Amsterdam is an amazing city – colorful and full of life. Some people call it “the city of many faces”. After reading this post you’ll find out why traveling to Amsterdam is not just a trip, but a unique experience. Check this quick travel guide of what to do and see in Amsterdam.
The name Amsterdam comes from Amstelredamme (a dam on the river Amstel). In the 12th century, on the bank of the Amstel river, was founded a fishing village. The people who lived there built a bridge and a dam across the river.
In the 16th century, after the Spanish invasion of Belgium, plenty of rich merchants, capable artisans and artists arrived and established in Amsterdam.
In the 17th century, because of the trade development, Amsterdam became one of the most important ports in the world. This period is known as The Golden Age of Netherlands.
When I first visited Amsterdam (and the Netherlands at all), I was impressed by the unusual architecture. Tall and narrow leaning houses, that look like they are going to collapse any moment. Sometimes, the ground floor is turned into a shop, a cafe or an office. The stairs are narrow and steep and you should be careful, especially when you go down. The facades are beautiful and almost every house has a hook or a reel on the top.
Why they need a hook?
Well, imagine lifting a sofa using those steep stairs. Impossible, right? All the furniture goes through the wide windows.
Thousands of people in Amsterdam live in floating houses docked at the canals. The houses are fully equipped with electricity, water, and sanitary facilities. Some of them even have an extra – a floating garden.
Amsterdam Central Station – Amsterdam Centraal
Amsterdam Centraal is one of the busiest spots in Amsterdam and usually it is the first landmark the tourist see when visiting Amsterdam. The Dutch rail network is very well developed and the trains are fast and precise. Amsterdam Centraal is also a starting point for the metro lines 51, 53 and 54. There is a tram stop in front of the station and a bus stop behind it.
The building itself is fascinating. It includes two towers and many, many golden ornaments.
Getting out of the station, go straight to Damrak – the boulevard that connects Amsterdam Centraal with the main square – Dam.
Amsterdam is known for the huge number of museums in the city.
The Rijksmuseum is probably the most famous one. There is a huge collection of Rembrandt’s paintings, including “The Night’s Watch”, and artwork from The Golden Age in the Netherlands.
In Van Gogh’s Museum houses the largest collection of Van Gogh’s paintings, along with some sketches and letters.
One of the highlights of Amsterdam is the Anne Frank’s House. If you decide to visit it, you’ll have the chance to see her diary and some other personal belongings as well as some family pictures. You can also enter the small room where the family was hiding from the Nazis.
Are you a fan of Angelina Jolie or Madona?
At Madame Tussauds, you will have a close encounter with an abundance of celebrities. Take a picture with Einstein or Beatles 🙂
Whether or not you are a beer fan, you’d love to visit the Heineken Experience. Lots of beer, lots of fun.
In the Cheese Museum, you can try different types fo typical Dutch cheese and the best part is that the entrance is free.Furthermore, if you like some type, you can actually buy it.
These are some of the most visited museums in the city. However, if you like more alternative places, check the Museum of Bags and Purses, the Museum of Marijuana and Hashish or the Tattoo Museum, where you can see a real human flesh exposed.
The best museum for children is called NEMO. It’s dedicated to science and technology and by the way, there is a stunning view from the roof terrace. The access to the rooftop is free and it’s a great budget idea to spend some hours.
Dam Square is the main square in Amsterdam. There are several attractions around – the Royal Palace, Madame Tussauds, The Monument to the fallen of World War II and Nieuwe Kerk (The New Church). De Bijenkorf – the biggest department store in Amsterdam worth a visit for shopping and just next door is the luxurious 5-star hotel Krasnapolsky.
Red Light District – De Wallen
Walking along the small streets near Central Station, unintentionally or not, you will find yourself in the Red Light District. It’s situated in this place since the 14th century. Logically, the neighborhood is located near the port of Amsterdam, so that the “craving for affection” sailors were able to stop here after a long sailing. Today, this is one of the most famous places in the city and it is always lively and full of tourists. However, if you are looking for some budget things to do in Amsterdam, a walk there would be a well spent time.
