Last Updated on 19th August 2019 by Sophie Nadeau
As a beautiful city filled with canals and quirky architecture (as well as more than enough adventure activities), Amsterdam makes for the perfect weekend getaway (or an even a longer stint). Here’s some practical advice, tricks, and tips for visiting Amsterdam.
Hopefully, they’ll be useful whether it’s your first time in the city, or whether it’s your hundredth- after all, we all need little reminders every once in a while! After all, there are plenty of Amsterdam mistakes that you could easily make by accident if you’ve never visited the city before!
Editor’s note: If you’re looking to enjoy the best of Amsterdam, then you may well consider investing in the Amsterdam Pass. Though a little pricier than other tickets, the card (from 1-5 days) grants you free access to over 30 top attractions in the city, as well as further reductions and offers on other tours and guided excursions.
The best way to see if the Pass is right for you is by adding up the value of all the attractions you wish to see and check whether or not you’ll save money. Another point worth noting is that the Pass gives you access to a hop-on-hop-off bus and boat tours are included in the price of the pass. Check full details for the Amsterdam Pass here.
#1 Mind the cyclists!
Everywhere you look, you’ll find dozens of cyclists, going all directions (and at all speeds). Before crossing the road, double or triple check as people in Amsterdam pedal through the city via bicycles at great speed. If you’re planning to visit a lot of sites while in the city and you don’t want to cycle (or walk) the entire time, then you might consider purchasing an Amsterdam public transport ticket.
#2 Rent a bike
And while we’re on the subject of cycling, one of the best tips for visiting Amsterdam I can give you, is that you embark on a cycling adventure of your own while in the city! You can easily rent a bike at one of the many cycle hire shops dotted around the city (shop around to source the best deal).
When renting a bike, you can easily go off exploring for a day or two, or simply rent the bicycle for just a few hours! Cycle around to see the outskirts of the city, explore the parks, or even take a day trip out of Amsterdam via bike. Renting a bike will also allow you to cycle into the Dutch countryside if you so wish.
#3 Keep an eye on your belongings
Like every other capital city in Europe (and the rest of the world), Amsterdam has no shortage of opportunist pickpocketers who won’t hesitate to pluck that phone or wallet out of your open handbag. Keep an eye on your stuff, use a saddlebag rather than a rucksack and make sure everything zips up properly! In other words: be sensible.
#4 Be prepared for all weathers (rain, sun, and everything in between!)
In a previous post ‘what to pack for Amsterdam’, I alluded to the fact that you must be prepared for all-weather when it comes to the city. In the winter, you can expect snow, while in the summer you can expect plenty of sunshine (with the occasional shower). And in the ‘shoulder’ seasons?
Well, expect a range from the freezing cold to the sweltering heat. It’s best to pack an umbrella, and plenty of layers you can easily change up depending on the weather! Like many European cities, Amsterdam is a place best explored on foot and so you’ll also need a sturdy pair of walking shoes.
#5 Learn the difference between coffee shops and cafés!
Don’t be like me and embarrass yourself by accidentally saying the wrong one (when all you wanted to do was find a good spot for a morning cappuccino). Learn and remember the difference. After all, there is just one very important difference: one is for your regular latté (cafés) and the other is where you can buy and smoke weed (and hash- the coffee shops).
#6 Bring your camera along
Many of the canalside houses in Amsterdam date all the way back to the city’s golden age, and as such, they are old, quirky and beautiful. You can visit a number of these ancient homes in the form of house museums, dotted around the city and photographing them makes for a great souvenir. Here’s a guide to the best travel photography gear for your European adventures!
#7 Just don’t photograph those working in the red light district.
It is illegal (not to mention entirely disrespectful) to photograph those working in the Red Light District of the city. Just don’t do it.
#8 Save money by enjoying a picnic in the park
Though I didn’t find Amsterdam nearly as expensive to visit as cities such as London or Paris, there are always ways you can save money (in order to splurge on museum visits or day trips, or nicer accommodation). One of the ways we saved money in Amsterdam during our visit, was by enjoying picnics in the park, with ingredients purchased from local supermarkets.
When it comes to green spaces in the city, one of the largest (and most impressive) parks in the city is Vondelpark. The lush green 45-hectare area makes for a great picnic spot and a wonderful place to escape the crowds of the city centre, especially if you’re exploring the Dutch capital by bike.
#9 Plan your accommodation well in advance
It should come as no surprise to you that the limited size of Amsterdam (the city’s waterways and the sheer volume of people limit new construction in the city centre) means that space is tight. For a particularly unusual experience while in the Dutch capital, here’s my guide to the best of Amsterdam houseboats you can actually stay in!
In order to ensure the best accommodation, book well in advance. This is particularly important for those looking to visit at peak season (ie, during the Summer months and during school holidays). Check accommodation prices in Amsterdam here.
#10 Also, try some street food
And while we’re on the subject of eating, make sure to try some of the street food available in the city (which is also a great way to save money while visiting Amsterdam). A local speciality in Amsterdam is frites (also known as patat and they come complete with a heavenly mayonnaise sauce). Stroopwaffles are also incredibly popular (as well as the regular kind).
