Amsterdam for Beginners: The Complete Guide

Everything you need to know about Amsterdam

2 men sitting by the canal of Amsterdam

When it comes to voting for their favorite tourist destinations in Europe, Amsterdam emerges as a clear favorite amongst mixed age groups. Rightly so, Amsterdam has a lot to offer something for everyone.

While the city is widely infamous for its liberal lifestyle, it’s open trading of sex and drugs, legalized prostitution and more, there is a lot more to Amsterdam than what emerges on the top of your search feeds.

We have spent quite some time exploring the different shades of Amsterdam, and this city has been a mixed bag of surprises with its range of offerings.

Whenever you’re in the city, here are some exciting favorites to attempt. Also a word of caution, the Dutch people can be both sweet and direct. Don’t get too baffled by their directness.

Walking Around Amsterdam

Walking around Amsterdam is indeed the best way to explore this exciting city full of many possibilities. And there are no two ways about this. Amsterdam has the potential to surprise you, but you need to take on the adventure first.

Canals

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Canals are the first and the constant visual of Amsterdam that stays stuck in your mind. Canals aren’t exclusive in this Dutch city, they are pretty much everywhere. And they are also pretty everywhere, some with a great visual around, some with great food and bars. You simply cannot miss the canals in Amsterdam, instead of when you spot one just go and get yourself a picture.

Dam Square

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Dam Square is one of the most happening areas in the city of Amsterdam. This is where you are likely to find the biggest brands of fashion and food. Dam Square is crowded almost all day, but it’s still a great idea to stroll around, grab some quick bites or a beer and enjoy some window shopping.

Vondelpark

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Vondelpark is an open park in the city of Amsterdam which offers free entrance to people on foot and on bikes. It’s the perfect start to your biking adventure or to simply enjoy a sunny day over a little picnic and conversations with friends.

Outdoor Activities in Amsterdam

Amsterdam is one of those rare cities which has much to offer outdoors without actually promising hiking trails and secret walkways. One could simply walk around the various districts of Amsterdam to get a better insight into all that the city has to offer, the potential of which is barely explored by tourists.

Cycling in Amsterdam

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Amsterdam is the biker’s city. It is said that there are more bikes in all of Amsterdam than there are people. While the city has excellent public transportation, biking people are the most common sighting, as common as spotting a tree!  And trust me, the bikers go around like they own the road. So, if you’re planning to rent a bike, you’re doing Amsterdam right. If not, even as a pedestrian, watch out for those speedy bikers. You can also join the many cycling tours in the city.

Albert Cuyp Market

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

While there is every major brand making its presence felt in the Amsterdam Retail circles, the Albert Cuyp market holds a special place for visitors in the city. It is the largest open market in Europe with over 250 stalls of a variety of food items, seafood, fast fashion, second-hand clothing, electronics, flowers, and lots more.

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Even a walk from one end of the market to the other can be a lot of fun with a whole range of delicious snacks to devour. If you’re interested in shopping, you can also enjoy bargaining here. An absolute must-visit while exploring the city of Amsterdam!

Canal Cruise

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Canal Cruises are offered across major cities in Europe. But it certainly best suits Amsterdam. With a city that has endless canals and beautiful Dutch homes towering on both sides of the canal, a guided canal cruise can be a lot of fun and information to understand the city better.

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

There are many tour companies that offer canal cruises and you can even opt for a Dinner Cruise to make the most of your evening in the city.

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Note: Canal Cruises are an absolute must during the light festival which takes place from Mid-November till Christmas.

Museums in Amsterdam

It’s funny how a city that is infamous for its Red-Light District and coffee shops is also home to some of the best museums in the world with a well-curated and updated collection. Here are some of the key museums in Amsterdam that are absolutely worth visiting.

Anne Frank House

Anne Frank House, Prinsengracht 263-267

The Anne Frank House is one of the most important museums in the city with millions of visitors queuing up each day to visit the place where the young Anne Frank and her family hid during the Second World War to avoid being victims of the disastrous genocide.

Introduction room, with portrets Anne Frank

For those who have read the diary of Anne Frank, this house is likely to have more of an emotional significance than just a historical record.  Through the 1hr tour of the house, you are introduced to the implications of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis and the atrocities that the Jews had to bear through this duration. Anne Frank’s family was one of the many affected. The diary, which was published after her death in a concentration camp voices her thoughts, dreams, desires, fears and hope through it all.

Room Peter van Pels

Indeed, one of the most powerful narratives of World War II.

Tickets to the Anne Frank House are only available online and get sold out very fast. 80% of tickets are released exactly 60 days prior to the date of the visit.

Remaining 20% are released on the same day at 9 am local time.