After sunset, the neon lights of clubs with eccentric names combined with red lanterns hanging over the girls’ windows, create a unique atmosphere blended with marijuana flavor. The feeling to be on a place full of wicked things is so sweet.
It’s important to know that it’s not allowed to take pictures in the area especially of the girls. Put your camera in your pocket or bag to avoid troubles.
In the heart of the Red Light District is situated another city attraction – De Oude Kerk (The Old Church). This is the oldest church in Amsterdam. Today, it’s used for concerts, exhibitions, and other important events. Just in the spirit of the neighborhood, there is a statue of a prostitute in front of the church. Her name is Belle – a tribute to prostitutes all over the world.
A stone’s throw away is Nieuwmarkt Square and a historical building called The Waag. It used to be a gate once and part of the city walls of Amsterdam but today there is a pleasant restaurant inside. From Monday to Saturday the square hosts a local market. In addition, there are lots of groovy cafes around.
The area around Leidseplein is full of restaurants, bars, and coffeeshops. This is one of the best nightlife spots in Amsterdam. If you are looking for fun, this is your place. Often, there are street artists performing on the square and it’s worth to stop for a minute and enjoy the performance. You can follow the Leidsestraat and visit the famous coffeeshop Dampkring where a scene from “Ocean’s Eleven” was filmed back in the days.
Vondelpark is a great city park, located close to Museumplein (where the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and recently opened Stedelijk Museum are located). This is the most famous park in Amsterdam and on sunny days, it’s full of people. There are several cafes, but most of the people prefer to have a picnic or barbecue on the grass. Visiting Vondelpark is ideal for all of you traveling on a budget.
Gaasperplas park is located on the outskirts of Amsterdam at the last stop of metro line 53. The park is fascinating with its huge lake and wide green lawns. There is a beach, several children’s playgrounds, and picnic areas.
While you are in Amsterdam you have to take a cruise boat. Most of the tours start in front of the Amsterdam Centraal. The price varies between 10 € – 15 € per person and the duration is around 1 hour, depending on the route. It’s a great opportunity to see Amsterdam from the canals.
In summer, you can also rent a boat or a canal bike. It’s a bit strange when passing by the floating houses, tho. Sometimes, there are no curtains on the windows and you can see someone having a meal or a family watching TV.
Another free alternative of the cruise boats are the ferries. Just exit the rear exit of Amsterdam Centraal and take any of the ferries to Amsterdam Noord. The time for passing the IJ canal varies from 2 to 10 minutes, depending on which route you pick. The ride is completely free.
Just on the other side of the canal, you can see a place that definitely worth a visit – EYE Film Institute.
There is a huge amount of old movies that have been digitized and can be watched for free there. On the -1 floor, you can do some really fun things like creating your own flip book for example. You can also eat at the chic restaurant in EYE or in some really nice cafes and restaurants around like De Punt. Sit, take a biertje and enjoy the view.
Bicycles are the preferred transport in Amsterdam and one of the city’s symbols. Everybody rides a bike and there are special wagons for children. They collect between 1 and 4 children and can be covered when it rains. Simply ingenious!
Although there are bicycle parking places everywhere in the city, they are never enough. You can see bicycles locked to almost every pillar, street lamp or bridge in the city.
Day trips from Amsterdam
Amsterdam is awesome but there are so many other cities that worth a visit once you are in the Netherlands.
Groningen is one of them. Here is a list of cool things to do in Groningen.
Amsterdam is a bit pricey. Check out how much does it cost to travel to Amsterdam.
Beware of the cyclists. They are everywhere and always have priority. Be careful when crossing streets and don’t walk on the bicycles’ lanes.
Another problem is pickpocketing. Take care of your personal belongings and be careful.
Check the opening hours of the museums. Most of them are closed on Monday.
Take a jacket. The days might be quite windy and rainy even in summer.
There’s so much to say about Amsterdam and yet it won’t be enough. You just have to visit it.