After years of dreaming of visiting this gorgeous slice of the world, The Husband and I finally had the opportunity to go there last year, and it was everything we expected (and more!). From the picturesque canals to the postcard buildings, mouthwatering food and rich culture, it was truly the quintessential Dutch experience; we've been dreaming of going back ever since.
We spent 5 days here during the summer, the ideal amount of time to explore, relax and consume as much cheese, bitterballen and frites as we possibly could. I've put together this guide to help you plan your trip there, and give you ideas of where to stay like a local, eat traditional delicacies and experience Dutch culture and history like a pro. What are you waiting for, scroll down and start plannin' your itinerary for the land of windmills and cheese!
Welkom bij Amsterdam!
First things first, you’ve arrived at the airport, so where to now? There are quite a few ways of getting to the city, by which the most convenient for us was taking the train. Not only is it affordable at only €4.20, but you can sit back and relax after a long flight while taking in scenic views of the Netherlands. The train will take you straight to Amsterdam Centraal Station, from where you could take a tram to the neighborhood you’re staying at. Instead of buying single ride tram tickets, buy a day ticket (you can get it on the tram) and you’ll end up saving a lot of money, trust me!
Get lost and explore
One of my favorite things to do when we arrive in a new city, is to drop off our bags at the hotel (or apartment, in this case), and head straight out on foot to explore. No maps. No phones. Just me, The Husband and our wandering feet. Amsterdam is classified as a city, but has the warm culture and size of a small and friendly town, making it super easy to explore and find your way. Hop on a bike or follow your footsteps (like we did), along the canals and over the bridges. After a long day of getting to know the city, go for a canal cruise to orientate yourself and get a better idea of where all the famous landmarks are, while sitting back and relaxing with a glass of wine. There are quite a few operators, but the one we liked was the Blue Boat Company, who has an evening cruise that starts at 21:00 (right before sunset) and lasts for 90 minutes, giving you the opportunity to see the city by day and by night.
Rent an Airbnb and live like a local
When looking for accommodation, I strongly recommend booking an Airbnb apartment rather than a tiny hotel room, and experience living like a local in a typical Dutch style apartment, with large white-framed windows, wooden floors and bright and modern interior. After spending days trying to find the perfect one, I found this gem (here), located in the trendy and hip neighborhood, De Pijp. Upon arriving our fridge was stocked with food, from local cheeses and cold meats, to a variety of pickled vegetables and delicious Dutch spreads, enough to make traditional breakfasts the entire week. It was also conveniently located just around the corner from an amazing supermarket, Landmarkt, selling everything you could imagine buying at a local farmer’s market, and just as affordable. Do remember to book your apartment early as Airbnb apartments are rented out way in advance, especially during the summer months.
Spend a day at the trendy De Pijp
This must be the coolest neighborhood in Amsterdam, filled with diverse restaurants and hip shops, trendy apartments and also home to the famous Albert Cuyp Markt. This open-air market is open daily except for Sundays, and has everything from clothes and home goods, to flowers and food. Here you’ll find all the local delicacies such as frites, stroopwafels, poffertjes and bitterballen, so make sure you go there with an empty stomach. After devouring all of their famous and mouthwatering dishes, head to one of the trendy cafes around the corner and sit back and relax with a glass of wine (or two!) while basking in the sun.
Get arty at the Museumplein
When it comes to museums, there’s no shortage in Amsterdam.. and seeing that a lot of them are located in the same area, the Museumplein, you could check quite a few of them off your itinerary in just one day. Here you will find the Van Gogh Museum, the Rijksmuseum and also the Stedelijk Museum. Go early and remember to buy your tickets online, so you’ll not waste any time standing in long queues. The famous I AMSTERDAM sign is also here, but expect to share your picture with hundreds of other tourists climbing over the letters, unless you're prepared to get up early and sneak a pic before the crowds arrive. After exploring the art lover's paradise, go to the Heineken Experience which is just a short stroll away, and get a first-hand look at the brewery process and also learn about the history of Heineken. Afterwards you will be rewarded with a few ice cold beers which you could enjoy on their rooftop bar, the perfect way to end the day.
Have Dutch pancakes at Sarah’s Pancake House
One can't go to Amsterdam and not have traditional Dutch pancakes, right?! While strolling around we stumbled upon this gorgeous, instagram-worthy cafe, serving THE most delicious pancakes I've ever had. They offer both sweet and savoury pancakes, from chorizo and cheese, to peanut butter and ice cream, with more than a 100 options to choose from! It's located close the Anne Frank House, so make sure you stop by on your way.
Wander around in the Jordaan
The Jordaan must be one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in the world, with it’s picturesque canals (Prinsengracht, Lijnbaansgracht, Passeerdersgracht and Bouwersgracht), postcard apartments, vibrant restaurants and quaint boutiques and shops. Here you'll also find the ever so famous Anne Frank House, right next to the Prinsengracht canal, where you’d also spot an amazingly talented trumpet player (Muziekboot), playing on his trumpet in his tiny boat, alongside the church bells of the Westerkerk. Just on the other side of the canal, across form the Anne Frank House, you'd see the Kees de Jongenbrug, the most charming bridge I spotted in the city. Take a picture here, and head to the De 9 Straatjes, bursting with vintage and designer shopping and attractive cafes, and shop the day away.
Have a canal-side dinner
When planning your itinerary for Amsterdam, one of the absolute must-dos is having a canal-side dinner, on a bridge while feasting on local dishes. We found the perfect spot to do all of the above, Café van Zuylen, located in the centre close to Dam Square. Go there after 6 pm for a fun and lively atmosphere, surrounded by the friendly Dutch having drinks after work. Order the cheese platter, and thank me later!
In the land of cheese, expect to have the most mouthwatering, melt-in-your-mouth cheese you’ve had in you entire life. We stumbled upon this amazing little cheese shop, Kaaskelder, filled with cheese from ceiling to floor, offering (wait for it..) free cheese tastings! From rum to coconut flavored cheese, they literally have it all! After sampling an exorbitant amount of cheese, head to the Bloemenmarkt (the only floating flower market in the world!), to admire the beautiful and vibrant fresh flowers and buy a few tulip bulbs to take home.
Find a herring cart
Herring Carts (called haringhandels) can be found all over Amsterdam, where fish is served with pickles and onions. If you’re a newbie to herring you could also try the “broodje haring”, where the fish is served on bread. Raw herring might sound scary, but believe me, my taste buds had never been this happy! It's fresh and healthy, the perfect afternoon snack in-between sightseeing and exploring. The best place to buy a herring is at Stubbe's Haring on the Singel Haarlingersluis near Centraal Station. It's one of THE signature foods of The Netherlands, and an absolute must-try!
Go for a beertasting at Brouwerij’t IJ
On your last day in Amsterdam, there’s nothing you should be doing but relaxing, and what better way to do that than going for a beer tasting with friends, under a windmill! At €9 for a set of 5 pitchers, I'd say it's a bargain! Brouwerij't IJ is a bit out of the centre, but just hop on tram 10 and get off at Azart Plein. Sit outside on the terrace, and nibble on sausages and other salty bites while enjoying a variety of Dutch beer.
Of course there are tons of other amazing things to do, eat, and see in this wonderful and laid-back city, only giving me more reasons to go back and explore for a second time. Not only did we have way too much fun, it was also one of the most affordable European cities we've been too. I hope my guide has given you some ideas of what to do in Amsterdam and help you plan your itinerary. Let us know what the highlights were of your trip to Amsterdam. Tot ziens!