (apple cake) from Café Winkel 43 
  • Fresh Stroopwafel from Albert Cuyp market are absolutely devine.
  • Housed in an enormous greenhouse, De Kas (greenhouse in Dutch) serves organic, healthy dishes with the emphasis on fresh produce.
  • Go to Blauw for traditional Indonesian cuisine served in trendy setting. The rijsttafel (rice table) is a must.
  • The best sandwiches in Amsterdam can be found at Singel 40 and for as little as €5. The sandwich with avocado, smoked chicken, sun-dried tomatoes and melted brie is a definite winner.
things to do in amsterdam
Vleminckx fries. credit: tastytouring

Where to Drink in Amsterdam

  • Enjoy a beer at Brouwerij t’IJ, also known as the brewery at De Gooyer Windmill, is the small brewery found in the former Funen bathhouse next to the windwill.
  • Reservations are a must at the exclusive cocktail bar, Door 74, as well as a discerning eye, because there is nothing that indicates from the outside that it’s a cocktail bar, such as a sign or open door, just the house number 74 and a door bell.
  • Bar Lux is a popular place to hang out and grab a cocktail before going to a club.

Best Place for a Night on the Town in Amsterdam

Get an amazing meal and spectacular views of Amsterdam at Ciel Blu, a 2-Michelin star restaurant on the 23rd floor of Hotel Okura, then dance the night away at Jimmy Woo, the stylish nightclub where you can see Holland’s BWers (famous people).

Places to Stay in Amsterdam

Some of the accommodations I recommend are the Flying Pig Hostel and Hotel The Neighbour’s Magnolia which is located on a quiet residential neighborhood across from Amsterdam’s Vondelpark and the Park Plaza Victoria. Both great for families.

For more high-end options I like the Hotel Pulitzer and the Conservatorium.

If you’re craving a unique and local experience consider booking with Airbnb. Click here to view available apartments and homes during your stay to Amsterdam. 

Markets and Shopping in Amsterdam

Waterlooplein flea market and the Albert Cuyp market are a must.

The bloemenmarkt (flower market) is a floating flower market situated on barges on the Singel Canal is filled with an impressive array of plants and flowers, including the famous Dutch tulips.

De Negen Straatjes or 9 streets is a wonderful shopping area in the heart of Amsterdam filled with boutiques, jewelers, specialty shops, bars, cafes and restaurants. It is the perfect place to spend a day shopping.

things to do in Amsterdam
Image: zac mc

Events and Festivals in Amsterdam

There are close to 100 festivals in Amsterdam every year, including Amsterdam Roots Festival, Amsterdam Pride, De Parade, Uitmarkt Amsterdam and Holland Festival.

There are also a number of festivals which are outside of Amsterdam, but still easy to get to such as, Parkpop in The Hague and North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam.

Tours, Sightseeing & Passes

Viator is the industry leader when it comes to tours, activities, tickets and passes with a list of hand-picked tours and things to do in Amsterdam from local insiders.

Check out their hop-on-hop-off tour.

Getting Around Amsterdam

The trams and buses in Amsterdam are quite efficient and go everywhere. But because the city is so small, walking is actually the best way to get around, or if you want to go Dutch, hop on a bike.

things to do in amsterdam
Image:  TXMagpie

Finding WiFi in Amsterdam

Free WIFI is available at a number of cafes around the city such as Bagels & Beans, and of course McDonald’s and Starbucks.

I suggest going to the Starbucks on Rembrandtplein which is the biggest in Europe and located in the historic Amsterdamshce Bank building, or to the Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam (Amsterdam Public Library) where you not only get free wifi, but also a look at the largest public library in Europe which has received awards for its intelligent, ecological design.

For other places in Amsterdam that offer free WIFI, check www.wifi-amsterdam.nl.

Best Time to Visit Amsterdam

The best time of year to visit Amsterdam is the spring so that you can take a day trip to Keukenhof to see the tulips or autumn. In autumn, the weather is often nicer than it is during the summer and it is much less crowded.

things to do in amsterdam
tulips at Keukenhof. Image:  Toni Escuder

Favorite Side trip from Amsterdam

My favorite side trip from Amsterdam would be a full day in Rotterdam. It takes less than an hour on the train, and the city has a totally different vibe: contemporary, gritty and much more ethnically diverse.

Getting There and Away?

You can always find reasonable airfares to Amsterdam on EasyJet and Transavia.

Amsterdam is an easy 20-minute train ride from the airport. Trains, especially hi-speed ones are a great option for those traveling from Belgium, Paris or even some places in Germany and the ferry is an easy option from those traveling from the UK.

Best insiders tip for Amsterdam

For a panoramic view of the city, go to the sloped-roof terrace of NEMO Science Center. Take a (free) boat ride across the River IJ to North Amsterdam. Be mindful of trams AND bikes.

things to do in amsterdam
NEMO science center. Image:   redjar

I love Amsterdam because?

It’s everything I could want or need, all wrapped up in one pretty, little package.

Plan Your Trip to Amsterdam

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BIO: Monique Rubin is a freelancer and the travel blogger behind Mo Travels where she shares her journeys about travel from the Netherlands to Zanzibar. She’s also a big social media enthusiast and can be found on twitter and facebook.

Do you have any tips on things to do in Amsterdam? Share in the comments.

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