Amsterdam Museum

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

The city of Amsterdam has a dynamic history that defines its fabric to date. To put this legacy into perspective, the Amsterdam Museum is a must-visit. In fact, it’s the first museum that you should visit while exploring Amsterdam. This museum answers questions about the formation of the city, the Dutch traders, the impact of the World Wars, the changing economy, and the various liberal decisions that the city stands by.

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

The Amsterdam Museum reflects the spirit of the city. The courage with which it has set examples globally- it is as it proclaims ‘The city of freedom’.

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

In this wonderfully collated museum, you’ll find plenty of reasons to love the city for its very spirit and the growth and freedom that it has enabled to a whole range of people across centuries.

Rijks Museum

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

The Rijks Museum is an important museum for art lovers and one of the top-visited museums in the city. It is an art museum with a wide range of collections from the 18th century. It is also home to some of the most landmark paintings and painters including The Night’s Watch by Rembrandt and his other works, and the selected works of Vincent Van Gogh.

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

The three-storied museum could take up at least half your day. Do remember to download the Rijks Museum app on your phone and carry your earphones to enjoy your personalized guided tour of the museum.

Van Gogh Museum

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Vincent Van Gogh continues to be one of the biggest and the most influential names in the list of artists in Western History. The Dutch painter’s life and the most elaborate collections of his works are documented at the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam. It is indeed interesting to see the genius of the man who was considered a ‘mad-man’ in his lifetime, only to be celebrated much after his death.

Eye Film Museum

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

A 10-minute ferry ride away from Amsterdam Centraal station is the Eye Film Museum in the north of Amsterdam. This museum is dedicated to cinema and it’s making and regularly hosts exhibits of some of the most revered films and filmmakers and elaborate collections of their works.

Sex Museum

Amsterdam was never the city to shy away from sex. In fact, one of the most interesting attractions in the city includes the Sex Museum (open for adults over the age of 18). The museum through its unique and interesting installations and exhibits focus on the history of sex and its various forms over the year. It’s quite a bold and informative museum worth visiting!

Sex museum

You can buy the Museum Pass for free entry to museums or you could buy the IAmsterdam City Card for free/discounted access to select museums and free public transport for the duration of validity.

Tours in Amsterdam

To enjoy Amsterdam to the fullest, it is essential to cover the basics right. Hence, signing up for some tours to get an overview is actually a good idea. Plus, you get to meet lots of fellow travelers from across the globe.

Freedam Walking Tours

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Always start your Amsterdam trip with a free walking tour with Freedam Walking Tours. Starting from the Old Church, they take you around some of the most important spots and areas of the city whilst explaining the history and culture of the city. This 2hr long tour will give you the perfect picture of Amsterdam and its culture.

Eating Europe- Amsterdam Food Tour

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

In case no one told, Amsterdam is a city that promises extremely delicious food. A food tour with Eating Europe will give you a quick starter to a whole range of Dutch specialties in Amsterdam, the story behind each one of them and the best spots to have it.

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

From coffee to cheese, meats, mains, desserts and drinks, and a local guide to show you around, all are included in your tour costs.

Plus, you can get some great local recommendations from your tour guide.

Heineken Experience

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Heineken Experience is easily one of the highly sought after tours in the city. With its base operations in the city, Heineken offers a cool, interactive tour of their brewery to show how Heineken beers are made. Apart from the cool info, you can enjoy a free beer and some interactive games that make the experience a lot more fun.

You can also explore local breweries like Brouwerij IJ and Brouwerij Troost.

Nightlife in Amsterdam

Amsterdam’s vibrant nightlife is a key factor that attracts tourists from around the globe. The city is also a favorite spot for bachelorettes and hen parties.

With or without your gang, Amsterdam gives you many ways to make the most of your night in the city.

Red Light District

The Red-Light District in Amsterdam is right in the center of the city. Legalized prostitution makes the city an exciting prospect from many visitors from across the world. However, keeping all the fun and play in mind, the Red-Light area comes with strict rules and surveillance to ensure the righteous use of freedom. The legalization of prostitution also calls for respect for the sex workers, which prevents shaming or exploitation. Payment terms and no filming policy are also extremely strict.

Bars in Amsterdam

Amsterdam has some of the most amazing bars in Europe. You can visit the range of local breweries, or simply sit by one of the traditional Dutch bars by the canal to enjoy a good evening over drinks, music, and friends.

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Some bars worth visiting in Amsterdam are- Café Papeneiland, Café T Smalle, Oedipus Brewing, Beer Temple, Brouwerij IJ, Brouwerij Troost

Underground Clubs in Amsterdam

The new district of Amsterdam has revamped the underground music scene in the city with a range of clubs opening up and artists performing in the abandoned industrial areas with a range from Jazz to Retro and electronic music.

The underground clubs in Amsterdam will be the ones to watch out for.

