Growing up as a child in Switzerland with Dutch parents, I feel strongly rooted in the Netherlands, even though I never lived there. My husband George is a South African, and some of his ancestors emigrated from the Netherlands. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Amsterdam attracts us both and why we have already returned several times. It is a pleasure for us to share our list of things to do in Amsterdam with you. The slogan “I am Amsterdam” is for us much more than a marketing-gig of the Dutch tourism association; it expresses what we feel for this city.
Amsterdam has something that no other city in the world has to offer. A network of canals divides the old town into several neighborhoods whose history is strongly linked to Holland’s golden age as an international trading power. The Dutch built the narrow, multi-story houses on wooden posts in the water and the town is therefore also called Venice of the North. Some of the houses were visibly tilted before the supporting pillars were replaced with more durable materials. However, this contributes significantly to the cityscape and the charm of this unique cosmopolitan city.
With our multiple visits, we have gathered plenty of Travel Tips for Amsterdam that we are sharing with you as we tell you about our favorite Amsterdam attractions.
Things to do in Amsterdam
Amsterdam boasts of flowers from early spring and reminded us, how our flower boxes should look like. The World’s only floating flower market is well marked with signposts and is situated on the Singel Canal. If you’d like to get yourself some tulip bulbs, this is where you need to go!
Read about the colorful blooms of Netherlands. The Keukenhof Tulip Gardens is one vibrant experience.
Negen Straatjes literally, translates to “nine streets”. The entire area is filled with quaint shops that will bring out the shopaholic in you. Among them. the narrow, cobblestoned alley of Negen Straatjes, which connects Leidsegracht and the Raadhuisstraat, is unique. Innovative small businesses line up to entice customers with vintage products and designer clothes. Remember to try out a cup of Dutch coffee in a quaint café. We always do that to recharge our batteries from window-shopping.
We like to go to flea markets and markets in general. The trendy neighborhood of Jordaan doesn’t just offer a wonderful atmosphere with plenty of restaurant terraces and cozy pubs. If you are a connoisseur of arts, then Jordaan in Amsterdam will delight you with the variety of art shops. On Saturdays, we recommend a visit to the market on Lindengracht, and the flea market around Noorderkerk.
Albert Cuyp Markt
In the district of Pijp, south of the central Amsterdam is the lively street market of Albert Cuyp. This is supposed to be the largest day market in Europe and is over 100 years old. One must try the Dutch Poffertjes (small pancakes). We also, recommend a “haring broodje”, which is a bun with a smoked herring and plenty of onion in it. When we tried that, George thought that I had quite a taste sprain!
The Spui Art and Book Markets
Despite ebooks, we’ll always go back to buying „real“ books. We recommend the artistic atmosphere of the Spui Art and Book Markets. It is a pleasure to stroll through the stands. We always, end up with enough books to read for the next few months.
One of our search for flea markets got us to the old Jewish quarter. With over 300 stalls, the daily Waterlooplein flea market offers just about everything from kitsch to antique furniture and vintage clothing.
Dam Square of Amsterdam
Renowned more for its history than its looks, this is one important spot for Amsterdam sight-seeing. There is no missing it if you visit the Royal Palace, which is just next to it. Around 1270, the Dutch built a first connection between the settlements on the riverbank, the dam on the River Amstel, hence the name of the city. Dam Square has been a meeting place since the 17th century.
When in Amsterdam, you got to experience the Dutch Music. We suggest that you add Leidseplein to your list of Amsterdam Attractions. When we walked over the Leidseplein in the evening, we saw a fair amount of local theatres offering classical music, musicals, and stand-up comedy, and good restaurants with street artists entertaining the passersby. It has a nice buzz to it.
In summer, numerous festivals take place in this spacious 19th-century city park. A lively place where people meet and enjoy the green space with its open-air theatre and a playground.
During the day, Westerpark is a place to relax from the city, where children play and dogs get their exercise. The place with culinary fairs and food trucks is a treat for the foodies -, especially on Sundays. A cultural hub, you can even catch a music festival or two. At night, the former gasworks Westergasfabriek comes alive with contemporary music and entertainment.
Pllek is one of the most unique things to do in Amsterdam. A restaurant made from the old shipping containers, and warehouses, you not only get some lip-smacking food but also, enjoy some live music, dance and yoga classes. We reached this place by ferry from the platform behind the main station.
Secret Amsterdam Attractions
Anne Frank Haus
During the Second World War, Anne Frank and her family hid from the Nazis in this house. Anne wrote a world-famous diary, which made a lasting impression on me when we had to read it at school. It turned into a world-famous book.
