When it comes to city breaks, Amsterdam is one of the veritable classics. We all know about the intricate network of canals, the wonderfully wonky townhouses and the leafy parks, yet millions flock to the Dutch capital year upon year! But there’s a good reason for that – discover what makes Amsterdam so special with my guide to the city!
Sure, it’s not the most exotic destination in the world, but Amsterdam is just one of those cities that you have to see at least once in your life. The beautiful, quirky architecture gives the city a warm and charming character. Stroll along the streets and you’ll see people cycling on by, chilling on the terraces and hanging out in hip cafés. It’s a city where you can take things fast or slow!
If you’re planning a trip to Amsterdam soon – or you just fancy coming back one more time – then I’ve took it upon myself to put together a nifty little city break guide to Amsterdam. Discover the hip hangouts, trendy hoods and the best things to do and see in Amsterdam!
One reason that Amsterdam is so popular is because it really isn’t that far away from home at all! It takes less than two hours to get there, so just put your feet up, have a cheeky little nap and you’ll soon be touching down on Dutch soil in no time.
There are two airports that offer direct routes to Amsterdam. Dublin is the cheapest option with flights offered seven days a week – return flights with Ryanair can go for anywhere from €40 – €50 should you stick to the cheapest options on offer. You’ve also got the option to go with Aer Lingus as well for slightly more. As for Cork, the airport is also served by Aer Lingus – the cheapest flights tend to go for around €70 – €80.
From Amsterdam Schiphol Airport you’ve got several options when it comes to getting to central Amsterdam, but the best way is to get the train from Schiphol to Amsterdam Centraal Station, which takes only around 20 minutes and costs less than a fiver. Super easy and convenient really! You’ve also got the Amsterdam Airport Shuttles or taxis as well, but these will set you back a little more.
Amsterdam is a city that you can comfortably explore by foot. But I always recommend any visitor to the city to hire a bike. I always go by the motto of “Do as the locals do” after all! Look around and you’ll quickly be able to spot wicked deals for bike hire – you’re looking at an average price of around €8 – €10 per day. But once you start cycling you’ll soon realise why it’s the preferred mode of transportation here. The city is really flat with pretty much no hills to speak of, so even if you’re not in the greatest shape you’ll be able to zip around the city with ease. The infrastructure is essentially built around cycling with well-defined cycle lanes on every street. Once you get used to how the traffic flows, it really is a piece of cake. Just be careful of the tram lines though – I’ve known a few friends who got their wheels lodged in the tracks and suffered a nasty injury as a result!
On top of cycling you’ve also got a very good network of trams, subways and busses. Nifty if you need to get from one side of the city to the other in a jiffy, especially if your hotel is a little further out from the canal belt. You’ll be able to find information about the network over at the GVB’s website.
Essentials in Amsterdam
So, you’ve made it from the airport and you’re just settling down at your hotel and hostel… Chances are you’re rearing to go! There are bucketloads of things to see and do in the city, but I’ve put together a list of the proper essentials. Whether you’re a first-timer or a veteran, be sure you’ve crossed all of these from the list! ;)
One of Amsterdam’s main drawing points is its wealth of top-notch museums. Even if you feel like you’re not that clued up about history or art, it’s still something you just have to do. The Rijksmuseum is one of the city’s most famous attractions, drawing more than over 2 million visitors a year! Especially impressive is the hall dedicated to the works of Rembrandt, where you can admire the famous Night Watch up close. Oh, yeah – and you can get your picture taken at the Iamsterdam installation just outside. ;)
The world famous Van Gogh Museum presents the largest collection of the painter’s works and makes for a great experience, especially on a Friday evening – you’ll be able to enjoy a cocktail, music and awesome visuals show casing local talent alongside Van Gogh’s legendary masterpieces. They also provide free guided tours at 7pm on Fridays too. Art lovers will also love the Rembranthuis too – after all, he is considered to be one of the finest Dutch painters!
The Nemo Science Museum is also a great shout. Fantastic for children (or anyone who loves to be hands-on with science!), the interactive displays are a great way to spend a rainy afternoon. And if it’s a nice sunny day, then chill out on the roof terrace! There’s lots of seating and space, and it’s a cool little place to watch the goings-on in the harbour.