Clubs worth visiting: Noorderschip, Club Shelter, AIR Amsterdam, OT301 

Holland Casino

Amsterdam is the city that allows you to sin and enjoy the pleasures of it too. You could as well bet on your fortune on a night out at the Holland Casino, the most prominent of all casinos in the city.

Keep a tab, and you’re likely to discuss interesting events, concerts, pub crawls, and more to keep the night young in Amsterdam.

Coffee shops vs Coffee houses in Amsterdam

A coffee shop would ordinarily refer to a place that sells coffee. But in Amsterdam, a coffee shop refers to a place that has legal permission to sell marijuana and other herbs. A total of 5g is permitted as per laws per person, per day. This makes Amsterdam an absolute favorite for many, making them frequent the city very often.

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

You will also come across many shops in the city selling a wide range of cannabis products- cookies, beers, smokes, candies and more. It’s all fun and legit!

For a cup of coffee, you will have to visit a coffee house instead.

Some of the popular coffee shops in Amsterdam with good quality drugs are:

  • Barney’s (Haarlemmerstraat)
  • Bulldog (Oudezijds Voorburgwal 90)
  • Amnesia Coffe shop (Herengracht)
  • Grey Area (Oude Leliestraat)
  • IBIZA (Oude Pijp)
  • Bluebird Coffeeshop

What to eat in Amsterdam?

Amsterdam has plenty to offer the foodie traveler. Dutch food in Amsterdam is all kinds of indulgent, which makes it extremely hard to resist! Here are some of our top recommendations:

Stroopwafels

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

You cannot not have Stroopwafels when in Amsterdam! These wafer-thin biscuits with melted fillings like caramel and chocolate in between are the most basic Amsterdam food choice that you can make, and you should make!

Dutch Apple Pie

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Not too sweet, with chunks of apple, a hint of cinnamon and heap loads of taste. The Dutch Apple Pie will win over even a non-dessert person and is the perfect dish for breakfast and desserts, making it an absolute must!

Traditional Dutch Herring

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Herring is a staple across the Dutch lands and you will find it all across the city of Amsterdam as well. The traditional Herring is served raw, cured with salt with chopped raw onion, garlic paste and pickles and is sold across the streets of Amsterdam. It is quite a favorite amongst the locals too! And is often paired with the Dutch Gin called Jenever.

Kibbeling

Amsterdamers love their Kibbeling as they should. This Dutch version fried fish comes with exciting dips (varies from restaurant to restaurant) and is quite a satisfying ask at any time of the day.

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

You will find a range of great Kibbeling and similar dishes at the various street-side stalls and also at the Albert Cuyp market.

Croquettes

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Head to a Febo vending machine and grab the super cheap, hot and filling croquettes in Amsterdam. Makes for a great snack at any time of the day!

Hot Dogs

What’s the typical definition of Amsterdam street food? A Hot Dog.

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

You could grab a delicious hot dog at a street-side stall in the city for a small price. It’ll serve both, your appetite and your taste buds well.

Poffertjes/ Pan Cakes

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Pancakes are second nature to Dutch people. You can devour the mini pancakes called Poffertjes with sprinkled powder sugar or you could simply gorge on to a range of toppings on your otherwise regular pancake. Amsterdam offers it all!
Checkout PANCAKES Amsterdam for its wide menu and delicious combinations.

Vegetarian Recommendation: MAOZ

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

For all vegetarians and vegan travelers, MAOZ is the heaven you need to find. This falafel place is an absolute delight with branches across the city. A filling meal, with an unlimited range of spices and sauces, is never too far away at Maoz.

Supermarkets

Amsterdam can be an expensive city, especially if you got to eat out often. Apart from the street food in the city, you can always head to the supermarkets to save costs on not just food, but everyday basics including beer and other daily essentials.

Albert Heijn

Albert Heijn is the original Dutch supermarket chain that emerged in the 18th century. You’re likely to find an Albert Heijn outlet in every locality in the city. This supermarket offers a range of fresh food, baked food, and packaged snack options. The beer collection depends on outlet-to-outlet.

Lidl

Lidl is another leading supermarket chain across Europe that offers a wide range of food, beverage, and daily essentials. At Lidl, you can shop for anything including a wide range of fresh food, beers and wines, packaged food, toiletries, cheese, daily essential products. It’s also marginally cheaper than other supermarkets across the region

Spar

Spar is popular supermarket chain in the central-eastern European cities. It has limited outlets in Amsterdam but offers some of the premium products and collections at decent deal prices. It’s worth checking out if you like to experiment!

Where to stay in Amsterdam?

While there’s a lot to explore in Amsterdam center for tourists, a stay in the center of the city can be very expensive. With Amsterdam’s well-connected transport system, staying anywhere in the city, even away from the center can be a good idea, especially if it can save you some moolah!