I visited the house twice, the first time when the entrance was still in the original place. You can visit the place to see the secret room that she hid in and the bookshelf that hid its entrance. There is plenty more to see and this is what makes it a must visit attraction of Amsterdam, despite the huge popularity and crowds. Arrive at the entrance as early as possible and make sure that you already have a ticket.
Ons’ Lieve Heer Op Solder
Another secret attraction in Amsterdam is Ons’ Lieve Heer Op Solder, a 17th-century Catholic church in the heart of the bustling red light district! Built with a wealth of iconographic art and artifacts during the Protestant Reformation in the attic of a merchant’s house, it is Amsterdam’s second oldest museum after the Rijksmuseum, and it is an outstanding example of Dutch Golden Age architecture.
Dating from the early 15th century, the Begijnhof is one of the oldest courtyards in Amsterdam. A place that used to be a haven for the women, today you can see the ancient wooden houses, gates and a church. Look out for the coffin in the Gutter – one that has a legendary tale. As it goes, Sister Cornelia Arens requested to be buried in the gutters but contrary to her wish, she was laid down in the cathedral. The next day the coffin appeared in the gutter. This was attempted two more times but each time the coffin reappeared in the gutters. Finally, her wish was honored. While we were busy exploring these, we almost missed the brown wooden door to enter the quiet, most romantic garden.
Amsterdam’s Famous Museums
The oldest museum of Amsterdam is in a beautiful 19th-century building and host’s masterpieces of Dutch Golden Age paintings and an extensive European art collection. Don’t miss the famous “I am Amsterdam” sign in front of it.
Van Gogh Museum
Here you find the World’s largest collection of Van Gogh’s paintings and letters. Quite a color contrast to some of the moody medieval paintings in the Rijksmuseum.
Most important is the final tasting in the Heineken Museum of course! Other than that, the interactive tour through the history of the beer giant was well done.
Amsterdam Guided Tours
To get the most out of Amsterdam it’s essential to take a tour either by foot, boat or bicycle. We loved the Hop On Hop Off Canal Boat Tour. Later, we rented a bicycle and did a cycle tour with a local guide, which turned out to be quite amusing. We struggled a bit to work the back pedal brake and balance between the Amsterdamer cyclists. Nevertheless, it was one of our favorite things we did during our stay. We would recommend anybody to discover Amsterdam on two wheels and on the water.
Events in Amsterdam
Nothing is more rewarding than to attend events and mix with the locals to get into the local culture. Try to plan your visit during one of the festivals, and you’ll see Amsterdam much more like a local than as a tourist.
- The Dutch people go orange (or crazy!) during the 27th of April to celebrate their king’s birthday with an all-day street festival.
- Most wonderful is the Open Garden Weekend of June 17, when large courtyards hidden behind canal houses open to public.
- Amsterdam World Music Festival Roots takes place in the beginning of July and the Gay Pride Festival in August for a whole week with the Canal Parade as a highlight.
Our Insider Tips for Amsterdam
- In our opinion, the most authentic way to stay in Amsterdam is on a houseboat. Book early enough for great offers on these Amsterdam City Tours.
- Order an Amsterdam City Card in advance, so you don’t waste time waiting in queues on site.
- There are plenty of Amsterdam City Tours available. You can take a free city tour with travel guide – no registration required. It starts daily next to the National Monument at Dam Square from 10 am.
- You can get on several ferries to explore Amsterdam-Noord and its surroundings with or without a bicycle for free.
- To get an impressive outlook over the city for free, get on the roof terrace of the City Library Amsterdam.
If you liked Amsterdam, you are likely to enjoy Delft too. Take a day trip to Delft - just an hour's train ride from the capital of Netherlands.
Why we will visit Amsterdam again
Amsterdam attracts people from all over the world because of its liberal attitude towards cannabis and prostitution. But Amsterdam is so much more than coffee shops and women in shop windows. There is no place as humble and unpretentious despite the century-old history, coping with such an amazing amount of visitors from all over the world and yet having a laidback and happy atmosphere.
So, when are you traveling to Amsterdam? Pin this to your board and start planning a trip soon!
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This article has been contributed by my guest author - Marcelle. She retired at 45 years to leave her interim management business in Switzerland for a life on the road. She went to South Africa where she met George who joined in with further travels to America and Europe. After six years of a nomadic life they built their home base in Burgundy France, from where Marcelle writes about the wild life of Grey World Nomads and their experiences as expats.