If you have a travel bug and/or are debating a trip to Amsterdam, I highly recommend adding it to your list of places to visit! Especially in the summer when it’s warmer and you can take advantage of comfortably roaming the streets or hopping on a boat to tour the canals. I just got back from a 4 day mini-adventure in Amsterdam this past Monday.
I booked my trip because one of my best friends from NYC was getting married 30 minutes outside of the city. I love her story, she moved to Amsterdam after years of yearning to move abroad and within a few weeks, found her boyfriend now husband. It makes me so incredibly happy that she followed her heart and even though it took her across the ocean, she met her soulmate and now calls another country her home. Her husband is 100% Dutch, it was such a unique experience to be part of a Dutch wedding with plenty of American guests and influence.
My fiancé had to stay at home for work-related reasons, I was actually excited to have a little solo adventure before our wedding. My friend Caitlin encouraged everyone to stay in Amsterdam to experience the city and provided lots of helpful tips and recommendations. I’m rounded up a combination of some of the favorite things I did as well as the recommendations from their wedding guide. Hopefully you’ll have a good combination of some of what to do from my perspective but also reliable reco’s from local experts. If you have any other questions about Amsterdam, email me anytime and I’m happy to check in with my sources! firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Where to Stay
To feel as though you are living like a local, I would highly recommend checking out apartments or even houseboats through AirBnB. Look for options in Oud-West, De Jordaan, De Pijp or Rembrandt Square if you’re going the local route. Each neighborhood is as beautiful as the next with its own unique charm. Getting around in Amsterdam is easy, between most neighborhoods/locations you can walk, Uber or rent a bike to explore. I personally always prefer to walk but Uber is an awesome option especially to and from the airport. Biking or cycling is extremely popular in Amsterdam. However I get too anxious that I’ll get confused by traffic signals or bump into someone so I just walk! Bike shops to rent are located throughout the city.
If you are traveling alone like me and feel more comfortable in a hotel, there is a wide variety of options to choose from. First decide which neighborhood you’d like to stay in, or simply stay in the City Center. The City Center is central to everything and easy to navigate. I stayed at the Hotel Albus right in the City Center of Amsterdam as they had set up a hotel block.
Luckily for me, the hotel was very accommodating, getting me into the room early to nap off some jetlag. At the last minute I decided to stay an extra night and they were able to accommodate me right away. If you have an overnight flight and don’t sleep on planes, pay extra for early check in. It is worth the extra money for the convenience of catching a quick nap to help keep jetlag at bay. This way you can more quickly adjust to the time change enjoy your day.
For a splurge, The Dylan is stunning and conveniently located and even includes a Michelin starred restaurant, Vinkeles. That hotel is way out of my range, but hey it’s an option! A bit more expensive than the Albus but absolutely beautiful and nestled off of a canal is The Pulitzer. This would be my choice of where to stay on my next visit. I like looking into reviews and pricing on Trip Advisor, or you can reference Amsterdam’s city guide which I linked at the end of this post.
2. Where to Eat
Most importantly, you need to know where to eat & drink in Amstersdam! There are endless options located throughout the city for you to enjoy, but here are a few key places to consider.
- De Japanner Hip hop, unique Japanese food beyond sushi, and cocktails – with the kitchen open late night. We had a fun dinner here with wine, katsu, sashimi and sushi rolls and it was delicious and inexpensive.
- The Lobby Nesplein Top notch service and an incredible menu for the foodies in the city center near Dam Square. I regret not being able to make it to this spot but it’s at the top of my list for my next visit.
- Herengracht The first time I visited my friend in Amsterdam we had dinner and drinks at this restaurant. It is in the most picturesque location and fairly central, so it’s easy to get to. If for nothing else come here and grab a drink on the terrace overlooking the canal.
- Cannibale Royale If you are looking for a great meat restaurant this is where you want to go. They serve food until 3 or 4AM (depending on the day of the week) and have multiple locations.
- Rons Gastrobar Modern gastro experience, with a great terrace in the neighborhood Oud Zuid (Old South) near Vondelpark. They also have Asian and Paris focused locations closer to the city center near Leidseplein.
- Toscanini Great Italian in the picturesque Jordaan neighborhood.
- La Perla A more casual Italian spot with great pizza also in the Jordaan.
- Pata Negra Great Spanish tapa’s on a super fun street near Rembrandtplein.
3. Where to Brunch
I would highly recommend looking into doing brunch on a boat and enjoying a mimosa as you cruise down the canal. On my first visit to Amsterdam this is what we did and it was a fun, special way to see the city and learn more about it’s history and architecture. There are boats lined up along the canals you can buy tickets for, but I’d reserve your spot in advance through Gs Really Nice Place, who specializes in brunch tours. While you have to have a reservation, I would prioritize experiencing this one morning during your trip.
For an experience on land, there are lots of cute little places to check out. I randomly discovered Coffee & Coconuts and had a nice experience enjoying the unique space and delicious food. I was still fending off jetlag and hadn’t had a proper dinner before, so I went a little crazy and ordered the CT Breakfast which included Scrambled eggs avo, CT’s granola, coconut pancakes and fresh fruit salad as well as an iced coffee with coconut milk and a green juice! Speaking of green juice, there are lots of healthy restaurants/café’s and fresh juice shops located throughout the city.
