Ever since my first visit to Europe nearly ten years ago now, Amsterdam has been (& remains) one of my favorite cities in the world. Full of art & culture, there seems to be something there for everyone & never enough time to see it all. Explore the canals by foot or by bike (if you're brave) & admire the architecture, or pop into a gallery or local pub & it's almost as if you can feel the city in your soul.
Arriving at Schipol International Airport your most direct route into downtown (aside from a taxi of course) is to take the train. Amsterdam's Central Station marks the center of the city, & with a public transit system made up of everything from buses & trams to trains & boats, traveling throughout the city is not only easy, but always an adventure. In addition to their transit system, Amsterdam is also one of the most bike friendly cities in the world & great for (confident) cyclists.
On our most recent trip to Amsterdam though, our little group traveled nearly everywhere inside of the city on foot & found it to be the most enjoyable way to see the sites & experience local life. On foot, if the weather is cooperative, you can stop into smaller shops & take photos along the way, making it the perfect mode of travel for the leisurely tourist.
TL Travel Tip: If you do choose to bike in the city, please ensure that you have (or are provided with) a bike lock as Amsterdam has one of the highest rates of bike theft in Europe.
WHERE TO SLEEP
Amsterdam has no shortage of diverse neighborhoods to choose from, all of which are connected by the cities extensive transit system. Where you stay will be determined mostly by what your interests are & usually even more so by your budget.
I will start with the Jordaan neighborhood as that seems to be a favorite among TL Travelers & visitors to our blog. The Jordaan district is one of the more well known neighborhoods of Amsterdam with its beautiful winding streets, trendy cafes & smaller local art galleries. On our most recent escape to Amsterdam, we chose to stay in the Grachtengordel West neighborhood; close to the local bars & restaurants of Jordaan but a bit shorter distance from the busier tourist areas, & we loved our location. While we were still considered to be outside of the main tourist zone here, we were still only a few blocks from Central Station & an easy walk to most of the sights on our bucket-list.
For those looking to be a little closer to the action, booking a hotel or hostel in Grachtengordel South or the Old Center will put you a great deal closer to the major tourist sights & a more happening nightlife. And while you may not get quite as much of a local experience there as you would in the Grachtengordel West or Jordaan districts, the Old Center is a great place to start your search if you are on a tighter budget.
Other areas include up-and-coming Amsterdam Noord (accessible to the city center by tram or ferry), The Museum Quarter (lacking the classic canals, but built around the cities most famous museums & galleries), & Plantage (largely residential) to name a few. No matter where decide to lay your head though, you are bound to enjoy your stay in (or outside of) this beautiful city.
WHAT TO SEE & DO
With an overwhelming collection of museums & galleries at your disposal here, you will find that there is something in the city for everyone. See Rembrandt's 'The Night Watch' in person at the Rijksmuseum, or the largest collection of Van Gogh paintings in the world at the Van Gogh Museum. On our most recent visit to Amsterdam the MOCA Gallery (located across the courtyard from the Rijks) was displaying works by Banksy & Salvador Dali.
If art is not your cup of tea, consider a walking tour of the Red Light District or a visit to one of the cities many markets. If the season is right (late March - May) plan to step outside the city & visit Keukenhof Gardens for a beautiful & unique view of more than 800 different varieties of tulips.
None of those things strike your fancy? Simply spend your days walking the streets or touring the city by canal & stopping as you please for a cup of coffee in the square, a snack of stroopwafel (see Eats & Treats), or a dip into a souvenir shop. There is something in Amsterdam for anyone who takes the time to look, so get out & explore!
TL Travel Tip: Lines for museums in Amsterdam can get incredibly long during weekends & high season, so be sure to book your tickets online beforehand & skip those nasty line-ups!
EATS & TREATS!
Here at TL Travel we put a huge emphasis on great food! One of my favorite things about almost all of my favorite countries has been the food. When I think of Thailand I think of Thai food, when I think of Malaysia; great food, & when I think of Nicaragua, you guessed it - yum! When you are comparing the Netherlands to countries like Thailand or France where they are known for their food then no, the Netherlands doesn’t really stack up. BUT, that doesn't mean that there is no good food in Amsterdam, you simply need to know where to look.
Now I'm going to let you know up front, the best meals that we had in the city were certainly priced to meet those standards. De Belhamel was one of our favorites with a dinner for two coming in at around 80 Euro but we did find some mid-range favorites as well.
For breakfast or brunch, our little group loved each of our meals at Bagels & Beans (a chain of small restaurants, but dang good ones at that) & Teun Restaurant near Jordaan. Both spots are on the smaller side & offer "leisurely" service, but have wonderful food at reasonable prices & are great for people watching.
Another of our favorites was PIQNIQ. Another small hole-in-the-wall cafe; PIQNIQ offers a menu of smaller dishes that you combine to make a full meal. Our group of travelers enjoyed everything from organic tomato soup & tuna sandwiches to delicious garden salads & perfectly prepared quiche. PIQNIQ is also a great spot for gluten free options & meals can be modified to suit different dietary restrictions.
TL Travel Quick Snack: The stroopwafel (syrup waffle) is an incredibly common snack experience that should not be missed. Made from two thin waffles joined together by sticky syrup; these inexpensive round "cookies" are a local favorite & available almost everywhere.
TOP TL TRAVELER TIPS
If you plan on visiting a lot of museums, book online in advance or invest in an I Amsterdam Card (iamsterdam.com.)
Be sure to look both ways when crossing bike lanes & never use them as walking paths.
Beware of pickpockets & ensure that you have a secure bike lock (if you are cycling in the city) as Amsterdam has the highest rate of bike theft in Europe.
Try the stroopwafel!