What You Need to Know For an Amazing Amsterdam Adventure
Simply put, Amsterdam is a stunner. No, scratch that thought. It's a dream destination. After just one visit, you'll forever have the image of houseboats bobbing sketched in your mind and the sound of bike bells ringing in your ears. Even a year later, I can still here that vivacious hum: cling, cling! And to think this city's artistic heritage and modern urban flair is beautifully woven together through horseshoe-shaped canals.
Whether you're looking for your next family vacation, romantic getaway, or solo adventure, trust me when I say this pocket of the Netherlands is the place to go. You'll meet friendly locals and chow down on great food. You'll marvel at the city's charm and revel in the rich culture. And chances are, you'll seek out reasons to extend your stay. (Hint: they won't be hard to find.) So go ahead and pack your bags, because we've got your itinerary covered, tackling everything from accommodations, eateries, and activities. It's all right here. All you have to do is book the flight!
First Things First: Tackling Where to Stay!
If you're seeking accommodations that ooze as much charm as the city itself, then consider staying at this studio apartment. Nestled in the heart of a quiet street, this Airbnb rental known as the Bed & Toaster is situated on the first floor of a beautiful, historic 19th-century building and even has a French balcony you can look out upon. It also includes a kitchenette with an electric stove, a little fridge, and, of course, a tiny toaster.
When my husband and I stayed here during our backpacking trip, I immediately fell in love with this home away from home. Along with the lovely aesthetic and glorious natural light, I couldn't get over the unique “king” and “queen” bedside sconces.
Lastly, I'll never forget our generous host. Not only did he greet us with fresh tulips and traditional stroopwafel, but he also took the time to provide us with a long list of amazing recommendations. Talk about a warm welcome and lasting impression.
What made our stay at the Bed & Toaster even better was its spectacular location. Tucked away in the Oud-West (Old-West) neighborhood, this apartment was just a short distance from the city's center and a mere 10-minute walk from three popular museums: the Van Gogh Museum, the Stedelijk Museum, and the Rijksmuseum. Public transportation was also extremely close by, and there were a number of cafes, bars, and restaurants right around the corner.
I mean, does it get any dreamier than a colorful houseboat resting calmly on the serene waterway? I don't think so.
Next Up: Tackling Where to Eat!
Amsterdam is packed to the brim with all sorts of tasty cuisine. But before we dive any deeper, let's first tackle coffee!
If you're in need of a caffeine pick-me-up, make your way to White Label Coffee. Not only do these specialty coffee roasters serve up a delicious cup of joe, but they also have plenty of seating room and reading materials if you decide you want to stay a while.
Another hot spot is Coffee and Coconuts. A former theater turned into a giant coffee shop, this place is absolutely gorgeous, with countless hanging plants, plush beanbags, and craft coffee. Go here if you're seeking fun, chill vibes. And yes, you can even order a coconut!
Now we are talking about Amsterdam, so of course there are a plethora of other "coffee shops," too. (You know, the ones where coffee and cannabis collide.) But because my mom will probably read this article, let's just say I didn't stop at any of those . . .
What would a trip to Amsterdam be without pancakes? And if you're as much of a pancake-lover as I am, you're in luck because you can get them everywhere. Yes, really — there are options all throughout the city!
And if you just can't get enough of these hotcakes, the Pancake Bakery is another delicious go-to. This two-story converted warehouse serves massive sweet and savory pancakes and has beautiful canal views.
Now if you're starting to feel a bit weighed down from all those sugary treats, don't fret, just head over to Vinnies. A great spot for good, clean food, this eatery serves healthier (yet still mouthwatering) dishes such as poached eggs and granola. It also has a cozy, inviting vibe, making your food that much more enjoyable.
And if you're still going strong with your health kick, check out the organic salad bar SLA. Just as the name states, all its ingredients are organic, and there are plenty of plant-based, vegan, and gluten-free menu options.
Can I get a kale yeah? Just one of these salads will make you feel like a lean, mean green machine. And the smoothies are pretty refreshing, too.
Who doesn't love a nice, cold beer after a couple of salads, right? OK yes, this logic might be a bit counterintuitive, but let me just say you'd be doing your taste buds a disservice if you didn't check out Brouwerij 't IJ. This small, modern brewery produces a wide range of high-quality organic brews and has a spacious outdoor area, which is perfect for soaking up some Amsterdam sunshine. But do you want to know the best part?
It's located right below an windmill! Now is that an authentic Amsterdam experience, or what?
Now if cocktails and eclectic vibes are more of your scene, you're going to adore Cafe Brecht. From the retro vintage vibe to the faded furnishings and era-appropriate wallpaper, you will instantly feel as if you've traveled back in time. This Berlin-style bar is definitely worth a visit, not to mention the craft cocktails are quite satisfying, too.
Tackling What to Do, See, and Explore!
It won't take long before you realize there is so much to see and explore in Amsterdam. And despite its large size, this city is extremely compact and walkable.
Whether you prefer to freely wander and roam or join a walking tour, a memorable experience awaits. However, if you are limited on time and want to learn as much about the city as possible, I do recommend signing up for a walking tour. This way you can gain a deeper knowledge of Amsterdam's rich history, all while getting to know the city's vibrant, diverse neighborhoods. And if you're on a tight budget, check out this free tour.
Ah, the famous I Amsterdam sign located at the back of the Rijksmuseum! At more than six feet tall, these playful letters have become a city icon, as well as a much-sought-after photo opportunity. That said, if you want to capture your own snapshot, skip the snoozes and get here early. Trust me, the solitude will be worth the early wake-up call.