I also went to Pluk, which came recommended and was absolutely adorable. I had a soy latte and fresh avocado toast. If you have a sweet tooth they also have some incredibly beautiful pastries to choose from. Here are some other recommendations from my friends:
- Bakers & Roasters – New Zealand X Brazilian mash up in de Pijp
- TEDS – Brunch all day with great cocktail/ food combinations in Oud West
- Staring at Jacob – New York Brunch in Oud West
- De Kanarie Club – Sit down restaurant with a huge terrace, located behind De Foodhallen
4. Where to Drink
I haphazardly discovered a couple of adorable little cafés/bars that had outdoor seating overlooking the canals. During one outing I enjoyed a little tray of garlic marinated olives and a glass of Sancerre. On another other self-proclaimed happy hour, I went a bit more traditional and ordered a beer and bitterballen. Bitterballen is a Dutch based snack and they are essentially little fried balls filled with beef and gravy and served with a side of spicy mustard. While quite savory and certainly indulgent, these pair well with a beer and are widely available at pubs throughout Amsterdam. And yes, they’re very tasty to boot!
My favorite experience was at T’Smalle Café where I grabbed a seat on the bench right up against the café. I sat here for nearly two hours and people watched and ‘listened’ to the elderly couple next to me. They were having what sounded like a heated debate in Dutch and greeted many of the locals. I could not understand one single word they were saying, but for some reason I loved that they were posted up at what appeared to be their regular spot. While giggling they pointed out to me two tourists nearly colliding on their bikes (that definitely would have been me had I rented a bike!) It makes me happy thinking back to that afternoon, I was completely content simply enjoying my surroundings and soaking in a day of solo adventure.
I also had been vying for a seat right on the canal at Spanjer Van Twist but it was completely full every time I walked by. My last day in Amsterdam I was walking up to the Jordaan neighborhood to visit Café Tabac when I happened to get lucky and spotted an empty table right on the water. I decided to snag the seat and order some bitterballen. The service was slow and it was amateur move on my part ordering a Hoëgarden instead of a local brew, but the views were stunning and the bitterballen didn’t disappoint. While none of these places are very fancy, I prefer the local feel during the day especially for a quick drink. You can always save the ‘splurge’ moment for a nice lunch or dinner at one of the suggested restaurants.
- Vesper Bar Specialty cocktails in de Jordaan
- Cafe Brecht Berlin style beer bar near the Rijksmuseum and HEINEKEN Experience
- De Biertuin Beer garden that’s nice any time of day with two locations around the city center
- de Ebeling Nice vibe at night for casual drinks in Oud West
- Tabac Cozy bar on one of the most beautiful corners of the Jordaan
I wasn’t able to check out any of the Dutch bars or Beergartens since we were on a schedule with the wedding and all, but here are some other recommendations if you are looking for a watering hole.
Brown Cafe’s or Bruine Kroeg as we call it in Dutch are traditional Dutch pubs. Usually you can get simple dishes and traditional Dutch fried snacks. Try the bitterballen!
All these breweries are original Amsterdam Craft Breweries. Every single one of them is amazing. At some you can get food, at some you can’t.
- Brouwerij ‘t IJ – In a traditional windmill in Oost
- Brouwerij Troost – multiple locations, with good burgers too!
- Brouwerij de Prael – Red light district, and everyone working here is part of social rehabilitation
- Brouwerij Butcher’s Tears – Alternative vibe in an alternative location in South West Amsterdam
- Oedipus Brewing – Worth a stop if you make the easy (and free) ferry trip over to Amsterdam Noord
- HEINEKEN Experience – Not an actual working brewery anymore – but fun to visit to explore the history of the world’s most international premium beer brand
5. What to See
I didn’t stop into any museums but I DID pop into the Amsterdam Cheese Museum, which is free. It’s very small and kind of silly but there are lots of samples to enjoy and I got a kick out of going inside. My favorite cheese shop is Tromp, there are lots of others throughout the city but this one in particular has a bit more of a local charm in my opinion. If you shrink wrap the cheese (which they will do for you for free!) you can bring it home in your carryon. I opted for my hands down favorite, Old World Gouda and a Gouda with Truffle that I’ve already brought out of the cheese drawer to enjoy with friends.
I loved shopping around the Nine Streets. I usually don’t enjoy shopping home in the US outside of online shopping, but it’s one of my favorite pastimes when I’m traveling abroad. I like to get a food souvenir e.g. cheese on a trip, a cliché gift like a magnet or postcard. I also choose something I can have for awhile like an accessory for my home, jewelry, a picture frame or a scarf. During this visit I picked up a bracelet, a ring and a couple of dresses, the aforementioned cheese and some chocolate to commemorate my trip.
For the Anne Frank Museum, tickets go on sale exactly two months to the day in advance. It’s very small so they are limited in how many people can go through at once, so definitely purchase in advance if you are interested in going. Unfortunately, I still haven’t made it so I’ll have to keep it on my list for next time.
6. A Few Extras
The newlyweds also had a few other suggestions on their favorite things to do listed below:
- Rent a bike and see the most of the city in the shortest amount of time
- Rent a boat at Sloepdelen – Easy to captain electric boats to explore the canals
- Shop in the 9 streets or Utrechtsestraat
- Go to the Foodhallen. There’s 20+ different ‘food truck’ style restaurants with combined seating. You can also find great cocktails, wine and beer here and live music on certain nights.
- Stroll or bike through Vondelpark – Stop for a snack or food at one of the restaurants, our favorite is Vondeltuin
- Visit museumplein. Even if you don’t make it inside one of the incredible museums – Van Gough, Rijks, Stedelijk, MoCo – it’s a beautiful square where you can take your picture with the famous I amsterdam statue.
- Find all of Amsterdam’s hotspots right here
There you have it! I am pretty certain this is my lengthiest post to date, but hopefully you find it helpful. For even more information on Amsterdam, the city has created a really robust guide that you can find here. If you end up visiting, let me know what you enjoy most and discover!