Gurutip: Of course I couldn’t write about Amsterdam’s museums without mentioning the Anne Frank Huis. But I really recommend that you buy tickets in advance online as queues can stretch for what feels like miles at the best of times. If you don’t want to face the long waiting times, but still want to get a few for Amsterdam’s Jewish heritage, then a visit to the excellent Jewish Historical Museum is a must.
Amsterdam’s Canal Belt & Red Light District
One of Amsterdam’s most defining features is its network of grachten – or canals. In fact there’s so many of them that it’s led to Amsterdam being given the nickname of “Venice of the North”. The city centre is contained with the so-called ‘canal belt‘, which you can easily recognise on maps by the concentric, semi-circular canals that loop around.
The centre of this circle is called De Wallen, and it’s also where you’ll find the infamous Red Light District. For many it’s another defining feature of the city, and it owes its existence to Amsterdam’s history as a major port of maritime trade. The Red Light District is actually quite a small area though, so you’ll be able all fairly quickly. What I find a bit bonkers is that there’s a massive church (and a daycare centre) right in the middle! I was told on a guided tour that sailors who paid a visit to the brothels would pop into De Oude Kerk afterwards to make up for their ‘sins’… Quite convenient really! ;)
But it’s not all about brothels and coffee shops here though! De Wallen as a whole is going through a transformation of sorts, with all sorts of trendy cafés, restaurants and shops opening up across the area. Grab a fantastic bite to eat at Mata Hari, browse the selection at Redlight Records, or have a swanky brunch at Cut Throat – and maybe get your hair cut there too! You’ve also got excellent opportunities for shopping as well.
Going back to the canals for a second – if you’re visiting when the weather’s nice, then book yourselves for a little cruise. You can put your feet up for a second and see the city from a completely new angle. Just sit back, relax, and enjoy the beautiful scenery!
Markets in Amsterdam
Markets make up a large part of daily life in the Amsterdam. Whether it’s just picking up a few tulips for your special someone or sourcing some of the finest local produce, the markets across Amsterdam are well-frequented and there’s one pretty much every day of the week. I’ve got a few personal recommendations for you here if you’re curious to experience some!
Amsterdam is great for shopping, but if you love picking up a real bargain then you’re in luck. Amsterdam boasts a fine flea market at the Waterlooplein sqaure. Here you’ll find hundreds of stalls to browse through, and the best bit is that it’s open 6 days a week. Another fantastic flea market is held at the IJHallen in Amsterdam Noord. This part of town is on the other side of the River IJ, but you can catch a ferry from Amsterdam Centraal Station to take you there. The market at IJHallen take place on a monthly basis, and it’s held in a massive industrial warehouse that adds to those cool hipster vibes. You have to pay entry, but because of the sheer size and range of what’s on offer at the stools, it’s more than worth it.
Another popular market is the floating Bloemenmarkt. This floating flower market is touristy at best, but it’s worth checking out just for the mind-boggling range of lovely tulips on offer.
Gurutip: If you want to get stuck into some awesome street food, then make your way to the Foodhallen, situated in the neighbourhood of Kinkerbuurt just to the south-east of the canal belt. It’s a super trendy little place that is loved by locals and offers pretty much everything you could imagine. Tacos, ramen, craft beers… you name it! Come on a Tuesday to experience their so-called Bands & Bites events, where you can enjoy live music as you enjoy the awesome food and wicked vibes.
Festivals in Amsterdam
There’s pretty much always something going on in Amsterdam, but there are two festivals that take place that you should try and experience if you ever get the chance to! The first is King’s Day, or Koningsdag, the national holiday of the Netherlands which takes place on the 27th of April. The whole city is transformed into a sea of orange, with locals decked head to toe in fancy dress and Dutch flags. There are street parties and flea markets all around the city, and you’ll find party-goers sailing along the canals.
Amsterdam is also a fantastic place to be during the winter as well. While the city doesn’t strictly have Christmas markets like other European cities, it’s still a super magical place to be thanks to the Amsterdam Light Festival, which takes place from December until January. Canals and bridges across the city feature eye-catching art displays that play with the concept of light – I recommend booking a night-time canal cruise to see the awesome artworks up close!