One of the items on my bucket list is to visit the mesmerizing tulip fields at the world-renowned Keukenhof Gardens. Located about an hour outside of the city, this expansive 19th-century park is home to a vibrant, colorful sea of over 800 varieties of tulips and other Spring flowers. There is no surprise why visitors from all around the globe travel here to take in these breathtaking fields. Can you even imagine how intoxicating the scent of those fresh blooms must be?
However, the one caveat is that these gardens are only open to the public for a very small window of time each year. And believe it or not, my husband and I arrived to the city just one week after these gardens closed. One week too late! Talk about heartbreak. So if you're planning your Amsterdam trip and want to see these tulips in person, mark your calendars because the park is open from March 22 until May 13, 2018!
Yet if you can't seem to book your travel within that tiny window, don't worry, as there are plenty of other opportunities to take in gorgeous blooms around the city. Case in point with the Bloemenmarkt. Founded in 1892, what makes the Bloemenmarkt so special is that it's the world's only floating flower market. With over 15 florists and a slew of garden shops (one full of succulents!), this market is one of Amsterdam's main flower suppliers.
Don't forget to look up when meandering your way through, as there is more natural beauty to feast your eyes on hanging above.
If you're a history buff or lover of historic architecture, carve out time to see the Basilica of St. Nicholas. Built over 125 years ago, this masterpiece is situated in the Old Centre district of the city and is Amsterdam's major Catholic church. Feel free to marvel at its beauty by taking a seat on the cement steps bordering the canal out front.
Another memorable experience I highly recommend is visiting the Anne Frank House. I can't begin to tell you how touching touring this house is. Because the wait time for this exhibit can be upwards of several hours, plan ahead and buy your tickets online. You can book these up to two months in advance and select a time you'd prefer to visit. Either way, wait or no wait, this tour is worth it.
Lover of books? Then Amsterdam might quickly become your new favorite city because it is chock-full of incredible bookstores. One in particular I fell in love with was Architectura & Natura. Just look at the beautiful outside facade. Would you believe me if I said the inside is even more charming? Come here on a morning or afternoon when you don't have plans, because chances are you'll want to stay a while.
For a magnificent window-shopping experience, check out the shops on Haarlemmerstraat. Located in the hip and trendy neighborhood of the Jordaan district, this street is overflowing with whimsical boutiques and local art galleries.
My husband practically had to drag me out of Sukha, which is pictured above. The store certainly lives up to the meaning of its name, "joy of life." With an entirely white interior and flowing fabrics hanging from the ceiling, it was one of the most peaceful shops I came across.
Because so many stores had such incredible product displays, I couldn't help but become inspired by the design-centric focus!
Speaking of fun, be sure to swing by Kitsch Kitchen for an extra good time. Full of colorful decor and quirky knickknacks, one step inside is all it takes to realize why the mission of this store is to "color your life happy!"
OK, I'll be honest, I sat here for a good five minutes trying to think of a way to squeeze this picture into the Things to See and Explore category. All I could really come up with was to remind you to keep your eyes open for all the adorable miniature cars. I mean, look at the size of this cutie. And I thought Smart Cars were itty-bitty!
We contemplated long and hard about ways to bring one home. Unfortunately, we had to face the fact that no matter how small the car might be, it wouldn't fit into our backpacks.
Because so much of Amsterdam's history is intimately intertwined with water, another fascinating way to get to know the city is by cruising along one of the 165 canals. If you're looking to join a canal-cruising tour, consider hopping aboard one of the boats provided by the budget-friendly Amsterdam Canal Cruises. No matter the time of day, this will be an unforgettable experience.
Better yet, why not set sail on your own? Boaty rents out boats at extremely affordable prices and allows you to be your own captain! You'll only go about three miles per hour, so it won't be the most thrilling ride, but hey, it's a mighty good time!
Of course, when you're visiting the bike capital of the world, there's a good chance you will want to take part in this quintessential Amsterdam experience, right? With pancake-flat roads and a bike-friendly community, renting bikes is quite easy and relatively inexpensive.
Check out Mike's Bike Rentals if you're interested in exploring the city this way. The staff is friendly. The prices are affordable. And the best part? This company rents out undercover rental bikes, so you can ride around incognito and not advertise yourself as a tourist!
With over 800,00 bikes scattered along the streets, Amsterdam is easily Europe's busiest cycling city. In fact, did you know there are more bikes here than there are people? That said, make sure that when you are zipping around on your own two wheels (or even walking around) to always be aware of your surroundings.
Finally: Tackling Where to Find Outdoor Adventure!
Let's say you want the essential biking experience but without the nightmare of the crowds. If that's the case, I have the perfect solution for you, as those were my exact thoughts, too.
Here's what you can do: rent bikes in the city, then hop on the ferry and ride it across the river to the small, rural village known as Durgerdam. What you will find here is space and lots of it! With lush, green farmland as far as your eyes can see, you'll feel like you've entered another world. Yet you're just a stone's throw from Amsterdam's city center.
If you ask me, this really is the best of both worlds. Durgerdam feels like a piece of hidden treasure because there are no tour buses, no flocks of crowds, and hardly any noise. It's absolutely glorious!
And how could I forget to mention the furry friends you'll meet along way?
Just don't get offended if you're more excited to see these new faces than they are to see you . . .
If you ride far enough, you'll even stumble upon a tiny bar alongside the pathway. I suggest making the pit stop to take a break and sip on a refreshing pint of locally brewed beer. And with the glistening waterway right in front of you, you can't really ask for a more picturesque view, now can you?
If your experience is anything like mine was, it will just be you and nature, aka the ultimate serenity.