#11 Check out a museum/ gallery (or two)
There are over seventy-five official museums and galleries dotted throughout Amsterdam and its surrounds. Though, of course, new ones are popping up all the time! As a result, there’s pretty much something for everyone! If you’re looking to visit a number of cultural spaces while in the city, perhaps you might consider investing in an I Amsterdam City Card.
From the Cat Cabinet (yep, dedicated to all things feline-related) to the Our Lord in the Attic (a charming church preserved in the attic of a 17th-century townhouse in the red light district), there’s something for everyone to enjoy. If you’re looking for small museums to visit in Amsterdam, I’ve previously written a short guide!
#12 Try some local food!
You can’t visit Amsterdam and not sample at least a little of its world-famous cuisine and speciality foods. Dozens of iconic cheese (Gouda, Edam and Leerdammer-to name but a few) and the everlasting brand Heineken all originate in the Netherlands.
You can even take part in the ‘Heinekenn Experience’, learning about beer brewing and the history of the famous brand. In various cheese shops throughout the city, there’s ample opportunity to try local cheese in weird and wonderful flavours, including pesto, pepper, and even weed!
#13 Check out the tulips in Amsterdam
Throughout the city, you’ll find vibrant flower markets, dating back to a time when a single tulip bulb was as worth as much as a house (yes, this really happened!) Visit at least a flower market or two while you’re in the city and if you’re planning a visit during the Holland Tulip Season (late March- Early May) then there are plethora of tulip-related attractions and activities worth checking out.
For those who wish to enjoy the best of beautiful blooms make sure to take a day trip away from the city to see these lovely flowers in full bloom. Undoubtedly, the best place to see the tulips (other than the tulip fields themselves) is in the ‘Garden of Europe,’ of which you can find my full guide on how to visit Keukenhof here.
#14 Explore a few different neighbourhoods
Amsterdam is divided into various districts, each with its own unique vibe- make sure to explore at least a few (either by bike or on foot). A personal favourite of mine is Jordaan- full of quiet streets and plenty of space to cycle around- particularly useful if you’re a little rusty on the bike!
#15 You purchase beer by the half print in Amsterdam
As someone from the UK, who sees beer served by the pint on a regular basis, it seemed odd to me that local brews are often served by the half-pint throughout the city. However, this makes sense as you’re able to try multiple beers without getting intoxicated, meaning that you can thoroughly enjoy your Amsterdam experience! One of my favourite pubs in Amsterdam is that of Cafe de Sluyswacht, where you can even purchase vegan bitterballen together with your beer!
#16 Some of the best of the Netherlands is outside of Amsterdam
If you plan your visit to the Netherlands with the sole intention of exploring Amsterdam, then this would be your first Amsterdam mistake. There are plenty of day trips to be taken from the Dutch capital and thanks to the ease of using public transport (as well as the affordable cost), hopping from city to city couldn’t be easier.
After all, within an hour’s train ride of the city, you’ll find the architectural wonder of Rotterdam, the pretty University city of Leiden, and the Political city of The Hague. For those looking to visit the tulips, then the Keukenhof Gardens are only open for two months of the year and are best visited in April.
#17 Go in search of filming locations
Many a film has been shot in Amsterdam and today, the filming locations are simply waiting to be explored. Perhaps most famous of all is the Fault in Our Stars Bench, a place so ‘insta-famous’ that it now has its own geo-locations online and the like. For more TFIOS filming locations, check out my guide!
#18 Explore Amsterdam off the beaten path
Whether you’re a fan of little-known churches or you simply want to soak up all of the history, there’s an unusual and secret spot in Amsterdam for everyone to enjoy. One of my favourite places in Amsterdam (that isn’t so much of a secret now as it was just a few years ago), is the Begijnhof Amsterdam, a quiet courtyard that’s home to some of the oldest residences in the city.
Otherwise, there are plenty of other stunning hofjes in Amsterdam, predominantly in the Jordaan district. And if you’re looking for an entirely different perspective on the city, perhaps you might consider taking a city canal cruise. Lasting around 75 minutes, this meander along Amsterdam’s waterways allows for you to enjoy the city’s history via its many canals.
From the historical centre to the skinny bridge, it’s an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon or morning. Another of my favourite secret spots in Amsterdam is the Oudemanhuispoort, a book market in a hidden covered arcade. Finally, for a complete overlook at alternative Amsterdam, here’s my guide to the best-kept secrets of Amsterdam.
#19 Don’t forget to bring a universal travel adaptor along
If you’re visiting The Netherlands from the USA, UK, Canda, and a plethora of other countries, then you should know that you’ll need to bring along a travel adaptor. The plugs in The Netherlands are C and F. If you want to save money, then purchase this all-in-one travel adaptor that will allow you to use your electronics in over 150 countries!
#20 Buy a Dutch phrasebook
Though you’ll soon discover that the Dutch are incredibly good at English, it’s only polite to learn a few words of the local language in any country you’re visiting. Buy this Dutch phrasebook and you’ll soon have easy access to any commonly used little phrase that you might need during your Netherlands adventure!