A complete guide to Amsterdam

 In Amsterdam, Budget Travel, Europe, The Netherlands, Weekend Getaways

After my second visit to Amsterdam this month, it’s official. Amsterdam is up there with my favourite cities in Europe. If you haven’t yet been, it’s time you started planning your adventure there.

The city of Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands, host to a 17th Century Canal ring that is listed as a UNESCO Heritage Site and is simply a playground of activities for both adults and families.

I am lucky enough to have visited Amsterdam on two occasions already and I fell even more in love the second time round. The abundance of canals and arched bridges that you can wander aimlessly through and dine upon, the rows of stunning apartments and townhouses that line the canals, the variety of markets and shopping districts, the healthy cafes and rooftop cocktail bars… Amsterdam just seems to have it ALL.

If you happen to time your visit during the spring, you will get to witness the prettiest landscapes as the tulips blossom all over the city in a rainbow of colour.

Admittedly, if you head to Amsterdam unaware and without having done any research beforehand, you can be easily led into some tourist traps, some tacky bars and some seedy settings.

Like with any popular city, and particularly because the nightlife is a popular attraction here in Amsterdam, it does attract groups of stags and hens and you are likely to come across a few drunken backpackers BUT if you read this guide… you can easily avoid it all during your stay.

Fun fact: Amsterdam actually has more bridges than Venice. Venice has 409 and Amsterdam smashes that nearly 3 times over with 1281 bridges!

My guide to Amsterdam…

Where is Amsterdam?

How do I get to Amsterdam?

Amsterdam’s main airport is Amsterdam Schiphol which is accessible from all over Europe with a direct flight.

Check flights on SkyScanner here.

Getting from the airport into the city centre:

From the airport you have a few options:

  • Direct train from the airport to Amsterdam Centraal station (every 15 minutes in the day, every hour at night) (5.50€, +1€ if you get a disposable ticket. You can get a plastic card to load credit onto, similar to Oyster, to avoid this!)
  • Bus (every 30 minutes during the day) (3.60€)
  • Direct shuttle options (often run by hotels or mini bus companies). There are loads, so have a look online. From what I can gather, it’s between 10-25€ depending on the service you want.
  • Private taxi (approximately 40-50€)

If you’re looking to arrive by train the main city train station is Amsterdam Centraal.

Getting around Amsterdam:

When it comes to exploring Amsterdam, bikes are the go-to for most tourists and pretty much all of the locals. The whole city sits pretty flat and is simply a network of canals, making cycling a simple and effective way to get around. It’s such a popular option that, alongside the majority of the roads, there are bikes lanes assigned so that cyclists have their own territory to manoeuvre in.

Due to the popularity of cycling and therefore the volume of cyclists out and about, particularly in the summer, the bike lanes can get pretty hectic and you will need to be paying full attention when using them.

Walking is another popular and beautiful way to get around when exploring Amsterdam. A simple wander around the canals and shops will have you occupied for a few hours, if not the whole day {photographer heaven}. The city is pretty big though, so if you are tight on time or are looking to cover multiple attractions – consider hiring a bike.

We hired our bikes, on the day of rental, from Yellow bikes which cost €12 for 24 hours. Be sure to check with your hostel / hotel for bike deals, some of them even have free bikes included in your stay.

If not, public transport is widely available. If you think that you’ll be using it a lot, think about getting an Amsterdam City card. It’s not cheap, starting at €60, but includes unlimited transport and many free attractions during your stay in Amsterdam. For more information, click here.

Download Moovit app or Citymapper if you plan to use public transport. It will help you navigate efficiently between destinations.

It is illegal (not to mention incredibly dangerous!) to ride a bike under the influence of drugs or alcohol in The Netherlands.

Where should you stay in Amsterdam?

If you’re backpacking, or looking for the cheapest option…

I can speak from experience of absolutely LOVING these two hostels…

– The Flying Pig Hostels:

Uptown Hostel (next to VondelPark), Downtown Hostel (right in the centre – read my review here) or Beach Hostel (an hour train from the centre). Book your stay here

St Christopher’s Inn at the Winston:

Book your stay here.

Browse more hostels here: HostelBookers or HostelWorld.

If you’re looking for something quirky, or you’re in a large group and it might work out cheaper…

– AirBnb (click here to get £25 off your first booking)

If you’re looking for a hotel…

– Amsterdam hotels on booking.com 

– Top Secret Hotels in Amsterdam {get luxury but save the pennies}

Things to do in Amsterdam…

  1. Exploring the canals is a must, whether it’s walking, cycling, on a group tour or, my favourite option for a unique experience… rent a boat with your friends!
  2. Enjoy a sunset cocktail at the Sky Lounge
  3. Head on a day trip to visit Keukenhof Gardens – one of the most beautiful flower gardens in the world. (seasonal) Read about my adventure to Keukenhof here.
  4. Cycle through and spend the afternoon relaxing in Vondelpark
  5. Grab a waffle smothered in Nutella, swing your legs over the side of the canal and indulge!
  6. Browse the worlds first Condom specialist shop located on Warmoesstraat.
  7. Join a free walking tour of Amsterdam
  8. Visit a museum
    • The Anne Frank House (Visit the actual place Anne and her family spent more than two years hiding in during World War 2 which has now been converted into a humbling museum.)
    • The Van Gogh Museum
    • The Heineken Experience
    • The Rijksmuseum
    • Sex Museum
    • Electric Ladyland (a fluorescent art museum)
    • Stedelijk museum

Top tip: Book museum tickets online in advance, so you can guarantee your spot and you avoid the queues!