The best parks and green spaces in Amsterdam
If you’ve feeling a little tuckered out after all the sightseeing and cycling, then you’ll be glad to know that the city also has plenty of green spaces where you can plop yourself down for a little bit and rest up. The most famous park of all is the lovely Vondelpark, popular with locals and tourists alike. Its location just outside of the canal belt means that it’s not far away from museums and sights, so it’s always worth taking the time to enjoy a relaxed bike ride or a cheeky picnic. If you forgot to bring food with you, then don’t fret – there are lots of cafés here where you can grab yourself a little snack as well.
Another park that’s worth checking out is the Westerpark. It’s a little further out from the city centre, situated just to the north of the canal belt, but if the weather is nice then it’s well worth the detour. It’s well worth checking out for the Pacific Parc café and bar which boats a wicked terrace outside and even hosts live music towards the evening.
Cuisine – dining in Amsterdam
When it comes to gastronomy and dining, Amsterdam has a wealth of offerings to suit all tastes. Whether you want to dine in luxurious surroundings or just pick up a little snack along the way, you’ll be sure to find something to suit your tastes.
One thing you should do while in Amsterdam is try some typically Dutch treats. Perfect for when your feeling a bit peckish on the go, or if you just need a little pick-me-up on a night out to keep you going! Some savoury delights include proper chunky fries that come with loads of toppings, bitterballen, which are meatballs deep fried in a crispy batter, or kibbeling, which are little chunks of cod that are fried in a delicious batter. Sure, it’s not the healthiest stuff in the world, but it sure is delicious! Those of you who have a proper sweet tooth should definitely pick up a stroopwaffel, which is made from two thin waffles sandwiched together with a layer of gooey caramel, or get stuck into some poffertjes, which are really small and super fluffy pancakes that are often dusted with a generous portion of icing sugar.
You might also be surprised to see that there are also a lot of Asian influences in Amsterdam as well. This goes back to the times where the Netherlands had a powerful position in the spice trade during colonial times. Amsterdam’s Chinatown features all sorts of cuisines from the Far East, including Thai, Korean and Japanese, but you can also find a lot of Indonesian restaurants where you can order what’s called a rijsttafel. Think of it like an Indonesian tapas experience – you’ll be served up a whole spread of dishes that you can try, so if you’re finding hard to make your mind up, this has got you covered. Some great restaurants to try a rijsttafel include Restaurant Blauw (popular with the locals) and Sari Citra.
Nightlife – the coolest bars in Amsterdam
You don’t need me to tell you that the nightlife is pretty darn amazing in Amsterdam. Whether it’s the bustling bars in the in the Red Light District or the infamous coffeeshops, the vibrant nightlife draws many a stag and hen do to the cobbled streets. However I though I’d go and take the time to recommend places that might be a little off the beaten path, so you can hang with the locals and enjoy a more authentic experience of the city.
If you want to enjoy those long summer evenings outside, then there are some fantastic terraces and beer gardens where you can kick back with a beer and watch the world go by. Over in the docklands just east of the centre is Amsterdam Roest – this industrial beach bar draws seriously creative and artsy crowds and there’s all sorts of events, whether it be a DJ playing a set or a cheeky cocktail night. Another great waterside location is Waterkant, which is a bit more central just outside the canal belt. The strings of lights and pretty location by the banks of the Singel canal makes it a seriously great place to go during the summer.
For a cool night out away from most tourists, then head to the district of De Pijp. It’s touted by many as the trendiest part of town, and the wealth of quirky bars definitely attests to that. Be sure to pop into Glou Glou (great wines!), Flamingo (great vibes!) and the Troost Brewery (great beers!). And if you want some of the best views of the city, then head to the 23rd floor of the Okura Hotel, where you’ll find the Twenty Third Bar. The cocktails are fantastic and the panorama of Amsterdam’s rooftops and spires is pretty much unbeatable!
So, what are you waiting for? If you’re yet to experience Amsterdam then you’re missing out big time. Take a look through my best Amsterdam deals and I’m sure you’ll be able to find the perfect deal to suit you!
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