Dutchies Hostel, Amsterdam

If you’re looking to save some money on your stay and splurge more on food, drinks, and drugs, the Dutchies Hostel in Amsterdam is a good option. It is well connected to the city center with buses and trams at regular intervals. It is closer to the Amsterdam Sloterdijk train station and also has a supermarket in the neighborhood.

Despite the distance, Dutchies offers great stay options in a peaceful area of Amsterdam. The hostel also has bike rental, bar and gaming facilities.

Coco Mama, Amsterdam

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Closer to the center and slightly more expensive, Coco Mama in the De Pijp district is a quaint little Dutch Hostel minutes from Heineken Experience and the Albert Cuyp market. There is a tram stop right opposite the hostel and key museums and areas in the city are not too far away on foot.

Stayokay Amsterdam, Vondelpark

From the Stayokay chain of hostels, the Vondelpark branch offers great service, spacious rooms, great location, and accessibility and is right next to Vondelpark. Another great stay option at a prime location in the city.

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Note: Amsterdam can be quite packed on weekends and property prices are likely to go up. Book your Amsterdam accommodation as early as possible to avoid surge prices.

Getting Around Amsterdam

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Amsterdam is an extremely well-connected city with various means of public transport. You can buy the IAmsterdam city card for unlimited access to all modes of public transport in the city. The city card also gives you free/ discounted access to select museums in the city.

Alternatively, you can buy the GVB Card/ daily card depending on your stay duration in the city. The GVB Card only gives you access to public transport in the city.

You can also buy tickets for the NL Trains to visit other Dutch cities from Amsterdam.

For airport transfers, you can buy the Connexxions ticket/ pass to access the shuttle services from Schipol Airport to the Amsterdam city center. These buses are operational even at night and come with free wifi access. The shuttle buses are available at regular intervals from the city and the airport.

Day Trips from Amsterdam

On purchase of the Regional Travel Ticket, visitors get free transport to Amsterdam city and nearby regions, enough to take a road trip.

Here are some of the highly recommended day trips from Amsterdam.

Zaanse Schans

With a distance of about 20km from Amsterdam, Zaanse Schans is only 30-45 minutes away from the Dutch capital and is a highly recommended day trip. Zaanse Schans was set up with the key elements of Dutch history and culture including the windmills, the cheese factory, the weaver’s house and more to attract more tourists and give them the best possible gist of Holland at one destination. You can also go inside the many functional windmills to get an understanding of their functionality.

Zaanse Schans

Photo: Cris Toala Olivares | Iamsterdam’s Mediabank

Zaanse Schans is no less than a wonderland for many with it’s well planned and crafted elements of the Dutch Culture including a Clog making workshop. It’s beautiful, very close to Amsterdam and a great getaway from the bustling streets of Amsterdam.

Volendam

Volendam

Photo: Cris Toala Olivares | Iamsterdam’s Mediabank

Volendam is also 30-45mins away from Amsterdam to the northeast of Amsterdam. It is a fishermen’s village with a typical Dutch character in its architecture and structures. Volendam offers great shopping and culinary choices and makes for a great day trip from the city. There are regular connections to and from Amsterdam Centraal Station.

Haarlem

Haarlem, The Netherlands

Photo: Cris Toala Olivares | Iamsterdam’s Mediabank

To the northwest of Amsterdam is Haarlem, about 22km away from the Central station. You can simply take a train to Haarlem to explore this medieval city. It is easily one of the most photogenic cities in the Dutch lands with a range of museums, markets and hidden courtyards to discover.

There is a lot to do in Haarlem even on a day trip and there is something for everyone to explore.

Giethoorn

Better known as the ‘Venice of the North’, Giethoorn makes for an enchanting day trip from Amsterdam. A 2-hour train ride from Amsterdam Centraal Station to Steenwijk and a 45 minutes bus ride from there takes you to Giethoorn. Giethoorn is a Dutch village with barely any roads. You can boat around the canals or simply walk over the pretty bridges. Giethoorn’s serene beauty could easily tempt you into spending a night in one of the pretty cottages by the canals. Easily a destination worth falling in love with and a day trip you will love.

Please Note: While drugs are legalized in Amsterdam, there are accidents that take place on a regular basis especially due to negligence by individuals. Make the most of your trip and take good care of yourself. Be safe, not sorry!

You can always prepare well for your trip to Amsterdam, but there is so much more that you will only discover as you explore the city. Here’s covering all the basics to help you experience the best of Amsterdam. In case of any queries, feel free to drop a comment below.

I live in the movies (in my parallel world). I travel in search of stories. So I explore- experience- express my trysts with people, places, food, culture and their stories!

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