  1. Visit the markets and boutique shops and go shopping!
    • Bloemenmarkt: The only floating flower market in the world and a very colourful and fragrant experience
    • Albert Cuypmarkt: The largest and most popular market in the Netherlands with 260 stands operating 6 days a week. Must try: Freshly make stroopwafels.
    • Foodhallen: An indoor food market and social hangout. Open every day 11am – 11.30pm with later opening on weekends.
    • Nine Streets (De Negen Straatjes): A gorgeous neighbourhood bursting with boutique and designer shops, organic cafes and cosy eateries.
    • Kalverstraat: Where you’ll find your high street stores like Zara + H&M
  2. Chill out and people watch at Museumplein
  3. Take a photo with the famous IAmsterdam letters
  4. Tie in your visit with one of Amsterdam’s many festivals. See more here.
  5. Explore the artsy Jordaan district.
  6. Catch the ferry and explore Amsterdam North.
  7. Go beer tasting under a windmill at de Gooyer in the Oostelijke Eilanden (Eastern Islands) neighbourhood. There are eight windmills left in Amsterdam, but this one is unique because it contains a microbrewery!
  8. In spring, go and see the tulips in Bollenstreek.
  9. Get some fresh air in Flevopark and go wild swimming in Nieuwe Diep.
  10. Enjoy the green space at Westergasfabriek.
  11. Take the tram and sunbathe at Blijberg aan Zee.
  12. Explore the other side of the Red Light District. It’s Amsterdam’s olderst neighbourhood, and behind all the sex, you’ll find quaint squares and churches, and stunning architecture.
  13. Enjoy a beer at Amsterdam’s original microbrewery, Brouwerij ’t IJ.
  14. Explore the secret gardens and courtyards at Begijnhof.

Food and coffee in Amsterdam

As well as the food markets mentioned earlier, there are plenty of places you should try for food.

For brunch, check out my Amsterdam brunch guide here.

  • Hap Hmm, for traditional Dutch food on a budget.
  • Moeders, for huge portions of Dutch food! Try the stamppot.
  • Sotto Pizza, for Italian on a budget.
  • Eddy Spaghetti, for a cozy Italian that’s not a city centre tourist trap.
  • Meatless District, for a 100% vegan seasonal menu.
  • Or, if you’re so inclined, Cannibale Royal, for all the meat lovers.
  • Vuurtoreneiland, for a once in a lifetime dinner experience. You’ll be taken in a boat to a small island with just a lighthouse, an abandoned fort and a dining room. Enjoy local food surrounded by nature.
  • Michelin-starred Bridges, if you’re feeling fancy.

For coffee (actual coffee, not that…)

  • 4850
  • Monks Coffee Roasters
  • Caffènation
  • Rum Baba
  • The Hoxton
  • The Coffee Virus

Nightlife in Amsterdam

  • Coffee shops

There is a large hash consumption and scene here in Amsterdam – you’re probably already aware. It’s one of the biggest attractions for tourists here as you can legally buy and smoke in the designated ‘Coffee Shops’, of which there is an abundance all over the city. You won’t wander long before you spot one or… smell one.

  • The Red Light District

It’s a feature that Amsterdam is known for and whether you want to indulge in it or not, it’s worth a wander through. It’s best to wander with friends or in a group to avoid being on your own as the area can attract some seedy individuals. Remember: You cannot take photos of the ladies in the illuminated red doorways (it’s forbidden and strictly enforced).

  • Bars and nightclubs

If cocktails, rooftop bars, boogying or raving are more your kind of nightlife choice, head on over to my ‘Guide To Nightlife in Amsterdam’.

A guide to the nightlife in Amsterdam

Day trips from Amsterdam

Cute towns and cities to visit… 

  • Haarlem
  • Broek in Waterland
  • Utrecht
  • Leiden
  • Hoorn
  • Rotterdam
  • Amersfoort
  • The Hague and Scheveningen
  • Delft

For tulips and windmills…

  • Lisse
  • Zaanse Schans

For the day you want to buy anything and everything…

  • Beverwijk Flea Market

For the cheese…

  • Alkmaar
  • Gouda

For the beach…

  • Zandvoort

For a castle…

  • Muiderslot Castle
  • Kasteel De Haar

Have you been to Amsterdam?

Where were your favourite spots? I’d love to know!

Love as always + happy adventuring,

Mollie.

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A complete guide to Amsterdam
A complete guide to Amsterdam
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